The Confession: Introduction

This blog – the Gentle Souls’ Revolution – is providing me the opportunity to reveal a secret: Between August 2006 through August 2011, I fell prey to a cult that presents itself as a “secret esoteric school”.  It calls itself “school”. The posts that will follow serve a number of purposes:

  • To sort through and make meaning out of this experience and understand why I chose it and stayed in it for five years.
  • To experience the freedom that comes when one no longer keeps secrets.
  • To experience the healing that comes with telling the truth.
  • To set my creative voice free after five years of allowing this secret institution to silence her.
  • To expose “school” as a group of con artists who take advantage of those sincerely seeking help and meaning in their lives.
  • To sort the wheat from the chaff and gain my own understanding of that which is real and that which school manufactured to feed certain financial coiffeurs.
  • To shed light for friends and family who likely sensed that something was off, but were unable to articulate why.
  • To invite my fellow “classmates” to tell their own stories.
  • To add to the ever-growing chorus of voices who sing out, online and in real time, in an effort to keep others from falling prey to this con game.
  • To counter the fear I have around telling the truth.
  • And finally, and perhaps most important, to sometimes have a hearty laugh about this ridiculous and strange turn of events.

Chapter 1: How to Leave a Cult

Chapter 1: How to Leave a Cult

At 4:30 a.m. the decision awoke me: should I stay or should I go. Since my husband’s research led him to, we had several talks. The website presented evidence that my precious “Tuesday/Thursday thing” (otherwise known simply as “school”) was, in fact, a cult and not the legitimate “fourth-way” school it presents to be.

We had been calling my bi-weekly disappearing act “Tuesday/Thursday Thing”. For five years, I dedicated almost every Tuesday and Thursday night to thing, where I joined others to practice “tai chi”, or “body work”  (a flailing free-for-all), discuss philosophy and ideas and get “help” from “teachers”.

School had presented as though rooted to the philosophical work of Russian mystic/teacher George Gurdjieff  (although neglecting to mention Gurdjieff). Chris’ research revealed that “school” grew from a cult sprouted out of San Francisco, during the seventies (the decade that brought us Jim Jones and “don’t drink the Kool Aid”). A sociopath named Alex Horn cleverly posed this cult as the “Theatre of all Possibilities”. In 1978, roughly a month after the Jim Jones tragedy, two newspapers — The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Progress —  published a series of articles exposing this “theater” as an abusive cult. Horn’s victims alleged rape, beatings and child abuse. The “theater” disappeared only to reappear some time later in New York, and branch out to Boston: planet academia. Click here to read one of these articles.

In attempts to be invisible, but simultaneously appeal to the studious seeker, the Boston branch juggled a variety of names over the years, including the Odyssey Study Group. Eventually it landed on simply “school”. My husband’s online investigation led him to my checkbook ledger where he found the initials O.S.G and the documented $350 monthly “tuition”. He confronted me: What is Odyssey Study Group? I didn’t know. I had never asked the simple question: what does O.S.G stand for? “Why not?” Chris persisted. I didn’t know.  He pointed out that I’d been depressed and losing faith in myself, and asked me, “Are you sure you are not being manipulated into staying?”

I had considered leaving before, but would inevitably conclude that I had never seen anything malevolent; school had helped me become a stronger and more capable woman, demanding more from me. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have my marriage and my home, if not for school. And although I had witnessed red-flag moments, I never saw physical or sexual violence. But I had become blind to a more insidious damage – a wearing away at one’s own ability to think, question and trust his/her thoughts, feelings and instinct; so I was also blind to the information he presented.

I told him that when broaching the topic of leaving — which I’d done a few times — our  leader, Robert, had responded, “You are a FREE woman; you can leave any time.” And it is true that the he had said exactly that; It is also true that over time school dismisses a student’s individual experience, ideas and opinions as though swatting away flies, presenting its “ideas” and “help” as “principle”. I was losing faith in myself as a woman who could function in the world without it. In essence, losing trust in oneself amounts to an invisible imprisonment.

I had joined school for selfish reasons, really. I was not wondering about universal truths; I was not thinking about spiritual evolution; I wanted a better life. I wished for a purposeful and meaningful existence. Besides that, I was single, brokenhearted, broke and lonely; I was 40 and “changing careers” — again. I was renting a room from a friend. I had nothing of my own, really. School promised new possibilities. School brought me hope.

