“Only Life”? Yes, Your “Only Life”-And Your Only Life

Lately, I’ve been going through another phase of letting go of “school”, focusing on other passions, like making music. I haven’t felt the need to write posts. Traffic on the blog has trickled off, which is — in some ways– disappointing, and nice in other ways; it means that others are moving on, too.

Despite this reprieve, a favorite “school” phrase is haunting me: “those are only life things.” As un-schooled spouses, adult children and friends contact me, the insidious damage “school” wrought by dismissing them as “only life things” comes into focus. Thankfully this haunting comes hand-in-hand with its antidote: a “student’s” salvation lies in the people and the things that s/he loves. Once they take precedence and “school” has to accommodate “only life”, instead of the other way around, it’s no longer possible to remain a “student”, til death do you part. Wherein love lies is the healing.

When I bumbled into “school”, my first two years appeared to be about my evolution, which included following my impulses and manifesting my dreams. “School” told me anything was possible and that in me awaited a butterfly: if I followed “school” instruction the butterfly might unfold from its chrysalis and fly. I was excited and wanted to believe they knew something that I didn’t. I wanted to fly.

I noticed, though, that once I’d established myself as a loyal attendee, my “evolution” relied more and more heavily on “school” things and “life things” were more and more often dismissed as “only life”. Students would ask for “help” with a spouse, a child, a job, etc. Teachers would more and more frequently respond with “those are  only life things” insignificant on the scale of universal importance and higher meaning: alleged “school” ideas, “school” parties and chasing and pinning down potential new students — i.e. increased income — insidiously began to supersede my marriage, my finances, my work, my home, my family, my passions, my dreams, my emotional and physical health. Needless to say, all of my “only life things” began to suffer. But, of course, that was because I “wasn’t trying hard enough”, not because “school” was (is) a destructive mind-control cult.

I found myself following protocol in lockstep with my classmates. In correspondence, an emptiness began to fill me; for the phrase “That’s Only Life” began to wear down my already tenuous sense of self-worth. All that I held sacred and true, insignificant in the grand scheme. I kept waiting for the day that I “got it” and my internal butterfly would break free from “only life” confines, flying off to sip nectar from flowers and converse with the Gods. Maybe one day I would “try hard enough” and be rewarded! But the longer I was *in* the farther away and more elusive that magical day appeared. I felt unable to juggle “school demands and my “only life things”.

When exposed to this “only life things” attitude for long enough, “school” attendees begin to freeze up; when “only life things” inevitably challenge their “school” demands, “students” ask for “help” from “teachers” and, therefore, begin to address the inevitable “school”-sponsored conflicts with the same dismissive, odd and cold attitude that their “teachers” display — for the longer you attend “school”, the less meaning your little insignificant “life things” have. ”

In one of my early Christmas Party planning experiences a classmate told us that her father was in the hospital. Despite this, she was trying to attend every party-planning, meal-organizing, decoration-making, performance-rehearsing, meeting that she could. I was surprised that no one expressed concern about her father; “school” offered no empathy. No one said the simple phrase, “I’m sorry to hear about your dad!” or “I hope he’s o.k.” I even heard her tell a teacher not to give up on her when he criticized her intermittent attendance. At the time, it struck me as odd and confusing. How could this evolved institution be so cold to her father’s illness? It should have been a screaming siren, but I was indoctrinated enough to believe there must have been something about the situation I didn’t understand. Now that I see my questions were right on target and since I kept silent the memory is especially heart breaking.

I’m happy to report that this student eventually disappeared from the ranks, as so many do. A couple of things saved me from trading in my “only life things”, until those life things were no more, for efforts to chase an unattainable, undefinable state. These things were both seeded in love both for a person and a passion:

1) I was lucky to have inner revolutionaries who refused to fall into line completely. They didn’t want to run around recruiting new soldiers for the evolutionary battle, allegedly saving ideas for future “school” generations. They missed the time I used to spend on music; they wanted to stay home and play the fiddle, or the guitar, or work on new songs. They didn’t want to waste precious early morning hours on the phone with some older recruitment coach. Besides that, those “school” demands felt antithetical to them, sleazy, unethical, manipulative, coercive. Those rebels openly resented the demands; felt “growing school” was not my problem and shouldn’t take my time and energy.   For a time, I wrote them off as lazy parts of my psyche (or lazy “Is”, as “school” likes to call them). I tried to ignore them. But the more empty, lost, inadequate, desperate and hopeless I felt, the more they poked at me.

2) Somehow my husband was seeing, hearing and feeling that which I tried not to show or tell him. His genuine love and concern for my well-being led him to take steps just when I felt myself hitting an existential wall; in fact, I remember thinking, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. As if on cue, one night he researched the mysterious Tues/Thurs group online and confronted me with his findings. He told me later that he doesn’t know why he researched and confronted me when he did; something in him said, do it now. I think love led him to it; love senses and knows things which our other sense might not.

I now keep contact with several other rank dissenters; we are “breaking school rules” by breaking the imposed isolation (crucial in the healing process) and, from what I can see, many of us left “school” for something, or someone, we love. In one case, “school” was pressuring a woman to leave her un-“schooled” husband when what she wanted was to have a second child. Instead she left “school” and now they have two children and an intact marriage. Another attendee left when he saw through the smoke and mirrors into the damage that “clever insincerity” and “school”-imposed secrecy wrought on his wife and two children.

