Chapter 4, Part 2: “Help” from Sustainers and Teachers

Help

Help

Of all things in life that humans tackle, my not-so-auspicious employment history made me particularly vulnerable to cult doctrine. I suspect each “student” has some version of this story – some “life” thing that symbolizes failure or at least presents a constant and nagging dissatisfaction.

I had been drifting from job to job, career to career, starting and quitting. I was a “dreamer” – the writer, the artist, the songwriter, etc. I could not give up on those artistic yearnings, despite mounting evidence that I was not going to make a sustainable living through my passions and talents — including being embarrassingly financially dependent on my parents, who coddled me for far too many years. This coddling fed my growing feeling of “not belonging here”, not being able to “figure it out”, and the constant question, “what is wrong with me? Why can’t I just go out there and do what everyone else does?”

Some may call it laziness; perhaps it was. Perhaps, though, it was fear. Perhaps it was my inability to trust and follow up on my inner sense of how to live. This inner sense doesn’t compute the current dominant paradigm in society – the competitive, “someone wins/someone loses” model. This inner sense longs for space, solitude and time to connect to a creative flow and manifest it. This inner sense rejects the widely-held belief that humans need to fill every moment and keep busy! But my inner yearnings were juxtaposed, neutralized and shackled by a sense of failure. An internal struggle roared on between that which I wish for and that which looked possible.

When one follows such a strong inner sense and manifests inner visions, one is truly free. Most people I know seek external guidance. The extent to which one seeks guidance is the extent to which one is vulnerable to cults who are happy to tell you how to live. In my case, the seeking felt endless, so the “finding” felt miraculous.

After completing the free five-week experiment, school informed me of its $350 monthly tuition. Shortly after that, I confessed the sorry state of my financial affairs, and my “aims” became centered on work and money. With my “sustainer” guiding me, I landed an editorial assistant position at a technology media outlet. Two years later, I was fired.   Then I found a copy-writing position at a software company.  After two years, I was laid off. The fact that both companies got rid of me might have indicated to an awake woman that she was barking up the wrong tree, but I – instead — kept thinking “I’m just not trying hard enough. If I just try a little harder…”

This  “Maybe you’re not trying hard enough” mantra is a commonly used form of “help” from teachers.    This “school” is full of men and women who can never “try hard enough”. They need to “build will”. They need to have “sufficient valuation”. They need “help”.  There is no point at which you can confidently claim or supportively hear, “I did the best I possibly could.”

All that said, back in 2008, when I left the “editorial assistant” position and became the “marketing copywriter”, I increased my yearly salary by $17,000.  For the first time in my life, I was earning a grown up salary, if not a lucrative one. I was a “real woman” doing what “real women” do — biting the bullet, joining the “rush hour”, creeping off to my cubicle Monday through Friday with everyone else. I finally became a financially independent woman who – for the first time in her life really – didn’t have to rely on anyone else to help pay her bills AND could afford her school tuition. I was bored and disheartened. My day-to-day activities felt meaninglessness, the cubicle a cage. I despaired at the time wasted in my morning commute in rush hour traffic to the job I hated.   I was no closer to following my passion than before I came to “school”.  In fact, those dreams seemed farther away and less possible.  But my feelings didn’t matter. I was financially solvent, that is what mattered.

When “school” helps one to accomplish such an aim, it sets in motion another common mantra:  that your life would not be in such good stead without school.  And certainly, thanks to my “sustainer,” I pushed the limits of my comfort zone. A sustainer’s job is to guide his/her sustainee keeping consistent contact through phone calls and meetings in between Tuesday and Thursday. What new students don’t know is that a sustainer is also responsible for retention: keep the student in school no matter what. School tells its younger students that the sustainer/sustainee relationship is confidential, so the student will feel safe to talk about anything. In truth sustainers take notes and report all conversations back to teachers. Teachers then can use that information in class at certain opportune moments.

When it came to my job search, my sustainer adamantly insisted that I “leave no stone unturned.” With dread and resume in hand, I walked into offices on her urging and told strangers I was looking for work. I found myself less afraid of people and interviews. I cranked out resumes and cover letters day after day after day. And the week that the software company hired me, I had received about four other phone calls with offers of second interviews. I experienced a momentum that seemed to magically stem from what school calls “being efforts” – forcing yourself to go against “pictures” of who you believe yourself to be by doing things that you dread. It did change me; it did make me stronger.   Thus, how easy it is to believe that without school, you can do nothing that furthers your evolution.  Alone – without school, you are doomed.

My life holds a handful of moments that I can point to and say that truly helped me become an adult: those two job searches, losing my grandmother, losing my father, my marriage and leaving school. I did these things during my “school” tenure. But, in all my scrambling to become what “school” calls “a real woman”, to “remember myself”, I began to “forget myself” and become increasingly dependent (i.e. childlike) on school’s guidance — a guidance that would continually point me away from my dreams as those yearnings continued pounding at my chest. I disregarded them.  I had no time for that now.

The “Life” I Never Wanted

As my work life grew into the existence I most dreaded  (i.e. working in a cubicle, writing press releases about software products that didn’t exist for a non-existent audience) the old emptiness and longing spilled into my life – harkening back to the question I posed to Lisa during “recruitment”,  “Is this all there is?”  As that question pounded out ever louder, I labeled my desire for meaningful and creative work as “selfish, unrealistic and immature.” I tried to squeeze my passions in between work and school. It wasn’t working. I felt empty and lost; writing had always been my touchstone. I couldn’t write.