Five years later, hope was waning, almost gone, really; but the emotional wearing down had set into my bones and I’d learned well not to trust myself – school tells its students repeatedly, “We don’t know ourselves.” And – as in everything “taught” in school — there is some truth to that claim. School co-opts and twists this truth to its own purposes – otherwise known as its “aim”, but when indoctrinated enough one becomes blind and deaf to the twisting, or believes it best.

During one of our several conversation, Chris had said, “It doesn’t matter what I say,” he was resigned that I was in for life. At the time, we were walking the path in the Ipswich River Park. “ I already know what your answer will be.”

I responded, “No. You don’t know what my answer will be.”

Neither did I.

I rose from under the covers – it was still dark; I threw on sweats, and walked to that same path. I circled it, watched the sunrise and consulted the sky, God, my deceased father and myself. Clarity dawned when the sun graced the horizon, hanging just above the trees:

1)    I was staying in school out of fear. My life might fall apart if I “cut myself off from source”. Robert had insidiously proliferated the idea of “school” as source. I had bought it. That morning, I said to myself, “I can’t continue to live out of fear. If my life spirals down into the abyss of hell, due to not being in school, so be it. At least the decision will be my own.”

2)    In that moment, I made my own decision for the first time in five years. During my tenure, I had started asking for “help” on almost everything.  But this decision had to be mine; there was no one to consult. “Teachers” clearly had an allegiance to “school”. School makes a distinction between it and “life”, placing school on a “higher order”, and if “life” things threaten the institution — believe me – teachers dole out a different variety of “help”.

No one but my husband knew about “school”. It would be time consuming and difficult to explain. Until he had found, he knew little more than I would disappear on Tuesday and Thursday nights to attend “thing” and that every holiday season, I would be ridiculously busy with the “thing’s” Christmas Party. We would squeeze our holidays in at the last minute after “school’s” party was done.

My inner wisdom and my personal connection to God were also squeezed out. I abdicated my life decisions and responsibilities to “teachers”; in asking for “help” I was, in essence, asking their permission to live. Upon my initial encounter with this strange phenomenon, I had snapped on the shackles when asking my recruiter, Lisa, “How do I live?” In not so many words she responded: We will gladly tell you how to live. And they did. And it worked — until it didn’t.

As dawn broke, I had to turn the question inward: how do I want to live? Should I stay in this institution and continue to receive “instruction”? Or should I leave, make my own decisions, and risk more failure – all the knowledge, all the growth, the new life with family and house, etc, could disappear. I said to myself, “There is no one this earth that can tell you what is right for you. You have to decide alone.” In that moment, I reconnected to a source beyond anything constructed by humans. Ironically, the best gift I received from “school” came from my decision to leave.

3)  I asked myself, “If source is God, or universe, than is it not available to us everyday, everywhere and in everything? How dare Robert insinuate that “school” is source and play on our fears.”  I looked up to the sky, around at the trees, and said out loud, “Fuck Robert.” I awoke to the wrath I have towards that which is odious, manipulative and deceptive.

4)    The morning sun illuminated school as Plato’s Cave – the secret hideout in Billerica at the Old Faulkner Mills, shrouded in deception and secrecy. My “class” had discussed Plato’s cave. I realized that as Robert presented the story, and painted “life” as the cave, we slept through the fact that we were sitting in it. We lined up and faced the walls, watching shadows and believing them to be real; we followed the lead of the shadows, waiting for them to materialize into “evolution”.

And that is the way school operates; through pretty language, nodding to history, and the use of myth and metaphor our leader tells us, we will reshape you and your life into what “school” wants and needs – you – your energy and time – will be in service to school and its unrevealed “aim”. Robert’s presentation posits the external world as our jailor and “school” as our emancipator.  Believing him, as “freedom” sounded so appealing, we snapped on the shackles and awaited the evolution.

5)    Early in my school experience, Robert “taught” a parable: a shepherd hypnotizes his flock. He convinces them that the herding, sheering and slaughtering to follow will be for their own good. The sheep line up and putter to the slaughter – believing it best. We did follow him willingly, believing that we were being saved in the shearing. He lulled us to sleep while lecturing about “awakening”. Our spirits, open and trusting, played right into this deception. In the telling, he sheared, steered and prepared us for our “further evolution” into obedient, attendant and tuition-paying students.

6)    In that moment, the “help” I received from a “teacher” when confessing that my husband had read revealed itself as a farce:

“Robert says you have to tell your husband to mind his own business.”

