“The Study’s” latest “class” …

… was recently spooked out of Somerville! The cult formerly known as “School”, currently  called “The Study”, had a conveniently-located classroom in Union Square’s, The Green Room on Bow Street. But an “incident”, or “event” (pay attention to when Robert employs the nondescript word event), now has “The Study’s youngest class” on the go.

Thursday night’s class, for example, met at the Holiday Inn, in Brookline, 1200 Beacon St (the corner of Beacon and St Paul St.)

Over the years, “The Study” has often been forced to pull up roots and pull out its pat explanations about sudden venue changes. Like … “We’re going to experiment and meet at various locations. Secret esoteric schools of yore would often only reveal class-locations at the last minute. A student with ‘sufficient valuation’ would be on the ready, waiting for the phone call (this was, after all, pre-answering machines, let alone smartphones!) Those who missed this call, would lose out. In order to rate, one must do whatever it takes!’ to seek out the class location. This is part in parcel with tradition, not odd at all.”

Like so many stories from “the study” this is true in part. The unmentioned Gurdjieff had an also-not-mentioned student: PD Ouspensky. He describes mysterious last-minute phone calls and scrambles, in search of the latest classroom, in his unmentioned book (cough) In Search of the Miraculous.
I’m fairly certain “the study”, formerly known as “school”, omitted Ouspensky and his book last Thursday night when explaining the latest move. During my tenure, “School” handed us a black-bound copy of something it simply called “The Black Book” and referred to its secret author as “a great teacher, who once [FILL IN BLANK]”, usually some teacher would take on a lofty tone and precede such a  pronouncement with the phrase, “It has been said …”.  After departing I discovered that “The Black Book” was a redacted and Xeroxed copy of In Search of the Miraculous. Needless to say, I was furious.

I have a feeling “the study” also neglected to mention the number of sudden migrations it has been forced to make over the years. It will tell “students” the move is “… for your own safety.” As opposed to a “random psychotic person, akin to Charles Manson” who “hangs out in Union Square” freaking out “students,” these migrations are usually triggered by “evil and disgruntled ex-group members”,  trying to warn current attendees that the “5-week experiment” is – in truth – a greedy and predatory cult; flyers suddenly appearing on cars and such, or sudden announcements by a fellow essence friend like — “I’m leaving; you should consider leaving, too” spur the cult into its next venue.

Over the course of my 5-year tenure, “school” migrated from the Belmont Lion’s Club, to various ugly hotel conference rooms, to The Griffin Photography Museum in Winchester and finally out to Boston’s satellite HQ in Billerica’s Faulkner Mills Building. In the seventies, San Francisco ran “the study” — then known as “The Theater of all Possibilities” — out of town, forcing it to migrate East. Click here to read newspaper articles about the “theater”.

But for now, folks …

The current “youngest class” meets every Monday and Thursday, 6:30-9 p.m. Nine “students” gather — a few of whom rotate through, without sharing “self observations” or doing the “assignments” — possibly because “The Study” floats them in so “classes” appear larger than they are.

The following “teachers” take charge: Michael still says, “Time for Tai Chi” and Paul still leads the indoctrinating flailing about known as “Body Work”. Lisa has been promoted to “teacher” status. She rotates her instruction with Josh, Michael and Robert.

5-Week AIMS morphed into 5-Week “commitments”.

morphed into “the person I work with!”

The following “secret” (cough) ideas have been “taught”: multiplicity; mechanicality; the 7 centers, or “brains”; and themany Is” living on the abandoned, chaotic grand estate with an absent Master; identification vs. non-identification/ I believe this idea might also be known as “familiarity”; expanding/contracting events (cough); self-love (horrors) vs. emotional love; self-remembering, memory, false memories …

it sounds like “teachers” are starting down the path towards “valuation” via memory — “the study” connects your ability for memory directly to your capacity for love. Those whose memories are detailed and sharp, have a greater capacity for love than those who struggle to remember things, especially “secret esoteric ideas”, accordingly. By the way, this “lesson” is a very effective indoctrination and control tool; “school” can always attack your character via your “lack of memory”.

(for more on these “secret ideas” and this “oral teaching”, visit this link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=gurdjieff+books )

In case you’re confused about whether this group is the one you’re dealing with, see if you recognize recruitment tactics: recruiters typically strike up a conversation, often claiming to be working on a project, like writing a book, and wanting to talk to YOU! They’ll end a seemingly random encounter with “It’s been great talking to you. We should get together sometime.” You exchange numbers; they “pursue a new friendship” — if you get together with them, you’ll notice the original project won’t resurface. They will, instead, invite you to join some kind of special group — “Would you’d like to join a book club?”.