All of the negative beliefs that I had about my life, and myself, were starting to play out and reflect back to me. When I talked to my sustainer about my longing to write prose and song, to paint, to draw, to find another way to make a living – teaching, going back to expressive therapies, finding a writing job in an artistic venue — she would say, “It’s impossible to make a living in the arts. Believe me, I know some brilliant people who have done amazing things and those people can’t make a living in the arts.”

Upon reflection, that is a strange thing to say for a person who is allegedly helping you to realize your potential  — the same person who tells you that your possibilities are limitless. But I needed no convincing. It was far easier to let her reflect back my already well-established negative beliefs than question the contradiction. So I pushed aside those dreams. They got louder in stark contrast to the outer “reality”.  I started feeling empty, lost, trapped and depressed – certainly not “awake” and “free”.

“Jesus, what happened to me?” I would ask friends. “How did I get so lost?” (maybe you joined a cult!)

In fall, 2008, something else happened. My father’s long-standing illness escalated. I made several trips to Cleveland and in the spring of 2009 stayed for almost a month. He went into hospice and passed away on May 5th.  During this heart-breaking time, a teacher named Jeanine, called me several times a day. Her calls came to feel like my lifeline. She would ask me what was going on, listen attentively, comfort me when I was crying, help me sort out how to respond to particular moments of family dysfunction, tell me to stay present, to pray.  Her help was a Godsend. If I hadn’t been hooked before, I was then.

I imagine that every student has a similar story of extraordinary and real help given by a teacher, or sustainer, or a moment when “school” has surprised him/her with incredible support during a critical life event.   After the kindness showed during my father’s illness and death, Robert planned a surprise champagne toast to mark my impending marriage. We also threw several baby showers for expectant mothers and fathers.

Other help, though, doesn’t feel the same.  We stand in class and reveal our innermost wishes, our deepest scars and our most powerful fears.  The “help” begins with understanding and validation, but slowly, insidiously becomes humiliating, painful, and confusing.  The seeds of doubt about who you think you are begin to take root and grow.

We begin to justify that the teacher must know something we don’t: after all s/he has been doing “the work” longer/is more evolved/is a teacher, etc. I don’t know myself. I am a multiplicity. I don’t know my thoughts, my feelings or my actions. I am a woman who “cannot do”. I need “help” to become the evolved woman I wish to be.

The more faith I lost in myself, the more responsibility and life choices I abdicated to “teachers”, and the worse the “help” became. The longer I was in “school,” the more school dismissed certain opinions I had, or personal experiences I would relay. I saw that pattern play out repeatedly with other students:

“Are you sure that’s how it was,” teachers would ask, rhetorically. “Or could you be misinterpreting that event? Aren’t you being a bit of a princess? Aren’t you being too precious?”

If you know anything about abusive relationships, you recognized the pattern of systematic wearing down in the last few paragraphs. Yes, dear Readers, the process in cults plays out in the exact same manner as it does in a clinically abusive relationship — the only difference is one scenario involves a couple, while the other involves a group.

So, dear reader, my story is only one account, of how, what begins as a five-week experiment turns into a life-long commitment. Yes, you read that correctly, some devote decades, two nights a week, plus whatever additional “third line of work” school requires and at least $350 each month. The longer one is “in”, the more time and energy “school” demands, the more “self“ one loses to the “school” brand of “awakening” to evolve into another cog in the wheel of the machine that keeps Queen Sharon rich, comfortable, fat and suitably medicated.

Shortly after leaving school, my husband and I drove to South Carolina. I should say, he drove — I stared out the window. As film screen dropped down in my minds eye; the typical “class”, coupled with the school policy that its students do not “fraternize” outside of the hallowed halls, played out like a movie. As school encouraged us to “know ourselves” and develop what it called “essence friendships” with our colleagues, it strictly regulated our interactions, even as a school-induced type of intimacy brewed. We felt as though we were fellow soldiers in a spiritual revolution, sharing the common purpose of evolving as men and women and thus bringing beauty and truth to a world full of violence, injustice, fallacy and ugliness; but we were not “allowed” to exchange contact information. We rarely know normal things about each other (last names, type of work, children’s names, spouses name, etc). We only knew each other through the thin veil of school-contrived interactions.

As Chris and I put miles behind us missing pieces started falling into place and the bigger picture began to emerge. After all, if “essence friends” fraternized outside the hallowed halls, we could compare notes and question contradictions. Someone might let slip certain super-secret information to “younger students” who were not suitably prepared (or indoctrinated): the arranged intermarriages and subsequent divorces in the “older class”, the children born to one student and then given to another on orders from the top (i.e. Sharon), that non-fraternization rules are dropped for “older students”, and that Boston is simply a satellite office of the official hub – the Queen Sharon headquarters in New York City.

At that point, I did not know the full extent of “school’s” reach into its students’ personal lives. But the level of “school” control and manipulation (i.e. help) I had allowed in my life became crystal clear.

“Oh my God,” I thought to myself. “What the fuck was I doing?”

Chapter 5: The Christmas Party


45 thoughts on “Chapter 4, Part 2: “Help” from Sustainers and Teachers

  1. I Will Thrive says:

    Another thumb’s up, Hummingbird!!! I like the pictures that accompany your chapters, too. “Help Wanted” — hilarious. Excellent work.
    XO
    – I Will Thrive (actually, currently am thriving!)

