A Hermit in the House from 1967 is a book from the very early days of Maharishi and the Transcendental Meditation movement in the United States. The author Helena (born 1909) and her husband Roland Olson (born 1909) first encountered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the summer of 1959 during his first visit to the United States. He stayed in their Los Angeles home at 433 Harvard Boulevard for more than three months, making it his base of operations and changing their lives in some ways. It was an old 16-room home. He brought with him the ancient Vedic teaching that life is bliss (if you can get to it) and that Transcendental Meditation (TM) helps living well enough in some ways.
The Olson family hosted Maharishi in their house in the early 1960's too, and it served as a centre of visitors, lectures and TM initiations. A family housecat plopped at Maharishi's feet during his talks there as well.
Helena Olson's book gives insights into the first activities in the west of Maharishi. The book is written in a series of sequentially unfolding events around Maharishi's first trips and covers important subjects of Maharishis Vedic teachings with simplicity.
The Olson couple had four daughters, Melinda, Mary, Tina and Theresa. Theresa, the youngest of them, was ten years old when she met Maharishi in 1959. She recalls nights she had to sleep over at the neighbour's house wistfully looking back to her lively noisy home, her own bedroom given over to Maharishi. She has added a preface and appendices to later editions.
The book describes the days when Maharishi became a part of the daily life of a typical American family and how he began to teach his simple technique of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to the Olsons' friends and family in their own living room.
Some fifty-five years later, TM is a household name, Maharishi has passed on, and TM has been taught to seven million people so far (2017). Maharishi wanted Heaven on Earth for all mankind. All are not quite there yet.
In April 1959 Roland and Helena Olson had time to read books on various subjects. One of the books was written by an engineer who went to India. He met yogis and sages who walked on water. "Doesn't that sound interesting?" Helena asked her husband.
"Doesn't sound like engineering to me," said he.
(Olson 1967, 18)
It was a small book and easy to read. Helena reviewed it briefly for the family at dinner. The next day she bought more books on the subject and reported to the family at the dinner table.
Then, on the Saturday after the last Friday of April there was a small ad on the back page of the 'Womens' Section' of the "Times". The ad read:
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
"A Master from the East is at the Hollywood Actors Club!" Helena said. They decided to go and hear him.
When Helena phoned the number in the ad and told that the Olsons would be coming, she asked if it would it be necessary to come early to get seats.
"I don't think so," said the man on the phone. "So far, you're the only one who has called."
The Olsons came early for the lecture. 40 or 45 persons were assembled in the lounge. Comfortable arm chairs were arranged in a semi-circle facing a small stage. A little bench with a deerskin draped over it was directly under dozens of pictures of Hollywood's greatest male stars.
Then appeared Maharishi, clothed in white silk seamless robes, a brown shawl around his shoulders and roses in his hands. He cleared his throat and said his mission was to say to all the world who would listen, that God is Bliss, and the path to God is a Blissful Path, without suffering, that man could reach this Bliss naturally, delightfully. (Ibid, 20-21
Maharishi lecturing in Hollywood: "Can a fish remain thirsty in a pond of water? No. Only if he wants to remain thirsty. Otherwise he has only to open the mouth and the water will be in. Man was not born to suffer." He held up "All joy, all bliss, all creativity . . . Bliss omnipresent." (Olson 1967, 34)
"What is needed is only a few minutes morning and evening to go to the treasury, – come out and spend in the market place."
"In the outer glories of life, man has forgotten the inner glories. He cannot spend in the market place if he has not been to the treasury."
"And the way is easy, quick . . . Only the right technique is needed."
When Maharishi came to the Olson house, for some reason he preferred the room of Tina, one of the daughters who still lived in their parents' house. She was near tears.
"If that man is so holy, he understands how I feel about my room! Nobody can have my bedroom! Why can't he use the front bedroom?" Her eyes glowed like fiery coals.
"I wish he would have, Tina. But, for some reason, he liked your room," her mother sought to comfort her.
The original plans were that Maharishi would be with the Olson family from the tenth of May to the fifteenth of May. During his downtown lecture the tenth, the Olsons approached him, saying, "Maharishi, we are going to take you home with us tonight."
He rose from his chair, and Roland followed with the deerskin Maharishi used to sit on it during lectures. Roland carred the deerskin folded over his arm. The rest of Maharishi's belongings were tied up in a carpet-roll. It was a flower-patterned carpet, tied at each end.
