By Charles Borden
This is a story, a personal journey, and a bit of history that ties together three themes that have dominated this writer’s life: Russia, my personal and business focus for the past 25 years; Iowa, where I earned my first degree and have called home since 1974; and Transcendental Meditation, which I have practiced twice daily for 47 years and taught for 45 years.
Most would be surprised to hear that Iowa was one of the best-known and traveled of the United States by citizens of the Soviet Union, principally due to the efforts of Iowa farmer Roswell Garst from the early ‘50s. Roswell believed that elimination of hunger was the best hope for world peace, and that Iowa was in a unique position to help achieve that goal. He became active with exchanges, travel and meeting with leaders in the USSR and Eastern European to share agricultural knowledge and farm technology.
In September 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, his wife, and the Soviet delegation visited the Garst farm. The Life magazine cover photo of Roswell with the Premier holding a big ear of corn became a national sensation. This cover graces the wall of one of Moscow’s first Starlite Diners.
In the ensuing years, Roswell’s nephew, banker John Chrystal continued his mission. John visited the USSR often, and arranged exchanges of teachers, farmers, lawyers, businesspersons, scientists and others. Because of the common agricultural interests, Chrystal mainly traveled to southern Russia, particularly Stavropol region. Iowa and Stavropol formed the two rival nations’ first Sister State relationship, and Des Moines and Stavropol city became the first Sister Cities. Chrystal naturally befriended Stavropol’s Minister of Agriculture, and the friendship continued when that young ag minister moved to Moscow as Soviet Minister of Agriculture and Politburo member. The Minister’s next promotion was to head of state: President Mikhail Gorbachev.
I learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) during a “gap year” after my junior year of study in Civil Engineering at Iowa State University. The results were immediate and profound, and I decided to become a teacher of the technique. Within weeks I headed off to a one-month course conducted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Poland Springs, Maine. Maharishi informed us wannabe teachers that a college degree was a prerequisite, so I headed back to ISU.
I rushed to finish my degree. At the time an average college student took 15-16 credit hours of classes; I averaged about 23 of engineering courses for the next four terms, and as many as 28. I had about a GPA of about 3.5 for that period, far better than my pre “gap year” days. I found that my 20 minutes twice-a-day meditation gave me an edge, a clear mind. I could sit through a lecture and absorb every word, without what I call “mental white noise”, the distracting meandering thoughts that impede listening, and thus learning. I was focused and better at organizing my time, so the twice a day TM practice was (and still is) an investment.
By 1974, I was an engineer and a TM teacher, and I worked with Maharishi on meditation academy projects in Europe and the United States. Maharishi founded his Maharishi University of Management in Santa Barbara, and it occupied a leased dormitory. When the trustees found a bankrupt college in Fairfield, Iowa to purchase, I was sent to manage the preparation of the campus for its new residents. Since then, despite travels and residences elsewhere, I still call Fairfield my “hometown”.
By the late 1980s, Fairfield acquired a unique reputation for its abundance of startup businesses, many of them tech, started by its meditators. Its economic successes amid its dominant agriculture surroundings later resulted in the town being dubbed “Silicorn Valley” by the New York Times. I had a venture capital business in Fairfield and served on two Iowa committees dedicated to development of the state’s entrepreneurial economy.
Fairfield was also the focus of Maharishi’s “Creating Coherence” programs. These special courses were based upon the numerous published research studies that showed the influence that a small percent of individuals practicing TM could have on a larger population – to create World Peace. This “Maharishi Effect” describes the potential for a “phase transition” to a more harmonious state of life for society characterized by decreased crime, violence, accidents and illnesses, as well as improvement of other social and economic indicators.
In the late 1980s, changes were in the air for the world, and walls were falling. On December 6, 1988, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrived in New York to meet President Ronald Reagan and newly elected President George H.W. Bush. That night in the very early morning hours, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake rocked northern Armenia, just south of the Caucasus mountains. The quake was the worst catastrophe for the USSR since the Chernobyl nuclear event.
The Soviet Leader formally asked the United States for humanitarian aid, the first USSR aid request to America since the Second World War. Remarkably, President Gorbachev’s humanitarian request reached Fairfield, Iowa. Along with doctors and medical supplies, and rescue teams and volunteers from many nations, the aid invitation also went to teachers of Transcendental Meditation. The first TM teachers arrived in the USSR from Europe, Asia, and America, with dozens of them from Fairfield.
The ostensible reason for the meditation teachers was the great deal of research that had been done on the calming effect of Transcendental Meditation for individuals. However, scientists in the Soviet Union had long been interested in the potential of human consciousness, so perhaps the leaders were willing to give the “Maharishi Effect” a try.
TM teacher friends and colleagues visited other cities throughout the USSR, where they taught tens of thousands of Soviet citizens the simple, natural TM technique. I was a bit jealous, but business and personal ties kept me in Iowa at that time.
Then in 1991, the director of a Moscow region agriculture institute, after learning TM, visited Fairfield. He was curious to find out more about Maharishi’s university and Fairfield’s entrepreneurial successes. The university president’s office asked me to show its honored visitor around Iowa. We spent several days together visiting Iowa State University and the state capital. I gave him a modem for his computer when he departed so we could exchange emails. In August, just after the Gorbachev coup attempt, he invited me to the USSR. I arrived in the new Russian Federation a few months later in February, and began my work on agricultural projects in southern Russia.
Maharishi advocated training of local teachers of Transcendental Meditation in each country, so now there are TM teachers in many Russian cities, with the National Center located in Moscow. Dr. Maxim Shatokhin, a medical doctor by training, is the National Director for Russia. I have been fortunate to assist Dr. Shatokhin and teach TM in the English-speaking expat community.
In 2009, filmmaker David Lynch visited Moscow for two exhibitions of his work but also a number of TM events including the release of his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. His David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace (DLF) has been instrumental in a resurgence of interest in TM. DLF has sponsored programs for TM for tens of thousands of poor kids in South America, within the military to fight PTSD, in homeless shelters, prisons and schools. Mr. Lynch has organized fund raising events for these projects with meditating celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Hugh Jackman, Russell Brand, Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey, and Martin Scorcese to name just a very few.
Transcendental Meditation is learn-it-and-then-you-have-it; it’s not a club or a social organization with weekly meetings. It requires no faith nor change of lifestyle, and its practitioners come from all religions, political and social backgrounds. The TM technique is learned in four one-and-a-half hour sessions over four days, and then it’s “TM in the AM and PM”, 20 minutes twice a day.
As for me, The Next Big Thing is to develop a consciousness-based community near the Black Sea in southern Russia near the Black Sea modeled on the experience of my hometown, a new Silicorn valley for Russia.
Transcendental Meditation for Russia (Russian language)
Meditation Moscow (English language)
David Lynch Foundation