Please see cult recruitment for more details.

The Privacy (cough) Secrecy “Rules” remain the same:

  • No Internet-research about the group, class or assignments  “… there’s a lot of bad information out there, we don’t want it to poison what you learn.”
    (Congratulations for breaking this rule)
  • No discussion about the group or its teachings to people outside of the group, even your closest friends, even your spouse  “… for your safety, because other people won’t understand and might have problems with it.”
  • Non-Fraternization 1: don’t form personal relationships or divulge personal information with other “students”, at least for the first 5 weeks “… it’s very important to keep separate, for your safety! This is private, just for you!
  • Non-Fraternization 2: don’t acknowledge fellow “students” outside the classroom, float past, as though strangers “… again, for your own safety. Private, just for you!
  • Observe an hour of silence immediately after class “… it’s important to seal yourself off and process your new knowledge!”
  • Self Sensing … a morning ritual of “self-remembering” to be practiced upon waking, before you get up: scan your body from head to toe; sense the bed beneath, the room, the house, the street, neighborhood, town, state, country, continent, world, planet … etc. etc. etc.
  • Commit to attending all 9 classes and be. on. time.

Please know that these rules only protect you from accessing certain information, ” … before you are ready”, a.k.a. sufficiently indoctrinated. That’s why the study waits 5-8 weeks before hitting you up for the $350/month (at least) “tuition”. It will never tell you that your “5-week experiment” is meant to be a lifetime tenure.

“Break “The Rules”!

Seeing Into The Heart of Things: The Christmas Class from Hell

Billerica "classroom"
Somewhere, on some post, in this blog, there’s a conversation regarding what is affectionately known as The Christmas Class from Hell (perhaps it’s in the comment section of, The Christmas Party. I haven’t found the exchange yet.) However, as we head into fall, “School”, a.k.a “The Study”, gets closer and closer to it’s annual holiday usurpation — although it is possible that current morphing (such as changing the group’s name from “School” to “The Study) has the group skulking away from it’s annual tradition (cough).

However, at a some point the illustrious institution established an annual holiday bash. “School/The Study” pitched its party to us as “a gift to your teachers and sustainers”. The “youngest class” would be guided into greatness by members of the “older class” (those who “had been doing THE WORK longer”). The “older class” would do a boat load of prep — food prep for example — and cart it all off to NY to present to Queen Sharon (I think — those of you who experienced the older class Christmas party, please correct me if I’m wrong).

As far as I know, the Christmas Party was mostly a love-fest of self congratulation, however, one year this was not the case. Recently, the blog Seeing Into the Heart of Things, provided an inside look into the disaster known as The Christmas Class from Hell. Here is an excerpt:

The night of the party came and it was all a blur to me. It was the usual. Usually Sharon was outrageously late and a dinner that had been planned for 10 pm might not happen until 2 am. Everything was always at the whim of Sharon: when she arrived, what she did, what she ate and drank, who she brought with her from New York, what time she left, what she said (she frequently addressed the whole group)…

I remember that during the presentations, one of the younger students came over to me and said that she thought she had seen Sharon across the room complaining or unhappy about something. I told her that everything was going great and not to worry.

So, the class came and went and then we had the “impressions class” several days later…

… read the whole story here: http://seeingintotheheartofthings.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-christmas-class-from-hell.html

“Dangerous” Disgruntled(s)

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

On occasion, someone will contact me through this blog. Usually, it’s an “unschooled” spouse, desperately searching for information about the mysterious group that is destroying their relationship. Most are baffled by the odd behavior, growing secrecy and coldness “evolving” from their partner. “School” very deliberately shuts them out – this is typical cultic us vs. them fare. They contact me because other resources are few and far between. I am more than happy to help when I can; sometimes I can’t.

In one such case, a woman asked her fiancé to read this blog; he did, but his response was to tell her that we online-critic “disgruntled(s)” are “dangerous”. Who knew that one day I would be “dangerous”? To be honest, this still makes me laugh. But sadly he threw away his potential marriage due to some cult-contrived fear. In another, more successful, emancipation, the escapee-to-be told me, “You’re contraband, you know.” Then we had a good laugh.

I was telling this story, to fellow “disgruntleds”, one of whom told me: dangerous is deliberately used to instill fear and pre-empt any inquiry. That’s because all humans are programmed to simply avoid danger.  And the cult preys on people who don’t really challenge anything unconventional or dangerous. I have to admit I am proud to be considered “dangerous contraband” by a nefarious cult. After all, “School” loved quoting Martin Luther King: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Be careful what you preach, “School”. After I left, I started unraveling your endless tangle of lies; I could no longer be silent. I started reading about high-demand groups and started to recognize that you are just one more, damaging, predatory cult. So I exercise my freedom of speech and speak out against such practices. I tell my story. If that makes me “dangerous contraband”, so be it.

