My Brother Invited Me to a Meditation Retreat. I Should’ve Never Accepted.

Andrew had always been a free spirit. He was the type who worked here and there to scrape by, but had no real aspirations to do, well, anything.

When he told me he’d joined a meditation retreat outside of town, it was only fitting for him, and seemed to be the most recent in a long series of misadventures.

What made it worse was that whenever we hung out, he’d go on and on about it, and more than once, suggested I’d tag along, at least for a few days.

To be honest work was getting to me. I work in finance and I’m earning good money, damned good money, but it felt like I never had the time to do anything with it.

The last time we sat together, I couldn’t help but lament about it.

“You know, bro, it’s all that number stuff that’s getting to you,” he said, taking another drag from his joint. “Why don’t you take a break for once? You’re always welcome at the retreat.”

There it was again. I sighed, but ignored his invitation.

And yet, as he sat there, leaning back in his chair, high as a kite, I couldn’t help but be jealous. Whenever I saw him, Andrew always seemed to be just… living.

For a while longer we sat together, merely chit-chatting, before I had to call it a day. I knew I had to get up early, and I knew I had another long day ahead of me.

In the afternoon, my phone vibrated, and I saw I’d just received a message from Andrew.

I sighed, knowing fairly well that he’d most likely just gotten up. When I read his message, he told me he was on his way back to his new home of choice. He’d also attached a few pictures of the place.

As I looked through them, I had to admit the place looked awesome. It comprised a complex of beautiful, East Asian style buildings, nestled between a gentle forest.

Andrew had told me the place had been constructed to the north of our city. In one picture I saw a lush forest, in another a gentle mountain spring and the final one revealed a breathtaking view from atop a small mountain.

I lowered the phone and my eyes wandered over the interior of my spacious office. The first word that came to my mind was gray. Gray walls, a gray desk and a gray computer. The monitor in front of me filled with rows upon rows of endless transaction data and customer IDs.

I rubbed my temples. He was right. I really needed a vacation.

The moment I was out of the office, as so many times, late in the evening, I called him and said I’d be willing to check the place out.

Andrew was more than happy to hear and told me he’d figure everything out.

A couple of weeks later, after a long discussion with my boss, he reluctantly signed me off on this brief vacation of mine.

The next day, in the early evening, Andrew arrived at my door.

I’d expected him to arrive in his usual sloppy attire, but when I saw him, I couldn’t help but look up. He was dressed in some weird garments. They were entirely white. The only thing of color I could see on his body was a strange necklace sprouting a purplish-blue stone, and an armband adorned with similar stones.

He even greeted me with a ceremonial bow, and at that, I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Holy shit, what happened to you? Why are you so formal?”

For a second, Andrew said nothing and I could see a hint of annoyance wash over his face before he switched back to his usual character.

“Well, that’s our traditional clothing at the retreat. I know you think this is all just some hippie type of thing, but we’re actually rather serious about it.”

I shrugged when he said this, but I had to admit, it seemed at least he was taking this thing serious.

As we drove through the city and eventually the forest, Andrew shared a few of the ins-and-outs of the place with me.

He described the various meditation sessions and breathing exercises, the daily routine, and even how cleaning the place was all a part of training, or better, cleaning the mind.

At first, I listened, but he rambled on about it in an almost over-excited way, and eventually, I just zoned out.

When we finally arrived, I had to admit the place looked as stunning as it had in the pictures. Hell, even more so.

At the same time, however, I couldn’t help but be weirded out. Everyone here was wearing the same garments Andrew was wearing, and they were all behaving in the same, overly formal and ceremonial way he had.

For a moment, I wondered if this place wasn’t just some meditation retreat, but one of those weird cults I’d heard about in the past. Then I shook my head. Andrew was a free spirit who was into all sorts of weird shit, but I knew he was way too smart to fall for any sort of cult.

Yet, all this talk about cleaning… Andrew was my brother, and I loved him dearly, but for all his life, he’d done nothing unless he was forced to. Now it sounded almost as if he was… enjoying it.

