Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood by Claire Hoffman

The experience of reading this book is probably unlike any I have ever had, because it took place in a town I know well and mentioned one of my brothers and his father in its text. What a bizarre thing to read about a life that echoes my own in so many ways.

This is the memoir of Claire Hoffman, who grew up with her brother, Stacey, in Fairfield, Iowa, an otherwise typical corn belt town that happens to host Maharishi University. Like a few other areas around the United States, including the Texas community in which I grew up, Maharishi University was founded on the principles of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's transcendental meditation, which proposed regular morning and night meditation as a source of reducing surrounding crime, setting meditators on the path to enlightenment, triggering world peace and creating Heaven on Earth.

Hoffman describes what it was like to be a young child receiving her Word of Wisdom, the influence of meditation, and the wonder of having a mother who had trained to fly, living in Utopia Park, a trailer park on the campus, and attending Maharishi private school until her high school years. Her father, who had abandoned her at the age of five but returned years later, proved a balancing force in her otherwise Maharishi-cultivated life. Ultimately, both Hoffman and her brother rebelled from the stringent life course Maharishi preached, but it forever shaped her life. How could it not?

She still returns to Fairfield, amazed at the remains of Maharishi University, a relic already. Transcendental meditation would ultimately part from its Maharishi roots and become a practice of well known celebrities like David Lynch. But Hoffman and her family witnessed it from its beginnings.

The Movement I had grown up in - call it a cult, a religion, a community, it was all these - had rescued my family from a scary time. We were sheltered from the darkness of our past - my father’s addiction and abandonment, my mother’s abusive history. We were given a sense of magic and mystery and superpowers - we believed we could control our destinies and the fate of the world.
— Claire Hoffman, Greetings from Utopia Park

So did mine. My brothers grew up in Fairfield, Iowa, attending that very same school. Taking one step or another, they have all wound up back in Fairfield. I also grew up in a transcendental meditation community outside of Austin. Beyond that, I remember all of us, as a family, visiting Ammachi, the hugging saint, in different U.S. cities. Amma, too, is referred to in Hoffman's book. Unfolding on her pages, I saw my own life reflected back in so many ways. 

I have not returned to Fairfield since 2008, a quiet Thanksgiving in the tiny, chilly town. After reading Hoffman's book, I cannot wait to go back and pay my own tribute to a part of my family history, to a part of myself.