Others see the online critique differently; the “un-schooled” spouses who asked me to help them all told me that the blog lifted the veil on this shady world, helping them to understand the cult perpetrated pressures influencing the men/women they loved. They could finally put the odd and hurtful behavior into context and understand the ripple effect. Additionally, a “disgruntled” recently told me this:

“When I was in the cult, the prevailing belief was that the bloggers behind ‘Esoteric Freedom’ and ‘Gentle Soul’ were evil, malicious, angry, and resentful.  Just bad people doing bad things. But when I escaped, I found these blogs to be healing, helpful, and compassionate.  In fact, the blogs helped confirm what I always felt about the cult.” 

As a firm believer in freedom of choice, I invite anyone reading this right now to decide yourself. Read the online info – break the rules and make your own assessment. You could simply take “School’s” word on blind faith; but then they have made the decision for you. I once had blind faith in that institution and that faith ended up hurting me. When I found faith in my own perceptions and ability to reason, I realized that I much prefer to be “dangerous”.

How to Heal From a Cult

Gettysburg_SunsetDbleWowI must admit it is fun eviscerating this “school of higher consciousness” (cough). But as cathartic as it is, I want to focus on recovery and try to veer away from snarky and cynical (a little). Specific things have helped me in the healing process; starting with admitting that my five-year tenure was in a cult, not an “esoteric mystery school”. Recently, my brother and I were discussing my “School” days and he said, “Dude, that is so weird.” I replied, “Do you think?”

On a more serious note, though, I couldn’t heal without recognizing “School” as simply another predatory cult, among the many. Everybody knows these groups feed on emotional insecurities; now I know how they take advantage of those seeking meaning, direction, purpose, acceptance, belonging, spiritual connection, community, etc. But when it comes to the search for identity, cults really sink in their teeth.

In the book Quiet Horizon, author Greg Jemsek offers a compassionate understanding of the fragile process of establishing identity and explores the idea of narcissistic wounding –  I will write more about it in a future post; for now, simply put, narcissistic wounding interrupts the establishment of identity, usually at a tender age. Those with faltering senses of identity are more vulnerable to outside influences. Those with stronger senses of identity need less external validation.

On looking back, I realized that “students” with stronger senses of self disappeared from the ranks. Some “students” pushed back on certain unpalatable demands — those who had maintained some ego strength. “School’s” pre-fab response was, “You are in self will (horrors; I’ll write a self-will post in the future, too). “Self will” was a shaming device — the not-so-subtle subtext: you are selfish(again, horrors). Someone with solid identity might respond to that shaming with “so what” or “fuck you”. But those who aren’t so confident in themselves tend to take on the group’s caricaturization.

Cults foster insecurity, paranoia, fear and child-like dependence in the membership – those who obviously “need” guidance from “above” to “become the men/women they wish to be”. Essentially, cults cultivate (sorry, unintentional pun) addictions by flattening members into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves — wounded souls, seeking acceptance, willing to “do whatever it takes” to further the mysterious cause (mo’ students, mo’ money) and “evolve”.

I call this practice Cultic Identity Theft; I consider it psychological violence; it will also get a post in the future. I witnessed and experienced the cult’s soul-sucking techniques. My psyche felt pulled apart and parsed out — but that pain woke me up; I saw fear dictating my choices, abdicating responsibility to “teachers”. I realized I wanted to leave the group; my fear kept me bound to it. “School’s” benefits (cough) had disappeared; I was unemployed, depressed, exhausted and empty; yet, I was afraid of life without it. I remember realizing, “ It’s not like things are so great right now. If I fuck up my life on my own terms, at least it won’t cost $350 a month.”

Thus began my emancipation: a connection to, and trust in, my moral compass replaced the need to seek direction and mentoring; clarity of thought and feeling replaced confusion; self responsibility replaced dependency; self-acceptance replaced a futile need to please the upper echelons. I heard the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, “You never needed me. You had what you needed all along.” I realized that my “classmates” and I didn’t need this group. The cult needed us — lifelong, dedicated, “tuition”-paying members.

BREAKING “SCHOOL RULES” shed light on my path to healing. Soon I’ll write a separate post for each of the following “rules” and expound on the benefits of breaking them:


    • Privacy, (cough, aka Secrecy): “Don’t tell anyone about this; it’s private, just for you”:The more I spoke/speak out, the more clarity replaced(s) confusion. The debilitating and exhausting cognitive dissonance plaguing my mind has dissipated. Breaking my silence broke an invisible isolation. I stopped protecting a con job. Refusing to carry this secret to my grave freed my mind and restored my sanity.


