Look presentable. Dresses for women, shirts and ties for men. The dress code wasn’t mandatory, merely a suggestion. However, they said, the Maharishi did consider good clothing and grooming a sign of respect.
I hadn’t packed anything appropriate because I hadn’t planned on meeting an enlightened being. Frankly, I was a little surprised he cared about appearances. I thought once you reached cosmic consciousness, you’d only be ogling auras or something. This was all new to me. It had only been a couple weeks since I’d been formally initiated into the mysteries of meditation. I asked Margaret if I could borrow a dress.
Margaret and I met in high school in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Of our class of nearly a thousand students, she and I alone seemed eager to get the hell out of there after graduation. I asked Margaret if she was interested in traveling. Well, she said, she'd already put a deposit on a six-month, residential, training course to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. The exact site of the course had yet to be determined but it would likely be somewhere in Switzerland and she was starting to feel a little anxious about heading overseas alone. She wondered if I'd be interested in going with her. Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared if she’d signed up to learn yodeling from a hula hooping Slovakian, we were heading to Europe.
I knew I couldn’t afford to stay more than a few weeks without income. So, still in high school, decades before the internet, I researched Swiss hotels and restaurants, found addresses, and wrote letters of asking about jobs. One hotel manager kindly responded to explain no one could hire foreigners without special work permits and those were typically reserved for skilled professionals. I was devastated. Then, Margaret got word that her course would take place in Northern Italy. As it turned out, Italy was the rare European country in 1974 that did not require work permits. So just weeks past my eighteenth birthday, Margaret and I boarded our first international flight
As luck, or karma, would have it, the meditation course desperately needed people to work in the kitchens serving the six hundred students in exchange for room and board. There was one catch. Workers had to be practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. For $20, the student rate in Italy, they would teach me. A couple days later, I sat cross-legged on the floor of a hotel room while an American woman performed the ceremony with incense, a Sanskrit chant, and flowers before bestowing me with a mantra, a single, syllable Vedic sound that I was to silently repeat with eyes closed. When I felt my mind wander, she said, let go of the thought and gently return to the mantra. It was so effortless, I figured I was doing it all wrong. But I was happy to fake it if it meant hanging out in Italy.
A short time later, the imminent arrival of the Maharishi was announced. Everyone was encouraged to dress up and greet him with fresh flowers. My first thought : I don't have a thing to wear!
Memoir: Overland by Vivian McInerny. Image by @194angellstreet @ellowrites @ellocollaboration @ellomemoire