My First Experience With “The Collective”
We were newbies. We had gone to a few meetings, supposedly gotten our realization and had been diligently meditating mornings and evenings for about a month or so.
The opportunity to attend a collective gathering in a beautiful, rural area of upstate New York came up suddenly. We were invited to attend. For my husband it meant a chance to learn more about Sahaja Yoga and possibly tap into something deep. For me, it meant a weekend away from the routine—something I always welcome.
So we packed up our gear and hit the road. It was a drive of several hours, but we were enthusiastic and looked forward to the possibilities that lie ahead.
I can’t quite remember the cost of the weekend, but I know it was slightly more than we could afford at the time. And I remember thinking the figure I wrote the check out for was an odd one: something like $121 per person, check made out to “Cash.”
When we arrived somewhere in New York’s Catskills it was early evening, maybe 7:30 or so. It was late October, a little chilly and completely dark. We parked where we thought we should, got out of the car and headed over to a large, brightly-lit cabin. I was nervous (because, in my younger years, everything made me nervous), and looked around for a familiar face. I didn’t see anyone I knew, so I figured I’d introduce myself to a few of the women.
I started walking toward a small group of yoginis when a tall, good-looking yogi stopped me. He was all wrapped up in a woolen shawl and looked like some kind of authority figure.
“Excuse me,” he said, “have you paid yet?”
“Uh, no…” I started to say, and began fumbling around in my purse for the check.
“Attention everybody!” the man announced loudly, “No one, AND I MEAN NO ONE, is to go past this table (he pounded his fist down on a fold-out table) without paying the registration fee!”
Everyone was looking at me. I dug the check out of my purse and noticed that my hand was shaking as I offered it to the man while hoping it was properly filled out and for the right amount. He would not take the check. “See the girl over there,” he said, clearly disgusted.
I was a mess. Totally freaked out and feeling like I didn’t belong. I really wanted to calm myself down. I asked the money-handling yogini about where I could put my things, hoping I might take a few moments alone in my room and pull myself together.
“Don’t worry about that right now, we’re about to have a meditation. Go sit down over there.” She gestured to an area of the cabin where more blanket-wrapped people were sitting on the floor. (The cabin was very cold, possibly unheated). I looked for my husband, but he had already plopped himself down to meditate.
So I sat there, shivering on the floor (because I had no blanket or woolen shawl with which to wrap myself), feeling alone in a room full of somber strangers sitting cross legged, palms up and pointed towards a table that held a candle, a small vase of flowers and a photo of an old Indian lady who promised enlightenment at no cost.
Later that evening we were instructed to find our rooms. I assumed my husband and I would be sharing a room. We were newlyweds, married less than 3 weeks, and legitimately a couple who could share sleeping quarters without raising any judgmental eyebrows.
But no, it was not to be. Ladies in this cabin, gents over there in that one. I found myself bunking with 5 other women. And yes, there were actual bunk beds (plus one single cot). There was a shared bathroom, where two women were brushing their teeth at the same time. I took the last available bed—one stacked atop an already-claimed bed. It was 9:00, and everyone was preparing to hit the sack. I couldn’t believe it! Here we were at a beautiful campsite in the wilderness, and it was bedtime?!? Where was the campfire? How about coffee and ghost stories? I made the suggestion, only half joking. The other women looked at me as if I had just asked to have a keg party.
“It’s lights out,” one informed me, “but some of us are meditating just before we turn in, if you care to join us.”
Seeing as how I had just spent the last 45 minutes or so doing exactly that, I declined and climbed up into my bed. I was awake most of the night wondering what I had gotten myself into. Little did I know.