    • Your Time is “School’s” Time Now: “School” will claim that humans have a skewed relationship to time – Robert said, “If you tell me you don’t have time for this and that, I won’t believe you.”
      Once I left, I started protecting my time and practicing evil and sinful “Self-Love” (horrors): I stopped living as though every moment required a life or death decision; slept eight hours a night; exercised; played my guitar; took solitude and down time; reflected on my experience and wrote about it; gave my marriage, and my friendships, quality time– you know, normal self care (so selfish!).


    • NO Internet research! Robert loved to say, “You have all had your own experience of ‘School’. Don’t poison it!”
      Of course I read all the online criticism. It answered the onslaught of questions and addressed the quandaries that had plagued me over my 5-year tenure. I then read academic literature from cult experts: Steven Hassan, Margaret Singer, Robert J Lifton, Greg Jemsek, etc. I learned that the only difference between “School” and Scientology is that it is smaller and less successful — a bit more hidden, but not that hidden. Trust me, all cults are the same.


    • Non-fraternization: if you see each other outside the hallowed halls, float past without acknowledgement, forever:Breaking this rule required connecting and corresponding with “disgruntled ex-students” both past and present. Fellow apostates provided the context, connecting the dots that “School” works very hard to separate and keep “private”. Suddenly, I was no longer isolated and alone carrying this bizarre experience inside. The isolation damages you and protects the group. Breaking that isolation sets you free body, mind, heart and spirit.


  • If You Order Your Life, Rightly … “School” supersedes all “only life things”:
    A funny thing happened when I stopped keeping “school” secrets and started protecting my time, my energy, my thoughts, my feelings, my relationships, hopes, desires, artistic passions, need for solitude, and beliefs. My life began to work — all areas. Many, many unnecessary struggles fell away.So here’s to breaking ALL “School Rules” and gleaning the benefits of reclaiming your time, energy, thoughts, feelings etc. More on all of this in future posts.

Dear “School”… oops, “The Study” … Monitor

Hi “The Study” Monitor: I hope that you are enjoying your assigned reading. Now you’ve been identified, I decided to say hello. We always got along well, so it’s too bad I’m now persona non grata, aka “disgruntled ex-student“, isn’t it? But all “school” defectors are, aren’t they? There’s no legitimate or forgivable way to depart “the invisible world” … and then to publish a blog … heresy, sedition, yes?

I hear that “School” now calls itself “The Study”. Why the name change? Does the online exposure interfere with recruitment? Is it bad for business? Does the vocabulary, this superficial spin, outweigh the nagging cognitive dissonance? Do you ever feel conflicted about “school”, oops, I mean: “the study”?

How do you feel about clever insincerity? Do you ever question “demands”? I remember the constant internal tug of war between “the study’s” requirements — growing deceit — and its presentation — “school of truth and higher consciousness”. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I don’t miss it.

You were always kind to me. I am guessing that you are a well-intended soul caught in a web of delusion? Yep, “the study” sucked us all into that web. I wonder what you think and experience inside, as you read this blog?  Do you ever wish you were doing anything else besides reading this? What would you do instead? Do you ever blow off the demands? Or want to? Do you ever spontaneously go to the beach without consulting Bob, and then just say you read the evil blog?

Perhaps you’ll never see this missive. After I left, I learned that many “students” lie about their recruitment efforts, a.k.a third line of work. God knows, we all hated it.

What are you looking for here? Is your lawyer on retainer, waiting to file?

Recently, I remembered a conversation we had when you were co-leading the “work & money group”. I was failing at another “school”-sponsored job search; “The Study’s” employment policy  (as long as you are working, any job will do; women –of course– should clean houses) wasn’t bearing fruit. One day, when soliciting my housecleaning services (ha!) door-to-door in Lynnfield, a police cruiser pulled up to inform me that I needed a permit.

Discouraged, I called you — well, what I mean is I called the voice mail you kept for such purposes; you called me back on my phone. (cultic social engineering 101: the “more enlightened” must control ALL engagement! ) No matter, though, you called me back soon after. I told you about my police encounter and you said, “That’s ridiculous!”

Of course it was ridiculous; more ridiculous, though, was that I let a cult micromanage me into a constant, desperate, relentless and needlessly urgent search for any job! With “school’s” “help”, I tripped and bumbled into a pit of depression and a slew of low-paying menial work. The vicious circle of “school”-sponsored failure gnawed away from the inside out – the worse I felt inside, the worse I performed outside and the more menial and low-paying the jobs became.

