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”

27 thoughts on “Chapter 2: How to “join” a Cult

  1. moishe3rd says:

    Amazing. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    I must say, it was a tad different “way back when.”
    We were all “shattered souls” back then, including Bob et al.
    Recruitment was ill defined and any old miscreant was accepted at first sight – well, until it was found out that they were really hostile; really gay; or really spaced out…
    Other than that, poor or rich; weak or strong – it was a “come one, come all.”

    • It is so interesting to start filling in the blanks. Between 1978 – 2012, “school” has had a lot of time to refine all kinds of processes. Also, though, I think their tactics reflect the current culture. I was a kid in the 70s, but it seems to me that it was a kind of anything goes decade and I imagine the West Coast was populated with free spirits. You can let me know if that perception is accurate. Also, it’s strange to think of Robert as a “shattered soul”, but also informative. Thanks, Moishe3rd!

      • moishe3rd says:

        You are welcome.
        I have a more or less nostalgic interest in this whole thing. As I once posted on Esoteric Freedom (which was not well received), my experiences were not the experiences that you all seem to have had in the last 20 years or so.
        We actually did look upon “School” as a “4th Way School.” But, then again, so did Bob and Fred and Sharon and Alex, et al.
        Other than Alex’s plays, everything we studied was part of “the Work” of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and Collins and Nicoll with a little bit of Orage and Bennet and even Jan (some guy in Georgia who Alex was interested in at one point). Or, we studied the “red thread.” We read “Seraphita” and Aristophanes “The Birds” and Swedenborg and Plato and Socrates “Symposium” along with a bit of Shakespeare and Exodus and too many other “B Influences” (another presumptuous idea of Gurdjieff’s – oy) to mention.
        Previously, I had danced with the Hare Krishna’s and read the Upanishads and the Ramayana. I was a follower of the Divine Light Mission of the Guru Maharaji (the little fat boy from India) for almost three weeks! I had studied Tai Chi and Yoga and sat with Chayom Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Master. I learned “Silva Mind Control.” And a whole other cornucopia of religious and spiritual practices.
        I used to get my jollies (which was not nice, but fun) while I was in “School” by letting myself be “invited” to a Scientology or Moonie or EST or some other “cult” meeting – to eat their free food and listen to their spiel, in order to become more enthusiastic about my own “third line of work” (recruiting new students). This kind of activity was strictly forbidden by “School,” but, I was a bit of a rebel and, it was fun – being all “superior” with my “esoteric Fourth Way Knowledge…”
        My point is that, at that time – nobody was “afraid” of being “found out.” Everybody was trying to be “found out.” Most of us were trying to avoid being kicked out of “School” as most people eventually were.
        Bob got “kicked out.” Fred got “kicked out.” Pretty much everybody got “kicked out.”
        Alex and Sharon used to get “divorced” every so often over various disagreements – some about their marriage; others about who was “in charge.”
        1978 – 1979 was the cusp of Change in “School.” Most of the “older students” who were part of Alex’s violent past left by 1980 or so. The rest of us knew nothing about it except what we read in the papers and – even then, I had a grave distrust of the public media.
        Those that remained, such as Bob, didn’t talk about it at all. It was a Brave New World… that had such people in it!
        And, it appears to have all gone totally to Hell…
        And – “You gotta serve Somebody. It may be the Devil. It may be the L-rd but, you gotta serve Somebody…”
        I am so very grateful to G-d that both my wife and I did not remain to serve the Matrix like “School” that you all describe in your writings.

        We kind of figured – if you’ve got this compulsion to be in a “cult” or an “esoteric school,” why not go whole hog and pay the postage and be in the oldest esoteric “cult” on the planet?
        Be a Jew. Now that’s something that will Wake you up!
        (Because the rest of Mankind will never let you forget it!)
        Be well.

        • You may be interested to know that when I joined in 2006, the teachers intentionally never mentioned Gurdjieff or Ouspensky. In fact “school” had made photo copies of “In Search of the Miraculous” (the entire book) with all references to names and locations whited out. G became K. We simply called this book, “The Black Book”. I had no idea these men existed until I left school and discovered I could order their books from for less than $5 a pop. And this was after my “sustainer” told me, “You won’t find these ideas any where else. You are lucky!”

