Published by Harper on June 7, 2016
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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In this and intimate memoir, an acclaimed journalist reflects on her childhood in the heartland, growing up in an increasingly isolated meditation community in the 1980s and ’90s—a fascinating, disturbing look at a fringe culture and its true believers.
When Claire Hoffman is five-years-old, her mother informs her 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—the Maharishi’s method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life—was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment .
At first this secluded utopia offers warmth and support, and makes these outsiders feel calm, secure, and connected to the world. Claire attends the Maharishi school, where her meditations were graded and she and her class learned Maharishi's principals for living. But as Claire and Stacey mature, their adolescent skepticism kicks in, drawing them away from the community and into delinquency and drugs. Eventually, Claire moves to California with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. A decade later, after making a name for herself in journalism and starting a family, she begins to feel exhausted by cynicism and anxiety. She finds herself longing for the sparkle filled, belief fueled Utopian days in Iowa, meditating around the clock. So she returns to her hometown in pursuit of TM’s highest form of meditation — levitation. This journey will transform ideas about her childhood, family, and spirituality.
Greetings from Utopia Park takes us deep into this complex, unusual world, illuminating its joys and comforts, and its disturbing problems. While there is no utopia on earth, Hoffman reveals, there are noble goals worth striving for: believing in belief, inner peace, and a firm understanding that there is a larger fabric of the universe to which we all belong.
In Greetings from Utopia Park, Claire Hoffman shares her memories of and thoughts about growing up in the Transcendental Meditation community.
I’m familiar with the practice of meditation, but going into the memoir, I didn’t know much at all about the TM movement. I found myself googling a lot (love that!) and looking up videos of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
I was reminded that kids are often more astute then we give them credit for. Claire sees even the smallest holes in what she’s learning at the TM community’s school. Sometimes she brushed those signs aside, but they never went unnoticed.
Although the pace was a little slow through the middle, this memoir was an interesting look inside the TM community. Toward the beginning of the book, my mind screamed “scam! scheme!” and sometimes, “cult!” But Hoffman is fair even while being critical, and her optimism helps her find the good and useful in her experiences. She delivers a surprisingly balanced account. I appreciated that gentle nudge to remain open-minded in the face of disbelief.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Check out what other readers have to say about Greetings from Utopia by visiting other stops on the tour.