Author Claire Hoffman estimates that she’s spent at least 2,200 hours of her life meditating — but not since she became a devotee of the practice as an adult. Her mother was a follower of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Hoffman spent most of her childhood in a community in Fairfield, Iowa that was devoted to Transcendental Meditation.
Hoffman, who writes about her unusual upbringing in the new memoir Greetings from Utopia Park, tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies that moving to the utopian community from New York City when she was kindergarten-aged was idyllic — at least initially. “These initial handful of years, it was completely magical,” Hoffman says. “We believed that we were changing the planet, and everyone was meditating. … It was this sort of blissful experience.”
Maharishi, the Yogi whose teachings inspired her mother, specialized in “Yogic Flying,” a practice that he claimed would infuse practitioners with the power to levitate. He charged Hoffman’s mother and other devotees thousands of dollars to find out it.
Simply because Yogic Flying was practiced in secret, Hoffman believed for years that her mother could, in reality, fly. Then, when she was 9 or 10, she attended a demonstration of the practice and was crushed.
“It was this sort of funny frog hop that they had been carrying out across the area,” Hoffman says. “For me that moment of seeing this sort of awkward, ugly jumping, as opposed to this incredible levitation that I as a kid had imagined was a first moment, for me, of doubt.”
On Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the origins of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement
His father was, I think, a local administrator. He was born around 1919. There is some debate about his age. And he went to college. He was a physics student. He truly loved science and math, which you see later on in the movement. … He went to go see a guru and he decided to drop out of college and become this guru’s secretary. The guru was known as Guru Dev. …
Maharishi … he wasn’t component of this sort of religious caste, he was from a clerical caste. He wasn’t supposed to be a monk, he just worked as a secretary. And soon after Guru Dev died, the sort of story goes that he went and lived in a cave for a few years, and he came out and he sort of had this revelation that he wanted to teach the globe to meditate. This is in the mid-to-late ’50s. Meditation had been sort of the stuff of spiritual men and women like monks and yogis and gurus and his notion was to give it to what he called “the householder class,” and it was sort of a revolutionary believed that standard folks in India or about the world could just meditate and then go to perform and have a job and have a family.
On moving to Fairfield, Iowa, so her mother could go to the Maharishi International University and live in the utopian neighborhood
We had lived for most of my life in New York City, so my image of moving to Iowa was this sort of rural paradise exactly where we would live on a farm and there would be animals, I would be free to go outdoors and do what ever I wanted, which I did not have in New York. I imagined, because my mom told me we have been moving to this neighborhood, that everyone would meditate, and that had definitely been this portion of our life, but not one thing we shared with any individual else. So I was genuinely excited to have this community.
We got there in the middle of winter, and it was extremely cold, and we drove to Fairfield and I was sort of taken aback. I discovered it really crummy, sort of old houses, dirty snow. There was a population of people there who had been there just before the meditators showed up, who we known as “townies,” and they named us “gurus,” or “rus,”and they weren’t friendly to us. They were not content to have us there. It was sort of all these city slickers or weirdos from California or the coasts, as nicely as a bunch of Europeans, who showed up in their town. So there was a lot of hostility.
On being sent to the town college, since her mother could not afford to send her to the Maharishi college
My initial day of college I was instantly asked, “Does your mom meditate?” and I said, “Yes.” And they stated, “Does your mother fly?” and I mentioned, “No, but that is why we’re right here. She wants to learn to fly.” I was instantly categorized as a “Ru” and on best of that, I had my sugar-free of charge lunches with bagels and wheat bread and cream cheese and cucumbers. Almost everything I did was entirely strange to them.
We would, throughout recess, play outside, and the kids from Maharishi School would stroll past and the townie little ones would rattle the fence and scream, “Guru!” sort of swearing and yelling and taunting them. Later on, when I did go to the Maharishi school, I would walk past my former buddies who would yell at me.