I slowly got out of the car and followed him, half expecting to be subjected to some sort of strange brainwashing. Instead, another member who introduced himself as Jeremy walked up to us. He greeted both of us with another little bow. Andrew and he exchanged a few words before Andrew excused himself. Then Jeremy turned to me.

“You must be Steven. Nice to have you,” he said, welcoming me with an outstretched hand.

I took it and gave him a well-meaning nod, but couldn’t help but look around a bit to see if anyone else was watching our little interaction.

“I know how this place must seem to outsiders, but I hope you give it a try,” he said with a little laugh.

“Yeah, I mean, the place looks great and all, but to be honest, I’m only here because of Andrew. I’m not sure if, well, any of this is for me, you know?”

“Of course. Doubts are natural. But let’s get you settled in first.”

“Sure, let me get a hold of my things.”

With that, Jeremy led me to my lodgings. As he did, he assured me that the place wasn’t a cult. It was all about new experiences and self-exploration. While participation was mandatory to a certain degree, I was free to leave whenever I wanted to.

“Your brother told me you’re a rather practical person. IT, wasn’t it?”

“Finance,” I corrected him.

“Either way, I’m sure there’s much to learn here, even for someone like you. For all of us, essentially. There’s so much more to life, so much more to see and to experience.”

“Let me guess, you’re talking about drugs?” I asked, giving him a grin.

Jeremy couldn’t help but laugh, but then he shook his head.

“Now, certain substances can indeed help you reach a higher state of mind, and I’d lie if I hadn’t taken some of them. But not here, not at this place.”

After he gave me a quick run-down of our daily routine, and reminding me that our day started at six in the morning, he eventually left me to my own devices. As he did, I couldn’t help but stare after the man.

Who the hell was he kidding? I mean, Andrew was here, by his own free volition. This place had to be about drugs.

Yet, I had to admit, it was beautiful. So I told myself I’d at least make the best of it, and to stay clear of any weird shit, whatever it might be.

After I’d settled in, and after I saw how late it was, I decided to have an early night, and to see what awaited me.

Suddenly, I found myself wide awake in bed. One look at my phone told me it was still the middle of the night.

As I wondered why I’d woken up, I made out something from outside. It were strange sounds that reached me from the room’s cracked window.

Still half-sleep, I made my way over to see what was going on. At first I didn’t know what I was hearing, but after I’d listened in more closely, I recognized the sounds as distant voices. My eyes wandered over the complex outside, but I saw no one. The only thing I could make out were lights in the distant, far away, deep in the forest.

As I watched and listened on, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on out there. The distant voices became louder, changing to sounds of jubilation, and the lights began to flicker and waver. I knew what Jeremy had said, but even from here, I couldn’t help but be unsettled about what was going on out there.

Fuck, what had I gotten myself into? Even though I’d closed the window, I lay in bed for the next hour, the memory of the strange jubilation sounds still playing on in my head.

When it was finally morning, I was awoken by a set of soft knocks against the door, and a gentle voice telling me that breakfast would be served in twenty minutes. I yawned, cursed, and stared at my phone. It wasn’t even six yet. For a moment, I fell back on my bed, and considered to just go back to sleep. Shit, I was supposed to be on vacation, wasn’t I?

Then, I pushed myself back up, and after freshening up, I looked at the white garments that had been prepared for me. For a second, I told myself ‘fuck it,’ and was about to just go in my normal clothes. Then I sighed. I’d promised Andrew I’d give this place a try. Yet when I saw myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but shake my head. I looked ridiculous.

Finally, I made my way to the main hall.

After going to bed early, I was starving and couldn’t wait to have some scrambled eggs and juice bacon. Yet, my hopes were crushed when I saw the entire breakfast was plant-based. An assortment of fruits, nuts, and vegetables were propped up on a table in the center of the main hall.