I finally woke up to the complete disregard for my husband, his experiences, school’s impact on him, my family and our relationship demonstrated by this piece of “help” — this “instruction”.

The late nights, and the lies (also known as “clever insincerity”) that students are instructed to tell their partners look like the behaviors of one having an affair.  Maybe that was the intent; after all, what secret “esoteric school” needs a pesky husband who would poke around on the Internet. Is that not too risky when school aims to be “the invisible world” of evolving and awakening men and women?

If one attends school long enough s/he will hear Robert say, “After all, if a man or woman is working on him/her self, any man (or woman) will do.” So the question loomed – what was the real intention behind the instruction, “Tell your husband to mind his own business.”? After leaving I learned about “school marriages” arranged by, and destroyed by, the New York branch, otherwise known as Queen Sharon, Robert’s “teacher”.  Ironically the best help I’d gotten to date from school was the instruction to “tell him to mind his own business.”; this clearly was his business.

7)    The decision to leave school led to another decision: No More Secrets .   “Schools” existence relies on a series of deceptions; it has created a moniker for the word lies:  “clever insincerity”. “Clever insincerity”, or lying, is justified by the teaching that all people lie most of the time. School does not point out that “clever insincerity” drives a wedge between the liar and his/her loved ones. I believed these “cleverly insincerties”  justified and my marriage magically immune from the wear and tear. Given years, relationships fall apart.  The morning sun revealed the present damage and potential for future damage. I woke up.

8)    Finally, it dawned on me that this “exclusive society” in which one is studying “sacred ideas” and “evolving” fed my vanity.  Yes, here I am – a woman struggling to AWAKEN amidst “sleeping humanity”. I am in the world, but not of the world, like Jesus, yes? The only problem is this: a “cleverly insincere” shepherd has hypnotized me and convinced me that this secret “esoteric school” is the “source” of freedom and the only way to manufacture a soul. If one is not “in school” one has not any possibility to evolve and embody a “soul”. Yes, folks, without “school” you are soul-less, empty, void and asleep.

Ironically, in order to be hypnotized this way, I embodied a special brand of sleep – a superior brand, apparently. Those poor soulless slobs who weren’t in school (the majority of humanity). In “school” this superiority is discouraged as “pride”. But – like so many other things about “school” – the subtext of feeling of superior is underscored and encouraged: we are – after all – men and women who are “working on themselves”, “awakening in a sleeping world” and, through our efforts, manufacturing souls.

So I freed myself from the silly charade and, in the words of Dar Williams, songstress, decided to:

“…go out and join the others; I am the others. And that’s not easy. As cool as I am, I want somebody who sees me.”

Chapter 2: How To Join a Cult

Chapter 2: How to “join” a Cult

You may be asking yourself, how does one get sucked in to a cult?

First let me address a myth: only drug addicts and broken loners who have nothing join cults. Untrue. My ex “classmates” were intelligent, energetic, fun, loving and sensitive people with friends and family. Many attended, graduated from, or even taught in prestigious universities – Harvard, M.I.T, Yale, Tufts, etc.

Cult indoctrination is an emotional trap having nothing to do with intellect.

“School” indoctrinates “new students” insidiously and slowly. It “aims” to recruit those who seek answers to big life questions, are plagued by longing and a nagging dissatisfaction, and driven to derive deeper meaning and purpose. It calls this psychology of longing  “magnetic center”.

School’s astute understanding of this ache enables it to seduce with suggested promises of answers, directions, focus and purpose. It does, in fact, deliver on this promise, but the focus, purpose and answers don’t include personal evolution; these elements do feed the New York branch’s financial coiffeurs so Sharon can continue to live in her Park Plaza condo. I’m sure that school’s $350 monthly tuition doesn’t hurt Robert’s bank accounts either.

“School” has survived almost four decades, over 3000 miles, media investigations and countless numbers of angry ex-students who intend to bring it down. Its student body includes many  accomplished and intelligent people. This informs me that, in general, people need and ache for connection to something spiritual and our culture lacks a spiritual center. This glaring hole creates a spiritual vacuum that one can exploit, if so inclined. And over the decades, “school’s”  recruitment efforts have been refined into one finely-tuned, cleverly insincere, machine.

Step One: Target the Discontent and Constantly Questing  (a broken heart helps, too)

In spring 2006, rain saturated Boston; every day I would step off the train, walk away from the station, and be doused in the latest deluge. I was drenched inside and out.

