Clear your head for heaven on earth
by Leon Satterfield
I find out now, too late to vote for him, that we had a Transcendental Meditation candidate on the presidential ballot last month. His name was John Hagelin and he represented the Natural Law Party, a group that believes if enough of us meditate transcendentally, our problemscrime, disease, the national debt, whateverwill get fixed. Their sunny outlook is reflected in the name of one of their enterprises, the Maharishi Heaven on Earth Development Corporation. I read about all that and immediately fall into a time warp.
It's 1970 and as a born and bred Baptist I have the uneasy suspicion that I'm making a fool of myself. A faculty colleague and I have decided to become Transcendental Meditators. We've been told to bring a clean white handkerchief, some cut flowers, and a piece of fresh fruit to our initiation ceremony.
I bring three Man-in-the-Moon marigolds from my wife's garden, a clean white hanky from the drawer where I put things I don't use any more, and a banana from Hinky Dinky.
I'm met at the door by a young man wearing a short haircut and a beatific smile. He takes the flowers, the hanky, and the banana, gives me a pamphlet on TM, and asks me to have a seat with the others.
My faculty colleague is already there and we give each other twitchy little grins and look around to see if anyone knows us. We've gotten into all this because the sixties have just ended, Nixon is still president, and we've been told that TM is a way to gain Inner Serenity that will lead to Cosmic Harmony and world peacea kind of heaven on earth.
That sounds pretty good to me even though the Baptist Church I grew up in warned against heaven on earth. But it also warned against dancing, playing cards, and going to picture shows on Sunday. The loudest warner was a meditative deacon who usually dozed, and sometimes snored, during the sermon, but who was our champion in theological disputes with the Methodist crowd that hung out in the barber shop. "There's nothing in the Bible about John the Methodist," he'd say, and he had them there.
While I sit there waiting to give TM a try, I wonder what they're doing with my wife's Man-in-the-Moon marigolds, my clean white hanky, and my banana. I imagine it must be something I won't be able to understand until I achieve Inner Serenity.
When my turn comes, the assistant guru leads me into a small room with a large picture of the guru-in-chief, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, looking serene to the point of drowsiness. On a table are a little pile of rice, my hanky, and the marigolds. But no banana. The assistant guru says something in Sanskrit, wraps some rice in my hanky and tells me to put it in my pocket. Then he gives me my very own personal mantra, a word I'm not to reveal to anyone or it won't work. I am to repeat it silently over and over with my eyes closed until I empty my mind and achieve Inner Serenity.
He leads me through a trial run right there, but I have a hard time keeping my mind empty. I keep wondering what they've done with my banana. But after 20 minutes, I am pleasantly relaxed and when the assistant guru taps me on the shoulder and tells me to open my eyes, it's like being awakened from a nice little nap.
"Did you find Inner Peace?" he asks. "Do you feel at one with the Cosmos?"
I yawn and nod.
"Do you have questions?" he wants to know.
"What happened to my banana?" I ask.
"The banana I brought," I say. "You gave me back my clean white hanky with the rice inside, and my wife's Man-in-the-Moon marigolds are here on the table, but what happened to the banana?"
He looks cosmically disturbed for a moment.
"Oh," he says. "The piece of fresh fruit. The volunteer staff ate it."
I pay the $75 initiation fee, vow to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day the rest of my life, promise never to reveal my very own mantra, and leave. They keep the Man-in-the-Moon marigolds.
I meditate pretty openly for about four daysuntil my kids start making fun of me.
"Where's daddy?" my wife asks when she gets home from work.
"He's in the basement meditating," my daughter says. Then she giggles.
"Where's Sherman?" my wife asks. Sherman is our saintly Dalmation-Beagle who's always been at one with the Cosmos. He dozes at my feet while I meditate and sometimes he snores.
"He's down there with daddy," my son says. "He's meditating too."
Then I hear them all laugh.
Later I find out that my very own mantra is exactly the same as my faculty colleague's very own mantra and we give each other twitchy little grins.
All that's made me a closet meditater. Now when I feel the need for serenity, I pretend to doze off. To fool my wife, I even make snoring noises. Then I empty my mind and wait for heaven to descend.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.
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