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  3. Queen Lear says:

    For me it was all about Eleanor and Hildegard and being unemployed. I met someone at one of the numerous networking groups that cater to the jobless. He’d been an operations manager for a mattress company, he said. Little did I know…

    I don’t remember how or why but we started talking about medieval history. Maybe I’d said I’d majored in history in college eons ago. I love medieval history, so when he started talking about a presentation on Eleanor of Aquitaine and Hildegard von Bingen I was captivated. He invited me to a presentation, but it conflicted with something else so I said no.

    But at the next networkers meeting he asked if I’d like to meet one of the people who had given the presentation. How could I say no. So that started a series of meetings at the Barnes and Noble in Burlington. He came once but then I was meeting with Jane.

    The progress of my story is a little different at this point. At the third or so meeting, Jane introduced the idea of school and I agreed it sounded interesting. She wanted me to meet another student and if that meeting went well I would meet with Robert. So I had a meeting with Jane and another woman before meeting with Robert.

    Maybe the difference was that I was in the middle of landing a new job and then settling into it.

    One thing that I find curious is that I was working part-time as a freelance journalist when I started meeting with Jane. It was a return to a career that I’d left in the ’80s to join high tech, so my relationship to journalism was more than casual. I’m surprised I wasn’t disqualified.

    • Hi Queen Lear, Thanks for telling your story! It’s really interesting to learn how others were recruited and to compare notes. I am also surprised that you weren’t disqualified as a journalist. Who knows, right? I guess your experience didn’t pose a threat to the present super, secret, critical mission. I wonder what would have happened if you had continued freelancing as a journalist … we’ll never know, thank God!

  4. Queen Lear says:

    Having every Tuesday and Thursday night taken up certainly limited my freelancing. But I did do a little bit after starting school. Carol and my sustainer didn’t like it. “You don’t need to work on this story (of the three-story house metaphor),” Carol said. ” You need to work on the other stories.” I still did one or two more freelance assignments. I was just creatively insincere about them–I did the assignments and didn’t tell them.

    • You know, it’s funny, I spent about five months reporting for The Billerica Minuteman (at the time it was a Community Newspaper Company outlet). How ironic! That was back in 2004, and I doubt there’s anyone there that I know now … although, there might be. 😉

  5. Queen Lear says:

    I’ve had similar thoughts. I covered a few events in Billerica and I still know people at the nearby daily newspaper!

  6. Queen Lear says:

    Lots to think about.

  7. anonymous says:

    I had the same thought about contacting the local Billerica paper after reading the account of the 12 younger students that left one night last month (see the Esoteric Freedom Blog, the thread “January 2012) The interogations of individual students in the small room sounds like a covert activiity by an oppressive backwater regime. The fine residents of Billerica will be surprised to find out that such subversive activities are going on in their town’s historic landmark, the Faulkner Mill Building.

  8. There And Back Again says:

    Usually, I cannot help but bristle whenever new material becomes available in the Chronicles of Lisa (my recruiter, as well). I wonder if, it is better to just let go of these thoughts of having one’s trust betrayed and eventually be able to laugh about it.

    In a way, reading your post, correlating your Lisa-experience with mine, and listening to the experiences of other people who were plucked from society and secretly assimilated into school allows me to see the sadder, funnier side of the recruiting process.

    Keep writing!

    • Hello From There and Back Again – It did take me a while to be able to look back and laugh. When I left initially, and realized the depth and intricacy of intentional deception practiced by school in the name of serving “evolution and awakening”, I felt very discombobulated! It was hard to believe and accept that this thing, which once appeared to be so benevolent to me, was in fact, at its root, a sinister, manipulative emotional and spiritual ponzi scheme. It really made me question my instincts.

      The important thing though, is that you and I both woke up and left. There is nothing wrong with seeking purpose and knowledge. There is nothing wrong with the wondering and ache that led you to tues/thurs thing. And the answers you seek lay inside of you and all around you, in the trees, the sky, your daily interactions, in the often scoffed at “life” — your life, my life. I expect neither of us will again fall for such deceptive recruitment tactics again.

