Billerica Classroom Christmas Party Decor
Come late fall, school doobies learn to expect an extravaganza that will devour their lives in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Every year all but the newest of “students”, with guidance from “teachers” and “older students,” throw what is simply called “The Christmas Party.” This usually takes place in two places – the Billerica location for the “younger” students and in New York for the rest. The party planners transform the respective classrooms into halls of holiday celebration complete with performances, a multi-course meal, and hand-made gifts for teachers and fellow students. We would begin by selecting a theme, then design and construct elaborate sets, form a band, develop theatrical presentations, and plan dinners, drinks, hors’ d’oeuvres, and dancing etc, based on this theme. Most of this was created with little money and ad hoc supplies – sometimes literally scavenging “out in the world” for things like cardboard and tree branches – the more free stuff, the better.
These activities would occur through what school calls “work sessions” that would begin in November and run for weeks-on-end ahead of the December party date. Sessions would be scheduled late into the night during the week and all day and into the night on weekends. We would be called on to use up any free moments between our job(s), other life obligations, and most significantly – time with family. In reality, we were pushed to squeeze out those responsibilities for the “higher” purpose of school. Thus began weeks of scurrying around to run errands for party supplies, map out decorative ideas, research the party theme, cook samples of special recipes at home to be brought in for teacher approval, make phone calls to solicit donations, etc.
As I write this I have to laugh. Does an institution that charges its student $350 a month need to solicit donations? On instruction from a “teacher”, every year some poor slob would go scam a free tree. We would concoct a story about throwing a party for a shelter or nursery school. We justified this task as “working on ourselves”. But when that task fell to me, and I followed the “instruction”, the deception rattled me. The irony was not lost on me either — here is an institution that preaches “the truth shall set you free,” and lauds the holy spirit of Jesus Christ as an aspiration, lying to a local merchant for a free Christmas tree. And yet, my fellow party-makers heaped praise on me for the tree I produced, and I basked in the glow of it.
However, the next season I refused to be the tree-scammer. Perhaps that task awoke some “I” in me who questioned the “instruction”. I felt guilty for refusing (a bad student), but I simply could not force myself to go out and tell some unsuspecting merchant that I was helping to organize a party for orphaned children, or whatever the latest line was. Teachers heaped praise on the student who took on that task. They told me that I was in the dreaded and evil state of “internal considering” – which means (simply put) that I was viewing the world as a place that is “all about me” rather than the “external considering” lens of “what does school need and what can I do for it?” So the lie became evolutionary and my discomfort with the lie a detriment – so much for truth setting one free. The “tree” story exemplifies how school turns ideas upside down and backwards to suit and feed it’s unspoken agenda or “aim”.
The tree donation is also an example of the tasks doled out to “students” in the name of “making efforts” to “evolve”. Every new demand that school heaps on its students becomes a test: how far will you go for school? What are you willing to do for school? The level to which you are willing to overcome your “internal considering” (i.e. disregard your discomfort and gut instincts) and do “what is necessary” (like the necessity of scamming a free Christmas tree) reflects your “valuation” for school.
Valuation as defined by dictionary.com is “the awareness of the quality, nature, excellence or the like of something.” We were meant to worship school and espouse our endless gratitude. Students who questioned contradictions, didn’t follow instructions, or made some mistake, would face the question, “What is your valuation for school?” Students often faced this question during the Christmas season, when demands increased exponentially. After one holiday season, I confessed to having “leaked” some information to my husband. In truth, I never lied to my husband about school or its party. That probably saved my marriage, but our holiday seasons still sucked. This particular season had sucked enough that I was considering leaving school.
I sat down with Robert to discuss my marital struggles and the information I had “leaked”. Robert looked puzzled: how could my husband have any complaints? After all, he pointed out, it was during the holiday season that I gleaned the most benefit from school. I was so cowed by Robert, I, again, didn’t ask/state the obvious: “How is my husband supposed to benefit from that which – by school edict – he shouldn’t know? He doesn’t see the decor we create, hear the music we perform, eat the food we cook, etc. School intentionally excludes him from that which “benefits me the most”. All that my husband knew was that, come the holiday season, I would disappear. All he knew was that this party would devour my attention and isolate me from him. But, even if I did point this out, Robert would still have swatted away my husband’s legitimate complaints and concerns, as though swatting away flies. He still would have concluded that the real problem was my “valuation” for school; I needed to decide whether I valued school enough to continue. It is likely that in my assigning of God-like qualities to this man I would have still accepted his assessment.
