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Midwestern meditations: There's enlightenment among the corn in an Iowa city
by Toni Wood

The Kansas City Star    Translate This Article
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
4 April 2004

Fairfield, Iowa - If you could design a city where people were enlightened and healthy, where they meditated twice a day and ate organic food, what would it look like?

If you wanted to send vibrations of peace into the world, would you base your operation in rural Iowa? In a prairie town with a bandstand in the middle of the city square. That's unlikely. But, of course, everything about Fairfield is unlikely. Slightly off tilt. Maybe even exotic. This is the trip to take when the blandness, the predictability of the Midwest is weighing heavily on you. Because in Fairfield, words like 'Brahmasthan' and 'Sthapatya' roll off tongues as easily as 'corn' and 'soybeans.'

In Fairfield, population 9,609, you'll find international-cuisine restaurants and a host of art galleries and interesting shops around the town square. But drive north out of town, and you enter another world.

Those two golden, geodesic domes on the right of Iowa 1? That's where 1,000 people a day meditate together, women in one dome, men in the other. They do yogic flying, a sort of blissful mind-body hopping that comes from the more advanced transcendental meditation-Sidhi technique.

Make a jog west on Airport Road, and you arrive at Jasmine Road, the eastern boundary to Iowa's newest incorporated city, the Maharishi Vedic City. It's designed as the ideal community, where only organic food is sold and where all buildings face east, like houseplants reaching toward the sun.

The city has its own world-class spa, the Raj, which has been called 'the Mayo Clinic for alternative medicine.' 'Maharishi Vedic City may be the most exotic place in the Midwest,' Mario Orsatti says. And even though Orsatti is a staff member and enthusiastic spokesman for the local Maharishi University of Management, he is not exaggerating. As he points out, Midwesterners love to 'go for a drive,' and more and more are finding their way to Fairfield.

How did it begin? You remember Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He introduced the world to transcendental meditation in the 1960s, and his bearded profile was on the cover of books in the '60s and '70s, including his own Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation. Now you'll find his more-gray, bearded image in offices and homes throughout Fairfield.

Why here? Well, for many years Fairfield was home to Parsons College, a liberal arts college that was going bankrupt in the 1970s. Maharishi's devotees saw an opportunity, and they bought the property. Today it is Maharishi University of Management. People who practiced transcendental meditation began to arrive in Fairfield 30 years ago, and some stayed, much to the dismay of local Iowans. 'Some of the hard-core were totally against it,' remembers Jim Adam, who grew up on a family farm in the area.

But you can't argue with success, and the 'meditators,' as they are sometimes referred to, are not only accepted but are even an integral part of the community. 'I think it's the best thing that ever happened to Jefferson County, myself,' Adam said. He owns Hog Haven Agri/Sales, just three miles from Vedic City, and sells grain bins. 'They've brought a lot of business to this part of the country, and they employ a lot of people, he said.' . . . In fact, one visible aspect of Fairfield and Vedic City is the prosperity.

Oddly the town has attracted some highly educated people, some with Ivy League degrees, and entrepreneurs who have turned ideas into profitable businesses. 'These people have contributed enormously to the betterment of the community,' said Bob Phipps, executive vice president of the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Wired magazine dubbed the area 'Silicorn Valley' in a 1997 article. And last year the National Association of Small Communities named Fairfield the 'Most Entrepreneurial City of Under 10,000' in the nation.

Fred Gratzon is a prime example. With no money or experience he created the Great Midwestern Ice Cream Co., and People and Playboy said it was the best ice cream in America in the 1980s. Later he led a telecommunications company that, at its zenith, generated $400 million in annual sales. He and his wife live in a stunning, sun-drenched home that was designed with Maharishi Sthapatya Veda guidelines. As he shows the meditation room, the library and the indoor swimming pool, he wonders why his wife wants to travel at all. 'It's all right here,' he muses.

Across town are the Fairfield mayor and his wife, Ed and Vicki Malloy. Both are from New York but came to the area because of a commitment to meditation. Ed is a partner in the Danaher Oil Co., and Vicki is a gourmet cook who loves to entertain.

