Searching for bliss in America’s heartland.
In her candid debut memoir, journalist Hoffman, a former staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times, recalls her childhood in Fairfield, Iowa, in the 1980s and ’90s, on a 272-acre campus established by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to promote Transcendental Meditation, spiritual enlightenment, and world peace. “The Movement I had grown up in,” writes the author, “call it a cult, a religion, a community, it was all these—had rescued my family from a scary time.” Her alcoholic father had abandoned his family; her mother, left with Claire and her brother, was destitute. Swept up in the TM movement, which was notorious for its celebrity followers (the Beatles, Mia Farrow), Hoffman’s mother saw in Iowa the promise of utopia. “We are talking of a new civilization,” Maharishi claimed. “No one will remain stressed, no one will remain hectic, everyone will fulfill one’s wants.” At first, Hoffman went to the local public school because her mother could not afford the pricey Maharishi School, but when an anonymous donor paid her tuition, she joined the school, where the curriculum focused on bliss. “Everyone wanted to be experiencing and emanating bliss”; everyone followed the Maharishi’s directions to become enlightened, which meant meditating twice a day and following his dictates for “the way you ate, slept, built your home, wore your jewels, and looked to the stars.” As she grew up, Hoffman became increasingly suspicious of the Maharishi’s grand plan. First, she noticed “a tangible shift…from mantras to products” that the Maharishi trademarked. Maintaining that “Americans only value things if they have to pay for them,” he increased the school’s tuition and charged thousands of dollars for his coveted Flying Course in levitation. The author was also suspicious about his claim that the fall of the Berlin Wall had resulted from the power of meditation.
A cleareyed critique that generously accounts for humanity’s “profoundly sincere and motivated” quest for happiness and peace.