Like the image of Robert swatting away legitimate complaints like flies, “valuation for school” does not concern itself with my husband’s loneliness and worry – or anyone else’s loneliness or worry. If one’s life is “ordered rightly”, “valuation for school” should supercede everything else. Needless to say, family holidays would become shadows; something to squeeze in once the all-important “Christmas Party” was over. Those who did follow school’s privacy rules to the letter had to create cover stories to explain the late nights and weekend time commitments. If friends and family questioned the sudden and constant franticness, and unavailability, teachers warned us that they weren’t interested in our evolution. Apparently, our friends and family were supposed to magically understand that we were “evolving” for the benefit of all. As “students”, we were supposed to magically, invisibly and silently transmit this message – my current absence from your life only benefits you and the world because I am WORKING ON MYSELF! School inferred that if our “level of vibrations” were “fine enough”, our loved ones would feel it and therefore not feel the need to question or complain. This all harkens back to the “maybe you’re not trying hard enough” mantra of “help”; for if we were truly “evolving” our spouses would be perfectly content when we disappeared for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Of course, if one is married through edict to a fellow student, there is nothing to explain. But I was in the “younger class”; the “school marriage” cat had not yet been let out of the bag.
So a sane reader, without school experience, may be wondering, “Why put your self through this every winter?” Good question! For me, during Christmas-party planning and throwing, I became – in small doses – the woman I longed to be; I sang, played guitar, fiddle and illustrated decorations. I would briefly feel myself tap into and allow that neglected artist. She was starving for an outlet, and here it was. The “teachers” and “older students” monitored and controlled her portions, so she would only be fed until someone decided it was time for us to move on to another task. But the party and its annual buildup held the same excitement that participating in theater productions hold – it was magical. Every year, under intense time constraints and through thorough exhaustion, those put to the task managed to create something beautiful with little more than cardboard, glue, paint, willpower and a shared pool of talent and know-how. The experience of creating such an event, and sharing the struggles therein, concocted a certain intimacy between us. Thus, how easy it is to believe that one does glean the most benefit (i.e. evolution) under these intense demands.
In contrast, as you can imagine, “students” would be turning to “teachers” right and left for “help” with disgruntled spouses and strained marriages. Often the “help” comprised something like, “What does your husband/or wife want? Find out and give it to him/her.” Like so many other unsaid things, the obvious would be hovering on my lips: “My husband wants companionship during the holiday season. He’s lonely. It sucks for him that I’m never home. He wants this invisible obligation to disappear. He’d prefer that I be well-rested, as opposed to sleep-deprived. He wants me to be present when I am home, as opposed to distracted and harried.” Somehow between the party and its demands, school and its demands, work and life’s demands, we were expected to tend to our unhappy partners and soothe the savage beast. The presentation illustrated our “evolved” leadership as men and women who could do it all. “Teachers” would never be distracted and harried at home. And we longed to become men and women who could also do it all – who could embody grace under pressure. Conveniently, we did not know that many of these men and woman either were, or had been, married to each other.
I have a surreal memory of getting the “what does your husband want?” brand of “help” from a teacher named Jeanine – I came to find out later that she had been married to Robert. Among other things she said, “If your husband wants sex, give him sex.” She also told me that I was doing what I “loved” and that my husband was jealous and wanted to take this thing I “loved” away from me. On looking back, I remember thinking, “I’m not so sure I ‘love’ this. Sometimes I hate it.” It’s amazing to have the perspective to see how I allowed this institution and its “evolved teachers” to silence my voice. It is difficult to explain how much wisdom and power we “students” assigned to “teachers.” We weren’t able to see that they were really just poor slobs, like us, seeking approval and not wanting to rattle the cage. This scene is typical in school, as you can imagine. And if a student truly chooses to follow school rule to the letter, and keeps everything secret, what is there to keep an unschooled spouse from suspecting his/her wife or husband is having an affair, or is in a cult? That gives “students” plenty to ask for help about and “teachers” lots of material to manipulate.
After I left and got some perspective, I wondered whether school intentionally creates this socially engineered environment of excitement, creativity and emotional and spiritual intimacy during the holidays to usurp that energy from what students should be sharing with family and loved ones. I struggled with feeling that I must be paranoid, but eventually concluded that it is indeed intentional. It lines up with the secret arranged marriages between students and points to school isolating students from their families and breaking up the non-school marriages. If “school’s” students are dissatisfied with their marriages and other aspects of daily life, than school, in contrast, becomes magical and priceless; the soul-food that one cannot live with out.
