Life finds its purpose and fulfillment in the expansion of happiness.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
I will fill the world with Love and create Heaven on Earth
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Balancing my small tray with precious daffodils, a newly washed orange and two bananas, along with a freshly starched white handkerchief, I gingerly entered the living room of the hallowed Beverly Hills home of Roland and Mother Olson to receive Initiation.[i] It was 1966; I was eight years old. My parents said this day was the culmination of prior lifetimes on Earth, for my five-year-old brother and for me. They said we were doubly honored to be alive on Earth now and to be initiated as children.
I carried my tray proudly, anxious lest I drop something. They said it was important not to smell the flowers, because smelling them would deplete the flowers’ essence. That was easy for me, because daffodils don’t have much scent anyway. I wondered how the other children avoided smelling their roses. I didn’t understand any of this, but I knew it was important. I was afraid of making a wrong move.
I paid careful attention to all the instructions because they said our Initiation was more important than the First Communion of our Catholic neighbors. I wanted a white dress and party like my friends had for their First Communion. My mother gave me a frilly yellow dress, matching my daffodils and bananas. We had no Initiation party.
Cold grey metal chilled the back of my thighs, I kept my dangling feet from swinging, while we children waited quietly in two rows of folding chairs. This was worth the wait because all our parents had assured us that we were at the tipping point, our good karma would outweigh our bad karma at the precise moment of initiation. We had waited lifetimes for this cosmic rite, and only good could come our way from now onward! Adults stood quietly lined up along the walls. Children held our offerings upon our seated laps. I fought the urge to sneeze from wafts of incense in the smoky room, infused with solemn celebration.
Finally, a young blond woman came from behind a door and walked towards me.
“Are you Gina?” She whispered while bending down in front of me. I nodded. She smiled and motioned for me to follow her. I looked back towards my parents who smiled brightly and waved their hands for me to go with her. I arose and followed her to a small heavily draped darkened room.
The young blond woman, my first Initiator, smiled as she bent to take my offerings, leaving one daffodil for me to hold. She motioned me toward a chair. As I began to sit, she silently signaled for me to remain standing. A small white altar supported a framed image of a seated white-bearded man draped in orange robes. I wondered who was in this picture; it didn’t look like the Maharishi that our parents always talked about. Brass implements and a small candle were on the altar. The woman began a hypnotic Sanskrit chant. The incense was heady. My mind drifted and I fell into a partial trance. She dipped each daffodil and banana into water and sprinkled them around the altar, taking the final daffodil from my hands. She reminded me of priests at Catholic mass, except this ceremony was secret. I trusted my parents and their friends that this was secret because it was more important than a Catholic communion which anyone could receive.
After finishing the chant, the woman before me bowed upon her knees, placing her forehead to the floor before the altar. The bowing confused me. When she motioned for me to bow alongside her I remained standing gazing at her with her forehead on the floor. It seemed strange to bow before someone I didn’t know about.
The young woman arose after a minute or so, smiling and motioning for me to sit. She sat alongside me, and then whispered, “Ainga.” I didn’t understand what she was saying. She repeated, still whispering, “Ainga” and motioned with her hand for me to repeat the strange sound. I looked at her questioningly. She nodded toward me, “Ainga.”
“Ainga.” I repeated after her.
She nodded with a pretty smile, closed her eyes and motioned for me to repeat the sound again.
“Ainga.” I said, relieved that I said it correctly.
“Your mantra” she said “is for you alone. You keep it inside yourself and never repeat it aloud again. It’s very special inside of you. For your meditation, you will repeat this gently inside yourself while you play quietly twice daily, or take a walk.” She handed one daffodil back to me.
I was never to disclose my mantra. This first secret of many, never to be spoken aloud, is the personal mantra for Transcendental Meditation.[ii] Thus, I became an “initiate” into Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
When I returned to the larger room, carrying the daffodil she allowed me to keep in honor of this holy day, I could see that the waiting adults were solemn and pleased. My younger brother, Gunnar, was called next. He followed her, wide-eyed, also carrying daffodils and bananas. Watching my brother disappear into the draped room, I thought that strawberries would be better than bananas for such a special occasion.
Clearly, matters of heaven, Earth, enlightenment and reincarnation were beyond my childhood understanding. Each child, in turn, entered with flowers, fruit and handkerchiefs, exited, and then waited silently sitting in the incense-laden living room. All the parents were likewise silent, using hand motions and smiling while directing us where to wait.
Finally another pretty blond woman motioned for five of us children to follow her. Again I looked toward my parents who nodded for us to follow her.
We stepped outside after putting on our shoes that had been earlier left by the front door. When we were all outside, she placed her index finger to her lips, motioning for our continued silence. She bent down toward the five of us; “You all remember your mantra and how to use it now?” We nodded in unison.
“Very good” she smiled, “Now we’ll walk around the block and you can silently repeat your mantra to yourselves. Just think it in an easy way, without forcing anything. This is how you will practice your Word of Wisdom twice per day.”
She led us on a walk around the block. The children’s technique of TM was to be practiced while we played in silence, or walked quietly. The adults had said the mantra would cause our minds to transcend beyond meaningless outer life. I didn’t understand what they meant. But I knew that we looked forward to reaching our tenth birthdays, when we would learn the adult sitting meditation, with another private initiation. Then we would be allowed to sit and meditate with our parents, just like grown-ups!
On this day, our small group of children silently walked around the block practicing our Word of Wisdom. Skipping past pristine small Beverly Hills mansions, the cascades of fuchsia bougainvilleas, fragrant jasmine, orange birds of paradise, and palm trees sparkled more vividly than I had remembered them from before. I believed the world looked brighter and everything would be perfect for the rest of my life! I wondered about these other children in our group, hoping we could play together later on. I alternately skipped along the sidewalk, and balanced like a tightrope upon the curb, chanting my special mantra inwardly experimenting with varying rhythms “Ainga . . . Aingaaah . . . Aaaaiiiiieeeengah . . . Ainga . . . Ainga.”
As we approached the Olson house again, one energetic boy looked at me and exclaimed, “Hey! My mantra is Ainga. What’s yours?”
“That’s my mantra!” I said, shocked. My brother’s big brown eyes widened; Gunnar burst into tears.
I looked at the other children, they nodded breaking their silence to acknowledge, “Mine too!” The young woman with us crouched down to our height, whispering hypnotically she tried in vain to calm the now distraught group of children.
I bolted up the front steps to the Olson’s house, leaving the crying children on the sidewalk. Without stopping to remove my shoes, I exploded into the incense-laden living room, sobbing to the silent adults, “All the children have the same mantra! Mine isn’t special!”
[i] The Olsons hosted His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in their home when he arrived in the USA in the late 1950’s. Helene Olson wrote a book chronicling the early days of The TM Movement, no longer in print, A Hermit in the House. Reprint: “His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Living Saint for the New Millennium. Stories of his First Visit to the USA” Told by Helene & Roland Olson copyright 1967 by Helena Olson, copyright 1979 by Christina and Tina Olson, copyright 2001 by Theresa Olson.
[ii] TM mantras are tantric names of Hindu deities.