  2. Circe says:

    Your comments on “The Life I Never Wanted” really struck home for me. After 20+ years in school, searching for my soul, looking for what I loved most, what I was really good at, for a husband, family and children that I could call mine, I don’t think that I have come any closer to any of those things. I am also living a life I never wanted and am somewhat stuck in it. Not that I don’t have some of those things, but it didn’t turn out exactly as I had wanted nor did it turn out the way it might have if I (and not Sharon and Robert) had been in charge of my decisions.) Now I am faced with the ultimate school denial of any wrong doing. I can hear Robert’s voice in my head: “Don’t blame school for how your life turned out. We didn’t make you do anything. We might have suggested a few things but you did it yourself. School is not responsible. You are responsible.”

    Well, I do blame school. Those were not merely “suggestions”, they were ultimatums: “Do this or leave school” or “Do this or your life will turn to shit.” And on and on…

    Ultimately, yes, it is my responsibility. I didn’t do anything with a gun to my head (although it felt like it). I wasn’t really in charge but I did those things. That’s what is so hard to live with and I think that it’s also why it is so hard for people to leave school. Especially people who enmeshed in school with jobs, family, spouses, children. To take a real hard cold look at your life without Sharon and Robert whispering in your ear, is really hard. But it is possible. And life is so much better when I am back in control of my life, for better or worse. I am free.

  3. I Will Thrive says:

    “We didn’t make you do things, etc….” Fuck ’em. Yes, they did, as you say, and if it helps you a little bit to heap the blame on them so you can move on, then do it. Do it fully, happily, and judgementally.
    There will come a time when we have to take back bits of responsibility for things….but bit by bit in a healing, helpful way is the way to go. No more of that crippling shit-heap of self-blame. They analyze and metaphor the shit out of stuff to cover their asses. They DID make you do it…with a psychological gun to your head. You don’t have to worry about being “faced with” Robert’s denial. He’s a liar. Don’t worry about it. It’s their fault. Leave and begin to heal. It’s never too late to make positive changes in your life. Never. Ever. Too. Late.

  4. be free says:

    Brilliant! So well written – your words catch the essence and all the nuances and inner contradictions of the school experience, and also all the lies, deceit and deception that goes on.

  5. Hi Everyone – Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    Circe, I think you bring up a really important struggle! That blame and fear and shame thing. Those, I believe, are the psychological shackles that keeps one in “school”. Those are the shackles we must work to shed, even after we have left. And I agree with “I Will Thrive”, if it helps you to blame school, i.e. Robert, for its/his blatant and intentional deception and manipulation and if doing so helps you unshackle, more power to you!

  6. Queen Lear says:

    Dear GSR,

    Could you say more about your initial response to Michael’s teaching of Tai Chi? I found it difficult because he nearly always had his back to us. I had a hard time figuring out what he was doing with his hands.

    I understand you’re certified to teach Tai Chi yourself, so I’d be interested in seeing your evaluation.

    I was always conscious of not doing it right, not practicing, being slower than others in picking it up. I admit I didn’t practice, but I really didn’t know what to practice.

    Body work was a little easier, except when Paul had us spinning in circles so fast I was afraid I’d fall.

  7. Hi Queen Lear,

    It’s so funny that you are asking me about this, because I recently told someone that the contrast between Micheal’s teaching style and my other teacher’s style should have been enough to send me running out the door. However, I find myself a bit lost for words in response to your question. I guess a couple things jump to mind:

    1) When I first started Tai Chi at the Tree of Life studio in Somerville, I almost immediately got that sense of chi flowing through me (in particular in my hands). It manifested as a very strong tingling and a feeling of peace. Sometimes when we did the form (on a very good night) I almost felt like I was floating, but at the same time I felt more rooted and in my own body then I’d ever had. I don’t know if that makes sense to you, because I am trying to describe my sensory experience. I rarely got that chi-flowing feeling from Micheal’s class. Occasionally, but not often.

    2) My teacher, Peter, happens to be extremely thorough and his instruction somehow connected all the dots for me – physical, emotional, spiritual (he didn’t focus a whole big bunch on the martial aspects. I think that comes more in his Push Hands class … but that’s another Oprah 😉 He has a way of articulating both the big picture, and the details of each movement, that communicated how to do each one and how each one flows to the next, both externally and internally.

    In contrast, honestly, Micheal’s teaching felt rushed and sloppy and, in an effort to be kind of fair, (but not too fair) maybe that’s because he had roughly 30 minutes to cover several universes of material. But then again, school did set it up that way, maybe it didn’t want us to learn tai chi too thoroughly. Your stated frustrations ring true to me, because the form we learned in school (which is very close to the form I learned outside of school) felt almost amorphous and shapeless.

    Well, I’m sorry if my response is a bit woo woo. But feel free to keep asking questions if you feel the need.

  8. Queen Lear says:

    I have always felt totally hopeless when it comes to moving my body, except when I’m swimming. Thus I was resistant to the moving center work that started class. I remember when I had my interview with Robert before joining school that he told me about the Tai Chi component. I told him that this would be difficult for me–and it was. A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps.

    I can’t blame Michael for my negative self image, but I think it was sometimes exploited. I can’t think of a specific event to back that statement up. I know, however, that I always felt anxious.

    I’d had a brief exposure to Tai Chi about 10 years ago. Ironically at a studio less than a mile from the Faulkner Mills. A friend thought we should see what it was all about so we signed up for six-week class. I walked away after that six weeks. Too bad I didn’t walk away from school that quickly.

    The first few months that I was in school I was often later because I was trying to avoid that first 30 minutes — or at least as much of it as I could. Then I was chastised for that behavior and mended my ways until this fall when I started having trouble being on time again. But I was on my way out then.

