Tis the season for recruitment …

Hi Readers –

Recently someone asked me if “school” was still schooling. As it turns out, yes! You, too, can have “new friends”! I know that the invisible world is sending out invisible troops, because a recent recruit visited and commented on the blog.

It amazes, amuses and saddens me that this cult is still trotting out the same sad tactics. Maybe some of you stumbled into this blog because of a strange recent encounter with some “new friends”. You may be wondering, “Is a cult  recruiting me?” If it had these traits, it was cult — i.e. “school”/”the study” — recruitment:

  1. Friendly man/woman ( in this case, “Mike C”) strikes up conversation at a bar in Somerville, typically this chat begins with an unusual question regarding esoteric ideas, or something inspirational.
  2. Discusses life and philosophy.
  3. Another “friend” (in this case, Alan) shows up.
  4. Some coffee meetings follow the initial encounter.
  5. Another “friend” joins (in this case, Lisa).
  6. Last coffee meeting includes another “friend”, Robert, who extends an invitation into a group; btw what used to be simply “school”, then morphed into “the study” no longer has a name. The invitation may, or may not, include a “free experiment” and the warning: ” …it’s very important that you not tell anyone about this. It’s private, just for you!

If your “new friends” are like Mike, Alan, Lisa, and Robert, they are reluctant to share personal details. BIG RED FLAG! They are also lying about the nature of their relationships. What felt like a chance encounter is deliberate recruitment.

The word is that this “youngest class” meets Mondays and Thursdays at the Courtyard Marriott, both in Cambridge and Brookline. Apparently the latest marketing ploy is to nod to a lineage of great men of history, while trotting out Gurdjieff ideas –like the mechanical nature of man, the four “centers”,  self-observation, identification, and the wrong work of centers — but neglecting to mention Gurdjieff, and Sharon Gans and Alex Horn, etc, etc. And, yes, the 5-week aims, are now called the 5-week commitments and the free 5-week “experiment” is still a thing.


Contradicting Cult Indoctrination: Four Concepts from Living the Deeper YES …

In July of 2012, I went to my first International Cultic Studies Association conference in Washington, DC. After spending the weekend talking to ex-cult members from all over the world, I remember saying, “All of these groups are the same.”

Okay, so cults aren’t all exactly the same, but they ALL use the same underlying tactics to recruit and indoctrinate. I’m endlessly fascinated by Cult Common hallmarks because, for one, they say something about human nature but when you become cognizant of manipulation, those hallmarks point you to recovery – contradict the indoctrination. Break cult rules.

Living the Deeper YES reframes ideas that were abused by “school”. Tull offers them as inner guide posts – these tools turn the very vulnerabilities that can be exploited into empowerment. I found these four especially helpful:

  • All cults claim to be the exclusive source of exclusive aspirational, or deep, knowledge or The Truth! that will change your life ….

Living the Deeper YES says that such truth, or aspirational knowing, or deeper knowledge is available to EVERYONE, all the time!

  • Cults keep their minions busy and frazzled. It’s common practice to claim a frantic pace, in service to the group, is “doing what’s necessary” to achieve (maybe) some elusive higher state (if you do it right, or are successful).

Living the Deeper YES says that we access the essence level when we stop, listen in stillness & quiet the mind, so we can hear our truths. Truth comes through when we allow it time, attention and space. It speaks to us from the inside and is not dictated by external sources.

  • Cults claim access to higher states of existence, or exclusive knowledge, or some allusive “truth” to foster dependence in members. Such groups encourage a feeding frenzy culture that attacks independent thought — members start to question personal perceptions, their beliefs, their emotions and opinions.

Living the Deeper YES encourages dialogue with the self.  It is the New Millennium version of Glenda the Good Witch, telling readers, “Trust yourself! You had the answers all along.” The deeper yes, comes from the internal yes – you feel the rightness in your bones.

  • Cults leverage hierarchy and judgment, taking advantage of our social needs for community and acceptance. Group members stew in indoctrination, an ideology of black and white thinking.

In stark contrast,Tull offers her vulnerabilities and darker years up for examination, essentially offering tools that she had to dredge up for herself in times of uncertainty and pain.  She’s a human offering readers tools for humanity that come –not from some contrived superiority – but embracing vulnerability, allowing herself to be a fallible human and seeing moments of faltering as opportunities to grow, learn and heal.