In the house the Olsons escorted their guest to his room. The bed, with crisp white sheets and white blankets may have looked inviting, but Maharishi removed the blankets and untied his carpet roll and drew out silk sheets, pillow and spread.
What else might be in the little carpet roll? Maharishi pulled out a dark brown robe resembling a large shawl. "This will keep me warm," he said. Soft and light in weight, Cashmere would keep him warm.
The Olsons invited Maharishi to join them for evening prayers in the sitting-room. When it was over, Maharishi said, "A good silence, but I will add power to it. I will initiate you, in the morning." With that he excused himself and went up to his room.
Roland hoped it meant learning "the technique of going to the Field of Bliss". (Ibid, 40-45)
The next morning the Olson couple heard the soft fall of wooden sandals in the upstairs hall. Maharishi met us in the hall, and they followed him into the study. It had changed since the night before, by incense, small lights, little dishes, candles, pictures of Guru Dev, vases and vases of flowers from other places throughout the house. Maharishi had them place some flowers on a small shrine, very quickly gave them their technique and told them to sit with their eyes closed and practice it in his presence.
Afterwards Rolands eyes were bright and shining. He asked, "The word you gave me, . . . does it mean anything at all?"
Maharishi. "If you repeat innocently as a child, you will go within very deep. It is like a boat to carry the mind to Bliss. . . . Do this a few minutes regularly morning and evening."
The initiation was over. After Maharishi got some warm milk with honey in it, he advised Helena as to dealing with her job:
"See the job.
The doorbell rang. Outside stood a sweet looking girl with two large suitcases. She unhesitatingly walked in. "My name is Sheela Devi. I have come from Hawaii to cook and care for Maharishi."
Maharishi's eyes lighted, "In Hawaii, she cared for me. A very good cook. Also a writer and takes charge of the office. Now you will not have to worry for me."
Helena went to work in her office under a theatre. There she meditated, got abundant ideas and felt no fatigue. Back home the back porch was laced with silk pieces hung to dry. They were from Maharishi's little carpet bag. Sheela came in to start ironing, but was not much for talking. Did she actually like washing, and ironing, and cooking? She answered, "Yes - for Maharishi."
Helena asked Maharishi, "Have you had time to work on your lecture for this evening?"
He answered he just said what he said, and: "No need to prepare." His discourses were simply worded.
Helena was told that his lectures would continue in their living-room. Thirty folding chairs had been set up there. "Very nice," said Maharishi.
Helena whispered to her Roland, "- and it's only for a few days."
Maharishi had been with them only a few days and had changed the character of their home. "More and more bouquets of flowers appeared in every possible location. Huge baskets of blessed fruit from the initiation offerings sat on every table. People were coming from eight in the morning until late at night. The telephone rang constantly. The two Siamese cats were always under someone's feet. Everyone was always "shush-ing" everyone else. It was not possible to get near the washing machine. Sheela made a ceremony of the laundry. Our soiled clothes were not allowed even in the same room with Maharishis towels. Dozens of pots of vegetables were on the kitchen stove, - and chaos everywhere!"
The evening lecture brought fresh, eager, shining faces. People were asked to remove their shoes, and dozens of pairs of shoes were scattered over the floors, "It was bedlam!" Helena summed up.
Upstairs, Roland and she were meditating, enjoying it, and yet were counting the days until it would all be over. As the fifth day dawned, they breathed a sigh of relief.
"Maharishi surely is a very wise person, and it has been a rare privilege to know him. I hope he has enjoyed his stay with us," Helena said to Roland. He smiled a bit wistfully. "It will soon be over," he said.
However, he did not leave, but kept on lecturing in their living-room, saying such as:
"One thing to be done is Meditation to be added as a part of the daily routine. That is all. And Meditation is not that as is understood in the West . . . Much greater depth is there underneath the waters. Diving is necessary. Coming up is necessary." (Ibid, 58-59)
When the listeners had gone for that night and the house finaly was quiet, the Olsons went to say good night to Maharishi in the study.
"Sit there," he motioned to Roland and her to sit near him. Helena realised she did not want him to go. "This man, foreign in dress and ideas, was like one of the family." The Olsons both started to coax Maharishi to stay longer.
""But the people, . . . aren't they too much bother for you?" asked Maharishi.
"Oh, no, no, no." Helena thought she could manage. Roland did the same thing and began to coax Maharishi to stay all summer and said: "If you really plan to go around the world, you need pamphlets, brochures, . . . all sorts of what we call 'publicity' to help you."
