Peace at Last

ICSA Today, Volume 5, Number 2, 2014, pages 12-15

Peace at Last

Gina Catena

“Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collection of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language—this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable.” —Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

Keyboards wet with tears messaged around the world when a group of quasi-siblings learned that another peer had passed away prematurely. Connections between Transcendental Meditation (TM) defectors remained strong into postcult adulthood. Their beloved “gentle grizzly” joined his younger sister, Lara, and mother, Susan, in eternal slumber in 2012. Compassion and love from far-flung community would sustain Dan no more.

Dan’s emotional family encompassed the world from his lifetime in Maharishi’s enlightened peace plan and global TM movement. Like most TM kids, Dan deeply loved his biologic family and his meditation family. He lived by his Facebook favorite quote, “be true.”

Dan was a kind, gentle, and forgiving soul. He strove to do right by himself and for others. At the end of his fourth decade, Dan strived to live his last few years with his patient and solidly stable non-TM father. During that time, his creativity blossomed through painting, music, and digital communication with loved ones.

Dan wisely distinguished between abiding love for the people in his life and the TM community’s deluded ideals. His youthful frustration from judgments that narrow-minded idealists directed toward him evolved to compassion for the manipulated devotees. Dan and I often discussed dysfunctions shared by generations of TM’s children.

Dan wanted me to share his story as a warning for others. His quiet activism supported healing and acceptance. His interview for David Sieveking’s exposé documentary David Wants to Fly was omitted from the film’s final cut. When he asked me to publish his story several years ago, Dan approved a manuscript that included the following tales.

TM kids were told they were enlightened and blessed by karmically elevated birthright. As adults, their ongoing bonds were forged through shared secrets of neglect and loss while their spiritually devoted parents pursued mystical goals. Like many idealized TM kids, Dan grew up alternately globe-trotting between his mother’s advanced teacher-training courses with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and family-values midwestern roots. He was equally at home in Wisconsin, France, Holland, San Diego, Switzerland, Kansas, India, Iowa, Arizona, Florida, and Massachusetts.

Dan’s mother, Susan, was one of my dearest friends. She and I met in 1979 when Maharishi called together several thousand followers for his first World Peace Assembly in Amherst, Massachusetts. At that time Susan had already divorced Dan’s father for a deemed better-than-normal life. She followed Maharishi’s directives and remarried a Governor of the Age of Enlightenment (title for a level of mystical achievement in TM). When we met, Dan was an adolescent, and his youngest sister, Lara, floated inside Susan’s womb. Later in Fairfield, Iowa, teenage Dan played for hours with my young sons. He called me his Mamma Catena after his own mother passed away.

“A gentle heart is tied with an easy thread.” —George Herbert (1593–1633)[a]

During her life, Susan’s magnanimity graciously embraced everyone. Susan’s idealistic devotion to Maharishi guided the indoctrination of her children with Maharishi’s teachings. As a TM Initiator, and later a more advanced Governor of the Age of Enlightenment, Susan’s family was destined to bring heaven on earth. Maharishi promised our community would change the world.

In 1980 the TM community’s next exciting global vortex sucked us in. Susan and I traveled together to join with a few thousand other devotees from around the world in New Delhi, India for Maharishi’s month-long First International Vedic Science Course. Between bouts of dysentery from unsanitary food, she and I consoled ourselves while our hearts longed for our children in the United States of America. On an overcrowded, dirty bus amidst New Delhi’s diesel fumes, I vowed never again to leave my child for Maharishi’s dictates. Susan, however, did not make that vow.

In 1983 Susan and her children relocated to our TM community in Fairfield, Iowa for social support after another divorce. Her son, Dan, integrated as an adolescent into Maharishi International University’s (MIU’s) Prep School.1 Susan trusted that Maharishi’s enlightened education would salvage her family.

Dan later lived with my ex-husband and me for months when Susan attended Maharishi’s advanced programs in the Netherlands. It was common practice for the community to care for each other’s children when parents traveled abroad for extended time with Maharishi. Susan’s gift of Dutch delft dishes from one such trip hangs on my kitchen wall to commemorate altruistic loved ones who were lost to Maharishi’s whims.

In the private middle school Dan publicly questioned Maharishi’s promises that practicing TM for hours daily would bring happiness, wealth, health and world peace without action. Dan would not accept “Maharishi says…” to be an adequate answer for everything. MIU prep school evicted Dan because he dared to publicly question the guru, thus denying him further higher knowledge (TM’s term for mystical teachings). When transferred to Fairfield’s public schools in the mid-1980s, Dan was taunted with the derogatory nickname of ‘Ru, short for Guru, which Fairfield locals applied to the exotic outsiders who invaded their town.

As a marginalized teen, Dan sometimes appeared at my family’s doorstep rather than attend school. “What will I tell your mother about sheltering you as a truant?” I objected.

Dan answered with a smile, “She’d prefer me to be here with you, rather than getting stoned on the streets somewhere.” He earned entry to my home.

While other parents of our TM family attended Maharishi’s twice-daily Program (hours of meditation marathons in gender-divided dome buildings), Dan led a pack of enlightened truants who baked chocolate-chip cookies and played with my preschoolers in a quest for normalcy. The teens of the 1980s knew I avoided the hours of daily Program despite the objections of my then-husband and community. I refused to neglect children the way that my own enlightenment-seeking TM parents had done.

Spiritual idealism called young-adult Dan to visit ashrams and TM childhood buddies the world over, including several visits to my California home after I left The Movement. His lifelong quest to live God’s goodness sometimes clashed with harsher realities. Cognitive dissonance and psychosis bought him repeated admissions to mental hospitals.