    • moishe3rd says:

      Obviously, I am totally unfamiliar with what “Michael” was teaching but, if his back was to you, he was not teaching any Tai Chi I have ever known.
      Tai Chi is a “hands on” exercise where the student is trying to move and relax exactly as the teacher does.
      I studied various forms of Tai Chi in my youth – hard; soft; long; short but, the one I eventually came to regard as “real” Tai Chi was from the Cheng Man-ch’ing School of Tai Chi Chuan.
      I learned with Maggie Newman, first in Colorado, then in New York – she was a student of Cheng Man-ch’ing. She was a wonderful teacher. If she is still alive, she is probably close to 100 years old and, probably still teaching.
      I used to secretly practice my Tai Chi when I was in “School” 30 years ago. As I noted, it was frowned upon at that time as being something unmanly and possibly dangerous…
      However, if it is something that interests you, I’d be willing to bet that there is a Cheng Man-ch’ing School in both Boston and New York and, that it costs very little and, that the instructors are all about relaxation and form…

      • Unschooled spouse says:

        Moishe3rd – Do you know if Maggie Newman lived in the West Village in a 6-floor walk-up? I may have actually lived in her building for 6 years… if she’s one and the same, I’ve seen her within the past year (my old flatmates still live there). SMALL. world.

        • moishe3rd says:

          Maggie Newman’s studio was somewhere down there. I seem to remember it was the lower East Side – or is it the Middle Side? Around Canal St. maybe… I think she lived in the same building but, again, it’s been a long time. She was (is?) truly a great and wonderful Teacher.

          And vis a vis Odysseus’ experience below – I understand the whole “do the ‘School’ task at 4 AM and watch with a critical eye thing…” But doing Tai Chi? That’s so sacrilegious 😉 !
          There were all sorts of weird things we ended up doing at “4 AM; while exhausted.” It had to do with “accumulators.” And, sometimes, people did, indeed, get hurt. (One of my fellow “student” friends was building the cabins in Montana and they were all doing the whole “work 24 hours a day” thing and he hurt himself seriously with the chain saw…)
          But Tai Chi? I just find that so bizarre. Especially in light of Sharon’s initial rejection of it back then….

  9. I would trust the sense that you got about school mining for your discomfort around your self image and exploiting it. I believe that is part of school’s strategy. Call me crazy, or paranoid, but that is my gut feeling. My particular exploited weakness was around work and money. And the “help” I got around that started feeling exploitative and humiliating. Even before my husband found EF, and I left, I knew that the “help” was only going to get worse — more humiliating. I think I had a sense that my school days were winding down. I once asked some other escapees (“older student” escapees) why so many women in school get the “help” to go and clean houses. I asked “Do you think they intentionally send us off to do work that’s demeaning?” The response: a resounding and immediate “Yes.”

  10. Queen Lear says:

    I remember some of the help you were given during the last months you were in school and it was demeaning and sometimes worse.

    What I most remember was the slur that Carol, the heroine of this week’s Dossier, perpetrated on a number of occasions. Your heritage is Jewish, so I at least, heard her comments about you being a princess and therefore unwilling to clean houses as a slur.

    How exactly would cleaning houses help you evolve? Where are the higher influences in picking up after other people? It is honest work, no doubt, but how would it help you, other than providing a small income, which you would turn over them.

    I’ve enjoyed reading comments about people leaving school ‘owing’ thousands of dollars. I was so afraid to admit that my finances were (and are) in tatters that I just left. But that may have been some instinct for self-preservation at work. And for that I am thankful.

  11. moishe3rd says:

    I realize this is besides the point, however – cleaning houses ain’t so bad.
    “Back in the Day” my wife cleaned houses while we were in “School.” She was making about $20.00 an hour, cash and then, when she started hiring other women, she was making about $40.00 an hour…
    She loved making the money. If for some reason, she did not like the job, she would stop that customer and she could always pick up another…
    It was great work and great money and, I got involved when I could.
    I just don’t see how it’s demeaning.
    We currently value our cleaning lady highly – we’ve gone through many over the years. Now, compared to my wife back then, she’s not making so much. On the other hand, she is also making $20.00 an hour and she is happy with that.
    Life really is what you make of it, no?

  12. Odysseus says:

    One of my least favorite school memories involves doing Tai Chi at a Christmas party in New York. About 4 am, Sharon decided that we all needed to do Tai Chi. So the tables were moved aside and everybody lined up, much too closely packed together to move freely, dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns entirely unsuitable for Tai Chi. We then did our best, despite being exhausted from the late hour, sleep deprivation from having put in extraordinarily late hours for several weeks working to prepare the party, compounded by the trip down from Boston. Sharon, and the rest of the “teachers” just watched.

    Then at our next Tai Chi session in Boston we were informed that Sharon had decided that our performance was abysmal and that we needed to start all over again, from the beginning. This from a woman who is just barely capable of walking across the room without assistance, likely due in large part to her unhealthy lifestyle. Actually, now that I think about it, it had been years since I saw her walk across a room without assistance, so I am not sure she can even do that anymore.

  13. Queen Lear says:

    Why did they drag you up to Boston for Tai Chi?

    I suppose it was because they could.

  14. Hello All – Few responses:

    Queen Lear, I remember so clearly being called a “princess” and yes, it did ring to me as a racial slur as well. I had a very funny experience after leaving “school” in connection to the “princess” moment. I was confessing my “school” days to a friend. My friend said two things that stood out:

    1) She said, “Wow. I was wondering what was going on with you.” Now there’s a wake up call. A friend who sensed that something was up, but couldn’t pinpoint it enough to ask me directly.