The party line about school’s intentional increase in demands — during an already demanding season — is that school is “increasing friction”. It touts this “increased friction” as essential to evolution. These demands include holding the party up to a certain “standard”. Each aspect of the party needs deliberate and careful consideration and execution under rigid time constraints. And, indeed, there is something to be said for this process; for many of us learned that we are far more capable than we know. But like so many aspects of this fake “school,” when one realizes that all of his or her efforts to evolve, in the end, only serve the egos and financial coffers of Robert and Sharon, the betrayal stings all the more.
Many, if not most of those who join, when first introduced to some of these ideas, think they’ve found an answer to their deep, sincere yearning to tap into that which is highest and truest in ourselves and to learn what it means to dedicate our lives to serving our understanding of “The Creator,” or “that which I was put on earth to do.” It involves our desire for love, family, intellectual pursuit, easing suffering, helping others…all the best of intentions from the deepest, most human and vulnerable parts of ourselves. Many former students have referred to what Sharon and Robert to do people with these wishes as spiritual rape. Could there be anything worse?
This is your best chapter yet! And each one has been outstanding. I will put some of my own thoughts together and add them to this blog, but they won’t match your contribution. I was in school for only two Christmas Parties, so don’t have your depth of experience with them. But limited as my exposure was, I had many issues with what went on.
Another illuminating post, thank you. Would you or any other readers care to walk those of us who were never on the inside through a typical NY Christmas party for “older” students? This post and many others talk about the party requiring many uber-stressed weeks/months to plan, but I simply can’t imagine the end result of all this frantic planning. In the end was it worth all the energy and time? For the students and/or the teachers and/or the inner circle?
Good morning, Unschooled Spouse,
I’m so glad that you continue to find these posts helpful!
Thankfully, I never made it to NY. I hope that some of our other contributors can address your question. If the NY party is anything like my Boston experience, I can say that it really does become a magical experience to see and experience all that you busted your butt to create, manifest. It’s hard to explain, but it gives one a sense of what can be possible with vision, willingness and effort. This sense becomes the hook. Believe me, no one would stick around if the end result was less than magical. I have heard tell – however – of one “disastrous” party. But – again – I’m thankful to say I did not experience that one.
Again, I hope those who did experience NY will respond.
Hi Unschooled Spouse,
I was in what GSR is referring to as the older Boston group. After the disaster class that GSR refers to, we started going to NY for the Christmas party. I gather this is still happening. I attended NY parties for 3 years before I left the cult. As a “guest” my experience in NY was a bit different from that of those who hosted, but I believe my experiences putting on parties in Boston will have been similar.
The first time a group of students puts on a Christmas party is in fact quite magical. Everyone involved has the experience of putting forth intensely focused efforts toward the group’s common goal. The process takes the better part of two months, between planning, construction of decorations, preparing recipes for a gourmet dinner, plus hors d’oeuvres, people preparing performance “presentations” (music, dance, acting and stand-up comedy type acts), a choir with a program of works and a live band for dancing. A given person would be involved in one or several of these “lines of work”. I was usually involved in the cooking, band and construction activities. All of this would usually require working most evenings till at least midnight, as well as the lion’s part of the weekend, often with all-night sessions. This would continue for 6 – 8 weeks, getting even more intense at the end. There was huge emphasis on making everything as perfect as possible. The overall idea is that the evening is a gift to one’s teachers, i.e. Sharon and to a lesser extent, the junior teachers.
The evening itself was orchestrated, with a detailed schedule. People would dress to the nines. It was in fact, a celebration.
Most people, in this environment, will have experiences of going far beyond what they thought possible. Many people had experiences that could be considered mystical.
Many of my favorite memories in school involve the after-party – after the teachers had left. Usually there would be a period of time that was somewhat free-form with taped music for dancing, left-overs to nosh on and the opportunity to socialize a bit with each other.
That’s the good part. The bad part is that people were expected to exert themselves to an extent that was hugely damaging to their relationships outside of school, as well as their health. Many people, at one point or another, experienced episodes of physical or mental breakdown during this process.
And, after going through this year after year, it gets old. There aren’t new experiences, just the same ones over and over. And over the years one’s health gradually deteriorates due to the constant lack of sleep and leisure time to regenerate. This makes the whole experience more difficult with each passing year.
And, there were sometimes things which jarred. At one of the parties I attended in NY, Sharon took exception to something that one of her inner circle said. She then tore him to shreds in front of the entire group for at least 20 minutes. I was far enough away that I could only make out about every 4th word said, but I was simultaneously horrified for the person being upbraided, and bored because I couldn’t really understand what was being said.