Now I know that cults operate this way; this story was predictable — I ask for “help” and “failed”. I “wasn’t trying hard enough”. Many students echo this loaded language down the hallowed halls. Have you noticed? Eventually Carol pronounced: “Maybe you’ll never be able to hold down a job” and soon after established my “chief weakness” and cult identity to the “class”: entitled & unemployable Princess (read Jewish-American).

After leaving and deciding the “as long as you are working, any job will do” policy was crap; I found a job, I did it well, and then a second job and then a third job, etc. etc. etc — no more work/money problems. Are you happy for me, or does it disappoint you? “School’s”, oops, “The Study’s” “help” didn’t — in fact, it hurt. As my Grandma used to say: with (essence) friends like that, who needs enemies? (Don’t worry, she didn’t actually use the secret phrase, essence friends.)

Does “The Study” damage you? I think it damages everyone. One person benefits from “School”. Everyone else pays — they owe, they owe, so off to “school”, oops, “the study”, they go. The one-size-fits-all “help” flattens “students” into cult cogs; each will play particular roles. Those whom “school” deigns losers are damaged more quickly; but we leave and therefore have a chance to reclaim our lives.

So I’m grateful that “school” shoved me into the “losers” category. I left. As opposed to “dying in the street like a dog” — ala the mysteriously-never-mentioned-within-the-hallowed-halls Alex Horn — each “school”-free day feels like a gift. You really ought to try this “de-evolution”!

But I understand that your exit would be far more complicated than mine.

Do you ever consider leaving, though? Who were you before “school”? What were your dreams? Do you remember? What led you into this group? Have you evolved into the “real man” you wished to become? Do you believe you owe “school” everything, up until your last breath?  What keeps you entangled?

As I said, you were always kind to me. I hope you can free yourself before your epitaph — your legacy– is a life spent in service to a bizarre fallacy.

Yes, I’m angry — all the deception, all the manipulation, the parasite funnels ideals, hopes, energy, time, money and dreams into a cult-propagated delusion. I have heard it said … somewhere … never fear wrath at that which is odious. So I don’t. Send my regards to Bob; Sharon, too.

And remember freedom is a good thing.


Ah, “Freedom”! “School” Style …

Every April, during my “school” tenure, Robert waxed philosophical about Passover and Easter — the exodus from Egypt, the resurrection of Jesus and freedom! “This time of year,” he told his flock  “… is the most sacred”. We listened reverently. Then the holidays would end and we returned to business as usual:

1) Paying “tuition”, $350/month (at least)  —  checks written to O.S.G. until “school” required cash payments only.

2) Practicing the “non-expression of negative emotions” (Have question? Having doubts? Something’s not right? Keep it to yourself.)

3) Obeying the No Unnecessary Talking before “class” rulewe sat in meditative silence, or read sanctioned material: The Bible,  Emerson, Plato, Socrates, etc. Once I broke the rule in a brief, pre-class, whispered conversation. A panicked “teacher” bustled over to hush us. Idol chat about “only life things” like friends, family, work, movies, politics, etc. all “unnecessary”  — “GOSSIP” that dilutes superior and sacred “essence friendships“.

4) Following “in-Class” protocol — when we had questions, or comments, we stood and waited for a teacher to call on us, granting permission to speak — exactly like grade school.

5) Observing an “hour of silence” after “class”I often violated this rule at the McDonald’s drive through. I would order a cheeseburger and then feel guilty for “leaking!”. Then I would drive around until the hour ticked by. If I went home and explained this “hour of silence” thing to my husband, I would have been “leaking” again. If I’d obeyed the mandated silence at home he may have wondered whether I was following dictates from a cult. Either way, I risked exposing “the invisible world”!

6) Obeying the NON-FRATERNIZATION between “classes” rule — beyond the “school yard”, we were to float past fellow “essence friends” without acknowledgment. Interacting in any way when outside of “school’s” purview was forbidden. Unsupervised engagement could endanger our evolution.

6) Obeying the “No Internet research” rule!!!
“Disgruntled ex-students” who criticize the institution online will “poison your experience!” In general, “school” shunned the internet. Robert told us to get off of Facebook. Somehow, I doubt that anyone rushed home to comply, certainly I didn’t. But I still felt guilty for my sinful and illicit Facebook engagement.

7) On a related note, we were to shun apostates who dared to depart the ranks (horrors!) Once you are “schooled” your lifelong commitment is sealed. Those who leave are all labelled “bitter & disgruntled ex-students”. They all failed! There is no acceptable way to leave “school”.