On the thought that meditation could produce globe peace
A massive component of life in Fairfield — in order to comprehend why every person moved there and what the vision was — was that Maharishi had a theory that big groups of individuals practicing his trademarked kind of meditation and his advanced kind of meditation, which he known as “Yogic Flying,” would develop planet peace. He had a scientific formula that he had come up with exactly where it was to be precise, the square root of a single percent of the population — if that amount of men and women were meditating it would radiate this sort of peace engine that would modify the world.
So the men and women that moved there, moved there to meditate with each other. And in the late ’70s, early ’80s, they constructed these two gigantic, golden dome-shaped buildings. There was a women’s dome and a men’s dome, and twice a day, men and women would go and meditate collectively. In the ’80s and into the ’90s it was thousands of individuals and they would meditate for about an hour and a half to two hours each and every session. So it would be an hour and a half to two hours, twice a day, so three to 4 hours.
On Yogic Flying
A large schismatic moment for the Transcendental Meditation movement occurred in the late ’70s. Up until that, Maharishi had been really advocating this 20 minutes of basic meditation twice a day, and he introduced some thing called the TM-Sidhi program and “sidhi,” loosely translated, indicates superpowers, and so there had been advertisements at the time — you can still uncover them — that say the “strength of an elephant,” or you would get the powers of invisibility and that you could fly, you could levitate.
[Individuals] paid thousands of dollars and they did these advanced TM programs. So Yogic Flying is sort of the core of what men and women who moved to Fairfield were practicing. I say that it was schismatic simply because TM was quite mainstream in the ’70s, and then he introduces levitation and he loses a lot of people.
On why the Yogic Flying Course was so costly
It cost thousands of dollars because Maharishi stated that Americans never worth issues unless they spend a lot of income for them. …
It cost thousands of dollars because Maharishi mentioned that Americans don’t worth things unless they pay a lot of funds for them.
As time went on living in Fairfield, far more and far more there have been all these distinct sort of trappings or accouterments of enlightenment. They all price income. So you had to have a specific type of paste prior to you went to go practice your Yogic Flying, and the paste price, like, $ 150, and the Yogic Flying price thousands of dollars to find out, and then your badge to get into the dome to practice the group meditation price $ 100 a month. Every little thing cost income. Almost everything about our life there, it felt like it became commodified.
By the time I was a teenager there was a particular kind of medicine, Maharishi Ayurveda there was a special form of architecture, Maharishi sthapatya veda there was astrology to adhere to and have your charts completed, which was Maharishi jyotish there was particular gemstones and gemstone technologies, I do not even know what that its, but it was there.
On what she believed this project would be and what it turned out to be
I in no way met Maharishi. My mother loved and loves him so much, and the people that I grew up with, my friend’s parents, they loved him so considerably. He was so critical to them. That does imply one thing to me. He gave them these amazing experiences, he changed their lives. He really shaped my life in so a lot of approaches.
In the approach of writing this book my opinion of him changed. I believe when I initial started thinking about writing a book about the TM movement I was a youngish investigative reporter and I thought, I’m going to figure out what happened with all this cash. I’m going to expose the hypocrisy. And over time and functioning on this book I feel like it is so much a lot more complicated than that, due to the fact I believe what occurred in Fairfield we did to ourselves.
Maharishi never ever lived there. He was often somewhere else. So it was virtually like we had been existing with the shadow of a guru. So everything was trickle-down expertise. We wanted to do everything the way that he mentioned we should do it and we wanted to live life specifically according to his principles. But he was in no way there, so it was this distillation of energy, which meant a lot of jockeying and positioning, and I believe it designed a quite sort of screwed up community for a quantity of years. But I think that was our fault. … I consider by the finish of carrying out this book, I feel like we do it to ourselves and why do we do it? I feel that is such a more interesting question than, “Was he a wonderful man or was he a con artist?” Who cares? What I care about is why individuals do this.