Jeff and I had started dating that winter. I found him kooky, endearing, off-kilter and fascinating. But his behavior proved erratic and strange sometimes. At one point he withdrew without explanation — avoiding my calls. Somehow, we regrouped and survived disappearing act, round one; but round two began, and his behavior hit a new strangeness level; he filled my email inbox with a steady stream of his complaints. I wrote him back: Don’t email me; if you’ve something to say, call. The emails kept coming. The messages got stranger, more pressured, meaner and more accusatory. I blocked him from my inbox,  put pen to paper and wrote four sentences:

I need to cut you out of my life. Don’t contact me.

Sam has your stuff. If you want it back, call him.

I put the letter in the mail and the rain clouds burst.

Step Two: Grocery-Store Encounter

Shortly before that letter and before the email onslaught, I had attempted one last sane conversation.

“If we are going to break up, let’s at least be grown up about it; let’s have a summit,” I had told Jeff. “I’ll pick up some food. Come over, we’ll talk.”

The night of the planned summit, I stopped at a Whole Foods. I stood in line, stewing over my failures – 40 years old, temping for $15/hour, another failed relationship, renting a room from my friend, blah, blah, blah.

I was vaguely aware of the family in line behind me. The mom, a pretty, dark-haired woman, pointed to a magazine cover and said to her daughter, “What to you think of that?” Her daughter eyeballed the cover — a photograph of a Zen garden — and said something I didn’t hear. Then the woman asked me, “What do you think?”

It seemed a strange question. But the garden looked green and peaceful; beautiful and serene. Perfect.

“It looks awesome,” I said, wistfully, I’m sure. But inside something else said, “What does she want?”

A whirlwind of conversation followed. Other customers waited behind us; the cashier frantically rang up items over our blather, so when Lisa said, “We should get together.” I said, “Great.” I gave her my phone number.

She left messages persistently and patiently — undeterred by my slow response. I was busy falling apart, after all. I was busy getting my heart put through the shredder. I was busy feeling old and lost and crappy. I was busy weeping with the sky.

One day the phone rang; I was home. We scheduled a “meeting”.

Step Three: Five meetings

After being in school two years, it tapped me, along with others, to “go out and make friends”. At that time it deemed me privy to it’s four-step recruitment machine:

1) Select your target
2) Create the initial encounter (illustrated  above)
3) Meet five times
4) Introduce to Robert

Let’s say you are the recruiter and you need go to the grocery store. While waiting in line ask yourself whether the person in front you is longing for “freedom”. Ask her/him a question. Strike up a conversation, but don’t linger! Establish contact and rapport, than say something like, “I have to run, but I’ve really enjoyed talking to you! We should get together. Can I get your phone number?” Make it fast, friendly and upbeat; don’t give your new “friend” time to question. Remember, you may be doing this poor soul-less, sleep-walking man or woman an enormous favor by introducing him/her to school. Just think about how “school improved your life!” Remember, too, that someone was once awake enough to do this favor for you!

(Please don’t mention the $350 monthly tuition, how school demands increase over time, and that how you no longer have time for friends and family … in fact, do not mention “school”).

When asked for your contact information, give a pre-established “answer phone” (a voicemail). Never, “for your own safety”, give out personal information – a home number, a cell phone number, a last name.

Pursue patiently, until you can set up a first meeting. See what you can learn about the person – is he or she employed? What does he or she do for work? How much money does he or she make? Is he or she married? Does he or she have children? Does he or she have a longing, a wondering about life — or a “magnetic center”. Refrain from talking about yourself, as much as possible “for your own safety and privacy.”

Meet with said recruit five times. Oh, and by the way, you can (finally!) bring up the unspeakable – the secret esoteric ideas we discuss in “class”. See if it sparks interest; if it does schedule a meeting with the new recruit and a “teacher” or “older student”. Your more experienced colleague will establish whether this person is appropriate for “school”.  “School” does not want any old shattered soul to walk through the hallowed halls. They must have an income, or the possibility for an income; if they don’t have a significant income, they must have something else to offer. (Oh, by the way, if said recruit works for law enforcement, military, or the media, your more experienced colleague will reject them.)

On the fifth meeting, introduce the new recruit to Robert. He will make the final call.