    2) In response the “princess” story, my friend (who is a wee bit of a princess herself) said, “There’s nothing wrong with being a princess!”

    From that moment, I decided that if not wanting to scrub someone’s toilet for $10 an hour (which was the context of my work life at the time of being called a “princess”) makes me a princess, I will gladly don the crown! After all, why am I passing judgment?

    Speaking of which, Mioshe3rd, it’s funny that you felt the need to defend the honorable profession of housecleaning in this blog. On the one hand it did feel off topic. But then I thought about it and – to be clear – it is not the profession of house cleaning that is demeaning, but being instructed to go out and be a house cleaner. I believe, I’m sorry, that the intention behind that instruction is to demean. It reminds me of when Sharon made a Boston appearance instructed one of my male classmates to become a garbage man. He was clearly not in the physical shape one needs to be in to haul full garbage cans around. He got a lot of pressure to “follow the instruction” even though it posed a real physical danger. When he brought that up he, was told he was “being precious”.

    Lastly, I believe there’s truth in the idea of accumulators, but as used by the Ganscult — for example, insisting that students do Tai Chi at 4 a.m. and when exhausted, only to rate it an abysmal performance later; or insisting that students run chain saws at 4 a.m. when exhausted — is yet another example of how that cult uses real ideas to tear down and demean its “students”.

  15. Queen Lear says:

    GSR,

    It was always one of my ambitions to be a princess. Were you still in school when I told about my missed opportunity to meet a real prince? I think that ambition lurked behind the anger I felt at missing out.

    Somehow, I always felt that I was in the wrong family. Mine should have been noble, at the very least. So I see nothing wrong with being a princess either. And that’s coming from someone who was raised Catholic.

    That’s another oddity about school–at least our “younger class”– with just a couple of exceptions we were all either from Jewish or Catholic backgrounds. Rather like the Supreme Court these days where there is nary another faith tradition to be seen. Luckily, there were the exceptions in our class and they added richness to the experience. I’ll never forget the beauty of the Baha’i chant at the Christmas parties I attended.

    I say, “Princesses Unite!”

    • Hey Queen Lear, But you ARE already royalty! I missed the class in which you talked about the prince – I think, or it escaped my memory. What was the story?
      And I’m all for uniting with princesses! Maybe we can all go out and get manicures.

  16. Queen Lear says:

    One night several months ago, I was being pressed, primarily by Robert, to discover why I was still angry with my father, who has now been dead for nearly 15 years. I dithered, not being able to come up with anything that satisfied Robert.

    And then I remembered this long ago incident, probably 40 years ago now. My father was heavily involved in organizing some festivities in the town where I grew up (Portsmouth, NH). For some reason the British Navy decided to honor the event by sending one of its ships to the harbor. Prince Charles was on that ship. He was quite young then, as was I, probably no more than two years out of college. It was not certain whether he would attend any events, but he did attend one, somewhat by surprise. Everyone in my family was there, except me because I was living an hour away and my father insisted he didn’t have enough advance knowledge to get me up there.

    I was going to e-mail you this little story rather than post it here because I didn’t think it would be of general interest. But then I remembered how it all came about — by the insidious prodding of a master questioner.

    I had been standing up trying to give an answer, but felt like I was just bumbling. Nothing seemed to satisfy Robert until I told this story. Then he was satisified. He had found the cause of my anger. I forget what the help was. I’m sure I was given some. Maybe this was the help where Jeannine described some “cursing” activity. I forget what she calls it, but you basically curse the person who hurt you in every conceivable way, whether they’re alive or dead.

  17. Odysseus says:

    Queen Lear,

    It’s not that they dragged me up to Boston for Tai Chi – they dragged the Boston group down to New York for the Christmas party 3 years in a row (possibly more, but I left after my 3rd in NY). This was after a particularly notable Christmas Party in Boston, which upon reflection and input from some other survivors, I have realized was intentionally set up to fail in a spectacular fashion. The purpose seems to have been to set the hook deeper in Robert, who was pulling back from school at the time. But after the “disaster party”, we were taken to NY to see how a Christmas party ought to be done. Although, we did the cooking in Boston and brought the food down as well as providing the band for live music, so clearly the NY group was not considered as capable at those activities.

    Regarding the incident Robert dragged out of you – is that in fact why you were angry at your father (assuming you actually were and that wasn’t something Robert was taking as a given)? Or was it just what satisfied Robert? That would certainly be his speed – find something that sounds good and give you some mis-guided “help” based on it. Then move on to the next victim. Feel free to not answer if this is too personal. I don’t mean to pry, I am just curious about Robert’s end of it.

    The cursing activity is something I never heard of until I had been in the group for many years. It may be a late addition. I always felt there was something off about it. After all, one of the main thrusts of the work as explained by Gurdjieff is the transformation of negative emotions, with a way-station at non-expression until we are ready to transform them. Intentionally cursing someone doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to not express one’s negative emotions.

    Moishe, your comments about Sharon’s disdain for Tai Chi are interesting. Clearly, at some point this changed. I would be interested to know if anyone has information on exactly when and why. And, I seriously doubt that she ever took part in any Tai Chi, so the idea of her, in her physical shape judging the rest of us is just so wrong! That is what most struck me about the whole episode.

    I have always thought that the whole Tai Chi/Bodywork exercise was a way to substitute for the Gurdjieff movements that we presumably would have been taught if anyone in the cult had actually had any connection to Gurdjieff’s teachings.