This year, I’m gonna be at ICSA’s conference in Philly, which happens to fall on the week of July 4th. My first conference in DC also fell on July 4thand there was something very sweet about embracing my esoteric freedom on the DC Mall.  SO this year, I’ll embrace it in Philly! If you’re there, come say hello.

New word: an·ti·no·mi·an

This is an interesting word that I just learned. Here’s the definition:
adjective — 1.relating to the view that Christians are released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law.
noun — 1. a person holding antinomian beliefs.

Isn’t that inspiring!?

Calling yourself “Christian” “releases you by grace” from acting like a Christian! Then you can do whatever you want, no matter how selfish, greedy, or reprehensible. No matter who you hurt. Perfect for cults and evangelical Trump supporters

This explains how Mike Pence can stand by the liar-in-chief, no matter what he does. (at least Trump doesn’t pretend to have morals and ethics). And how cult leaders think of themselves —   “hey, I’m trotting out this “teaching”, “philosophy”, “religion” etc. etc. etc. blah, blah, blah. I get to do whatever I want.”

Now I know why pointing out hypocrisy to cult leaders, or evangelical Trump supporters, has no impact. I’ll stop beating my head against the wall and hope that there are more sane people, and authentic Christians, in the world than Antinomian.

TED talk on leaving an evangelical cult

This woman is Dawn Smith. She is funny, and smart. Her parents and grandparents started The Assembly, a cult that preached its version of the Gospel on street corners. Forbidden in her childhood: science, ambitious females (horrors!), loud clapping, psychiatry, puppies, dancing … On the other hand, climate change denial, creepy men and pyramid schemes were encouraged.

She says,  “Cults don’t want to be defined as a cult because it empowers its members to take a critical look at it. Language in cults is controlled because language is powerful. This happens in the real world, too. Despite what 98% of what the world’s scientists say, let’s not call it climate change.

She also said, “Staunch loyalty is wrong if it means supporting an abusive pathological liar. That pathology trickles down … ”

Admitting that it was hard to leave, she lost her grandparents … and her parents … well her relationship with them “is complicated.” But she concludes with this:
” … even the hardest day of freedom was better than the best day in a cult.”

It’s a worthwhile 15 minutes:



A BBC report about the supermodel who took down a cult …

… Hello readers – this report below is about one hour. The first time I attended an International Cultic Studies Association,  I met the executive director, Michael Langone. For the first time since leaving “school” I talked with ex-members from various cults. We were all telling essentially the same story.

I said to him, “All these fucking groups are the same.” Margaret Singer, co-author of Cults In Our Midst, begs to differ. She says not all cults are the same. Maybe not exactly … but all cults do share specific characteristics.

Take a listen and identify the characteristics that “school” shares with the cult Eternal Values (that’s a perfect name for a cult, btw).


School Essence vs. the Essence Level …

Good morning readers and Happy Spring!

I continue to hang with this book because I find it inspiring, especially the concept of life on two levels: the logistical level, day to day, clocks, and to do lists, and such, and the essence level, magical moments of epiphany or beauty.

I believe that recovery, for ex-members,  requires contradicting the coma by breaking cult rules a.s.a.p. Contradict cult common claims and practices: all cults claim ownership of “truth”. Cults cloak the universal in group-specific dogma. “This exclusive knowledge,” cults say, “You won’t find ANY WHERE ELSE.

As a general rule, if a “new friend”, or mentor (cough, minder) utters such exclusivity, look around for the idea, or belief being commandeered. “School”, for example, claimed essence, as the force that spurred us into human existence, school said. We lose our connection. We fall asleep to essence. The only way to awaken, of course, was through The Work, as trotted out by “school”, or “the study”, or whatever the cult calls itself now. Does this sound familiar? “I, alone, can fix it.”  (barf).

“School” does not tell new minions, “Lucky you! You’ve entered The Soul Factory. Now that you have our guidance, you get to GROW a SOUL, unlike all of those inferior, sleep-walking, un-schooled, creatures… but only if you follow “school’s” prescribed instruction to the letter.  You only learn that “school” believes humans to be soul-less, vapid, “mad machines” when brewing in indoctrination long enough. 

