Cover image for Greetings from Utopia Park : surviving a transcendent childhood
Title:
Greetings from Utopia Park : surviving a transcendent childhood
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Harper, [2016]

©2016
ISBN:
9780062338846
Physical Description:
xiv, 265 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Language:
English
Contents:
Introduction -- Part one: Believing. Initiation ; The Hoffman curse ; Stranger in a strange land ; Levitation ; Taste of Utopia ; Fortunate are we! ; Utopia Park ; On the program ; 200 percent of life -- Part two: Doubting. Dad comes home ; Your meditation brought down the Great Wall ; The costs of karma ; Ojas ; Townie ; Meth heads and meditators -- Part three: Searching. Adulthood ; A new Utopia ; The flying course -- Epilogue.
Abstract:
"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"--Dust jacket flap.
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Book 158.125 HOFFMAN 1 .SOURCE. BT 7-18-16
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Summary

Summary

In this engrossing, provocative, and intimate memoir, a young 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's alcoholic father abandons his family, his desperate 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--the Maharishi's method of meditation and his approach to living the fullest possible life--was a salvo that promised world peace and enlightenment just as their family fell 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 with her father and breaks from Maharishi completely. After a decade of working 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 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.


Reviews 3

Kirkus Review

Searching for bliss in America's heartland.In her candid debut memoir, journalist Hoffman, a former staff reporter for the Los Angeles Times, recalls her childhood in Fairfield, Iowa, in the 1980s and '90s, on a 272-acre campus established by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to promote Transcendental Meditation, spiritual enlightenment, and world peace. "The Movement I had grown up in," writes the author, "call it a cult, a religion, a community, it was all thesehad rescued my family from a scary time." Her alcoholic father had abandoned his family; her mother, left with Claire and her brother, was destitute. Swept up in the TM movement, which was notorious for its celebrity followers (the Beatles, Mia Farrow), Hoffman's mother saw in Iowa the promise of utopia. "We are talking of a new civilization," Maharishi claimed. "No one will remain stressed, no one will remain hectic, everyone will fulfill one's wants." At first, Hoffman went to the local public school because her mother could not afford the pricey Maharishi School, but when an anonymous donor paid her tuition, she joined the school, where the curriculum focused on bliss. "Everyone wanted to be experiencing and emanating bliss"; everyone followed the Maharishi's directions to become enlightened, which meant meditating twice a day and following his dictates for "the way you ate, slept, built your home, wore your jewels, and looked to the stars." As she grew up, Hoffman became increasingly suspicious of the Maharishi's grand plan. First, she noticed "a tangible shiftfrom mantras to products" that the Maharishi trademarked. Maintaining that "Americans only value things if they have to pay for them," he increased the school's tuition and charged thousands of dollars for his coveted Flying Course in levitation. The author was also suspicious about his claim that the fall of the Berlin Wall had resulted from the power of meditation. A cleareyed critique that generously accounts for humanity's "profoundly sincere and motivated" quest for happiness and peace. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

That the grandly titled Utopia Park was, in fact, a trailer park distills so much of this perceptive look at a practice (or philosophy? or religion? or cult?) that is, by its nature, hazy. Hoffman was only five when her single mother moved her and her brother to Fairfield, Iowa, which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (yes, the same one who advised the Beatles) had christened to his followers as the Global Headquarters of World Peace. As Hoffman grows up, her seemingly misplaced community of transcendental meditators follow their leader's increasingly arcane edicts to live 200% of life, become Enlightened, and spiritually regenerate the world all while he ramped up the prices. Money woes force the teenage Hoffman to leave the new-agey academy for the townie public school where, almost in the fashion of Amish Rumspringa, she swills beer, does drugs, gets cynical, and begins to distance herself with support from a recently returned alcoholic father. For a look at a global, if dubious, movement, this is wonderfully intimate: a cautionary tale that develops into one of inspiring self-determination.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2016 Booklist


Library Journal Review

With unflinching candidness, journalist Hoffman provides an examination of growing up within the transcendental meditation movement of the 1980s and 1990s. After being abandoned by her alcoholic husband, Hoffman's mother desperately decided to raise her small children away from the stress of urban life. Familiar with transcendental meditation, she relocated from New York to the group's self-proclaimed compound of "Heaven on Earth" in Fairfield, IA. Initially, the housing, schools, and seemingly boundless opportunities for growth through contemplation felt welcoming. However, promises of enlightenment and material comfort always seemed just out of reach to young Hoffman and her brother. As they matured into adolescence, these siblings were drawn to life outside the compound and forbidden temptations such as drugs and alcohol. The author recounts the break she made from Iowa as a teenager and her eventual life in California. Many recent memoirs, including Joshua Safran's Free Spirit: Growing Up on the Road and Off the Grid, have provided insight into unconventional childhoods. VERDICT With honesty and sincerity, this account of coming of age within the ostensible confines of an alternative lifestyle delivers valuable knowledge of another phenomenon of cultural divergence.-Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Part 1 Believing
Chapter 1 Initiationp. 3
Chapter 2 The Hoffman Cursep. 21
Chapter 3 Stranger in a Strange Landp. 37
Chapter 4 Levitationp. 49
Chapter 5 Taste of Utopiap. 59
Chapter 6 Fortunate Are We!p. 73
Chapter 7 Utopia Parkp. 89
Chapter 8 On the Programp. 99
Chapter 9 200 Percent of Lifep. 119
Part 2 Doubting
Chapter 10 Dad Comes Homep. 135
Chapter 11 Your Meditation Brought Down the Great Wallp. 151
Chapter 12 The Costs of Karmap. 165
Chapter 13 Ojasp. 179
Chapter 14 Towniep. 187
Chapter 15 Meth Heads and Meditatorsp. 205
Part 3 Searching
Chapter 16 Adulthoodp. 223
Chapter 17 A New Utopiap. 239
Chapter 18 The Flying Coursep. 247
Epiloguep. 259
Acknowledgmentsp. 263