Recently, a friend invited me to join her meditation group. The four people in her group meet every week to practice Tai Chi. They start each session with a guided meditation.
She described me to her friends in the group as a person with a lot of experience with meditation who might be interested in joining and leading the sessions. The other people in the group responded enthusiastically.
When I read the email with the invitation, I had one of those “fork in the road” moments.
You know how, in the movies, a character has to make a crucial decision with huge consequences? For example, a person arrives at a Greyhound station and sees two coaches, one marked “Oshkosh” and the other “New York City.” The movie shows the chain of events that occurs when the character gets on one bus, then the other, resulting in triumph or disaster.
I read that email invitation and I flashed back to my years in a fringe religious sect. I recalled how it started—so many young and idealistic people ready to change the world. Maharishi was upbeat and accessible. It was like a big party.
Years passed and fewer and fewer people saw Maharishi in person. He withdrew to a secluded compound and surrounded himself with a small band of true believers. His teachings grew more and more bizarre. In his final years, he occasionally appeared on video, surrounded by vast floral displays and a computer-generated golden nimbus, to rail against democracy and threaten doom.
In the end, Maharishi didn’t turn out well, but how many of us would do a better job? Imagine the pressure he was under—decades of fawning adulation by crowds projecting their hopes on him. The constant drone of sycophants telling him what they thought he wanted to hear. The total lack of normal human relationships. How many of us could survive all that without cracking up?
So, I got that email invitation and I imagined myself sitting cross-legged looking out at eager faces waiting for spiritual insight. I hit Reply and firmly declined the offer.
If I’d taken the other bus, I doubt that I would turn out like Maharishi. I doubt I’d ever have the opportunity. I might have even done some good.
That’s all beside the point. I turned down the invitation to lead a group meditation for the same reason that some people say they don’t want to try heroin.
I might like it.