Monday, April 02, 2012

Guest Post: "An Alumni's Response to Oprah's Visit to Maharishi School"

Previously: Triumph of the Incurious: Oprah Visits Fairfield's Pandits

Previously: Oprah Winfrey's Transcendental Meditation episode airs Sunday, and open thread

Today's guest post was contributed by an alumnus of the Maharishi School in Fairfield, Iowa; this school is one of the Transcendental Meditation movement institutions that was featured in the recent episode of Oprah's television program. - Mike

An Alumni's Response to Oprah's Visit to Maharishi School

Oprah visited my home town; she visited my high school. This would be a big deal for any alumni of any school but the reason she chose mine is unique. At my school we meditated together every day. Oprah is a new inductee in to the celebrity Transcendental Meditation club and she is going all-in by having her staff learn TM and dedicating an entire 1 hour show to her visit to Fairfield, Iowa.

I wasn’t angered by her visit or even her endorsement of TM; live and let live. I grew up in Fairfield and I was used to wealthy and famous people being toured around our school. Musicians, politicians, movie stars, magicians etc. The celebrity TM club is large. What did disturb me was how she kept parroting the movement line that TM is not a religion. She keeps saying this while they show students reading Sanskrit texts from Hindu holy books. She says this while standing around with chanting Hindu monks from India. I suppose I should have expected this but then Oprah said something to the teenage girls wrapping up their afternoon meditation session that stopped me cold.

She told them they were changing the world.

This is when I sighed. It was a moment in the show where I almost cried; Oprah is good at that.

There were clips in the show with people I know; people, who helped raise me, cared about me and truly believed they were giving me the best education possible. I love my teachers at Maharishi School; they were mostly good people with good intentions. I had a counsellor who recognized that my mother had mental issues and could be abusive which takes a keen eye and real bravery in a secretive town full of eccentrics, to put it mildly. That counsellor reached out to me and saved my already bombarded psyche. I do not hold a grudge against these teachers. However there is a price to pay for everything in the movement. For a Maharishi School student that price is earning glory; glory for the school, glory for the movement, glory for the choices their former hippie, baby-boomer parents made.

When I was at Maharishi School there was a sign above the door in artful gold letters stating, “Educating the future enlightened leaders of the world.” And they meant it. The administration in particular truly believed this notion. We were told a thousand times how special we were; how fortunate we were; how brilliant and talented we were. We were pushed. Our school was signed up for every state and national competition the administration thought we could win. National History Fairs, Drama Competitions, Peace Conferences etc. I know this isn’t unusual for a prep school to compete but the way in which we were treated like little Lord Fauntleroy’s who only needed to meditate our way to greatness was a disservice.

I am very disappointed in Oprah for adding to the choir these kids already listen to every day. Meditation doesn’t change the world. It doesn’t make you rich. It doesn’t make up for hard work. It doesn’t make up for skill.

When I was at Maharishi School many of the children lived in poverty. Their parents were not living in beautiful homes in an organic village. They lived in trailers or old buildings filled with mildew. Their parents worked for the school or the university to earn their children’s tuition, room and board. There were rich kids, some very rich. There was an odd self-imposed caste system reflective of the Hindu nature of the TM movement. Every child was amazing, every child was “Growing Up Enlightened” but the rich got away with more, got better grades, better treatment and better seats in Holland visiting Maharishi.

Many of the rich kids would probably never admit to the differences among us TM children and I am sure Oprah never dug deep enough to see it. I also know this kind of treatment isn’t unique among prep schools. Maybe things have changed at Maharishi School. For the students Oprah spoke with I hope they get the best and leave the rest. I hope those students know they will have to do more than meditate to earn the success they may want in life. I hope those students know that they will need to do much more than meditate to change the world. I hope those students realize that what the movement really wants from them is obedience, money and glory.

I have a feeling many of those students in Oprah’s show understand the many nuances and subtleties of the community; possibly better than their parents do. Many of us knew there was a game. Some were rebellious and never really meditated; some were really in to it all. Maybe all the glory-getting prepared us well for the seeming contest of adult life, many of us thrive and are very happy but unfortunately I see many of my former classmates struggling with their identity, struggling to be famous or recognized, special. Some are shells of their former youthful selves who can barely get through life.

What almost every TM kid won’t tell you, and they certainly didn’t tell Oprah, is that we have a very deep connection with each other that is often more about a collective memory of survival, a defensiveness based on our societal weirdness, a culture and code of our own nurtured by our parent’s abandonment, and an elitism and arrogance that we just can’t stop because to let it go would shatter our already frail identity. Oprah's praise only adds to the confusion or the arrogance. Take your pick.

- Former Future Enlightened Leader

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