I stared at it all with a deep frown before I eventually put a few pieces on my plate and took a seat at the end of the long table.

After I’d forced down some it, and finished a cup of strangely spicy tea, Andrew joined me and led me to my very first meditation session.

I tried to give it a shot. I really did, but after only ten minutes, I was pretty sure this meditation stuff just wasn’t for me. Even worse, since I’d been woken up in the middle of the night, I was still tired as hell. While our guide rambled on about energy levels and spirit animals, I had to fight to stay awake.

The rest of the day continued similarly. We did an exercise in gratitude, had a sort of self-discovery walk around the forest, partook in an entirely plant-based lunch and started to afternoon with another meditation session. Then it was time for chores, namely, we had to clean the place.

I couldn’t believe this shit. For the past decade, I’d worked myself half to death to make it to junior manager and now, here I was, scrubbing the floor. Even worse, Andrew next to me was smiling the entire time, and seemed to enjoy it.

“What the hell’s happened to you? I’ve never seen you do anything with such enthusiasm. Back at home, you never did jack shit and now…”

“It’s all part of the process. You know, it’s a way of learning to value hard work and the persistence to stick to a routine. Back in the day, it was actually common for monks-“

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I cut him off, mumbling.

I really wasn’t in the mood for more of his ramblings.

For another fifteen minutes, I continued on. Then, while I was scrubbing a particularly persistent spot on the floor, I felt myself growing angry. This was it. This was fucking bullshit!

With that, I got up and left. I knew Andrew was staring after me, judging me, but I didn’t give a shit.

This entire thing was one colossal mistake. None of this bullshit here was for me. Hell, I couldn’t tell what type of people this shit was even for.

I should’ve never listened to Andrew and instead should’ve booked myself a nice vacation in the Caribbean. I could lay at a beach and sip cocktails, instead…

As I went back to my room, I noticed more than one person staring at me. I was even approached by one of the meditation guides, who spoke up to me about participating in all the steps of the program. Instead of saying anything, I just pushed myself past the man.

Once in my room, I just sat there on the bed, staring outside.

Then I let myself fall onto it, took out my phone and tried to call a taxi to get the hell out of here. I cursed when I saw I had no reception out here, none.

For a while longer, I just lay there, wondering what I should do. Would Andrew even drive me back to the city? Maybe I should just pack up and walk?

Eventually, my head heavy with thought, I just dozed off.

It was in the early evening that Andrew woke me by knocking at the door. When he asked me if he could come inside, I mumbled a ‘yes.’

“What are you doing?” he asked once he’d stepped inside.

“You know, I don’t think this works out for me, so how about-“

“Alright, listen. You said you wanted to try this, but you’re not even giving it a chance. This is your first day, your first fucking day. I’ve watched you, and you are all negative. You’re fucking things up, not just for yourself, but for everyone else. Did you ever think about that?”

“What the hell?” I snapped at him, getting up. “You’re the one who basically forced me to come here! You pestered me about this place for fucking weeks, months even! I said I’d try, and I tried, alright? But this… this is all just bullshit!”

As I said this, Andrew stepped up to me and, for a second, I thought he’d hit me. Instead, he put his hand on my shoulder and I watched as his mouth changed into a grin.

“You know, I’m not supposed to tell you, but you’ve got no clue what this place is really about.”

“The hell’s that even supposed to mean?”

“The real deal, bro. You’ve only been here for a day. You’ve got no clue what we do here at night, when we tap into our true potential and experience true enlightenment unlike anything-“

“I knew this was about drugs,” I cut him off, rolling my eyes.

His reaction was the same as Jeremy’s and he shook his head the moment the word ‘drugs’ had left my mouth.

“No, that’s not what it’s about. But I can’t tell you right away. First, you have to prove yourself, to show you’re ready to learn and accept new experiences.”

“Oh, come on, fuck off with that shit.”

“Please, Steven, just do it, okay? Just give it an honest try. I promise you won’t regret it.”