My recruiter, Lisa, neglected to mention the lifelong tenure requirement when grooming me. Scientology’s “billion-year contract” sets the bar for the Hotel California, you-can-check-out-any-time-you want, but-you-can-never-leave variety of cult membership. But, unlike “school”, Scientology waves its cult flag proudly. “School’s” til-death-do-you-part tenure requirement needs to be subtle — paper trails are not advisable when “protecting” the “invisible world”. Had Lisa told me about the eternal enrollment, I probably would have declined the invitation.

The things that “school” recruiters won’t tell their “new friends” is another story for another day. Suffice it to say that “protecting the invisible world” requires keeping secrets. “School” spins this secrecy as “privacy” (“it’s private, only for you”) and calls lies, “clever insincerity”.

You may have also noticed that six out of seven “school” edicts impose silence on the rank and file, dictating acceptable interactions, orchestrating relationships as much as possible. Given the chance to converse freely, “school”mates might share questions, doubts, concerns! “Essence friends” might note contradictions and double standards! What if one of us revealed “special knowledge” that the other wasn’t “ready to hear”  … for example …

*… the longer you are in “school”, the more it dismisses your “only life things” and devours time outside the Tuesday/Thursday classes.
* … “school” eventually requires all “students” to recruit newbies.
* … like The Moonies, many “older students” are married to each other. So much for “non-fraternization.”
* … “school” used to call itself the “Odyssey Study Group” …  why would “school” change its name?
*  …  these ideas that “school” claims exclusive are the widely available and easily found published teachings and philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff.
* … the mysterious Black Book is a xeroxed, bound and redacted copy of a book called In Search of the Miraculous–available for $2.99 via kindle (copyright infringement, anyone?) At this point, The Black Book may have disappeared. I do have my copy, if you’d like to see it.
* … the Boston “school” is only the subordinate satellite branch —  corporate headquarters is in NYC. etc.

“School” spins this social engineering as “protection” for sacred ideas, and our “essence friendships” — tools for “refining” our superior relationships and repartee. In reality, “school” rules protect an unstated hierarchy, various silo-ed “classrooms” and other seedy secrets, that if known, would send sane people scrambling away as quickly as possible (see list above).

After I left, I was amazed to look back and see how I had come to accept this highly-controlled social order as normal over time. Robert J Lifton, the go-to guru for those who study cults, calls this phenomenon milieu control: ” …  the control of an environment by controlling the information and activities within the environment.”

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “school’s” exclusive esoteric “principles” and practices were common enough to rate another not-so-flattering label, established in Lifton’s book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China, copyright, 1961.

After departing, I laughed with a fellow disgruntled about a rule breaking incident (horrors) at The Harvard Bookstore. She — a  “younger student” at the time — said hello and started a friendly conversation. I must have looked nervous, because she asked, ” Are we not supposed to be talking?” and I briefly explained “non fraternization”. She apologized. I said, “It’s o.k.” We halted our unmonitored social engagement and returned to floating ever-so-slightly above the fray of “only life things”  — two essence friends, from the invisible world, silently doing THE WORK of awakening among “sleepwalking humanity”, in the world, but not of the world. Blah, blah, blah.

As we reminisced, I asked her, “Can you believe that seemed normal to us?” We laughed. It is absurdly funny, while not funny. “Non-fraternization” made sense to us in the context of our “secret esoteric school”. We were protecting our refined and superior relationship from “coarse” daily “only life” interactions. As essence friends, our conversation should float above the “gossip” that “imprisoned” most “sleepwalking” humans.  Thank God for highly evolved “teachers” — people who have been “doing the work longer” — those who could supervise and micromanage our interactions and orchestrate and direct our relationships, “refine our vibrations” and — most importantly — “protect the ideas”.  Eventually, “the ideas” (cough) superseded our “only life things”.

Lifton calls this phenomenon Doctrine over Person: member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 

Indeed, I eventually felt my life slipping away – a slow death by one thousand cuts. “Freedom” “school”-style required that I battle against dangerous entitled and selfish, perceptions, thoughts, emotions and needs! As my tenure dragged on, the more I applied “school principles” to “only life things”, the more I “failed”. The more I “failed”, the more I concluded, “I must not be trying hard enough!” I tried to “try harder” and “failed more” – a perfect, circular, psychological prison. If I had a nickel for every “ex-student” who has confessed this exact thought process to me, I could probably recover at least the $20,000, I spent on this con job.

This psychological vicious circle was accompanied by a constant cognitive dissonance: my mind was constantly at battle with itself – my internal rebels railed out against the “school” dictates, while my starry-eyed believers defended the group’s practices. Cults are full of members who constantly wrestle with cognitive dissonance – it’s a common red flag. It’s also exhausting.

