Amy Levin: While the image of Oprah endorsing transcendental meditation is about as banal as a priest offering the sacrament, the Queen of the New-Age spiritual marketplace has sold spirituality to those in her pews again. Oprah’s bricolage-like church offered this week’s sermon via her show Next Chapter on the OWN network: transcendental meditation is awesome, readily available for consumption, and so culturally adaptable that even a city in the middle of corn country is bursting with enlightenment.
According to Jeanne Ball, a Transcendental Meditation (TM) teacher and blogger at Huffpost Religion, Oprah’s interest in TM began in 2011, when she brought experts to train her and her immediate staff of seven how to meditate. As Oprah proudly admits, “Seven led to 70… to 270… Now everybody in the company meditates at 9 o’clock in the morning and 4:30 in the afternoon. No matter what’s going on, we stop, we meditate.” Sounds like a nice workday to me – can we petition for required office meditation?
Oprah was surprised at how popular her new favorite ritual and its practical benefits became among her staff, but not nearly as surprised as she was to discover its popularity “in the middle of Midwestern farmland.” Eager to show the world her discovery of “America’s Most Unusual Town,” Oprah brought her film crew to “TM Town,” aka, Fairfield, Iowa. In the “Next Chapter” episode Oprah visits the Maharishi School of Management and Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (a K-12 school devoted to “consciousness-based” education), both founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the famous leader of the Transcendental Meditation Movement and creator of the Transcendental Meditation Technique.
Check out pics and bits from the episode here, where you’ll see images of Oprah joining “housewives, engineers, waitresses, lawyers, moms and single ladies at the Golden Dome of Pure Knowledge for evening meditation.” Here’s a video of Oprah interviewing the Mayor of Fairfield and the “nontraditional” evening rush hour where thousands of residents gather in two golden domes to meditate.
Oprah’s rare find–or rather, advertisement–for Fairfieldians’ way of life is indeed quite astonishing. Not only is Fairfield the largest mediation community in the U.S., but a “core center for brain research.” But, as we know with any of Oprah’s shows, this isn’t a Discovery Channel-esque here’s-an-interesting-place-now-resume-your-life-as-you-were type of episode. There’s a lesson to be learned from what Oprah “knows for sure” about TM. Oprah’s health expert on her former talk show, Dr. Oz, interviewed her on “The Dr. Oz Show” about the role of TM in her life. He begins the interview with what he calls a “classic Oprah question” (preferably one that yields an aha moment) about finding “that thread of inspiration” for life’s next step – in short, what is Oprah’s “big plan?”
O: For me at this particular time in my life I recognize that everything is about moving closer to that which is God. Without a full spiritual center – and I’m not talking about religion, I’m talking about without understanding the fullness from which you’ve come – you can’t really fulfill your supreme moment of destiny, and I think everybody has a supreme moment of destiny. So I think being connected to that which is greater than yourself for me at this particular time in my life is the most important thing and that’s what I’m working on.
Oprah then segways into her discovery of Fairfield, Iowa and her newfound love of transcendental meditation. Notably, Oprah’s promotion of TM town rescues her from a brief indulgence in borderline theology. God briefly approaches the scene, only to be shown the door by the spirituality police. Donned in a discourse of energy, intention, fullness, and “something bigger,” Oprah offers up Fairfield as an ethical indulgence, like her favorite chicken pot pie, in which everyone can have their guilt-free slice. Of course, the pie is $75, but it definitely provides that (spiritual) fullness you’re looking for. And you can eat it while listening to this.