Visitors to their 7,000-square-foot home remove their shoes at the entrance, a common local practice, and quickly see the home's beautiful Brahmasthan, or center of silence, graced with a table and enormous flower arrangement. 'It creates a quality of silence in the home,' Ed Malloy said. 'It helps contribute to the orderliness of your thinking, the orderliness of your behavior and the orderliness of your life.'

As in many towns, where there are intelligent, thoughtful people, there is often art and culture. Stacey Hurlin is the mother of five boys and an artist, and she found herself heading up what has become a local phenomenon: 1st Fridays Art Walk. A first Friday in the summer might find 2,000 people out on the town square, strolling from one gallery to another, listening to musicians or viewing artwork in one of the many restaurants in town. 'It's the interaction of the people experiencing the art that makes it so unusual,' she said.

How it works

Now comes the mathematical part of this picture. Fairfield has a population of just under 10,000 and about 3,000 are considered 'meditators.' Nearby Vedic City has a population of about 200 people, with about 50 homes on 1,300 acres, and many more are expected to come. How many? Well, the goal is that 8,000 people will ultimately meditate together.

It's based on the Global Maharishi Effect, and it goes like this: Where there are yogic flyers practicing together, 'every hop becomes a cosmic smile,' Maharishi has written. Accordingly the intensely blissful experience sends peace into the world. Maharishi asserts that if the square root of 1 percent of the world's population (about 8,000) gathers in one place to meditate, the world will experience less violence and crime and, ultimately, more world peace.

Ideally people should live and work in buildings that promote happiness and energy. Again there are strict mathematic principles to consider, which come from the ancient Vedic texts. At Maharishi Global Construction in Fairfield, senior architect Jonathan Lipman advises others on how to design and build ideal homes and offices with Maharishi Sthapatya Veda principles. You might see it referred to as Vastu architecture, which seems to be easier on Western tongues than Sthapatya, or 'stha-PA-cha.'

'We spend 90 percent of our time in buildings, so why not make them nourishing?' Lipman asks. Proportions and orientation to the sun are most important, he says, and an east-facing entrance is ideal. There is an ideal place for cooking, relaxing, bathing and sleeping, so the kitchen, for example, is best on the southeast side of the home.

The benefits are scientifically measurable, Lipman says, and he predicts that these architectural principles will be used throughout the country. Understanding these concepts makes it a treat to read the classified ads in area newspapers. You might find something like this: 'Beamed, east-facing house with SE kitchen, 2 bedrooms.' Or this: 'Maharishi Sthapatya Veda New Studio, separate meditation room, lots of light. Enjoy good fortune.'

Visiting Fairfield

Experiencing Fairfield and Maharishi Vedic City can involve a weekend drive, or it can mean spending days at the spa, the Raj. Don't miss the tour that starts at the Raj. You'll eat an organic, vegetarian meal, then tour the area. Stop in Vedic City's City Hall, which happens to be the home of Mayor Bob Wynne and his wife, Maureen, who is the city attorney.

In Fairfield you'll see the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, whose enrollment includes about 350 children in grades kindergarten through 12. After age 10, they walk upstairs each day to meditate in the Hall of Bliss.

Also on the tour, you'll be allowed to step inside one of the Golden Domes, where local people meditate at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. The identical 25,000-square-foot domes are lined with foam pads, stadium seats called 'backjacks,' and pillows and blankets, so that each meditator has his or her own spot. Visitors cannot experience the actual meditation unless they're trained in the technique.

If you can afford the time and expense, check into the Raj. 'It's a place you can come to heal on a deep level,' said Nancy Lonsdorf, the spa's medical director. She was trained in traditional medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School and Stanford University but discovered the wellness that comes from Ayurveda.

It's an ancient form of healing that is thought to be more than 5,000 years old. At the Raj, Lonsdorf prescribes treatments that might include sesame-oil massages, sound therapy, healthy food and Shirodhara, the pouring of warm oil across the forehead. Treatments range from $2,043 for four nights to $4,623 for eight nights. . . .

Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder

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