      Thanks for the encouragement! I hope my musings continue to be helpful!

  9. Circe says:

    The Gentle Souls’ Revolution, River of Joy, Queen Lear –
    Yes, you should see if you still have any contacts with the local press and try to do a series of articles. I am sure everyone in Billerica would like to know what is going on in their own backyard not to mention the other businesses in the Faulkner Mill Building. Go for it!

  10. Chris says:

    I have a question about where exactly the group meets at the Faulker Mill. It’s a fairly big complex. I noticed that you can drive up to it and then turn up an embankment, and when I visited one (Thurs) night saw that’s where a lot of cars were parked. Is this where they meet? (I was in the Belmont group and only ever saw them there.) By the way, a series of flyers posted all over Belmont Center alerting residents to the nature of the group seems to have contributed to their leaving Belmont, so outreach efforts to Billerica citizens and businesses might well be effective.

    • That sounds right. That parking lot is off of Port Sunlight Road, which is a short hill. Although, I’m not so sure that school continues to meet there after the mass exodus. I have a feeling that it’s meeting somewhere else for the time being — til the dust settles — possibly somewhere in Newton.

  11. Odysseus says:

    They have a history of relocating when the heat is on. Sooner or later, though, it is likely they will be back. It would cost too much to maintain two meeting spaces.

    If anyone is in contact with people who are still in, this would be a very good subject to broach. “Why does the group feel the need to hide so carefully?” “What is there that cannot stand the light of public scrutiny?” “How do you feel about all this?”

  12. Odysseus says:

    To answer the location question –
    GSR is correct, the mill is a sprawling structure, but the “school” entrance is in the rear off Port Sunlight Road. They share an outer entrance with the woodworking business, but have the 2nd floor. There is a door which is straight ahead entering the common outer door. This door is kept locked when no meetings are taking place. Inside that door is a stairway, at the top of which is another locked door (different key) which opens onto the meeting spaces. There is a back entry which is only maintained because of fire codes. This would come out at the Fencing School end of the building. This is not used at all. There are no signs or other markings anywhere on the building.

  13. Lady C says:

    I’m not sure it would be beneficial to drive school out of its current location–at least we know where it is and thus have a physical way to reach people/have a location name that can be cited on sites like these, making it easier for internet searches to find such sites. Especially since the Boston branch doesn’t have a name tied to it other than school and OSG.
    Though it’s possible the group has already decided to move locations.

  14. anon says:

    They’ll have a very hard time finding a new permanent place that meets all the criteria: low rent, large open meeting spaces without beams to obstruct views when sitting in a circle, privacy, character, an open minded landlord, a reasonably convienent location close to public transportation. It took months and months to find the Billerica space, and it took a lot of work to remodel it to fit the needs of the group. Besides, if the cult finds a new permanent space, its only a matter of time before the news gets out. It will be harder for the group to remain secretive, they won’t be able to hide anymore.

  15. Queen Lear says:

    I have wondered lately whether the proposed service cuts to commuter rail might make the Billerica location less viable. I know there is talk of eliminating weekend commuter rail. If cuts also reduce the number of night trains, there would be more dependence on getting rides and more opportunity for “fraternization.”

  16. Matt says:

    U fucking sick fuck try that shit in my neighborhood

    • You know, Matt, I wasn’t going to approve this comment; however, if you live in the Faulkner Mills area of Billerica, and feel angry that there’s a cult in your midst, I encourage you to contact your elected officials and police department.

  17. Chris says:

    I don’t want to be promised fortune or fame I just want to join a cult to meet strange people and do strange things together. In my mind it’s something like taking large amounts of hallucinogenic drugs and going to discrete locations where we will carry out some sort of ceremony then head out to fulfill a mission with divine pourpose, whatever that may be. If you know of or are involved in any cult or group who does this I am very interested in joining I live in phoenix az. 🙂 hmu 6023637697 preferably text before calling.

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