  18. Not only did the master questioner pry this story out of you, he proclaimed it the reason for your anger. How odd. And haven’t we all been there – bumbling along trying to say something that satisfies him, with the belief that the scenario/interaction is about getting help for ourselves.

    Did Robert’s conclusion ring true for you? I suspect that you bumbled merely because those strong emotions were probably triggered by a number of different things, and many of those things are probably difficult to pinpoint and articulate. But as I said in the post, ‘essence friends’ only know each other through the thin veil of school-contrived interactions. I think your story illustrates one example of this.

  19. Queen Lear says:

    Odysseus and GSR,

    At the time the incident occurred I was really angry with my father. I was also pretty upset with everyone else in my family. I was working my first job after college, an hour from home, and I was missing out on things, or so I thought. My brother’s new girlfriend (now wife) was ingratiating herself and I was feeling excluded.

    But I hadn’t thought about the episode in years until that night. In fact, I later met Prince Charles as a function of my work in journalism. He visited Massachusetts in 1986 and I was part of the pool of journalists who followed him around. I was able to drop my anger after that. At least over that.

    I was close to my father. He loved history. I love history. He was journalist. I became a journalist. Then I changed careers. I think he was disappointed.

    But families dynamics are always changing. When my mother died, he remarried — too quickly in my opinion. Of course, Carole and Robert and others felt this was none of my business and that everything would be just fine if only I had “a man of my own” to paraphrase Carole. I got help about that and now I’m seeing someone on and off, who is friend but I can’t see that he will ever be more than that.

    That issue of not having “a man of my own” was one of their hooks into me. I’ve always felt freakish about being single. But now I’m thinking it’s not so bad.

    Jeannine has been quoted as saying “any man will do” if you want a family. That’s not the way I was raised. My mother thought I should have some standards. Maybe they’ve been too high, but at least I have them. How can anyone say “any man will do?”

  20. Someone who has an ulterior motive can say, “any man will do.” I’m not sure how much you know about Sharon’s tendency to marry her students off to one another, and then arrange for the divorces. There’s a lot of talk about it on the esoteric freedom site. Arranged marriages are a big part of this cult’s history, tying students in to it even more intimately. You were being “groomed” — so to speak — for it. I touch on that history here and there in this blog.

    I remember, after leaving and learning about the marriages, telling a certain cohort of ours, “If you ever hear Robert say, ‘if a man or woman is working on him/her self, any man, or woman will do.’ run.” That person said, “Oh my God, he said that the other day.”

    School must have had big plans for the younger class. What a shame for them that at least 13 woke up. Perhaps more did too.

  21. Queen Lear says:

    Like so many, I didn’t know about the marriage business until after I quit school. On the night I decided I was leaving because I couldn’t afford to continue, I did a Google search on “OSG esoteric” and estoericfreedom came up. I read a little bit that night. Enough to know that there was no chance in hell of my changing my mind and returning to school.

  22. I Will Thrive says:

    Interesting that Jeanine keeps “mantra-ing” that any man will do when Sharon has apparently come between every male relationship she’s ever tried to have. Reportedly, the line is, “He’s not right for you.”
    No sense in trying to find consistency on any level in this circus of madness.

  23. Unschooled spouse says:

    Moishe3rd – Final follow-up regarding Maggie Newman – she’s still teaching, still living in the West Village, is 88 this year (here’s a pic from her 85th birthday back in 1999, http://www.williamccchen.com/Maggie3.jpg) She’s very searchable if you ever care to reconnect 🙂

    • Unschooled spouse says:

      To Moishe3rd – Obviously I meant her 75th birthday was in 1999.

      To all – Although I seldom participate directly in these conversations, it really does help me, as the spouse of someone who was in the school for many years, understand all the reasons for becoming involved, staying involved, keeping secrets, and finally getting out. You’re all clearly very strong people who have overcome a lot to break free from the reins of Sharon Gans and her ilk.

      Thanks for being here for us.

      • To Unschooled spouse, I’m so pleased that this blog and its many-faceted voices are helping you! I think this unveiling is in some ways more important for spouses and other loved ones who have been at the butt end of some weird sh*t. Those of us who are ex-attendees at least had some context to work from and understand. Although, as you can see, that context was parsed, diced and doled out at the whim of our illustrious “teachers”. That said, please feel free to comment any time. I do know some other spouses who are happy to share their experiences.

    • moishe3rd says:

      I appreciate the information. Thank you.

  24. Queen Lear, Just a thought. I think it’s far better to be single than married to “any man”. More power to you!

  25. Queen Lear says:

    When I think about being married to “any man” my skin crawls. I’m struggling to find words for how horrifying I found the marriage-go-round that Sharon and Robert evidently think is just fine. The more that is revealed to me about this alleged school the more monstrous it becomes.

    There were Tuesday and Thursday nights that I found thought-provoking and insightful. But there weren’t enough of them for me to continue raiding my retirement account.

    When I discovered the stench of corruption that was on the other side of the wall from us in the “younger class,” I was revolted. Metaphorically, the rot is just so bad, I can’t quite believe that I was oblivious to it. At some level, maybe I really was aware.

    As time rolled on, I became resentful of spending 8 hours a week there — far more during the weeks leading up to the Christmas party. I kept thinking it was because I was working on myself that it was natural to hate going there. And then one of my fellow students would say something that confirmed the idea that it was a struggle we were all in together. We were meant to be resentful and unhappy. Our nature as multiplicities, in fact, decreed that some “denying force” would try to steal us away from our evolution as higher beings.

    I was lucky. I hadn’t been there long enough to have demands placed on me for third-line of work stuff. Except for the Christmas party preparations, I didn’t do anything that could be called third-line of work.