I stared at him. This was the first time I’d ever seen him this serious.

“Everything else,” he continued in a half-whisper, “all the stuff we do during the day, it’s all just that… stuff. Or like you said, bullshit.”

“What? I thought you enjoyed all this meditation and cleaning?”

“Look bro, I can handle it, that’s all. But knowing what else there is, what else we do, that makes it all worthwhile.”

“Sure,” I mubmled

“One week,“ he suddenly said.


“Go through all this shit for one week, and this entire trip will have been worth it.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I cursed.

I was about to tell him I was out, but once more, I saw how serious he was. Eventually, I just sighed and nodded.

And so, for the next couple of days, I took part in all their stupid activities.

Before long, I figured out that my spirit animal was a bear, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

While I still didn’t like the food all that much, I got used to it and even enjoyed the occasional piece.

The biggest surprise was meditation. During the first couple of days, I usually dozed off, but with each day, it seemed to get easier. On day six, I actually felt grounded, relaxed, and for the first time in what must’ve been years, my mind was entirely free of numbers and customer IDs.

On day seven, once our evening meditation was over, Andrew told me he’d come to get me shortly before midnight.

“It’s time, brother,” he greeted me when he finally returned.

Having dozed off, it took me a moment to realize what was going on.

“What is? Oh, I’m… shit man. I know what you said, but promise me, this won’t be some weird drug orgy or something like that.”

“No, it’s going to be different, entirely different. Just come along.”

For a moment, I wasn’t sure, but then I reminded myself that I’d gone through an entire week to experience whatever they did here at night. So eventually, I nodded, and the two of us set out.

Andrew led me around the complex, first past the main hall and then to a hidden path that led us out into the forest.

As we made our way through the trees, the entire forest seemed to be alive, its sounds almost ubiquitous. I heard the rustling of insects, the chirping of birds, and I felt as if I were connected to it, part of it. At the same time, I could make out hushed whispers ahead of us, those of other people.

Andrew was silent as he led me on. When I asked him where we were going, he quickly told me to be quiet. His voice was low, yet firm, his face serious.

It took us more than ten minutes before we reached our destination, a small hill in the center of a clearing. A small sort of temple had been constructed here, a simple one. It was nothing but a small roof under which a huge, ornate fire brazier had been placed.

All around us people had gathered, all of which I’d gotten to know throughout the past days. They were still wearing the same white garments, but were now adorned in necklaces and armbands similar to those Andrew wore.

When I got closer, I saw the small roof couldn’t really be called that. Its center was wide open, allowing the brazier’s flames and smoke to escape and rise high into the sky.

This here, it had to be what I’d noticed during my first day. The voices had been those of the people here. The light must’ve come from the brazier’s fire. Yet as I thought back to that very first night, what I’d see had seemed different, and I couldn’t help but be wary of what was to come.

“Brother, you’re finally here,” someone called out, and I watched as everyone turned toward Andrew.

“I have indeed. Is everyone present?”

Nods could be seen all around.

“Then, shall we begin?” Andrew asked, his eyes wandering over the assembled figures.

“We shall. Please enlighten us, brother. Please help us see!” a man called out in an almost euphoric voice.

As he said this, I heard murmurs all around, and all eyes were glued to Andrew.

When I turned to him, he gave me nothing but a little smile before he approached the brazier.

I couldn’t help but stare after him. The way everyone acted, the way he spoke. Did it mean that Andrew was in charge of all this?

Before I could so much as ask, everyone but me and Andrew fell to their knees, closed their eyes and began to chant melodically.

For a moment, Andrew joined in with them, before his eyes came to rest on me again.

“Now everyone, this is a grand night, for tonight, we welcome a new member to our group. My very own biological brother, the man you’ve all gotten to know throughout this week. He’s joined us here to partake in enlightenment.”

Instantly, I found myself at the center of attention, as all eyes came to rest on me, almost as if people had only noticed me now. A few moments later, two members of the gathering got to their feet and began adorning me with a necklace and bracelets of my own. Too confused about what was going on, I just let it happen.

