My sister once told me transcendental meditation would change my life, so I went ahead and did it: paid $125 for a mantra. It may not sound like a lot of money, but (a) this was 1976 and my annual salary as a budding botanist was $8,000, and (b) no money ever bought less.
Lucky me: There was a TM center in Poughkeepsie, the metropolis nearest the tiny mid-Hudson Valley town of Millbrook, N.Y., where I'd moved right after college. The center turned out to be a mostly empty house furnished in broken-down folding chairs and little else.
The first indoctrination session was free. I wasn't impressed, but my sister's promise weighed heavily on me, so I paid the dreamy-eyed "instructors" and continued.
After three or four more visits, I would be entrusted with my mantra -- mine alone, dispatched from on high through some mysterious process. Thence out-of-body experiences!
The night the mantra was to be divulged, I was instructed to bring a fresh piece of fruit and a new handkerchief -- an offering, to whom or what I knew not.
I promised never, ever, to tell anyone my mantra. Out of a mixture of obedience and embarrassment, I kept it to myself until joking about the episode with my sister 20 years later. "Shee-rah," I murmured. She looked at me. "Mine, too."