I am re-posting this account of the 2012 Exodus, as requested. As I recall, the Great Escape unfolded in three parts:
1) Upon reading the esoteric freedom website, 007 decides to leave, but not without informing his classmates. He goes to his last class, surreptitiously distributes flyers to some and speaks directly to others.
2) Some colleagues return for one more class to spread the word and pass out flyers, putting flyers on cars and confronting “teachers”.
3) In this class, “school” interrogates its students as described below.
I welcome those of you who experienced this event to contribute to the following account:
Twelve of us left the younger class of 21 students early in January. Three others had left in the summer of 2011. The majority had been in school for less than four years. The following is an account of what happened on the night of the mass exodus, and my reasons for leaving school.
After the class of January 5, a Thursday, some students were given a folded flier, others were contacted by phone. Over the weekend, a teacher called all students twice, asking first if they had received a piece of paper, then a phone call. The teacher reiterated that the papers had to be destroyed, and that we were not to talk to anyone but teachers or sustainers. I had not been contacted and was beginning to feel left out.
Before class on Tuesday, January 10, X happened to walk into a coffee shop where I was reading a book, sat down at my table, gave me a folded flier and told me to read it later. It is hilarious to me now, given my issues with secrecy, to think that I whispered to X then: “You know we’re not supposed to talk to each other?” After a walk and a talk, where I learned of the many who had decided to leave school together (having concurred that OSG was a cult), I realized it wasn’t going to be the same class at all, with all the youngest and brightest gone. I had been planning to leave school for some time – this was my opportunity. X woke me up.
It was quite apparent that night that a major upheaval was underway. We were greeted at the door of the classroom by teachers telling us class would be in a different format that night. There was no body work. Eleven of us, half the normal class, sat in a semi-circle in silence, with one teacher overseeing the group. Waiting, perfectly still, not knowing what was happening next. One by one, we were asked to go into the big room, where other teachers in pairs made us sit with them to have a talk.
The questions were about the pieces of paper and the phone calls – were we contacted? (read contaminated). I don’t know how the other conversations went, but I admitted that yes I had been contacted, just before class. I told the teachers that up until then I thought a disgruntled former student was at it again, as had happened in the past, someone who “had gone off the deep end” as we were told, leaving leaflets on windshields and disparaging school with “slander”. But no, I found out that this was a large group of the best, most dedicated recent students, who had done such a great job at the Christmas party that for the first time in years, teachers didn’t have to take notes. While I wasn’t part of that group, I always had issues with the secrecy rules, as they well knew, and brought up again my old questions.
One of them was about the black book. Early on I found and brought to school the books by Ouspensky and Gurdjieff (The Fourth Way, In Search of the Miraculous, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution) from which the black book is retyped with the names deleted.
“How did you better understand the ideas once you knew what book they came from?”
“I was no longer distracted by wondering where this text came from, which had a context in place (Russia) and time (1920s). It seemed more legitimate to know the source. How are the ideas better understood by not knowing their source?”
No direct answer to that. Only that it didn’t matter.
“If they are concealed because they are but one strand among many other teachings, and that this school is not strictly about Gurdjieff and his student Ouspensky, then why not say that?”
We kept exchanging questions past each other. There were no explanations, just restatements of how things were supposed to be. I repeated that I never understood why we couldn’t talk about the ideas of the work with others outside of school. It seemed to me that something so deep and important deserved to be shared, and that if we couldn’t talk because we would leak energy or distort the ideas, then we couldn’t talk about religion either.
“This is not a religion.”
“I know, I’m making the analogy to something sacred.”
“Why didn’t you bring this up in class for discussion?”
“Because I didn’t want to break the good mood that often permeated class, be the one to sow doubt. Besides, the few times that that ‘I was given help’ about secrecy, I was told to follow the rules, that it was good for me to obey without explanation since I had too much self-will. Ergo, no explanation.”
“Class is the format to bring up questions.”
“I like this one-on-one discussion format. It’s too bad that it is caused by such dire circumstances, but it would have been good to have these asides regularly.”
More conversation, mostly on my part, prompting sighs on their part and comments that I wasn’t being very clear.
”Well, you can appreciate how that leaves us. The rules aren’t going to change. We can’t afford to have a loose cannon like you. How do you want us to respond?”
“If I were you, I would say: ‘These are the rules. Can you abide by them? If not, you should leave.’”
So they did that, and I told them I would think about it and give them my answer soon, on the school number. It was decided that there was no point for me to stay longer – there was vague talk of having a half hour class after each student had been questioned – and that I could therefore go get my coat in the classroom and leave. But that before that, I should give them the piece of paper X handed me, as they insisted on collecting them all. I told them that paper was in my car. (I had the paper with me all along, but wanted to be able to peal off the yellow sticky note with X’s phone number on it, without them seeing it. Creative insincerity.)
In the classroom, I handed out a hand-written note to Y that said I was leaving school, wanted to stay in touch, and here was my contact information. Without touching it, Y blushed and looked petrified. Another student also saw the note with horror. “Oh, oh. This is not going to go down well.” I thought to myself. The tension in the air was palpable – you could cut it with a knife. I was smiling and feeling happy. With a flourish I put my coat on and walked out of the classroom. I felt like saying goodbye to everyone, thanking all for the good times and great discussions, but the faces were so gloomy, the silence so loud, the vibrations so far below zero, that I just walked out.
I learned later that while I was in the big room, one of the younger students had waited for most students to be in the classroom, courageously announced that he was leaving school, distributed papers (quickly collected by the teacher) and said goodbye.
