Transcendental meditation found a home in small town Iowa

by Michelle Hartmann

Fairfield, Iowa is not a place one would expect to find a collection of different religions. It is also not somewhere a person would picture as a perfect place to have a transcendental meditation (TM) center.

TM is a relatively recent form of meditation, and was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This type of meditation is supposed to be taught by a certified TM teacher, who designs a specific mantra for each student. Mantras are practiced during meditation for 15-20 minutes twice a day, every day.

Joseph Weber, an associate professor of journalism at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researched the community for three years.  He grew up during the time period it became popular, and continued to be curious about TM until he had a chance to learn about it.

According to Weber, the movement started to take flight in the late 60s and early 70s. Groups such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones were all practicing a form of the meditation. Because of this, many young people from the baby boomer generation became involved in the movement.

“If you were a fan of any of those groups, you knew those groups were involved in the practice of TM…and it had a very big effect on the culture, particularly the young person culture back in the late 60s and early 70s,” Weber said.

Originally, there was a university for TM located in California. However, Fairfield had its own college, Parson’s College, which had gone bankrupt. TM practitioners found out the land was for sale, and bought it in order to move their university closer to the heart of America.

Maharishi University of Management was relocated to Fairfield, Iowa in 1974. With the relocation came thousands of practitioners and thousands of dollars.

Money brought in by the practitioners allowed new businesses to open and new houses to be built. Practitioners themselves brought new thoughts and ideas to the community. Their move made it easier for many other spiritual groups to relocate to Fairfield as well. According to Weber, there are somewhere around one to two dozen different spiritual groups in the community.

Fairfield is a town of only 9,500 people. Yet they are still able to support many different kinds of people. But, the community doesn’t always like the new neighbors.

“There are critics of the movement who live in Fairfield, people who don’t like it, even 40 years later who will tell you they could have put a medical center in there or something else and it would have been more useful,” Weber said.

There are also people who grew up in the community who believe the movement has been good for it. Sophomore Jess Lamb grew up in Fairfield and around TM.

“I’ve really enjoyed growing up in Fairfield where it is rich with an ancient culture,” Lamb said.

While Lamb thinks it has had a positive impact, she also realizes there are some negative consequences from the movement. Lamb believes the divide between the TM practitioners and the older Fairfield community makes it difficult to really get to know those who have opposing beliefs.

Fairfield may become a different town in a couple decades.  A majority of meditation practitioners are of the baby boomer era. As they grow older, there aren’t many from the younger generation who are willing to step up and take leadership roles, and the older generation isn’t making the effort to prepare them to take over.

Weber stated that if big celebrities keep endorsing TM, the meditation movement could have a revival. There is still some life, and it does appear leaders are trying to get out to communities more by talking to veterans and implementing meditation techniques in inner-city schools. The future of Fairfield could be dependent on if the TM movement is able to gather large numbers again.