Driving into Fairfield, Iowa we pass row after endless row of corn – not surprising since Iowa is one of the largest producers of corn in America. But in Fairfield – in mid-west America where conservative values are strong – a large number of residents lean into spiritual winds – many practice daily meditation. These must be the most peaceful cornfields in America!
We have come to Fairfield to visit our friend Radhika, and are the thankful house-guests of her sister Debbie and husband Michael.
As we drive into town we pass the town square centered by a white gazebo – people mill around the streets appearing relaxed and happy. Most of the buildings we pass have not been overhauled by modernity, and the lack of slick and sheen gives Fairfield an aura of settled rural charm.
We barely unpack before Radhika takes us on a meet and greet tour, showing us the local hang-outs and introducing us to her friends who don’t seem to mind that we drop by unannounced – even when we interrupt their dinner – or their meditation.
The next morning we park in the town square and meet Radhika for tea in the local tea room. Two hours later we leave. Noticing the two-hour parking time limit sign we ask Radhika if we should move our van since we will be there longer.
“Oh no, it’s not necessary,” she says. “You can if you want, but tickets are only two dollars.”
“Two dollars! Great, I’ll leave it then,” Chris says, “I’d like to get a two dollar ticket to show my friends. In San Francisco, parking tickets can be fifty to one hundred dollars, at least.”
“They use to having nickel parking meters here but everyone protested so they had to remove them,” Radhika laughs.
“Great, we’ll come back later – hope there is a ticket,” Chris says.
Four hours later – parked in the same spot – nothing. We drive away ticketless. Shucks!
The next day, we are served REAL Indian chai from Andal, originally hailing from Tamil Nadu. Sipping the warm spicy ambrosia, surrounded by pictures of Indian gods and goddesses, we could easily forget we are in America.
It seems almost everyone we meet has some connection to India. And as the few days go by, we are greeted by open-hearted friendly people one right after the other – held in suspension by this liquid pool of love.
We soon learn that if you don’t want to socialize here, don’t go to “Everybody’s” the local health food store or hang around the town square sipping tea at “Cafe Paradiso” – you are sure to run into someone you know.
Fairfield is a curious mix of spiritual seekers, cowboys, farmers and regular small-town folk. It is home to hundreds of people associated with transcendental meditation, initiated in 1973 by the since deceased guru Maharshi Mahesh Yogi. Many residents continue their daily meditation practice – some sit eight hours a day and receive financial support to sustain their practice.
Further out of town (which is not too far in this bitty place) over 1000 Indian young men chant the Vedas day in and out for world peace in buildings near MUM Univerisity (Maharshi University of Management) – a college where meditation is part of the curriculum. On the grounds are two large mediation domes where many TM practitioners meditate each day – the large buildings shine like golden mushrooms against the blue sky.
Fairfield also attracts numerous spiritual teachers – Byron Katie, Ammachi and Mother Meera included.
Four miles north of Fairfield, is Maharshi Vedic City founded by ™ members. The buildings are green, eco-friendly buildings – including the paint – and use wind and solar power as their energy source. Built according to ancient Vedic principles, the structures are oriented to the sun’s movement.
Yoga, sustainable gardening and and creative arts are thriving in Fairfield too – hidden in the side streets are artists studios and home garden plots.
One morning bicycling on the sixteen mile loop trail circling the town, in the countryside we see people meditating in a gazebo. We have to look twice – are we really in the conservative corn-belt?
At the small downtown center we visit the Democratic headquarters where Radhika volunteers. Hanging down the walls, scribbled in blue and red magic marker on newsprint (clearly they have a small budget) are the reasons why swing-state Iowa is so important to the upcoming election. We meet Michael Kincaid, a fiery redheaded young man with a southern accent, determined to get Obama reelected. Arms flailing and eyes bulging – Michael is passionate. Two days later, we see him canvassing the neighborhood for votes.
We even go to a cornfield wedding, where it seems everyone knows everyone else except for us.
One morning, knowing my interest in gardening and composting, Avi (Debies’s passionate gardening and tree knowledgeable son) shows me compost samples – on microscope slides. Looking through the lenses at living brown mush, I see corkscrew bacterias, dark fungi and transparent vegetable matter – a micro world that is the gardener’s panacea. One strong and healthy compost mix shows minute dots moving through the field in rapid excitement – like pin sized dogs sniffing around for a tasty meal.
On Labor Day, when most restaurants are closed, we eat at the University’s dining hall for lunch. Basmati rice and dal! Tofu stir-fry and veggie burgers! And in the corner of the room, a dedicated lassi machine! Can’t imagine any other University cafeteria in America serving only vegetarian food with shakers full of turmeric, chilli, and cumin to spice up a meal.
Hanging on a wall below the cafeteria we read a sign that quotes a sacred Indian text:
On our last night we chitchat with our dear friends Radhika and Debbie over Mexican food. Our visit ends too soon.
We leave with hearts full of gratitude – spiritual inquiry is alive and flourishing in heartland America.