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No, I don't wear orange robes or belong to a cult, unless you count the Retail Clerks' Union Local 1242. This was just before the turn of the millennium, and I was ripe for a major life change. After 25 years of singlehood, I was a burned-out party girl, inexorably bored by my seemingly permanent role as the sole un-coupled person at party after party after party.
New Year's Eve, supposedly the biggest party of all, increasingly found me sated with its redundant, predictable patter, its faces stretched into taut, insincere smiles, and its hypocritical air-kisses at midnight. Just once, I wanted to experience true tranquility as the calendar transitioned from old to new.
Back then I mostly dated renegades, outlaws, rebels, outsiders— you get the idea: all unavailable, fabulously cruel withholders who proved indifferent to my personal dramarama. Certainly I would tolerate no one who mentioned Nepal or his mother on the first date. Such sloppy sentimentality was out!
And so, when a suitably detached buddy, let's call him "Jasper"— how was I to know the Feds would nab him in a major crime sting a few years later?— suggested I accompany him to what he promised would be a gentle, if unfamiliar, setting, I decided: Why not?
A mansion in Germantown
After promising that I wouldn't have to speak to anyone there, join their church, use my real name, sign up for their mailing list, or eat and drink anything peculiar against my will, Jasper picked me up in his silver-bullet-toned van and we drove along a winding riverside path to the Krishna Consciousness ashram, located in a spacious Victorian stone mansion at the edge of Philadelphia's Germantown section.
Before even daring to assume a lotus position on the carpeted floor, I quickly scanned the room. To my relief, I didn't recognize anyone. I could be totally anonymous here. I crossed my legs, let out a deep breath, and closed my eyes.
Even scientists agree that a sustained percussive pulse can place you into a trance, and so I gave myself over to the music. With my eyes closed, I experienced what felt like a time-tunnel journey through inner space. The chanting, the drums, the cymbals persisted, and so did my internal voyage. I may have been anxious, skeptical, or nervous when we started, but as the evening progressed, I gradually experienced trust, acceptance and an exquisite calm.
Noise outside, peace inside
At the precise moment the clock struck midnight, all chanting and cymbals and drumbeats ceased, while outside we heard unmitigated Babel: sirens and whistles and noisemakers, shouts and screams, pistols firing into the sky, a clamorous madness. Inside, the overtones left from the music hung in the air— not a hum, but the faintest of vibrations that thrummed through our bodies like a caress— and we sat there, returning to ourselves, absorbing this perfect peace, illusory as it may have been.
Soon Jasper led me back to his van, where he surprised me with crystal goblets and waiting champagne, chilled and exquisite, so we could optimistically toast an uncertain future.
I never returned to the ashram, but that particular New Year's Eve changed me forever. It was more than a mere distraction from the mundane. I felt cleansed. From that point I gradually embraced my own version of poverty, chastity, sobriety.
And I promise you: Proverbial wild horses will never again drag my saggy butt to a New Year's Eve party. No, not even yours.
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