As you can imagine, things weren’t going so well for me and I was asking for “help” right and left. Eventually, a “teacher” announced that I was “a bit of a princess” (read, Jewish American) — flattening my identity into my worst fears and most embarrassing weaknesses. Oh, the heartwarming “help”! Ah, “freedom”, “school” style!

Cults commonly squash down individual members into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves. I call this practice Cultic Identity Theft and it is psychological violence — predatory and parasitic groups like “school” feeding off of the energy and efforts of individual members. High-demand groups have to wear members down in order to fashion them into compliant cogs that will keep the wheels of income generation rolling, primarily through recruitment. This “teacher” did me a favor, because the crippling depression imprisoning my mind transformed into an appropriate rage. With real help from my husband, the rebels overtook the starry-eyed believers — her pronouncement catalyzed my departure in 2011.

Recently, this “JAP” attended a Passover Seder hosted by fellow “disgruntleds” — former “students” whom I met after my sinful desertion. We toasted our exodus and subsequent “school”- less existences, celebrating the freedom we have to muddle through this life without “help”.

Once out, I learned about “school’s” illustrious history — how sociopathic Alex Horn started the group as The Theater of all Possibilities in the 70s. How the “theater” was investigated and kicked out of San Fransisco after the Jonestown tragedy. I read excerpts from a memoir by Thomas Farbor, called Tales for the Son of My Unborn Child,  in which he recounts his brush with Alex’s “theater” and his decision to leave, saying …

“… in the period of transition, I heard Alex’s voice over and over again: ‘You will wish you had never heard of this Work.’ And then I passed out of his reach, I rejoined the rhythms and melodies of the larger flow, and hurried to have my share of the vanities, foibles, whims, conceits, caprices, hopes, dreams, illusions and insistent morality of those who could live no other way.”

” … I would stay with the groundlings, spared perhaps, perhaps not, from that overriding ambition which made such redoubtable prisoners of those who tried the Work. With a confidence born of ignorance I chose to make my own way. And for many reasons, some very good and some quite bad, I faced the old religious question and decided that we all, willy-nilly, have a soul, no matter what we try to do to it, and that there are many paths to the spirit immanent in us. I had begun to feel that it was the process of living that alone redeemed us.

My “school” days and departure brought me to the same conclusion: we all have souls and don’t need to manufacture them via “school” instruction, as the group insinuates. The cult’s “soul-building” machinery merely constructs an esoteric prison-of-mind that leaves its “tuition-paying” student, dependent, insecure, lonely and broke. Every destructive cult claims a version of the “only real” “soul-building” practice — every one of them lays claim to exclusive wisdom.

The good news is that the truth does indeed set you free. When you realize that the process of living alone redeems us, you see that you don’t need a random external source, dictating your evolution. You don’t need the Wizard of Oz, to give you what you already have. When you trust and follow your internal compass to your true north, not allowing other “sources” with other agendas, to derail you, you are free. Because, to quote Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, “No one but ourselves can free our minds.”

As we pass finally pass out of this long winter, through April, into May, I congratulate you for breaking the “No Internet Research” rule and, implore you to reclaim your life, and toast your freedom!

More resources …

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been neglecting cult confessions lately for a related project, but of course, I can’t get away for long. When it comes to cults there are endless topics to explore and I will be back to posting soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to point out a couple of things:

1) A lot of people were upset when the Esoteric Freedom blog disappeared. You will find some of the material from that blog, and more, on the following site: The Truth About Sharon Gans

2) If you’re a “student” who is presently “breaking the rules” because you’re wondering, questioning, whether this group you’ve joined is truly an “esoteric mystery school”, or a cult, you might recognize the people in a photo posted here: http://www.sharonganscult.com/

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back to posting soon!

New Blog: Diary of a Muslim Transgender Girl …

The more I write, research and share my cult experiment, the more parallels I see to other societal blights and diseases: abusive relationships and domestic violence employ the same seduction to destruction social engineering; drug addictions mirror dependence on high-demand groups; racism mirrors the paranoia and fear cultivated (cough, unintentional pun, sorry) in “school’s” petri dish.

Homophobia attacks identity in a way that rings familiar to me — its message to the gay, lesbian and transgender population: as you are, you are wrong; thus, you can’t be who you are.