Overall, I would say that the Christmas party is kind of a microcosm of the school experience. Early experiences leave you wanting more, but as the years go by, the edges get frayed and you start to see the dark under-belly, the things that don’t sit quite right, the things which would send any rational being running for the exits. The problem is that by that time you are not completely rational.
Indeed, a fine post.
For me, it offers insight as to why my experience was different 30 plus years ago from those “students” of the last 10 or 20 years…
First – there were no spouses outside of “School.” As I’ve mentioned before – either people were single and got married in “School,” as I did with my “woman of valor” (a Jewish appellation) of 32 years or, people ended up separating from their spouses who were not in “School.”
And secondly – there was quite a bit of “magic” going on.
I understand your yearnings to be the artist. I got my college degree in the Theater Arts and had, off and on, been involved with various theater groups. So – going to a play, “The Magician,” and then finding out that these people were in a “School” was a godsend for me!
I became a “professional” actor! How great was that?
And, it never ended. We went from “The Theater of All Possibilities;” to the Great Trek across the US to be in Boston for “the Work; to building the cabins and everything else in Montana; to doing Sharon and Alex’s apartments (I was gone by the time they got to houses); to building new “School” class space; to creating Alex’s plays; to going down New York to be in the plays and then, off on tour to Israel and Europe in the plays and then…. I was done!
I got off the merry go round because of some of the similar reasons that you did. I was separated from my wife and son who were in Boston; I had a job with possibilities in New York that I liked; and I finally wanted to work and have a family. This was not “conscious” on my part but – one of the “older students” in New York got pissed off at me when we were in the process of endless nights disposing of the theater sets and paraphernalia after getting back from Europe because I would not work all night as I had to drive a truck in the morning and, I had already, while in “School” totaled two cars and nearly totaled a truck, due to falling asleep while driving. I refused to stay and he told me that if I left, I could never come back!
(Hot damn! There is a time for every purpose under heaven….)
I left and, never went back.
(Yes, I did get talked to by Fred and Bob and had a bizarre exchange with Sharon on the phone but – I was done…)
Maybe six months later, my wife also got kicked out and, we reunited; settled down; had more children; and, eventually did evolve – into Orthodox Jews.
The essence of my response here is that, in spite of all the brickbats that former students want to throw at me for giving over the positive aspects of “School” back in SF and Boston and New York, it was – as you describe so very well vis a vis your “Christmas Parties,” a continual “magical” journey of never ending “Christmas Parties” for most of the five years I was there.
And, yes, of course it was sometimes Hell and “why would anyone want to suffer that kind of abuse?” But, it was usually far more Glorious than Hellish.
It certainly sounds, based on your excellent writing, that it is now, and has been for quite some time, far more Hellish than glorious.
Yes, things were different back then (I remember you well). I wonder if there was more daring and hope then. Perhaps the seeds of fear that drove things east took root. So much seems connected to being afraid: afraid of being challenged, of people having something else in their lives, of losing companionship or self-image. it’s become another self-perpetuating hypocritical bureaucracy. Glad to hear that you and your wife got back together. My best to you both.
As time flies as we be havin’ fun, I write here and elsewhere, to reflect on the benefits that I received from those days in “School.” I am not angry at being “cultized” or “duped.” I was never a member of a cult, as I often went my merry way, with the proverbial one foot out the door if things ever got too weird. I focused on believing in “the Work” in “School;” in Alex and Sharon, et al… I wanted these things to be “true.”
And, then I moved on.
I put the same effort nowadays to focusing on Judaism. Except that I know that it is True – I need to make it relevant; to be present…
And right now – I have done as much work on our new house that I can do before Pesach (Passover). It is far from complete. But, I just spent the day at least installing a toilet in the bathroom in the basement so that my two grandboys can use it as they sleep in the large newly carpeted family room; or my son and daughter in law and granddaughter baby can use it as they sleep in the basement bedroom… And, I have finished fancy tiling the front foyer with the help of my Kollel learning (full time Torah studies) son in law, who was cutting tile for me until 12 AM who is staying in the new bedroom – along with my beautiful daughter and their new baby boy – of my youngest son who has given up his new bedroom to sleep in my wife’s office; which is great for him because he can watch his stupid videos all night on her computer…
And, I just got back from the mikvah (ritual water immersion pool) where I cleaned it out and folded all the towels I washed in preparation for Pesach tomorrow and…
I finally tune in to my computer for the first time in about a week and, I do realize, in spite of how sad I am at how the folk are doing now, I am grateful for the time spent in “School.”
I wouldn’t have so many lovely people around me if not for those years.