    That is just fine with me. I remember inwardly cringing the first time I heard third-line explained. I thought “I want nothing to do with this. I do enough already for other organizations I’m involved with. I just won’t do any extra for school.”

  26. Abe says:

    Some comment on two topics in recent posts:

    ANY MAN WILL DO
    The “Any man will do” help came directly from Sharon to one of younger students in Boston about 8 years ago. (This would be the group of students that moved from the younger class to the older class about a year and a half ago) I wasn’t in that class, but I heard about it in my role as a sustainer. Most of the women in that class were single at the time, and most found this “help” to be disturbing, and rightly so. Perhaps someone who was in that particular class can elaborate.

    Aside: As a sustainer, we were briefed on any controversial topics that came up in class so we could neutralize any objections or negativity in our sustainers. In this particular case, I too was shocked by this help. It didn’t make sense to be. But at the time, I was caught in the mindset of “but what do I know, I’m not a conscious woman….”

    My current opinion of the “Any man will do” help is that it’s just another example of sociopathic thinking by Sharon. As if men were just objects to be used and manipulated, and love has nothing at all to do with it. Sharon appears to have no heart, no conscience and does not recognize the common humanity in others.

    CURSING
    The intentional cursing help comes from Mr. Gurdgieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson”. In one of the chapters, there’s a bell ringer whose job it is to ring a bell in the early morning hours to wake up the whole village. The bell ringer always felt lethargic and down in the dumps throughout his day. The reason for this was because everyone in the village would curse him when the bell was rung to wake them up. The negative vibrations created by the daily cursing were affecting the bell ringer’s being. The Bell ringer was told to intentionally curse everyone in the village before he rang the bell to stop this detrimental effect on the poor man, who was just doing his job. The curses are supposed to be big, bold, creative and outrageous, such as “may the hair in your nose grow so long that it touches your feet” This is supposed to ward off other people’s negativity towards you, because you in effect “beat them to the punch”. Supposedly, there are 7 layers of meaning in these stories in ““Beelzebub’s Tales” and this is just one meaning. Obviously there’s significance to the “wake up bell” aspect to this parable, for instance. Others, please chime in if I’m not remembering this correctly.

    I would imagine the teachers are cursing us intentionally on a daily basis. Perhaps we should do this exercise, too, since all the blogs and websites we post on are the true “Wake Up Bell” for those who want to find out the true nature of this alleged “school of inner development”

    • Queen Lear says:

      Jeannine told the bell ringer’s story when she gave me the help about “intentional cursing.” Of course, there was no attribution. I had blocked the term and the story, but now I remember.

  27. I hate to say this, but the longer I’m out, the more I learn, the worse the stench gets.

    It’s interesting what you say about being resentful and unhappy – I suppose that’s true. It gives teachers some good material (i.e. negative emotions) to fuck with when said students are laden with demands, exhausted and resentful. That being said, some part of you smelled the rat(s), so give yourself credit for that instinct.

  28. Brad Usrur says:

    The “Any Man or Woman will do” line goes back (at least) to the San Francisco seventies– I remember it being reiterated quite often.

    • moishe3rd says:

      This is true.
      However again, as I anticipate the heavy hammer blows that shall now descend upon me, this whole idea is only false to a degree. Or, vice-versa, it is not a bad idea – to a degree.
      The point being that this whole concept of only marrying because you “fall in love;” or worse, settling for “hooking up” on an indefinite basis until your “prince” comes along – is meshugga.
      In our Orthodox Jewish world, boys and girls don’t even co-mingle after they are teenagers. And, they only date in order to find a spouse.
      Now, it is actually the opposite of “any man will do” as before a girl and boy even go out, they have researched the interests, traditions, family life, preferences, abilities, and as much other information as they can find, about the person they are going to date.
      Once they go out, they process through small talk about the weather to, maybe on the 2nd or 3rd date, finding out more about what the other person is like.
      If they continue to date, after the 6th or 7th time they go out, they are ready to get engaged. Sometimes it may take as long as the 9th or 10th time they go out. And, unfortunately, sometimes, it may take as long as the 9th or 10th time before one of them finally decides that the other is not the person they want to spend the rest of their life with and they call it off.

      The point being that, if a person wants to be married, they should make all possible efforts to be married.
      And, it is not a question of waiting for the perfect spouse. It is a question of finding the person who most closely aligns with your interests and what you want out of life.
      It generally works out very well.

      Now, “Fiddler on the Roof” was not such a fantastic portrayal of real Orthodox Jewish life. However, in the song “Do You Love Me?”, they came pretty close…

      (Tevye)
      “….But my father and my mother
      Said we’d learn to love each other
      And now I’m asking, Golde
      Do you love me?

      (Golde)
      I’m your wife

      (Tevye)
      “I know…”
      But do you love me?

      (Golde)
      Do I love him?
      For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
      Fought him, starved with him
      Twenty-five years my bed is his
      If that’s not love, what is?

      (Tevye)
      Then you love me?

      (Golde)
      I suppose I do

      (Tevye)
      And I suppose I love you too

      (Both)
      It doesn’t change a thing
      But even so
      After twenty-five years
      It’s nice to know

  29. Curious says:

    Is there any validity to the speculation that Alex or Sharon ever travelled to Mexico to study with Rodney Collins? Has anyone ever been in contact with Mr. Collins’ daughter?

