This morning I met our brand new spring-entry students, gathered together for the first time, at the beginning of their orientation meeting.
As always, these students came from around the US and from a number of countries around the world — Mongolia, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal — all having suddenly relocated, in just the last couple of days, to this improbable spot in the cornfields of southeast Iowa. All but a handful were in Iowa for the first time.
I welcomed them and gave them a little history of the amazing place where they have all just landed.
Whenever I stand in front of a group of new students, I always have the same experiences.
First, I feel honored. These new students had just entrusted themselves and their education — and their future, really — to Maharishi University of Management and to those of us who work here. I feel a renewed sense of responsibility to deliver the best possible educational experience to these promising young people.
Second, looking out at these eager faces, I feel inspired to see friendships developing right before my eyes — relationships that will be close and often lifelong.
I have had students tell me that the friends they make here, even in just the first few months, are closer than any friends they have back home. Not that they feel any less connected with their friends at home, they quickly add — but their friends here are closer because they share such deep common values.
Diversity and unity
We have enormous diversity in our student body. In a typical year we will have students from 80 to 85 countries around the world. Walking around campus is like walking around a miniature United Nations. You hear English spoken with so many different accents (each of them musical, it always seems to me). You see so many different skin colors. You feel so many different cultures.
Yet despite the diversity, most of our students have several things in common.
First is their desire for personal growth. Beyond education in traditional terms, our students are keen to develop their total potential — the full potential of their consciousness, of their brain. They are after spiritual development alongside classical knowledge and skills.
The second value they share the desire to change the world — to make it healthier, more sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous.
A third value is their great generosity and happiness, their kindness and caring for each other. On our campus, the world truly is a family.
Visitors feel this almost immediately. During our three-day monthly Visitors Weekends, people often remark that they “feel the love.”
Where does this come from? This friendliness people feel, this spirit of welcoming and acceptance and love, is not because we magically attract wonderful people.
It’s because, over the past 40 years, people in this community have spent tens of millions of person-hours diving within to experience the inner unbounded ocean of peace and bliss. This is a community where thousands of people practice the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs twice every day. Diving within day after day, people naturally radiate peace, happiness, and friendliness.
This is what creates the extraordinary atmosphere that people experience as soon as they step onto the campus — peaceful and progressive, creative and dynamic.
The best of both worlds
I want to be clear: This is a university. Students come here to study. They want to prepare themselves for successful careers. You will find our students studying many of the same subjects that students elsewhere study — from cell biology to microeconomics, from ethnobotany to environmental law, from data and file structures to teaching elementary social studies, from Native American literature to probability and statistics.
You will also find our students studying new disciplines, such as sustainable living and Maharishi Vedic Science (we were the first university in the world to offer degree programs in both of these subjects).
Our students know why they are here.
Underlying all of this, the faculty and students alike understand that they are part of a grand experiment in education, pioneers of a new paradigm. We see outcomes here that are not seen anywhere else — increased integration in brain functioning, increased intelligence and creativity, and more. We feel it’s only a matter of time before this Consciousness-Based approach is widely adopted, at all levels of education — which will transform education everywhere and transform the world’s future. This imbues the experience here with a quiet sense of excitement and purpose.
Geographically, Fairfield may be in the middle of nowhere — but it sometimes feels like the center of the universe. Or at least like the forefront of something very, very important.
If all this sounds overly serious, spending a few days here will show you that our students are pretty good at having fun outside of class. At the regular open mics, they put their musical and other creative talents on display. Dances, parties, and celebrations are all part of the life here.
But the fun is all within reasonable (and legal) boundaries. Ours is a smoke-free campus, and the campus is also virtually free of the corrosive effects of alcohol and drugs that plague other campuses.
Do we have challenges? Of course. One of them is that our ambitions always outpace the financial support available (although that support is steadily growing). For example, we have just completed a campus master plan which will, over time, transform our campus into something pretty nice to something extraordinary — with sustainably built student residence halls, a beautiful pedestrian mall through the center of campus, an outdoor amphitheater in front of the student center, and much more. But we are confident that as support grows, this vision will become a reality.
I have been here almost my entire adult life, and I have had the time of my life. I have met hundreds of amazing, creative people, more all the time. I have had opportunities I would never have had anywhere else. Just about every day I wish I could wrap my arms around this place, all 371 acres of it — grateful for the opportunity to live and work here, grateful to be part of something that is helping create, right in front of our eyes, a better world.