And – who are you (Haven’t Decided Today)? You can email me at Moishe3rd@yahoo.com
I started with school in mid to late February 2010. Talk of the last Christmas Party was still going on, even though it was two months in the past. I have a strong recollection of one of the students in my group being congratulated for the stunning dress she wore and for dancing the night away.
Despite these positive memories of a magical evening, my first thought was “I have to be out of here by the time of the next Christmas Party.” My reaction was based on many bad memories of dances past.
Time overtook me, however, and in November I heard the announcement that party planning was about to start.
I was called aside by Robert and told that “normally, you come as a guest your first year” in school. But, in my case, he said I could participate in the all the planning and decorating. “I think you’re ready,” he said. Naturally, I was please that I was “ready.”
The teachers did go lightly with me, however, often repeating “normally you’d come as a guest.” Not knowing what the work expectations were, I had many long-standing commitments for November and December. So I didn’t put in the long hours that everyone else did.
I also felt lonely and isolated during these work sessions because they demanded skills I don’t have. I am not all artsy-craftsy and kept feeling horribly inferior to all the clever people around me.
But the night of the party made it all worthwhile. It was a magical evening. Our classroom was transformed. (The picture GSR included with her chapter on the Christmas party is from that night.) I danced and danced like I never had before.
Early in 2011, I made a five-week aim to take ballroom dancing lessons. In signing up for that aim, came my commitment to staying through the next Christmas party. After all, where else could I dance without judgment and dress-to-the-nines. I made that five-week aim and continued taking lessons for several months. I was looking forward to showing off my skills.
Then in October, earlier I believe than usual, the announcement came that we would begin planning the next party soon. The dread started of doing things I’m not good at. I also started worrying about who would be designated to scam this year’s free Christmas tree. Like GSR, I found that “clever insincerity” repugnant. Luckily, I was missing when that assignment was doled out.
Once again, I had November and December commitments. I am in my church choir and we do a concert Thanksgiving weekend that requires preparation and rehearsal. Plus it is the season of Advent, not a time to skip church if you’re in the choir.
I was taken aside by Jeannine one Saturday as I was leaving and scolded for not being available on Sundays. Actually, I had been there on some Sunday afternoons but there weren’t enough other people on hand to get much work done. When Jeannine asked why I wasn’t available on Sundays, I said “I sing in the church choir, so I am there on Sunday mornings and it is Advent.”
She replied rather waspishly, “I wish I had church choir.” ITT sounded dismissive of my reason, but maybe at some level she really does wish she had something other than school. I held fast. I told myself, “You’re out of here after the Christmas party. Just ignore her.”
Again, the party itself was magical, although I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I feel much more competent there than over a table of crafts.
The cleanup effort afterwards destroyed the magic. Standing at the sink doing dishes for several hours hurt my back. At one point, I was crying in pain and frustration. We cleaned as two teachers lounged in chairs, napping on occasion, and watching us exhaust ourselves.
I understand that the work has to be done—but until 4 in the morning on a weekday? Some of it surely could have waited.
I got in my car and drove away. I’d left home some 14 hours earlier anticipating magic. I returned home physically and emotionally exhausted. I knew with certainty I would not be around for a third Christmas party.
Thanks so much for this post and I agree that it’s the best yet. I’m the partner of a former member and I knew where he was going and what he was doing. It blew chunks. I was lonely and not happy that I wasn’t
Allowed to experience the fruit of all the labor. I supported him because he was getting so much out of it and from time to time I would have moments of terror that in experiencing this creative magic with nameless, faceless others that he would come home one day and announce he had fallen in love with someone else. Thank God it’s over and we survived the storm. I want a bumper sticker that says “our relationship survived the cult”
I am having so many follow-up thoughts on this post that I feel like I could write an entire book on the “Christmas Party”. Right now I am going to limit myself 😉 First of all, 9house, thanks for commenting and I invite ALL partners of cult members and former cult members to chime in … not just partners either, children, family members, friends,etc. The damage inflicted on you per this secrecy (or “privacy” as school likes to call it) isn’t so obvious to us inductees believe it or not. Sometimes we need sledge hammers to bop us out of our “school”-induced stupors.
Congrats that your partner is now free and here’s to a school-free holiday season in 2012!
Thanks for the reply and also wanted to follow up that I wasn’t aware of still.lingering grief until I read this chapter so thanks for that. I’m also more resolved than ever to encourage, cheer lead, push beloved cult escapees to share their amazing gifts and abilities early and often. Rock on GSR
Wow. I don’t know whether to scream or laugh hysterically. Actually, I did both. Mostly laugh though. (I had posted previously on the Esoteric Freedom blog and I am so happy that this blog is here. Ecstatic even.) There were so many things that reminded me of my former faux Gurdjieff group. Like a crazy kind of Lewis Carroll story of insanity that extremely intelligent adults were tricked to go along with.