“Now then, it is time!” Andrew called out.

His voice had risen to an almost-half scream and echoed over the entire clearing.

I watched as his hand vanished under his garments, only to return, holding something glowing in it.

A moment later, he opened it, revealing some sort of powder.

“Help us see, O Satyania,” he called out, his eyes focused on it.

Then he threw the powder into the brazier. Instantly, the flames roared up, growing taller and more intense. I watched as their colors changed; what was orange and red before now turned into a deep blue and purple.

Everyone stared at it, and still on their knees began chanting anew. All the while, the flames grew higher and higher, stretching upwards through the temples roof and turning into a pillar of flame.

I just stood there, watching what was happening in sheer disbelief. What the hell was with this fire? How could it behave like this? Was this some sort of illusion?

Andrew just stood there, still next to the brazier, head held up high, arms stretched out, throwing more and more of the strange powder into the flames and repeating the word Satyania again and again. Then he began to muse on, rambled on about the truth and the essence of things, of the fundamentality of all knowledge.

By now, the brazier’s heavy smoke had gathered around Andrew and began wafting over the people closest to him.

They inhaled it deeply and instantly, their faces changed. Their eyes grew wide and their mouths turned into ghastly smiles as their entire expression was warped into one of euphoric bliss. I watched as they greedily inhaled more of the strange vapors, filling their lungs with it.

I cringed back, and covered my mouth, careful not to inhale any of the strange vapors.

And then, Andrew called out, no screamed as loud as he could in a language I’d never heard before. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard, something that didn’t seem to comprise words, but only strange melodic sounds, otherworldly sounds.

A prayer, I suddenly thought. It sounded like a prayer, a jubilation. Slowly, ever so slowly, all the members of the gathering joined in with him, faces pressed to the ground, hands raised high into the air.

I could only stare at the surreal spectacle in front of me. This was madness, insanity. Still covering my mouth, I stumbled back, away from the brazier, from the temple and from whatever was going on here.

A moment later, Andrew’s head jerked towards me, and his eyes focused on me and me alone, eyes that were now aglow with the flame’s bluish-purple tint. They were wide and angry, and I felt myself stopping, almost powerless under his scrutinizing glare.

I watched his jaw work, watched his mouth fall open. When he spoke again, his voice was hard, inhumane, filled with almost unbridled rage.

“How dare you disturb this holy ritual! How dare you refuse to participate and risk angering the messenger!”

Instantly, the chanting stopped and all members of the insane gathering rose from their prostrate positions. Their faces were distorted, looked like that of wild beasts, of addicts who’d been denied their newest fix.

I screamed at my body to move, to get away, but I didn’t seem in control, seemed to be held in place by Andrew’s eyes.

“No,” I started, when some members of the gathering closed in on me, ready to drag me back. “Get away from me!”

“You. Will. Participate. Brother!” Andrew’s voice thundered.

Before anyone could reach me, however, the fire intensified, and in an explosion of glaring heat, the flames burst apart. I was thrown to the ground, and I watched in a mixture of fascinated disbelief and utter terror as they spread over the sky.

It seemed the night sky itself was burned away. The well-known vanished as the sky was laid open, torn apart to reveal something entirely different.

I could do nothing but stare upward, couldn’t even blink. What I saw now were twirling stars, and mad, sparkling galaxies unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They seemed closer, were closer, so close it seemed I could touch them if I were to reach out.

Then I felt a presence, a presence lurking behind it all. It was stirring, staring back at this place, at the flames, the gathering, and… at me.

I cringed back, tore my eyes from the impossibility I saw above, but I knew, I felt, something was coming. Something was using the pillar of flames to reach out to us.

In front of me, Andrew opened his arms wide, as if to embrace what was coming.

Then his body changed. What had been a human being was first elongated before it turned into something different. I watched as Andrew grew thinner than thicker before his form was warped into something alien. I saw limbs sprout from it, limbs and other things, too many things.