In direct contradiction, Anna Huckabee Tull’s concept of The Essence Level:

“… It’s the glorious magic of looking deeply into the eyes of one you hold dear. It’s the serendipity of confluence, luck and a sense of wonder. It’s an intuitive wisdom and knowingness, deep within you. It’s the splendor of the heavens and the way that looking up at a wide and twinkling sky can clam and expand you … It’s the AHA, the Eureka! It’s that moment of profound fulfillment, when you relax into all that surrounds you, realizing, in that moment, that you lack for nothing. It’s experiencing the presence (could it be?) of a loved one who has passed on and yet, somehow, even so, is right there with you ….  It is the wavelength of possibility.” 

Always, always available. For me, essence-level becomes apparent when life knocks away self protective shields — like when my dad was in hospice. But Ms. Tull is saying we don’t have to wait for those times and we don’t need external sources. We simply need to stop, look and listen. It’s all around us and inside of us. You experience essence level through your perceptions, your relationships, your experiences. Essence level comes through in moments that no one else can dictate, or steal them from you. I feel that those who attempt to dictate things so personal perpetrate psychological violence.

Right now, the sunrise is peeking through my window and throwing rectangles on the hardwood of a dining room table. A clock, a real one with hands that clicks past numbers in a circle, taps out a gentle rhythm. A furnace hums. I know my husband is sleeping and I hear my thoughts clicking out, I see them unfold on this screen. Writing, music and nature happen to be my muse and my connection. There’s no one on earth who can dictate this moment, or my sources, or yours.

This day is yours to live, to choose, to be in your work, your relationships, however they manifest. It will unfold and you will perceive and experience. Breathe it in. Trust yourself. And give yourself a window to stop and listen for, or see the essence level. It can’t hurt. And who knows what the day might present for you? Certainly not “school”.  It’s yours to reach for, or discover, or uncover, or allow.

Living the Deeper Yes, by Anna Huckabee Tull – The Essence Level

Today’s post is a weaving together of endorsing, Living the Deeper Yes, and highlighting why I feel this book is such a wonderful resource for ex-cult members, and, in particular, “school’s” “disgruntled ex-students”.

Since leaving the cult in 2011, I have used this blog to glean meaning and understanding from what happened to me, rail against cults, and all forms of gaslighting & victim blame.

Thanks to my “schooling”, the post-“school” me is more savvy, more guarded, and less afraid of confrontation. I like the tougher me, frankly; it was born of being played a fool, but — thanks to “school” — I now have a finely-tuned antenna for bullshit. The pre-school me felt like a magnet for manipulators and swindlers. Plenty of them graced my life before the ultimate con. Since my graduation (cough) grifters no longer drift to me. That feels good. It tells me that recruiters and cons no longer see me as a viable candidate — better move on to the next one.

But that protective presentation does come at some cost to the kinder, more loving, more compassionate and perhaps naive parts of myself. The part of me who constantly felt raw and vulnerable and who –once upon a time– met a “new friend” and a new community. She wanted desperately to believe that she’d found a safe haven, full of mentors, and kindred spirits, when in truth she’d been led into a Ponzi scheme.

That’s a tough lesson and to some extent I’ve packed her away as a protective mechanism. This part of me had to retreat and let a more angry & assertive, self take the wheel; it’s hard to remain a Gentle Soul in a world that feels increasingly meaner and colder. Given the current state of the union, I was starting to wonder if that Gentle Soul had been killed off — ironic, yes?

But recently, a car accident made clear that the pre-“school” me — the Gentle Soul, whose well-intended, but confused, meanderings, once made her the ideal cult recruit — is still in there. Though, not physically hurt, I am freaked out. The accident brought out a vulnerability I haven’t felt since right before I departed “school”, when my tenure was really at it’s worst. Life is fragile. We are all fragile.

This gentler part feels vulnerable all the time. It has been much easier to pack her away — to tell her, “You go retreat. I’ve got this.” I have a feeling that many ex-members can relate to that. But packing her away completely, as in denying her voice, does require a kind of death of the soul.

That brings me to, Living the Deeper Yes. For once, this is NOT a book about cults– instead it is a book that offers the esoteric ideas, concepts and strivings that attracts Gentle Souls who are struggling to navigate this world. Author Anna Huckabee Tull takes the same concepts and ideas that cults claim in order to abuse, and reframes them into the healing context. It is clear that her true intent comes from desire to empower, to affirm and to love. She offers them as guide posts for the gentler parts of us to follow when feeling over exposed – tools that embrace the very vulnerabilities that can be exploited by those so inclined.

