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?