No offense to anyone at all. It was exactly due to the high intelligence of people that incredibly beautiful, life-saving ideas were twisted and dangled before people’s spiritual nature, enticing them and capturing their inner worlds. Yes, the ideas are that powerful.
Very well written blog here. The descriptions in your post… The bullying… The deceptions…. The nonsense… It was amazing. Same crazy format just a different cast of characters. As I commented on the EsotericFreedom blog, I am amazed that another fake group existed so close to ours in the Boston area. Unfortunately it sounds like your former group is still active.
There were so many activities that became some kind of strange tradition – like your Christmas party. Various annual dinners, Armagnac toasts, odd informal rituals, etc.
Keep writing this blog! If only I had the good sense to leave my group so many years ago. When I reflect back, the signs to leave were there. The signs didn’t say “Leave.” They said “Run for you life!”
Greetings Cher_Tea and welcome to cult confessions. 😉 I think I remember your Esoteric Freedom posts. Were you in a group that met in Beverly? How strange that – as you said – two fake Gurdjieff groups existed within such close proximity. Thanks for the kind words and please keep posting!
Greetings back, Gentle Soul’s Revolution. I hope you are busy at Chapter Six. I am sure many are awaiting your words. And yes, I was in the group in Beverly for over ten years. (I think I just heard you say, “WHAT?!??”) Recent news, in case you have not heard, is that Cesareo, the leader passed away on Saturday. He was 79 and quite ill. It will be interesting to see how things develop within the group. Check out the Upper Lobby blog if you wish. Good luck on your blog, it is fascinating to read and serves a noble purpose. Keep going!
I just looked at Upper Lobby and see that you’ve included cult confessions on it, so thank you for the shout out! When I figure out how to add links, I will add upper lobby to cult confessions.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like your group was connected to, or part of, Le Grand David Magic company in Beverly … My husband and I were just talking about that show two weeks ago with a stranger in Marblehead. We were at the Me & Thee Coffeehouse. Also, I had assumed that the Beverly group had dissolved … maybe not?
Also, thanks for your encouragement! I am working on Chapter 6, sometimes these chapters pour out. Other times not … Chapter 6, not. But it is in process.
I look forward to reading Upper Lobby & seeing more of your comments here.
take care, GSR
Having read all your posts, I will respond to this thread as it most stirred in me the mixture of memories of what was truly so amazing about the highs of my school experience, as well as what was so hellish and laden with anxiety about the lows.
I will consider it mere coincidence, and not the divine operation of the “invisible world”, that while I’ve been out of school for more than a year going on two, I only yesterday decided to actually look around for information. Had it been two months ago, your wonderful blog would not have yet existed. The esoteric freedom site referenced by others is there of course, but I must say the personal recollections you so eloquently recount, somehow managing to mix dispassionate recording of events with a clear depiction of the strong emotions you experienced, has hit me in a much more powerful way.
I always told myself that it didn’t matter where the money I spent on school went, so long as I felt I was receiving something of value in return. And I did feel that way, for a long time. And in some ways I still believe it’s true. If I was able to see possibilities for myself and make positive changes in my life that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, it was worth it. Of course, the cost / reward curve had been sharply down for a long time before I finally left. I tried once a few years ago, but panicked, thinking that I was cutting myself off from the source of the good things in my life out of weakness. I still largely felt that way when I finally left – that it was my weakness. I could no longer handle the demands. I was reminded of a line at the end of Castenada’s first book. He says, in reference to the fear that led him to abandon his quest: “I have succumbed to the first enemy of a man of knowledge.”
But Now I can truly say I have a life I love, a wife and two small children that mean more than anything to me. At the same time, it is clear from reading this and the EF blog and experiencing my reactions that there are mental artifacts of my experience in school that need some sorting out. I have basically put it entirely aside since leaving, never speaking of it to anyone, writing down anything about it or seeking out any information or context. I think I was afraid to find out that I’d been the victim of a scam, used as a fool, and worse, that I had contributed to the delusions of others.
I was fooled, stayed for too long, spent too much time and money, told lies and hated myself for telling them (and judged myself for hating myself). But I also did things I never would have, wrote music, painted, set aims and accomplished them. Most importantly, I really loved many people in school. Often my comments to others in class were born of a desire to see what was best in them and help them reach for it, and I felt the same when my fellow students would make comments to me. Many of the high-pressure environments we were put in, such as the Christmas party preparations, were real opportunities to help each other, sympathise with each other, and love each other. It’s a shame that the best instincts of creative, talented people full of heart were used and subverted to enrich a few master manipulators. It’s still wonderful to have had those moments of connection.
