A liberal education

Your Mantra,
This sour and stringent sound,
Aing, or was it Aingk?
Should go off like a lemon
In your head
Each time.
It is not for relaxing.
You are 18.
That is why they gave you the lemon mantra.

I found my mantra on a hard drive today.

You can’t get more SUNY than me. Came to New Paltz in my mother’s belly when my father accepted an appointment here just before the boom years, Rockefeller’s massive investment in the system in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s.

Every SUNY campus experienced a building spurt in those years, and they are all architecturally derived from the Empire State Plaza in Albany, a genuine style of state. On the SUNY New Paltz campus, the Haggerty Administration Building represents, as did the adjacent Student Union Building until someone grafted a silly glass atrium onto the front of it, like the prow of a crystal ship. At SUNY Oswego, that late Sixties style describes exactly half the sprawling lakeside campus, the side called “new campus.” SUNY Albany, as one would expect, is almost uniformly in that clean, white Rockefeller mode.


At 17, I decided not to go college. This rattled my parents, of course, but it also provided one of the few occasions on which my father felt strongly enough to forcibly subdue my mother’s manic reaction. He somehow made her understand that the more they objected and outwardly fretted over my choice the more they reinforced and validated its pretext.

Round about summer, as late as August, I panicked, changed my mind, and decided to go to college, to the only one that accepted the indifferent high-school average (did I even clear 80?) and the SAT scores that surely shocked my parents with their bland mediocrity: SUNY Brockport, known as a Long Island-heavy jock school with excellent physical education and dance programs. It was, unlike SUNY New Paltz, a rather charmless linear campus located between Rochester and Buffalo. But like New Paltz at the time, Brockport was having some issues with reputation and admission standards. Hence me. I have no idea if they ever reversed that decline as decisively as New Paltz did during and after Alice Chandler’s administration.

I learned how to read and write and apply myself and get good grades at Brockport. Then I promptly used that 3.8 cumulative average to get the hell out of there — back east along the shore of Lake Ontario to SUNY Oswego (SUNY, always SUNY), where I continued to assuage my parents’ fears with a string of 4.0s and a summa cum laude diploma that, in retrospect, is still just about the only thing that floats my mother’s esteem for me.

Anyway, at Brockport, I fell in briefly with the Transcendental Meditation crowd and bought myself a mantra for $100, a white handkerchief and a piece of fruit (being me, I brought a banana to the final meeting). TM’s presence on campuses was strong then, buoyed by the first wave of scientific studies confirming the benefits of mediation. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s system was a branded meditation product marketed for the West, stripped of religious context and iconography, divorced even from yoga and deep breathing.

Really, it was sold as a powerful and simple non-religious thing you can do for yourself. The assignment of mantras, we were told, was where the expertise came into play. We were taught that if you meditated on the wrong mantra, the magic would not happen. If you told your mantra to your roommate, it would not work for them.

A few years later, a former TM teacher came clean to Omni magazine (remember Omni?), and claimed that the sole basis of mantra assignment was age. He listed the mantras and the ages they were assigned to, and sure enough, there was mine — Aing, or Aingk — across the sidebar graphic from the number 18.

I still use that mantra and I don’t feel cheated. If it wasn’t really customized for me then, it surely is by now. Aing … or was it Aingk?


Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.

There is one comment

  1. Hunter College

    There was a comment made in this newspaper about the “architecture” of this University that cast it in a negative light against nine other campusae that the writer had been on. The next thing you know, the Student Union sprouts a glass-atritum, the campus’s eternal new sight.
    What can I tell you?

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