A teacher escorted me to my car. (All students’ movements were escorted that night.) The parking lot was abuzz with frantic activity. Someone had written on car windows, and a team of older students was hard at work removing the offensive writings (which one couldn’t see in the dark of night). My car was one of those being cleaned, so I couldn’t leave right away. I opened the passenger door, rummaged through bags pretending to look for the paper, took it out of my pocket book, removed the sticky note with the phone number, plunged the paper in a bag, retrieved it, and straightened up outside the car. “There, here is the paper.”
Escorted back to the building, I am left in the little room, waiting to be told that my car is ready and that I can leave. After a few minutes, Robert enters, thundering, holding my note to Y in his hand.
“Did you write this?”
“Yes, I wanted to stay in touch with Y.”
He tears it in front of me, red with anger.
“You have violated Y’s privacy! You are not to contact students, you know that. So you are leaving school? You have read all this slander and…”
I interrupt him, my own anger rising at this theatrical display:
“I did not read any slander.”
Robert’s thunder calms down to a breeze.
“You are leaving independently, on your own?”
“This event is a terrible denying force – it always happens when good … “
“You know I have always had issues with the school’s secrecy. I had a talk with the teachers just now that clarified where I stand. I can’t abide by the rules, including this one. Thank you for the truly good classes I have enjoyed over these past years.”
“You received a lot of help over that time (a standard line, not really true for me). I wish you luck in your life.”
With a very conciliatory tone now:
“If at any time you want to come back, you can ask that it be with a different framework, questioning the rules.”
These were not his exact words, but that was their meaning. I didn’t absorb this on the spot, my mind already out of there, but in retrospect, how could this even be possible? The other teacher’s words were more realistic: “The rules are not going to change.”
Exit Robert. More waiting. Enter another teacher, downcast, restrained. “Let’s go.” As I leave with him, he says with disgust: “What you did is despicable!” “What? My note to Y? I just wanted to stay in touch!” Down the stairs. No response. I’m truly hurt by his reaction. I liked this particular teacher. Will these be the last words I hear from school? (Yes)
In the parking lot, many cars standing still with their lights on, people running around. You’d thing there was a police raid. I couldn’t drive away fast enough. I stopped several blocks away, left a message on the school number confirming that I had decided to leave school. Once home, another message to Robert, and a final one to my sustainer. Done!
From the beginning, I was always on the fence about school: attracted to the ideas, to making aims, to the accountability of the group, but turned off by the secrecy rules, group therapy and recruiting methods.
The group therapy I hadn’t counted on: it wasn’t part of what my recruiter had mentioned in the beginning. Sometimes the discussions were useful, meaningful, and general enough to apply to all of us. But often I felt that a student was being put on the spot and raked over coals, unnecessarily analyzed or berated about very personal issues. By teachers who are not trained in therapy, psychology (despite their claims of knowing ancient psychology), or psychiatry. Students’ advice to each other was more helpful and more affectionate. An underlying theme was that we were supposed to have difficult relationships with our parents, the key to unlocking our potential. Another theme was that professional work didn’t matter: there was no respect for work schedules or commitments. Personal relationships, marriage, even the birth of a child, were “events”, to be discounted and subordinated to the higher life of school. The moral tone that was used to talk about class attendance, being on time, and work on the Christmas party I found particularly annoying. Of course, this was only because I had too much self-will.
I broke the secrecy rules often, sometimes without realizing it, and was always amazed at the overblown reaction of the teachers. When I brought the Ouspensky and Gurdjieff books to school, I thought the teacher I talked to was going to have a heart attack: “Oh my God, what have you done? Stay here in the little room while I go get Robert!” I was instructed to cover the books with paper, if I must have them with me, and I did.
I talked about school with my mother, with whom I was very close, and who had taught philosophy. For reasons of her advanced age, where she lived (outside the US) and her language (not English), I didn’t think much “leakage” would come out of that. But no, that was forbidden too. Robert made me promise to not talk about school or the ideas of the work, to anyone, at anytime. And I obeyed, for a long while.
I met Y at Al Gore‘s presentation of his book Our Choice. We were in line together, waiting for him to sign our copies of his book, talking about how great it would be to bring these ideas of sustainability to school discussions. We were both grilled in class for this taboo encounter.
My questions about secrecy kept accumulating: these books are published, what is the point of concealing them? If we highly value the school’s work, as we are asked to do, why not share our positive experiences with those who are close to us? It may very well be that ancient schools had to remain secret because members’ lives were at stake as heretics, but this is definitely not the case today. These ideas are not threatening any social order or political power. If the issue is that we would distort the ideas by talking about them, then how is any knowledge gained? We discuss ideas to learn more about them, to explore and verify their applications, and gain others’ perspective. We would never talk about religion, science, philosophy, love relationships or intellectual pursuits, if we lived under the risk-of-distortion rule.
I thought the third line of work was extremely devious: recruiting unsuspecting people with half-truths, off-topic conversations about this and that, gaining their trust only to hand them over to the older recruiters, a vast bait and switch operation. We were never allowed to say up front: “I’m part of a school of thought. This is what it’s about. Would you like to join?” I brought several people to the presentation on Eleanor d’Aquitaine and Hildegard von Bingen. The follow-up calls they received came close to harassment. One of them asked me: “Who are these people? Why is this woman calling me all the time? Can’t she see I don’t want to respond?”
I told her that it was a school. She told the caller she didn’t want to join a school. When this came back to the teachers, they asked me to not do third line of work, as I was almost “sabotaging” the work. I was overjoyed and relieved at not having to lie. It’s a wonder they didn’t ask me to leave then.