Their two cats meowed almost simultaneously. Something about it made Maharishi laugh heartily, a deep, joyous laughter, yet sincere and childlike.
"Maharishi, I know your wonderful laughter means that you will stay longer, - doesn't it?"
"I had not planned to leave," he said, and again he laughed.
The house that the Olsons had got, could accommodate a yogi who received fifty or more people a day for private interviews, with reception room, an office, places for a dozen or so people to meditate, and adequate bathroom facilities, well located near many bus lines, in the heart of the city, with a quiet atmosphere and within a reasonable budget. The house has all these features, and large trees on the grounds, with flowers, fragrance, shade and many song birds.
Maharishi's bedroom first lacked was a telephone. One morning, before a telephone man came to install it, Helena asked Maharishi, "Maharishi, do you really live in a cave in India?"
"Most of the time when I am in Uttar Kashi. But for the last few years, I have been going about telling people of this technique of Meditation."
"Is it comfortable to stay in a cave?"
Maharishi laughed. "It is very comfortable in the Transcendental."
"But aren't there wild animals in the caves?"
Maharishi's laughter was deep and hearty. "Where I stay in a small Ashram in Uttar Kashi, the cave is like a very small basement under a room. The entrance is through an opening only big enough for one person to enter. Down there is quiet. No sound. Cool in summer. Warm in winter."
He continued, "For the people in the world, they have only to use the sound I give and Meditate wherever they are."
During the evening lecture, for the benefit of new people, he repeated the gains possible with his type of Meditation. "Live better and longer."
Someone asked how.
"As the mind experiences the subtle levels of thinking, the breathing becomes softer, more refined. Less oxygen is needed. The body learns to 'take it easy'. Less pressure is on the lungs. Abilities increase. Mind becomes stronger. Frustrations and tensions vanish." (Ibid, 68)
Maharishi also said: "If one-tenth of the adult population of the world would Meditate like this from the deeper level of consciousness, war would be an impossibility. . . . War is created in each individual, not in the government. It is an accumulation of frustration and tension." (Ibid, 69
Helen Lutes had been helping Maharishi with appointments and seemed very relaxed in his presence. She asked him what "Jai Guru Dev" meant, hearing him using it. He said, "It means, 'Hail, Divine Teacher'. Nice?" . . . "This way we honor all Divine Teachers," said Maharishi. (Ibid, 69)
The telephone bills became alarming. "I suppose he has no idea of what phone calls cost," Roland reasoned. "Why, the President of the United States doesn't get a bill this size." (Ibid, 72)
One evening the light bill had come. Roland opened the envelope and let out a scream. "Oh, no! Just look at this. Look at this bill." Doesn't anyone ever turn out a light around here?" (Ibid, 73)
The Olson family's two Siamese cats came to the lectures every night and amused everyone by sprawling as close to Maharishi's feet as possible. They added to the charms of the house, provided gentle amusement. Now and then they added a meow or two during the lecture. These went into the recordings of Maharishi's lectures. And often the cats went through the house howling for attention. New people would say, "Are the Olsons too busy to feed their cats?" (Ibid, 77, 78)
Maharishi kept both windows open in the study, and quite often would ask, "What is that plant that smells so fragrant?"
The Olsons would answer, "Jasmin".
Then he would say, "Jessamine?"
We would try to correct it, but again he would say, "Jessamine". Then in the fall of 1959, Jessamine and David Verrill joined the group of devotees. Helen Lutes introduced Jessamine Verrill to Maharishi. "Maharishi, here is Jessamine Verrill."
Maharishi looked at her and smiled, "Ah, yes, Jasmin," he said. (Ibid, 77-78)
Maharishi one day said, "I need a completely quiet place for initiation. The people must not be distracted."
Out in the back garden the childrens' old playhouse was standing. It could be fixed to serve that purpose, and the work began.
At eleven o'clock one night two photograpers started to set up big pieces of equipment. "We are to take pictures of the yogi," they explained. Maharishi did not object to people having pictures of him. "People like to have the photos," he said.
"Many of us loved his face as it was in repose when he sat with us in Meditation," Helena summed up.
Olson, Helena. A Hermit in the House. Los Angeles, CA: Self-published, 1967. ⍽▢⍽ Later editions: Maharishi at 433: The Story of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's First Visit to the United States and His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: A Living Saint for the New Millennium: Stories of His First Visit to the USA.
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