Lisa and I walked in Fresh Pond, drank coffee at Starbucks, took in art at the MFA, drank more coffee at the 1369 in Cambridge, ate lunch at Whole Foods and finally she introduced me to Robert, at Pete’s coffee in Brookline. Lisa asked me a lot of questions, which I answered. She listened and told me almost nothing about herself. But my need to talk and for validation overrode any suspicions dancing around in me po’ brain. It was unusual for me to yak so much. Historically, I would listen and ask questions.

One day I said, “I don’t know what it is about you, Lisa. I talk so much about myself.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s different.”

“What about you?” I asked. “How did you meet your husband?”

She shifted in her chair, and looked down. “We met in an acting class. It’s hard to explain.”

She changed the subject. Later, I would learn that many couples in school meet in “an acting class”.

But Lisa had a gentle presence and a great sense of humor. We laughed a lot and discussed fascinating topics like how the pyramids in Egypt came to be and other such global mysteries. She encouraged me to talk about my dissatisfaction with life. I felt safe to do so – she seemed to understand my dismay, with myself, and my life, without judging it.

“Is this all there is?” I would say. “There has to be more.”

“How would you like to meet other people who ponder these questions and offer new ideas?” she eventually asked me.

She explained that she got together with friends on Tuesday and Thursday nights to discuss life’s big questions, to ponder ideas. It could be fun, she said. They laugh a lot. People come and go, she indicated. This group, she said, provides ideas, instruction, if you will, on how to live. Both my suspicion and curiosity were peaked. But hope overran all other emotions – maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally found something that can help me break out of a perceived lifelong pattern of failure.

I want to interrupt myself here before I paint myself to be the stereotypical cult-joiner (i.e. loser with nothing). At the time, I had plenty of friends, loving family, passions in the arts and music and degrees from Harvard Extension School, Lesley University and Hiram College. I was, however, struggling financially and longing for a true and loving partner. I saw these struggles as “a lifelong pattern of failure”. Plagued by a pervasive self doubt, I was the perfect target for “school” —  a win for an ambitious cult-recruiter.

“Sure, why not.” I replied.

She then informed me of the first requirement out of many (i.e. deceptions) to follow.

“It’s very important that you not tell anyone about this. It’s private, just for you.”

Step Four: Meeting Robert

 Rain fell in sheets and buckets, again, when I met Lisa and a slightly round, very tan, bearded man named Robert at Pete’s Coffee in Brookline. I commented on the steady deluge hitting Boston that spring. Robert replied, “It has been said that raindrops are angel’s tears, and that the angels are crying.”

Since I’d been crying the entire spring, I was down with the idea of crying with the angels.  Let the magic begin!

The conversation that followed I recall only vaguely; the feelings I had stand out clearly — confused, hopeful, curious and excited. Robert talked about how each human (in purest form) is an “essence” visiting earth from the “starry world” – earth is not home. We journey here to learn something. As an idealistic dreamer who tends to feel befuddled by the world and current society that idea more than resonated with me. I could hear the angel voices rising as the clouds opened up – finally! I’ve met others who also share this befuddlement. Maybe there is indeed some truth to my lifelong sense of not belonging!

He presented other ideas that confused me and I kept asking him “What do you mean?” He finally said, “Well, I’m trying to tell you.” I realized that his entire rap was an introduction and exposition on ideas, and that (unable to take it all in) I hadn’t really been listening. Upon reflection, I can see that he was outlining the “school” experience to come, should I choose to accept the mission.

We also discussed an experience I had with the Church of Scientology – I joined “the church’s” post- Hurricane Katrina disaster relief effort and traveled to Mississippi with them. He got agitated while talking about it, saying, “They don’t get it.” But then he stopped himself. I’d been joking about my Scientology trip with Lisa in previous “meetings”, so she and I were laughing about something. But Robert, his face stern, dismissed the conversation abruptly, as though swatting away a fly. He changed the subject; we followed his lead.

Eventually, he asked me – as had Lisa – whether I’d like to try out this free five-week experiment called “school”.

“Does it have another name?” I asked.

“No just school.” He replied with a smile.

“Where do we meet?” I asked.

“We’ll let you know.” He replied.

“Is there a cost?” I asked.

“Look, if you decide to continue after the five-week experiment there’s a tuition fee. It really depends on each student,” he said. “We’ve never turned anyone away because of money.”

“Ok,” I told him. “I’ll try it. All I can say is, it feels right.”

“Great. Just remember that it is critical to not to tell anyone about this. It’s private. Just for you.”