One last thing for now. I am still very uncertain about the intentions of the various teachers. There were times I felt kinship for some of the junior teachers. I have to admit I never really felt it for Robert. Awe, respect, reverence and a desire to please, yes, but never kinship. Sharon I never understood. I thought there must be something wrong with her, like she was going senile and the reverence shown her by the teachers and older students was due to her past as a great teacher, back when she still had all of her faculties. For some of the teachers I have to think that they are motivated by a sincere desire to help, as I was in my best moments.
I will contribute more later, try to help fill in some pieces. I was there longer than you, GSR, and I remember you quite well and fondly.
Hello Charlie Chaplin:
Thank you so much for your message. I have to admit I felt an ache as I read it. I get a sense of the struggle you endured in making the decision to leave “school” – and maybe you are still enduring. I am pleased, though, to hear that you now have a life that you love. I am finding that, the longer I am out of school, the better my life gets. I think that it is important to share that with people, especially those who may be considering leaving, but are afraid to “cut themselves off from source.” Oh, how I remember that fear and farce. I really bought into it for a while.
I think one the hardest things we have to face in leaving school is trying to reconcile that which was beautiful beyond words — the ideas, the friendships, the sincere desire to understand ourselves, humanity, the universe, the things we created together — with that which is/was reprehensible – the deception, the manipulation, the empty promises, the need to hide, the greed, the growing and tangled web of lies, etc.
When I left “school” in August, there was a good three weeks in which I promised myself I wouldn’t search the internet; I wouldn’t try to reach out to others; I would sort out the decision for myself. I experienced this strange phenomenon – the longer I was out, the clearer it became that I’d been duped and used. I started to feel isolated and a little crazy. I started reading the Esoteric Freedom blog and the site confirmed all the realizations that had dropped on my head. Thus began the endeavors to talk to others, and then this blog started falling out.
I hope that you can now see that your decision to leave took strength and real being. “School” tries to ring its students dry of any ability to trust themselves. You clearly had not died to the truth within yourself, or you would still be faithfully attending every Tuesday/Thursday night.
I hope someday you look at your wonderful life with your wife and kids and consider that it may – in part — have grown out of the work of many unseen helping hands who decided to cheer you on when you took that step to honor yourself. Your decision most certainly did not come from any “weakness” on your part. It came from the strength that stayed alive in you despite all the subtle and not so subtle efforts to strip that strength and faith in your own wisdom away.
Just yesterday I was speaking with another ex-student (someone
you probably know, I’m fairly certain) about the decision to leave. We concluded that it’s like standing on the edge of a cliff, deciding to jump and saying, “the landing might hurt, but if it does, at least I will have made the decision to leap on my own terms.” So far the landing hasn’t hurt a bit.
Thank you for reading my blog – which can often feel like a pretty self-indulgent venture; but it seems to be writing me, so I’m going with it, weeee. I’m so pleased that you are finding it helpful. I welcome your voice – fill in the blanks anytime.
If you wish, I also welcome you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you hummingbird, especially for reminding me that those who exited before me were wishing and hoping for my well being. That means a lot, considering for the most part I believed what I had been told, that something in them snapped and made them want to destroy school. In fact, when I left, part of my reason was that I felt myself at the breaking point and wanted to prevent a similar snap. I wanted to preserve my school experience and protect my friends who had chosen to continue. That’s another reason it took so long for me to search for any information. I thought it would be a betrayal to my friends still in school, and to the teachers who I believed had helped me gain the things I wanted for myself. One more big reason it took so long was simply that I was finally able to fully engage in my life, and the main notable effects of the absence of school in my life were 1) more time, 2) more money, and 3) less anxiety. Of course, I told myself, that’s true for me, in my laziness and self-indulgence, my inability to persevere. My friends I was leaving behind were stronger, more committed. They might miss me as I missed them, but they were going for something and I was giving up…
Since then I have encountered so many ideas and perspectives in science, sociology, literature, film and yes, even television that I realized that, whatever we were tought, human knowledge is evolving, and millions of people are engaged in helping it to evolve. The books we read in class were great for what they were, but they are not the final word, more like early drafts. In fact, there is no final word, only additional drafts, hopefully adding to and improving on what came before.
I am reminded of the film Life of Brian, one of my favorites. We were like the throngs shouting in unison, “Yes! We’re all individuals!” Each time one of us left, we were the lone voice afterwards saying, “I’m not”, in my case with sincere disappointment in myself. It’s absurd and, from a certain perspective, hilarious.