Susan came to me crying on a cold winter day in the mid-1980s. Dan was a young adult. She sat in my kitchen and told me that Dan had called her collect from a roadside telephone booth. He stood in the phone booth wearing thin yoga clothes in the middle of winter. His bare feet were bleeding because he had bolted and run 2 miles away from Maharishi’s men’s celibate retreat center in upstate New York. He was desperate for help to cope with disturbing visions after months of prolonged daily meditations. From my home, Susan called for medical help to rescue her son, 1,000 miles away.

Dan had sought help from TM’s leadership. Trained leaders responded with “Something good is happening.” This is just “stress release” or “bad karma.” They encouraged him to meditate more, to turn within for even more “experiences of higher states of consciousness.” Unfortunately, TM teachers neither screen for meditation-induced psychosis nor acknowledge a devotee’s cognitive dissonance. While I dried Susan’s tears, a psychiatric hospital phoned to confirm Dan’s arrival.

In the 1980s Fairfield’s meditating community exalted Susan because she generously donated to Maharishi’s never-to-be-actualized programs. She funded many meditator businesses. Like others, Susan believed Maharishi’s promises that nature’s support (mystical blessings) would repay her family with perfect health, prosperity, and enlightenment. She depleted family trust funds to enrich the coffers of Maharishi’s Shrivastava family.

Dan’s adorable younger sister, Lara, died suddenly in 1997, at the beginning of her senior year in Maharishi’s high school. During weekly long-distance telephone conversations, Susan relayed her relief that, as a passenger, Lara died painlessly with a smile on her face when her neck snapped in a drug-related auto accident. Despite such drug-related tragedies among TM’s youth, a school official refused to honor concerned parents’ requests for drug-education programs, apparently clinging to the myth that there are not drugs at the Maharishi School.

Fast forward only a few years. Dan stabilized in Fairfield on disability funds because his psychotic bouts prevented him from holding a job. One evening Dan found his mother wandering aimlessly among the aisles of EveryBody’s Whole Foods, Fairfield’s meditator-owned natural food store and social hub. Susan was in a stupor and did not recognize her son. Dan brought his mother to Fairfield’s Jefferson County Hospital. A medical team airlifted her 60 miles north to the University hospital (now part of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics). Studies found that advanced brain cancer squished her brain to half its normal size inside her skull.

Susan’s undiagnosed brain cancer had grown unchecked for years while she treated recurrent debilitating headaches according to directives from Maharishi’s Ayurvedic doctors, jyotishis (astrologers), yagyas (prayer ceremonies) to purify her karma, mystically prescribed gem stones, and more. Susan followed the guidance of her guru and her community. She did everything “right.”

Through all, Dan and his mother continued a cheerful, abiding love for their family and community. The community at large, however, ignored Susan after she depleted her wealth and became impoverished. Her closest friends and children helped as best they could, while government assistance funded treatment for brain cancer. Maharishi’s promises of perfect health and prosperity were for naught.

With my next visit in June 2000, Susan’s lovely auburn hair flowed only down her left shoulder from beneath a red silk scarf. In a dear friend’s dining room, I removed Susan’s headscarf. A pink caterpillar scar curved along the luminous bald right side of her scalp. I kissed the length of the scar. Tears trickled down Susan and Dan’s cheeks.

University of Iowa Medical Center’s treatments were too late. In spring 2001, Susan, surrounded by Dan and his other sisters, repeated her mystical mantra and joined her deceased daughter Lara.

In 2006, Dan encouraged me to tell stories of TM damage publicly at a conference for the International Cultic Studies Association. He repeatedly asked when I would publish his family story, ensconced within my own memoir. Dan encouraged me that autumn when I protested the David Lynch Foundation’s attempt to bring TM to my own children’s public high school in San Rafael, California.

After several hell rides, his term for psychotic bouts, Dan spent his last few years calmly settled with his father. Dan painted, composed music, and managed a few websites. He especially reveled as a doting uncle.

One afternoon in 2012, Dan’s father found Dan passed away in his sleep. Sweet Susan’s son joined his mother and younger sister in nirvana, eternal peace.

Dan’s remaining family and global peers remember his gentle heart, occasional confusion, and most importantly, his devotion to family and friends. We will miss Dan’s unbridled kindness and good intentions. The little boy grew into a sometimes-fearsome gentle giant. Dan encompassed Maharishi’s promise of 200% of life. His inner and outer experiences were greater than most of us can imagine.

Dan, may your art, music and wonderful heart arise, freed at last. We Love you, Dan. Peace. Be True.

To Dan’s family: You are deeply loved and respected. You had more than your share of loss from circumstances beyond your control. May your lives continue to move forward. Everyone holds you with tenderness beyond expression.

Note: Names changed at the family’s request.

About the Author

Gina Catena, MS, was raised in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) group as an early “child of the Age of Enlightenment.” She married and was a parent in the group until the age of 30. After 22 years of childhood and young adulthood enmeshed in the TM culture, Ms. Catena left the group with three children and obtained an education and career while integrating into mainstream culture. She lives with ongoing cult influence through three generations of her immediate family. She contributed to Child of the Cult by Nori Muster. Ms. Catena is also working on several projects about family influence in cults. She obtained a Master of Science (MS) degree from the University of California at San Francisco, a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Art History, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nursing, with a minor in psychology. She is now a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and nurse practitioner (NP).


[1] Maharishi International University (MIU) later reorganized as Maharishi University of Management (MUM). MIU Prep was the original children’s school for families associated with MIU. Today, the children’s school is called Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE). In conversation, the schools are informally called Maharishi University or Maharishi School.