I can remember it like it was yesterday. June 6, 2013. The day I learned Transcendental meditation. I had been desiring to learn the esoteric technique ever since reading about the practice in a college credit, sociology course in High School. Brought to the West by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a movement was spawned in response to this ‘giggling guru’s’ world tour that aimed at bringing meditation to the modern world.
I remember on that day. giving my teacher Dave, a white handkerchief and banana at the start of the ceremony. I remember him reciting some sort of Indian hymn or Vedic verse as tribute to Maharishi and his guru before him, for passing down this ‘sacred knowledge’ that I was about to learn. The whole experience initially felt a little uncomfortable and it certainly wasn’t cheap but there was no turning back now.
I received my mantra and began my first twenty-minute TM session. I immediately dove deep into my mind. I felt a sweetness and a lightness come over me. Tingling sensations ran down my neck to my lower back. Twenty minutes came and went like nothing and after Dave instructed me to slowly open my eyes, I came out of the meditation astounded. I couldn’t really explain it but it was something amazing, something vaguely familiar and more than anything I just felt good!
The months went by and I was astounded at how well I responded to the practice, at how effective it was it producing mental clarity, improving energy levels and reducing anxiety.
Perhaps personally, the most astounding fact of my whole foray into this new spiritual world, was the discovery that the Maharishi had setup a community and University based on everything that he preached, in my home state of Iowa.
Yep, in the small town of Fairfield in Southeast Iowa, two hours from where I was born, one will find a unique community, that lives and breathes transcendental meditation and the teachings of Maharishi. In this anomaly of a Midwestern town, one can find the Maharishi University of Management, a university of about 1300 students where not only is TM apart of the curriculum, students can major in subjects such as Maharishi Vedic science (1).
Extremely unusual looking buildings and homes, built facing east and designed with the principles of an ancient Vedic system called ‘Vastu Architecture’ are scattered all over the town (2).Two 25,000 square ft. domes mark the town and serve as a gathering place for mass meditation and specifically for those who have learned the advanced TM technique, the Siddha Program. Families in Fairfield have the option of enrolling their children in the traditional Fairfield school system or the Maharishi School of Enlightenment that runs from elementary school through twelfth grade.
Driving through the whole breadth of the town however, there are old churches, mud covered pickup trucks, residents sporting camouflage and Carhartt jackets, plenty of farms; corn, soybeans, cattle, pigs and a host of hardware stores.
It is town where opposites collide. Why the Maharishi and his followers decided to set up their community in an originally, very Midwestern town, with a traditional Christian culture that is in one view, in complete opposition to gurus, vegetarians and meditation, is a question that constantly comes to mind.
This autumn, I had the opportunity to visit and work in Fairfield, at the invitation of a TM (Transcendental meditation) teacher whom I met during my undergrad studies and has become a friend. I was excited at the opportunity and when I arrived in the town, while there was no culture shock, there was a strong ‘culture intrigue.’
My friend, ‘Tom,’ whom doesn’t fit any classic, stereotypical meditation teacher paradigm with his type ‘AA’ personality and his career as an electrician and handyman, told me that the population is almost split. Forty percent of the towns approximate 10,000 population are meditators, while about sixty percent are not. He also said that about ten percent of the non-meditators are “very nasty” to the TM community.
It is an interesting division. There are no political or ethnic disconnects but the residents are divided over whether they meditate or not.
It didn’t take long to get a real sense of this the first week I was here. The first day of work, we were putting in the ground wires for a new ‘Vastu” home. A few of my fellow coworkers, many sporting Underarmor caps and all lacking beaded necklaces, joked about the seven states of consciousness and ‘the science of creative intelligence’ that they learned about during grade school at the Maharishi School for The Age of Enlightenment.
“They forgot to include beer and sex!” one joked. Not surprising but still interesting chatter to be hearing among construction guys. In what other town, would one hear banter with that kind of spin?
I asked one of my coworkers, who was about my age, if he was a meditator.
“Yea I finally learned last year.” He said with a laugh.
“Lived here all my life, figured it was about time.”
“But you didn’t go to Maharishi school?” I asked.
“No.” He said. “Not everyone goes there. Many do but I didn’t.”
Later in the week, on a day off I went to a small sushi restaurant in the town’s square. Upon siting down, I was immediately asked by a woman sitting close by at the bar, “Are you new here?”
Such is the reality of a small town, I thought. We got to talking and I eventually asked her, “What is there to do for fun around here?”
She told me about this bar and that restaurant but also strongly cautioned me to avoid certain places because, “that’s where the meditators go.”
“Weirdos.” She told me.
“You know about that here right?”
“Oh yes,” I said.
“Avoid them.” She said with disdain and shaking her head.
I neglected to inform her that I was in fact, a “weirdo.”
Fairfield, despite being so small and resting upon flat and what many would probably say, unremarkable southeast Iowa landscape, has its charms. The town square sitting on the north side of Burlington street, has a host of international restaurants, including Thai, Indian, and Italian cuisines. Café Paradiso, seems to be for many residents, the go to place for coffee, tea and breakfast burritos. The Café also hosts a diverse array of international and local musicians, such as Irish harper, Patrick Ball, who played on a Thursday evening while I was in town.
Everybody’s Whole Foods, is Fairfield’s very own unique Organic grocery store, which also sports its own restaurant and café. Eating breakfast there one morning, I could not help but notice the diversity in people and accents. There were patrons having coffee that looked like they had been performing farm chores since before sunrise and others who could have just returned from a stay at The Beatles Ashram in India.
The town is also no stranger to renewable energy with a noticeable amount of solar panels scattered throughout the city. In fact, the town just opened the state of Iowa’s first solar and storage power plant this past year. Locally owned, Ideal Energy, has been named one of the top 20 Solar contractors in the nation by the leading Solar publication, Solar Power World.
I am not sure what drew an Indian guru to settle his community in a small Midwestern town with traditional Midwestern values but after spending some time here, I do understand why people are drawn to Fairfield today. It is a community of stark contrasts but with a very unique appeal. There is a lightness, a pleasantness about Fairfield and it is as intriguing as it is alluring. Whether you are a meditator or not, the anomaly of Fairfield, Iowa is a place worth visiting and maybe, a town to call home.