 The secrecy struck me as a red light; but it was also seductive and special – “Just for me.” So I didn’t tell anyone – after all what could a five-week experiment hurt?

Chapter 3, School, Marriage, and “School Marriages”

Chapter 3: School & Marriage

will you be my valentine?

So I want to talk about “school’s” impact on significant relationships before continuing my story. I am focusing on marriage primarily because my husband is the person closest to me, and I have to come to terms with how my school involvement hurt him. But you could really insert any important relationship in to this scenario.

School spins its students into a special brand of “school-induced” denial. Our illustrious leader likens “school” to the “French Revolution”.  A revolutionary does not blow off the mission due to laziness, or aimlessness — an “I don’t feel like going tonight to the super, secret strategy meeting.” or “I’d rather curl up on the couch with my spouse and watch West Wing than discuss ‘universal truths.’”  Come hell or high water, a revolutionary with “sufficient valuation” shows up for this exclusive, mission-critical calling.

Any man will do

If I am working on myself, Any man will do

If you attend long enough, you buy into this mythology: the “I am WORKING on MYSELF!” “I am a soul AWAKENING, in the world of sleep walking men and women!”. It translates into: My awakening, due to school, can only benefit my family, my friends, my co-workers, my dog, my fish, my neighbors, their fish, Barack Obama, the Police Department, the cashier at the nearby convenient store, etc, because I am radiating fineness! I am a walking light casting shadows on the walls of the cave of darkness! Simply my presence as a woman who is ‘GROWING HER BEING’ will benefit all who come into contact with me.

You find yourself – even when every cell in you would rather stay home watching West Wing and snuggling with your spouse – justifying school’s need for your stellar attendance record and absolute silence and compliance.

Ok, I may be exaggerating somewhat (or not), but it happened to me, and my vanity glossed over the holes in the French Revolution argument; after all I was a spiritual revolutionary, a soldier marching off to war with my comrades!  Really, I was driving in rush hour traffic to an old, restored, mill in Billerica, to attend “class”. The French Revolution is over. There are no enemies hiding behind corners with shotguns waiting to shoot down the heretic seeking enlightenment – thus there is no legitimate reason for the urgent attend-every-class-at-all-costs requirement, high security and secretiveness (illegitimate reasons, a plenty, but that’s another chapter).

As a “school” student, your presence at home will decrease exponentially in correspondence with the increasing, exponentially growing, super-secret, mission-critical school demands. Of course the number of secrets required also expands exponentially; for if you make certain “efforts” for “school” (i.e. recruiting new students) you cannot discuss them with those in “life”. School calls these efforts “third line of work” and touts them essential to “awaken”, to “grow a soul”, to “evolve”. So not only is your physical presence limited, school cleverly hijacks your emotional and psychological presence.

Gradually, the “secrets” required of you will insert and wedge between you and your spouse. The wedge wiggles back and forth, widening the gap with each new demand. You are emotionally and spiritually distracted, physically taxed and sleep deprived; therefore absent even when your body is home.

So, let’s step back further to get some more perspective. One of the first things Robert tells new students is that “sleeping humanity” has a skewed relationship to time. Everybody is “so busy.” He scoffs at this and says, “If you tell me you don’t have time to do this and that, I won’t believe you.”

So let’s outline school’s evolving time requirements: as a new “younger student” you disappear on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 6:30-9 or so. When deemed “ready”, you join with the “older class” which extends to say 9:45, 10:00, sometimes 10:30, 11:00 – after which you “observe the required one hour of silence” to “seal off any leaks”. I don’t know about you, but if I were to go home and “observe an hour of silence” there, my husband would find it odd. Tack on another hour. Often times during that hour I would enlighten my spirit at the McDonald’s drive through, because I’d rushed from work to class without dinner.

After being in school between three to six months, you graduate from “youngest student” to the “been here long enough” phase. One day while sitting in reverent silence awaiting the day’s lesson, a teacher will announce, “ I need to see these people.” S/he will read a list of names, including yours. The anointed will file into another room in silent anticipation and dread. Once there the teacher will say one of three things:

1)    “We’re going to have a party.”

2)     “Robert needs our help to grow the school. You have been chosen to embark on a very special ‘third line of work’ (congratulations!) And it only requires you to go out and make new friends.”

3)    “We’re going to present a lecture/presentation and we need you to ‘invite people’.”