Transgender people probably experience the most extreme in heinous attitudes and violent behavior — imagine living a life in which your innate identity does not match your outer shell; imagine that the very foundation of who you are is so threatening to cultural norms that some would be willing to resort to violence to silence you. If you have trouble imagining this plight, an Indian woman calling herself Arena — born into a male body —  writes beautifully about her experiences in this new blog: Diary of a Muslim Transgendergirl

A dear friend of mine, a classically trained vocalist, is building Butterfly Music, a non-profit that creates choirs to give voice to marginalized groups — those whom societal forces try to silence, or sweep away, including transgender folks. She is helping Arena publicize her story through this blog to expose the cruelty innate in efforts to suppress a human being’s essential identity.

The only common denominator between Arena’s life and my little 5-year cult adventure is the fundamental issue of identity — pesky esoteric questions of who am I? and why am I here? made me vulnerable to a group that offered answers. Though I often say my “school” days were more ridiculous than damaging, recently an un-“schooled” witness, and dear friend, said to me,” ‘school’ was killing you.”

Sounds dramatic, yes? Truth be told, the longer my tenure, the more dead I felt; I was evolving into an empty shell, my days metamorphosing into the “school”-dictated “life I never wanted”. The group compiled the sum total of my weaknesses into my cult identity, the woman I never wanted to be:  unemployable, entitled and helpless Jewish American Princess.

The “ideas”, the constant inner monitoring through “self observations” and the fear of displeasing upper echelons ate away at my psyche. Constant analysis of every, thought, feeling and movement parsed out, flattened and shoved aside all personal nuances for this one-dimensional, cult-defined, person-hood. And “school” called all of this naval gazing “evolution”. Like any good cult, it put the magnifying glass on my faults until those faults identified me and that’s what “school” does to most of its students — although I suspect those with a lot of money get more slack.

I call these types of practices cultic identity theft and it is a form of psychological violence. Arena’s case goes far beyond what I’ve experienced; her world sends her a constant message: your identity threatens our existence, therefore you cannot be who you are. I am grateful that my cult days are over — I am grateful for the choice to walk away, embrace my fundamental identity, and start a new, feeling stronger than I ever have — thanks for the lesson “school” — as Tom Waits says in his classic, San Diego Serenade, I never saw the morning, ’til I stayed up all night. But that’s another topic for another post.

In the meantime, I hope this young woman gets the same chance, somehow, someday, to be fully embraced and loved for who she is; she longs to move to the states — I hope someday she can. I think the parallel attack on her identity is worth sharing on cult confessions, if for no other reason than to shed light on how damaging these attacks on identity are and in hopes that someday the world at large will find the practices completely unacceptable, perhaps even criminal.


A New Resource: sharonganscult.com

This site has come to my attention lately — http://www.sharonganscult.com/

It changes often, but today’s iteration encourages current “students” to leave the ranks. It provides an email address for those who want to reach out and addresses the following “school”-bound fears and obstacles:

1) Losing friends

2) Losing marriage or relationship with another “student”

3) Working for a “school”-based business

4) Losing “the work”

It suggests taking a 3-week experimental hiatus from all things “school”.

When I think back, the only thing that kept me from taking a break was my belief in the institution and the control I gave it — I felt like I had to ask permission. I knew the answer would be no. I bought into some idea about “not letting the work go cold for more than 48 hours”, or something like that. I felt “school” lording over me, as if monitoring me from above, documenting all of my sinful and “coarse” thoughts and feelings. I am amazed at the amount of control I gave this thing over my time and life.

Yep. If you’re thinking about a break, take it. I believe you will soon discover that “school” isn’t God, can’t control your life and you might even get some perspective on the experience and start to feel the freedom that comes when not participating in its bi-weekly indoctrination rituals.

It’s a sweet freedom. It’s your life. I encourage you to reclaim it.

“School’s” Legal Tactics

Recently, some of you readers noticed that I removed River of Joy’s series on “school” “experiments”. Your concern is duly noted, as “school” appears to be monitoring this blog and adopting a tactic of harassing those around me. The evolved institution’s legal arm sent a cease and desist letter demanding that those posts be removed.

Many cults use legal bullying to silence criticism; after all, anyone can file a lawsuit — the stated claims don’t have to be true to file. Scientology is famous for this tactic as outlined here:


Last spring, I spoke with a couple who were sued by a cult named The Gentle Wind (I’m trying not to make fun of that name, The Gentle Wind). The cult lost. You can read about that case here:

By the way, for a general compare and contrast between The Gentle Wind, and “School”, visit this couple’s website: http://www.windofchanges.org/index.html.

Is “school” following the lead of those larger, more successful cults? You have all had your own experiences of “school” and can come to your own conclusions based on those experiences.

Meanwhile, I have taken the “offending posts” down — for now — while I consult with various lawyers.

Stay tuned.