When I first moved to the University of Exeter in 1969 for my junior year, I lived in a lovely old manor house near campus that had been transformed into a dorm. My parents gave me permission to buy a bicycle, but when I saw that the university was perched on top of a steep hill, I bought a motorcycle instead. It didn’t take me long to find the small group of Exeter students who shared my love for drugs. After Christmas I moved into a row house on Old Tiverton Road with my new friends. My social life grew but my academic performance plummeted. I smoked hashish every morning before getting out of bed and often missed my handful of classes. My fragile self-confidence shriveled and I lost hold of my identity.
One of my housemates practiced Transcendental Meditation (TM) and told me an “initiator” was coming to Exeter and urged me to join. I thought, why not? So one morning I put on an airy dress and gathered the requisite offerings—a bouquet of flowers, a piece of fruit, a new white handkerchief, and a hefty sum of money totaling more than the cost of my motorcycle—and walked through dewy grass to a tent erected in a field near campus.
The initiator turned out to be an unfriendly Dane who grilled me from a list of questions. I was taken off guard when he asked when I’d last used drugs. I guessed that “this morning” would disqualify me so, instead of cancelling the initiation, I broke my own moral code and lied. The ceremony began with me kneeling and placing my gifts on an altar in front of a photograph of the Maharishi. Then the initiator recited a long string of words in a language I didn’t understand and asked me to agree. Finally, he bent over and whispered a secret mantra into my ear, coaching me to repeat it silently over and over and promise to never tell it to anyone. It wasn’t until years later I learned I had ignorantly conceded to surrender my soul and all my possessions to the Maharishi, and that the so-called unique mantra was the same one given to all female initiates in my age group.
I did my best to meditate using the mantra for twenty-minute periods now and then, but I had no discipline in my life. When I did sit still and try to focus my mind, I was besieged with thoughts of all the things I should be doing.
One day I rode my motorcycle to the campus chapel to practice meditation. There was no heat in the chapel so I sat in a beam of sunlight shining through a narrow window. As I repeated my mantra—I-eem, I-eem—it gradually changed into I AM, I AM. From religion classes at boarding school I recognized I AM as God’s personal name revealed to Moses in the burning bush. Despite my foolish worship of a false god, the Lord graciously extended his protection over me.