These tender parts of us need protection, but self protection can go too far. Your gentleness gets cast aside. That makes us less human, less decent, less loving, less kind. And God knows, we need more decency, kindness and love, not less. The good news: you don’t have to pack your tenderness away. In fact, if you’re anything like me (and if you’re an ex-member, I guessing we share some common tendencies) those inner characters will find a way to get your attention. For example, consuming your mind so completely that you end up in a car wreck.

The good news is that you don’t have to lose your essence. You only need to assemble your personal inner tool box of protective ideas, practices, safety nets, compassion for those parts and for others. Over the last few days, I’ve turned to this book. I highly, highly recommend it.

Particular to “school”, Ms. Tull reframes the Essence concept. “School” trotted out an origin story about essence, upon which everything else relied: we all began as “an essence” in the starry world. Each essence has a fatal flaw. They choose parents and are born into this world, planet earth, to resolve this flaw, but once born, forgets; falls asleep to essence: “What does it mean to remember yourself?” “School” would pontificate. Of course, it is nearly impossible to “remember yourself.” And NOT possible without the “Help”, exclusively available from “school” for a mere $350/month. Of course, claims of exclusive knowledge is cult common. Readers from other cults probably recognize that tactic.

In direct contradiction and stark contrast, Ms. Tull says that we traverse two levels of existence: logistical and essential. Both are available to mere mortals at all times; in order to avail yourself of the essence level,  give yourself permission to stop and listen. Take pause, open eyes and ears and hearts. You can find the essence level everywhere and in all things. Right now I am trying to find it in this event, called The Car Accident. Ugh.

My favorite thing about Ms. Tull is that she’s not presenting as a guru with the answers. Instead she shares her humanity and imperfect meanderings — poignant,  funny & magical experiences at times when her vulnerabilities felt exposed to the hilt. In stumbling through those events, she comes to the knowledge shared in the book. A marriage ends. Her life, and her plans, crash and burn. At the age of 30 she packs her car and drives from Texas to Ohio, back to her parents. When she gets there she stops. She shelters in place, surrounded by two people who love her. She cries a lot — letting herself feel it fully; allowing that vulnerability just to be. Then one day, she packs herself and her stuff back into the car and points her wheels due West, destination unknown.

Each day of this adventure, she practiced consulting her internal compass, her essence, and allowed it to lead her back out in the world, exposed. Some times her essence said, take a left here, go right there. Or go ask this question to that seemingly random stranger …

“…I was tapping into some strange kind of courage, some irrefutable rising inner momentum. And I was using it to step right into someone’s existence. I was asking to be seen, asking others to open toward me, if even just for a moment. Sometimes people assumed I was trying to sell them a Bible, or corral them into taking a marketing poll. But most of the time, to my delight, people, when I asked them for input, just piped out variations of, ‘Okay, sure. What’s on your mind?’ ”

” ‘I don’t know. I’m hurting I guess,’ I would say to the woman in the parking lot, or the hotel clerk … the old man waiting outside the hotdog stand … ” I had (the marriage/the job/the business, etc) … now I don’t have anything … It feels kind of worse, on the surface. But it feels kind of better, somewhere deeper down. I can’t quite make sense of it.’ ”

‘Do the thing that feels good,’ the pet shop worker on break would tell me … (etc)

“I was beginning to hear the deeper, more essence-level, reverberations of messages everywhere. Each one felt tailor-made for me, for exactly what I was ready to hear, right then. The student was ready, and the teachers appeared all around — in the flowers, in the wind, in the faces and chances, all along the highways and gas stations and toll booths and back roads of state after state. And I was hungry for their ready wisdom.

Folks, fellow “disgruntled ex-students”, fellow “essence friends”, fellow ex-cult members, and current members if you’re “breaking rules” and reading this “evil” missive (Blog Monitor???) isn’t it freeing, and wonderful, to embrace that ESSENCE is always available?! You don’t have to rely on “the source”. The REAL SOURCE is everywhere: inside, outside, in others and in other things. Inhale, exhale.

