A Most Unusual Life

Nancy Cooke de Herrera sat on the floor of her son’s home in the early 2000s, her only companions a black lab and 27 piles of paper around her. Each pile represented a chapter – including one detailing her first visit to India, and another recounting the time she met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the father of Transcendental Meditation (TM). There was even a pile that would later be titled “The Beatles Invade the Ashram.”

After isolating herself in Oregon and churning out the 27 piles, she moved them around to determine their order, wrote four additional chapters, and in 2003 published “All You Need Is Love,” a true account of TM’s spread from the East to the West and her own role therein.

Cooke de Herrera – who married into Molokai’s Cooke family in the 1940s and raised three sons on Molokai – had never much liked writing, she said. But friends convinced her to write a book because, at the time, there were none about TM – a mantra form of meditation that, unlike some, does not require giving up worldly possessions. Over the years, she has taught TM to such celebrities as Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rosie O’Donnell, Lenny Kravitz and Sheryl Crow, among others.

“When it’s day by day your own life, it doesn’t sound extraordinary. I know that looking back on it, some of it’s kind of unusual,” she said after a presentation at the Molokai Public Library Thursday.

Cooke de Herrera first traveled to Hawaii in the early ’40s, when she left Stanford University during her senior year to marry missionary Richard Cooke. The couple raised sons Rik, Brett and Starr on Molokai.

After their 9-year marriage ended in divorce, Cooke de Herrera married racecar driver Luis de Herrera and moved with him to Argentina. Tragically, he died from atomic radiation exposure when the couple’s only child, daughter Maria Luisa, was 9 months old – setting off Cooke de Herrera’s search for spirituality and prompting her first trip to India, where she has visited 37 times since.

On Molokai for one of her annual month-long visits, Cooke de Herrera Thursday engaged the crowd of about 20 people who repeatedly praised the remarkability of her life. In addition to teaching TM to celebrities, she was previously named the U.S. Ambassadress of Fashion, allowing her to travel the world presenting American couture for 12 years.

Cooke de Herrera, however, said she’s simply been in the right place at the right time – including at Maharishi’s ashram in the ’60s, when, in addition to the Beatles, she spent time with Mia Farrow, Donovan Leitch and the Beach Boys’ Mike Love. She was there when the Beatles wrote “All You Need is Love,” inspiring her book’s title; her son, Rik, Molokai resident and National Geographic photographer, inspired the Beatles’ song “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” after he shot a tiger during a hunt in India’s Sitabani Forest.

Cooke de Herrera will host an encore discussion of her life and “All You Need is Love” at Kalele Bookstore July 27 at 5:30 p.m.


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