  30. Hi Curious,
    There is no evidence to suggest any actual connection between Rodney Collin and either Alex or Sharon. Alex Horn was born in 1929. Sharon Gans was born in 1932 (she is going to be 80 in July). Rodney Collin died in 1956 so Alex Horn would have to have been a young man at the time. Alex and Sharon got married circa 1969-1970 but certainly after Rodney Collin died. I’d never heard any claim that Sharon or Alex studied with Collin. I don’t think it’s likely. Someone did post somewhere about Alex teaching an acting class with Elaine May,Mike Nichols. Ed Asner (that information is questionable in itsellf) and David Daniels and they went on a trip to Mexico but I have no idea who posted it or what their source might be so it is easy to discount.
    See: http://www.thealexhornpages.blogspot.com/
    Where did you hear this from??

  31. BestFootForward says:

    all I can say is having been ‘out’ for years, it’s great to read all these comments to remind myself of what I almost lost completely…my Life.
    I was at the NY tai chi .event. And literally fell asleep staning up. We were going to go to Egypt, when 9-11 happened, the trip was canceled.
    Holding class that Tuesday night in Boston began my initial questioning, who would do that? When the rest off the world was in mourning?
    Really hated the pretence of ‘high politics’ and R telling us who to vote for….I didn’t vote for Clinton, nor did I think JFK was a ‘saint’. In Irish Catholic Boston families, every man is ‘saint’.ha!
    And yes, it is predominantly Jews and Catholics who stay…we’ve got ‘built in’ guilt and shame- ready for who ever wants to dominate and exploit us.

  32. BestFootForward says:

    R once came into class, and said every single woman needs to be married in 3 to 6 months! (something like that). Why did I not run… Again with the ‘any man’ ..
    I feel sad for Jeannine, mouthing empty phrases, she doesn’t really believe, being put down, even laughed at, or given that look of disapproval by the others at the front of the room.
    Lord! If I could reach her now, If say, Run, Jeannine, run!

  33. Hi BestFootForward –
    Thanks for your comments! In re. to your question: “Why did I not run…” I have asked myself that so many times. And – actually – digging for the answer through writing and then posting has really saved my sorry butt! 😉 Since I’m now obsessed with cults, I’ve been reading obsessively and found the book Quiet Horizon by Greg Jemsek especially helpful in this regard. He explores his personal cult experience and he has a gentle, non-judgmental voice. For me, it clarified the “why” – some of us are drawn to such groups. Some of us are especially vulnerable. The important thing is that you woke up got the f* out before the parasite devoured your life. Congrats!

    Do you mind telling me when you were attending and how long? Sounds like you left after 9/11 … ? Thanks again and I hope you find the blog helpful!

    Take care, GSR

  34. BestFootForward – I am curious about your statement vis a vis “voting” and how you “didn’t vote for Clinton.”
    It has long been my contention that Sharon; Alex; Bob; Fred; et al; “School,” heavily favored the Left; Socialism; Democrat Liberalism, etc.
    Back in the day (about 1980) we had many discussions on how evil the Republicans were and how President Reagan was just hired to play the part of President by the “Big Ten” and Tyrant, who really controlled him (and Everything else).
    When I once bemused that “School” held Leftist and Democrat Liberalism values on the former esoteric freedom blog, I was roundly excoriated as being a delusional Conservative Right Wing nutcase.
    So, I am curious as to your experiences in what the “School” of your day actually did promote in terms of politics.
    Be well.

  35. BestFootForward says:

    Dear GSR,
    I thank you for the reading suggestion. I like to write and am also writing my way back from hell…waking up is hard. After almost 20 years. I love your blog. It affirms much of what ‘I knew’.
    It’s like I was asleep, and then woke up. Then it was instantaneous, I was gone.
    Am re-reading ‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ by George Simon, Jr.
    To think – I scoffed at people who joined Scientology!
    My heart goes out to you gentle soul, how lucky you had your very supportive husband.

    GMM,
    I don’t like/ know politics, just that we were told to vote for Clinton, and later other political figures.
    Yes, possibly LDs, but it wouldn’t have mattered. It seemed at the time, just controlling. Not so American to do that is it?

  36. Hi BestFootForward –

    I know I said this before, but it’s worth repeating, I’m so pleased that you find the blog helpful and that reading it affirms your inner sense of what was really happening to you and what you were witnessing. It often feels like an exercise in self indulgence, but I’m allowing that for myself ;-). I love knowing that it is truly helpful to others (as opposed to “help” school style).

    After my illustrious “school” days, I have concluded the best thing I can do for myself, and that any of us “school” doobies, is to honor inner thoughts, feelings, perceptions and needs. In that way, I have reclaimed my voice, my story and my life. I took the narrative away from the spin doctors and re-framed it in my authentic voice. That’s why writing – for me – has been so powerful. I am – in fact – in the process of creating a therapeutic writing group based on my experience. So I am also pleased to hear that you are writing. It has been an essential part of my healing process, I hope for you, it is the same.

    It is difficult to wake up and even after all the writing and reading and studying, I still find my brain morphing into cult mode at times – weird fears and paranoia. It’s an insidious thing … but the more I write, the more I educate myself, the more I break isolation by talking to others, the less power the cult coma has … I’ll have to read “In Sheep’s Clothing”!

    As for “school”, politics and being controlling … yes, “school” tried to control everything else. It stands to reason that it would also try to control one’s political choices – yes, un-American. Almost everything about “school” is un-American, beginning with it’s proliferation of “freedom, as we dictate it” – “school’s hierarchy of freedom”. I feel another blog post coming on. Well … my best to you, BFF! If you ever want to connect offline, feel free to email me: GSR@cultconfessions.com

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