This is the Gentle Souls version of If You See the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. You don’t have to kill anyone, actually. You just have to embrace the messy truth — no one person, or group, has “the proverbial answers”.  Kind of a simple how to avoid cults rule of thumb. Walk away from those who make such a claim, gently consulting your inner compass, your essence.

When I’ve trust my essential self –feeling my way through — it has never steered me wrong. When I’m making decisions out of fear, or clinging to a dependency, the results are never good. So, thank God, I didn’t kill her off.  I’m pretty sure that she’s been giving me marching orders ever since a sunrise walk in late July of 2011, when I looked at the previous five years and thought to myself: “If I’m going to fuck up my life, I’d prefer to do it on my own terms.Thanks.”

I’ve been following the inner compass ever since — most of the time. When I veer off course, well, I risk a 3-car accident.

Here’s to your inner compass! More to come on Living the Deeper Yes soon.


More on Snapping

Dear Readers,

I hope that you’re having a good weekend. I’m posting to, again, sing the praises of Snapping.

This book continues to be my favorite. Published in 1977, the authors researched something prominent in our culture today: the weaponization of information, the communication of disinformation, so prominent in today’s social media, that Russian Trolls, attacked and took control of our presidential election. Now Trump Trolls across the country parrot Russian propaganda. It’s astounding.

Back in ’77, decades before the World Wide Web, Conway and Siegleman wrote the following about the elements of Snapping (slightly tweaked for blog): “… the intense physical experiences of religious ritual … dancing, drumming, chanting, prayer and meditation, along with physiological stresses … exhaustion, poor diet, isolation … not even all of these components in concert set off the moment of snapping… the sudden drastic alteration of an individual’s entire personality requires an altogether different kind of information.”

“It consists of the potent rhetorical ploys, individual & group techniques, mass-marketing strategies that make up America’s technology of experience; everything from fervid lecturing and earnest personal confrontation to slickly packaged appeals, from casual conversation to active role playing and guided fantasy.”

“This set of instruments may be systematically orchestrated to engage the individual’s communication capacities … This all encompassing verbal and nonverbal assault, charged with challenging new beliefs, suggestions and commands, may build up profound and often conflicting feelings  … which prompt the person to seek release from a troubled past or immediate problems.”

“Then, often in a a sensuous, seductive, or totally foreign environment, or surrounded by an atmosphere of love, warmth, acceptance, openness, honesty and community the person might yield to some call … to surrender, to let go, to stop questioning, to relinquish all will.”

“It is this act of capitulation that sets off the explosion we call snapping. In that moment, something quite remarkable may happen. With that flick of a switch, that change of heart and mind, an individuals personality may come apart. From our perspective, this phenomenon can now be identified as an overpowering holographic crisis in the brain.”

I admit that this except loses something without the context supplied in the previous chapters, but perhaps there’s enough in it that will compel anyone who needs to understand a cultic experience to pick up a copy and read the entire thing. Have I told you that I recommend it?

Okay, off to do laundry.

Recovery Thoughts: BREAK “rules”

Need to recover from a cultic experience?
Whatever the cult demanded, do the opposite. Break “rules”.

  • Cults isolate:connect to authentic relationships/communities.
  • Cults require secrecy:refuse to safeguard and carry burdensome secrets.
  • Cults silence:claim and use your voice and share your story with whomever you choose.
  • Cults numb:claim your emotional/feeling self by acknowledging, allowing and expressing ALL the feelings: grief at losses; anger at abuses; cynicism about the hypocrisy; joy at your reclamation and ownership of self and life going forward.
  • Cults deny individual rights:claim your rights and attend to your needs; guard yourself and those you love, fiercely.
  • Cults employ and require deception of self and others:seek and speak truth.
  • Cults commit identity theft, emptying participants of soul/authentic self:claim your authentic self through all of the above practices.

I have experienced recovery as reclamation. Cultic dynamics devour members, mind, body, heart and spirit, in psychological webs of tangled confusion. You have the power to untangle those memes, clear out the twisted ideology, and deceptive narrative – you can return to emotional and cognitive clarity and heal relationships damaged by the group. You have the power to return to yourself, and your life, by breaking “rules”.

Reclaim your humanity. Believe it or not, this difficult healing process can lead you to joy and laughter … sometimes lots of laughter.

My opinion, for what it’s worth.