When Claire Hoffman’s alcoholic father abandons his family, his struggling wife, Liz, tells five-year-old Claire and her seven-year-old brother, Stacey, that they are going to heaven—Iowa—to live in Maharishi’s national headquarters for Heaven on Earth. For Claire’s mother, Transcendental Meditation—Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—promises world peace and Enlightenment just as their family is falling apart.
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. At the Maharishi School, Claire learns Maharishi’s philosophy for living and meditates with her class. With the promise of peace and Enlightenment constantly on the horizon, every day is infused with magic and meaning. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. To save herself, Claire moves to California to live with her father, breaking from Maharishi completely. After she works for a decade in journalism and academia, the challenges of adulthood propel her back to Iowa, where she reexamines her spiritual upbringing and tries to reconnect with the magic of her childhood.
Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into a complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts as well as its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman finds, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief itself, finding inner peace, and reaching a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.
I had never really known much, if anything, about Transcendental Meditation (TM), except for aligning the term with hippies and flower children in the 60's, so I was glad to have this opportunity to learn more about the practice. The author, Claire Hoffman, tells of growing up in the TM community, leaving and in a sense, coming back later as an adult.
My mother was raised a Christian Scientist by her mother, and she continued the practice with my brother and me. Around the age of 12, I began to question what I had been taught my whole life, and there were some things I could not reconcile, and so 'left' the practice. Maybe, like Ms. Hoffman, I began to notice the gulf between the tenets of the religion and the practice of some of its adherents.
And from what I can tell, TM was started with at least a hope of making things better. The chance to live in a close-knit community of like believers would certainly attract many people from all walks of life.
Somewhere along the line, it appears that the practice became more important than the substance. The more you could pay for classes or schooling, or the more money you could donate seemed to buy closer access to Maharishi and/or a higher spiritual plane. It seemed to me that the worship factor changed focus from the divine to a man.
Ms. Hoffman opens her story for us to read, and gives us a nifty bit of history along with it. Her writing style made her history very readable. Sometimes non-fiction can read very academically, and thus perhaps be somewhat dry. I was so pleased that that was not the case with Greetings from Utopia Park, which was both entertaining and educational.
It is interesting to me that the practice of meditation has been scientifically proven to (be able to) provide the benefits that its practitioners over the centuries have claimed. We are told to "breath slowly" when we need to relax. And you don't have to be sitting cross-legged or lying supine do reap the benefits of visualization.
In my rural area, people talk about getting the news 'straight from the horse's mouth'. I've always felt more comfortable getting the real story from someone who has lived in a situation (or place, etc.) rather than someone who has 'merely' studied the topic. Ms. Hoffman is my kind of expert.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Find out more about Claire at her website and follow her on Twitter.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links.)