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
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?
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
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
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
Now you'll find his more-gray, bearded image in offices and homes
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
“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. “Without the Maharishis,
Fairfield would be a dying town.”
But Fairfield is anything but dying.
In fact, one visible aspect of Fairfield and Vedic City is the
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
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
“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
Well, the goal is that 8,000 people will ultimately meditate
together. It's based on the Global Maharishi Effect, and it goes
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
“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
Understanding these concepts makes it a treat to read the
classified ads in area newspapers. You might find something like
“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.”
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
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
Living in Fairfield
Linda Mainquist had plenty of friends and a thriving counseling
practice in Denver. But she was weary of the frenetic life, the
scheduling just to see her friends.
“I had to work so hard to sustain community,” she says.
She has found community in Fairfield, where she lives now. She
and her husband, Mario Orsatti, see their friends on almost every
outing, including trips to the natural foods store, Everybody's.
“It takes you an hour to do your grocery shopping, because you
run into so many people you know,” she says.
Likewise, years ago, Dee and Chris Johnson came to this area from
San Francisco because they wanted to raise their two boys in the
Midwest, where “everyone takes care of everyone else.”
Her husband has since developed the northwest section of Vedic
City, which includes Rakmapura Park Hotel.
Johnson's in-laws were distraught at seeing them go, but they,
too, moved to the area within a year.
Now they all live in an area that Dee Johnson calls the “closest
thing to heaven on earth.”
Right in the northwest corner of utopia.
Toni Wood is a free-lance writer in Shawnee.