Finally, his form didn’t seem able to contain itself, and it burst open. I watched as it changed into one of the mad, sparkling galaxies itself, into an otherworldly blanket of stars. Further and further it spread out, washed over the temple, the people and drenched it all in wild sparkling colors as if devouring it, removing it from this realm.

In sheer and utter terror, I threw myself back to escape the otherworldly surge of stars and colors, stumbled to my feet and dashed away into the forest.

With the ever-extending blanket of stars behind me and the mad, sparkling galaxies above, I ran through the forest. I was out of it, had no destination in mind, couldn’t think of anything but to get away. I screamed at myself to keep going, to keep running.

My heart beat heavy in my chest, my breath came in ragged bursts, and finally my vision grew blurry. Then my legs gave way, and a second later, darkness descended upon me.

I was awoken by one of the meditation guides who found me passed out in the forest.

The moment I opened my eyes and saw his face, I scrambled away from him. Then, slowly, as I gathered my bearings, I realized everything was back to normal. The sky above was of a normal blue, the surrounding trees were shaken slightly by a gentle breeze. No hint of the otherworldly blanket of stars or the mad, sparkling galaxies remained.

When the man enquired if everything was alright and what had happened, I rambled on, but then closed my mouth again. Eventually, as my panic abated, I just shook my head. I told him I’d been out during the night, on a little self-discovery trip, and must’ve fallen asleep out here.

The man nodded and helped me to my feet before he led me to the main hall to have some breakfast. Yet I could’ve sworn I saw the slightest hint of a knowing smile on his face.

When I entered the main hall, everything was normal. No one looked up when I entered. None of the people who’d been at the gathering last night seemed to care about me. They acted as if nothing had happened at all.

Yet as I sat there, trying to make sense of what I’d seen last night, as my eyes wandered around, I noticed things I’d never noticed before.

I saw people’s empty stares, faces that were filled with nothing but a slightly blissful expression. These people, I realized, they weren’t really here.

As I looked towards the fruits and vegetables prepared for us in at the hall’s center, I thought I could make out a slightly bluish-purple glow, one that reminded me of the strange powder Andrew had called Satyania.

Then I jerked up. Andrew! Oh god, what had happened to him? What had he become? In my mind’s eye, the terrible transformation played out again. His body warped and changed, burst apart and-

“Good morning, brother,” I suddenly heard his voice from right beside me.

I jerked around and found he’d taken a seat right next to me.

I could do nothing but stare at him, unable to say a single word. He looked exactly the same, his garments were exactly the same. And yet, for the first time, I noticed how different he seemed, how much he’d changed ever since he’d joined this place. There was an aura to him, a strange, otherworldly aura.

When he spoke, his voice was his, but at the same time, his words seemed to echo, as if something was speaking with him, or… through him.

“It takes time, brother,” he started, placing his hand on my shoulder. “The first time you witness a visit, it’s scary, always. You’ll get used to it, eventually.”

“What the hell happened out there? What happened to you? I mean, how are you here and-“

“You’ll learn in time,” he cut me off, “but only if you’re willing to.”

With that, he got up, and I watched as he made his way to his morning meditation.

For a few seconds, I stared after him before I jumped to my feet and rushed from the room.

By now, I’ve packed my belongings, ready to get out of this place. It doesn’t matter if I have to walk back all by myself. This place is wrong! These people are wrong! Whatever’s going on here is nothing but pure and utter insanity!

And yet, I’m still sitting here. Even though I know I should leave, I’m still sitting here.

There’s something in the back of my mind. As the visions from last night return to me again and again, there’s more than just terror. There’s a strange sense of curiosity, of want, to learn and to witness it again.

My brother’s words reverberated through my mind.

“You’ll learn in time, but only if you’re willing to.”

Yes, brother, I want to learn, I want to experience it again and I want to see what lays hidden below that otherworldly blanket of stars.

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