These three items need their own sections to flesh out the amount of “effort” and “work” required to throw a “school party”, or go out and “make new essence friends” without revealing your last name, work, home town, whether you have kids or not, own a dog, floss your teeth daily, etc., or invite friends to a “presentation” that has no title, topic, date or location. Suffice to say that you can expect to see your spouse, and or kids, or your “life” friends far less than you presently do. And guess what – they notice your absence. They feel your absence. And they feel something else — insincerity. You tell a white lie, like I’m going to meet a particular friend for coffee, when in fact you are meeting a potential new recruit, or going to a “school” meeting that falls on a Wednesday. If you know that you are telling a half-truth, or a seemingly innocuous lie, or omitting information, they feel it. The gap between you and your loved one widens some more.

For those readers “not in school”, I can hear the thought, “No shit, Sherlock”. But those of us in (or who were in) need rude awakenings to get this message. Often times we would set “aims” to do something special for our beloved. Does the quality time make up for the quantity of time missed? We begin to believe that we can control our spouse’s disappointment with a special dinner, or trip, or gift. We can’t. When the special gift or event doesn’t work and we ask our “sustainers” or “teachers” why not? We are told that if our “beings were stronger, more evolved,” if our “efforts were more sufficient” then we would soothe the savage beast. We must “work harder on ourselves”. Of course, no body states the obvious: these special and “aim-full” events don’t bring back lost time and don’t sooth the loneliness and worry. The loneliness, the worry and your absence will only increase with each passing year.

Alarms may sound but it often takes screeching sirens to shake us out of our hypnotism-induced stupors. Someone is fired. Someone’s sister, or friend, or children confronts them – “What is this thing you are going to every Tuesday and Thursday night. Are you in some kind of a cult?”

Someone loses his/her marriage.

So let me dial back to the marriages. Guess what, no matter what line you’ve been fed, your spouse is not benefiting, unless you’ve chosen to share some of the real and fine ideas that school does indeed expose one to, albeit in a rather twisted presentation. Of course, you break the code of silence when talking about these “ideas” outside of school, unless sanctioned by school – which certainly would never be the case unless you are specifically recruiting a new sheep into the fold. I’ve yet to meet a colleague who recruited a spouse.

I left school in August, and it is now February.  Just shy of seven months and several hundred miles later (my husband and I drove from Massachusetts to South Carolina this August and the miles between provided a number of “Oh my God” moments) I can only conclude that school “aims” to break up marriages. Of course my post-leaving discovery that many students in the “older class” are married to each other, or married to teachers highlights this conclusion. And the further discovery that Queen Sharon – the New York branches leader and Robert’s “teacher” – arranges these marriages and breaks them up at her whim further confirms it.

When I made my decision to leave school, I didn’t know about “school marriages”. I knew that my marriage, my relationship to my soul mate – which had survived several significant losses already including parents, grandparents, jobs and homes – would not survive school. I knew I was not willing to trade him in for this institution. This realization fell on me, followed by an avalanche of others, the most important one being this:

Robert did me a huge favor when he passed on the instruction TELL YOUR HUSBAND TO MIND HIS OWN BUSINESS (insert Wizard of Oz voice here). It shook me out of my stupor. I thought, “But this is his business. If I have to tell him to ‘mind his own business’ in order to be in school, I can’t be in school.”

Later I read that Robert is (of course) married to another teacher and I kept hearing echoes of his voice saying, “I am trying to put myself in your husband’s shoes.”  When I quit school, we talked on the phone. His voice heavy with disappointment he said, “It’s a terrible thing your husband has done to you.” All theater. It is easy to be “in school” when married to another attendee; you don’t have to explain the unexplainable. There are no lies to tell.

As with so many other ironies that exist within school, suddenly being available to my marriage made me awaken to it. For the last seven months, simply being home to write grocery lists with him without being exhausted or distracted took on new meaning. My gratitude for the man, our union, and the life we work towards together has only grown deeper, along side the love we have for each other.

A healthy marriage needs time and trust. School strips its students of both. Your time becomes its time. Your voice starts becoming a font of school propaganda, allowing it to continue its super, secret, critical mission to keep Sharon and Robert rich. So my hope, dear reader, is that, if nothing else, you come away from this post knowing this: nothing can make up for the time lost, except for time together. Nothing can restore trust but voicing the truth. This time, your time, is far too precious to squander away in “school”. Your truth told in your voice will ring true, thus restoring trust and providing healing.

Chapter 4: How to Stay in a Cult