As someone who experienced that same sense of failure after leaving, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you have begun to push open the curtains. You will hopefully be relieved of that emotional burden sooner rather than later. In fact, I hope you’ll learn just how successfully you navigated an incredibly cunning, dangerous, and insidious operation…unlike many talented, hard-working, and highly educated people who remain hopelessly brainwashed. Best wishes to you.
Dear I Will Thrive,
I have just come across a concept called “post traumatic growth.” Here is something from a recent New York Times article. This has been studied for quite a while evidently.
“Patterns began to emerge in a follow-up study of more than 600 trauma survivors. People reported positive change in five areas: they had a renewed appreciation for life; they found new possibilities for themselves; they felt more personal strength; their relationships improved; and they felt spiritually more satisfied. Tedeschi developed an inventory to track and measure the phenomenon, and in 1995, he and Calhoun coined the term “post-traumatic growth.” Experiencing growth in the wake of trauma, Tedeschi asserts, is far more common than P.T.S.D. and can even coexist with it.”
I think this is interesting in light of what a lot of people say about the positive effects of overcoming the Ganscult brainwashing. The article is here:
Here’s a nice quote from that article:
“The way we cope with trauma is far more complex than once thought, and the way it molds us is similarly complex. We bend, we break, we repair and rebuild, and often we grow, changing for the better in ways we never would have if we had not suffered.”
Love this quote. School was supposed to be about “building a muscle”, right? Muscles are built by being torn and repaired.
Thank you. 😉
Love Life of Brian, too! I think with some connection to your comrades, you’ll find many laughs. And you may give yourself permission to feel the betrayel, honor the accompanying wrath and — who knows — maybe even let yourself have a good cry.
I want to echo I Will Thrive’s comment – the more information you have, the more people you connect with, the more you’ll be able to let go of that heavy burden of guilt and shame. You did not betray anyone, you honored yourself and your family. The betrayel from ‘school’ starts at the top, Sharon, and trickles down.
To SF Student:
Thank you for the link! I will definitely read.
It’s only been a few days since finding these online sources of information, and I already recognize the feeling of and potential for thriving along with feeling like a dope. Realizing how bad it could have gotten had I stayed in makes me that much more greateful for and appreciative of what I have and could easily have lost.
By the way, I picked Charlie Chaplin as a psuedonym becuase I have recently seen many of his films, and they are amazing, especially City Lights and Modern Times. Robert was always on about the Marx Brothers and never in my memory mentioned Chaplin, but Chaplin is (IMHO) ten times funnier, and a hundred times more moving. Watch the scene in The Kid where the boy is being taken away from Chaplin’s Little Tramp, and try not to feel incredible sadness for this character than ten minutes before was little more than a clown. I don’t know if it’s “objective art”, but it is one example of thousands of people with no connection whatsoever to a school producing creative works that truly add to the heart and sould of humanity, and not hiding their talents within an insular, self-congratulatory community.
“self-congratulatory community” ! I love it – yes, that it is!
I also appreciated that accurate assessment: “insular, self-congratulatory community”. Yep.
We really need a discussion board where we can start new threads. I just saw this Lifehacker article and found it so wonderfully appropriate I had to share it: http://lifehacker.com/5905307/keeping-secrets-can-make-you-physically-weaker
That is really fascinating. I can understand this. Amazing that it can be measured.
Hey Charlie, I love the discussion board idea. Do you haven any idea how to create one? Thanks for sharing that link, too. It’s amazing to realize on a personal level how much of one’s self secrets devour; and fascinating to see that there’s been some scientific research about secrets. It would be interesting to know what prompted this study.
I’ll look into the discussion board. Must be something out there…
Hi there I am so grateful I found your website, I really found you by accident, while
I was searching on Bing for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thanks a lot
for a marvelous post and a all round entertaining blog (I also love
the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all
at the moment but I have book-marked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much
more, Please do keep up the fantastic b.
Hi B – Thanks for the visit! I am glad you are enjoying the read. Please chime in! GSR
I heard about the chandelier, and the story of how this is the only photo of “School”. It is a damn good chandelier. I’m glad I got to see it and get a glimpse of the mythical Christmas Party.
Hello Open Eyes, Thanks for your comment! Just a wee example of what we were able to create and I little window into the excitement such a party generated, the bonding between, we few, we proud … etc. etc. etc. I am curious to learn more about the context in which you were told about the mythic chandelier and this particular photo. Perhaps you could fill us all in sometime?