At 4:30 a.m. the decision awoke me: should I stay or should I go. Since my husband’s research led him to esotericfreedom.com, 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 esotericfreedom.com, 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 esotericfreedom.com 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