What child would not long for a secret password that opens a magical door? At age 3, Claire Hoffman was given just such a word—a mantra she believed was created just for her. It provided entry into the intense spiritual world inhabited by her mother, a practitioner of transcendental meditation (TM). Hoffman’s thoughtful memoir, Greetings from Utopia Park, chronicles a childhood immersed in TM and the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, as well as the adult reckonings that followed.
From a trailer on the campus of the National Headquarters for Heaven on Earth in Fairfield, Iowa, Hoffman watched the Maharishi’s quest for world peace through meditation rise and fall outside her bedroom window. Her story could be yet another tale of growing up in and escaping a religious cult, but she is careful to note not only the heartbreaking ways her innocence was taken from her, but also the life-affirming sense of community and purpose she gained in Fairfield.
This balanced approach, likely related to her career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, sets Hoffman’s story apart from more simplistic retellings. She never pulls punches in the personal arena—young Claire’s unchecked enthusiasm comes through as clearly as her adolescent skepticism.
Although she analyzes the social and historical influences on the Maharishi’s movement, in the end, Hoffman’s story is intensely personal and spiritual. When she goes back to gather the threads of meaning that remain for her in TM, we understand that she has reached a new kind of transcendence, one that accepts uncertainty without giving up hope.