Gloria Norris Schwartz discovered Transcendental Meditation - TM - five years ago after a mostly fruitless search for a natural remedy for healing and stress.
Since then she and her husband Jeffrey, a mathematical scientist, and their two sons, 13 and 11, have trained in the technique described by TM enthusiasts as the opposite of concentration, completely effortless and totally life-changing.
How true for the Schwartz family.
They meditate regularly and follow a TM-recommended natural health program. And as soon as they can sell their home in Windham, they're moving to Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, a new city built three years ago in the middle of farm country just beyond the Maharishi University of Management - a college founded in 1974 by the Maharishi Maheesh Yogi.
Yes, guru to the Beatles during the late 1960s.
"I can't wait to get there. As soon as I heard about it I had to see it. We've been there twice - I loved it," Schwartz, 50, said.
Although they arrived in New Hampshire from the Washington, D.C., area already practicing TM, Schwartz wanted to connect with a TM teacher here.
She met Sherry Levesque, director of Manchester's TM Program Center and part of the faculty at Maharishi Vedic University in Antrim, which last year took over the campus of the defunct Nathaniel Hawthorne College. The organization is looking to build a meditation "Peace Palace" in the Manchester area, as well.
Tonight Levesque will offer an introductory TM lecture at Manchester City Library auditorium at 7 p.m. Levesque said her presentation, "The TM Program: Opening a New World of Knowledge, Health and Quality of Life," is based on data proving the physical and mental benefits of TM from more than 600 scientific studies at more than 200 credible universities and research centers, including Harvard Medical School, Stanford University and UCLA.
Levesque cites benefits ranging from enhanced creativity, memory and alpha wave brain function (key to taming attention deficit disorders), to solving blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety and stress-related ailments.
"TM provides the mind with the ability to transcend to a place TMers refer to as the 'universal unified field of intelligence' - called the unified field, in ultra modern physics," Levesque said.
Albert Einstein was among those great thinkers who first explored the so-called Theory Of Everything (TOE) in the context of the universe.
Only now are physicists catching up with Einstein and applying TOE to the current controversial buzz in the scientific community, "String Theory" by Columbia University physicist Brian Greene.
But make no mistake: TM is a trademarked, worldwide non-profit educational organization based solely on the sacred teachings of "His Holiness" the Maharishi. It relies heavily on repetition of a mantra. And the goal is nothing short of world peace.
"What Maharishi says in the language of science - we call it Natural Law - in layman's terms might be called the will of God. In whatever language you use, peace should be the way of the world," Levesque said.
"For the cost of a B-2 bomber, we could set up a group of 40,000 people in India to meditate and act as peace keepers by creating a major effect on the unified field," Levesque said.
Anyone interested in learning TM must participate in three preliminary lectures - two group and a one-on-one with a certified instructor. After that, a $2,500 check buys you a lifetime of instruction at any trademarked Maharishi Vedic center around the globe.
"The fee may sound high, but it's a standard fee, and actually, it's the best bargain in America," Levesque said.
Schwartz has borrowed money in order to pay that much, times four, and agrees with Levesque that it's a wise investment in her family's future.
"What does a person pay for a course in college? What do you pay for a one-week vacation for a family of four? How much is a laptop computer and some software and, in a few years, it's obsolete?," Schwartz said.
Meanwhile, in Vedic City, Iowa, it's hard to say whether the city that chants together achieves world peace together. But it seemed like a logical question for Jefferson County Iowa Sheriff Jerry Droz.
"This whole county is low crime, has been for years - since before they got here," Droz said. "Everybody there is involved in TM." Although he's never tried it, some of his best friends are TM'ers.
He said Vedic City has caused a rift between some Iowa natives and their new mystical neighbors.
"It's become the 'Townies' and 'Gurus,' a 'we' and 'them' situation, when it should be 'us.' Although the factions are getting a little less, you can understand it. When something new comes into your neighborhood you wouldn't like it," Droz said.
One of the persistent controversies surrounding TM is its connection to Hinduism through mantras, and the cult-like influence of the Maharishi over his followers. Some say it undermines traditional Biblical teachings on the absolute truth of Christian doctrine.
Droz said he would be reluctant to say what he thinks, but offered this anecdote.
"When Maharishi said all the toilets had to face East, everyone changed their homes around. All the buildings have to be facing East. Why? That's what he said to do. There are several things they have to do, because he says so," Droz said. "Sure, we've had people disgruntled with the program, but the bottom line is, you can't please everybody."
But Andrew Skolnick, a former editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association and current director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health, a newly formed New York-based organization dedicated to debunking overblown alternative medicine and health theories, is not so diplomatic.
He says TM is nothing but BS.
"It's widely considered by cult experts to be a destructive cult, in that its followers believe in a divine-like quality or powers of their leader and they accept his teachings, which are blatantly absurd, self-contradictory and harmful," Skolnick said. "And it costs a fortune."
He said the Maharishi's rationale is based on his interpretations of Hindu mysticism wrapped in scientific jargon.
"What he did in the 1950s was he started to rewrite his Hindu theology, replacing it with scientific words. And that's enough for the 'believer,' who will not try to see the consistencies or inconsistencies for himself," Skolnick said.
"You go take a basic TM course that teaches you to meditate. Then you come back for 'checking' and they say you can't advance in TM without the checking sessions. And it's during those sessions you're baited for costly courses. Then, slowly, they reel you in," Skolnick said.
That kind of criticism does not sway Schwartz against her decision to move her family West, to Vedic City. She's heard it all, and said her commitment to TM was made for exactly the opposite reason.
"I wanted something that wasn't going to interfere with whatever religious path I was taking, and that's exactly what you get with TM. So many of these other methods of relaxation and healing are either all spiritual or all scientific. This is both," said Schwartz. "And at the same time, it's not like a religion, like you have to subscribe to a particular belief system. It's just a technique."