Another father took a break from “school” intending to return — in part because he believed he needed “school’s” “help” to be the loving husband and father he wanted to be. Suddenly he had unobstructed family time for his son and pregnant wife and he loved it. After his daughter was born, a “teacher” called him to check in. He told this “teacher” about the new baby, how he loved being a father and that basically, “life things” were great. The “teacher” grew exasperated and impatient never congratulating the father or expressing any happiness for him. At that moment it was clear that “school” had no interest in his family, his happiness or his ability to take care of his wife and children.  Another ex-classmate simply grew tired of the ever-exponentially-growing “school” requirements that ate into the time and energy he wanted to put towards other passions. In fact, one “school” night, he decided he’d rather go to a concert so he did (GASP! an unthinkable trespass for us “school” doobies!) While out, he consulted his smartphone and Googled “secret school, Billerica”, which pulled up all the evidence he needed to say goodbye.

In my case, “school” instructed me via our fearless leader, Robert, to “tell your husband to mind his own business”. I couldn’t cross that line. Suddenly I woke up to the complete and blatant disregard “school” had for the man that I love. I knew that in telling him to “mind his own business”, I would have been trading my marriage in for “school”. I found that my little marriage would always take precedence over “school’s” illustrious and mysterious aim (more students, more money) and if that made me some kind of failure, or sinner, so be it. I’d rather “fail” in love, the “succeed” in feeding greed.

Recently, I began reading Steve Hassan’s book, Freedom of Mind, which outlines his process to help people leave destructive, mind-control cults. He has developed techniques centered on love, respect and open communication. In fact, community, friends, family, other ex-cult members, sometimes even other members presently in the cult, play a critical role in what he calls the Strategic Interactive Approach (SIA). He assembles a team of people who love the cult-attendee  and they work together to empower the individual and reconnect him/her to those people and things that s/he loves. They are often able to help that person return to his/her true self and his/her “only life things”, leaving behind the cult.

If you are reading this because you are *in* school and struggling, or if you love someone who is caught in the web, know that at some point the “only life things”, the people and things loved by the “student”, will come into direct conflict with “school”. “School” will demand that the student choose between them in some way.

If you are *in* remember these “only life things” are Your Life.

Your “only life”.

Your Only Life will either be shaped and motored by love for the people therein, or passions to pursue, or “school” dictated, shaped, and motored by the fear that you didn’t make your observation aims, or didn’t really go out to recruit new students when you said you would, or didn’t read the assigned homework, or didn’t say the morning prayer, or fell asleep while “self-sensing”, blah, blah, blah; there are so many  ways you could “fail” “school”.

And when you are pointed towards your true north, the right choice will be clear.

20 thoughts on ““Only Life”? Yes, Your “Only Life”-And Your Only Life

  1. Dan says:

    I left the school around 1985 after 4 years in. I’m still having dreams and nightmares about it. Around the time I found your website I was looking online for the first time to find out about it. I found out that Alex passed away and the Montana place was for sale. I don’t think it will continue with Alex gone and once Sharon retires.

    • Hi Dan, Thanks for your comment. I’ve heard others say that “school” won’t continue once Sharon is out of the picture. I’ve heard it said that Robert’s heart isn’t really there. I guess we’ll see.

    • moishe3rd says:

      Hey Dan… I believe that I remember you…
      Vis a vis leaving “School” for a spouse – I left (was kicked out) about a year or so before my wife (Marcie) and we had been separated for a year or so before that due to Sharon’s recommendations.
      As soon as my wife left (also “kicked out”), we reunited and have now been married for over 34 years….
      This is good.
      Then again, we never really obeyed the “School” rules to stay completely separate and not have any contact with each other.
      We had our oldest son back then and I would visit almost every weekend and, we went to all family gatherings as a couple. Our families never knew we were separated.
      Plus, my wife is a rather strong willed woman who is willing to forget and forgive a lot although, interestingly enough, she is less critical than I am of Alex and Sharon and Bob, et al (and I am not very critical at all, as I have expressed before).

      • Haven't Decided Today says:

        Interesting — I just remembered a couple (Jim and Ann that I think you would remember) and how, when they got divorced, they didn’t tell their families and kept up a pretense of being married. When I asked why, they said it was none of the families’ business. Always seemed bizarre to me.

        • Hi HDT — Thanks for your comment.

          Ummm. Yea, that is bizarre. I wonder how long this couple (or ex-couple) kept up that charade. I wonder what the point of the charade was. Clearly, each of those people traded in their life choices for some bizarre “school” reason.

  2. whncht says:

    School was a powerful thing. I can’t say it had an entirely “bad” effect on my life, but I still get dreams and nightmares about it. They are always intense and sometimes very scary. I was in in the early eighties and left about 1985. It is strange to think some of the people I knew are still there.

    • Hi whncht, Thanks for commenting. I don’t know what “school” was like in 1985, b/c I was in between the years of 2006-2011. When I speak to my compatriots there’s a general consensus that you get a two-year grace period, after which students start to become just-another “school”-tool. But the first two years are generally magic and exciting and most agree that they got a lot during that time. After two years you keep waiting for the experience to evolve and deepen, but all that happens is you spend more of your life on “school” things, as other parts of your life get dismissed by the machine. But the waiting, makes the leaving all the harder.

  3. Louise says:

    “Say, it’s only a paper moon
    Sailing over a cardboard sea
    But it wouldn’t be make-believe
    If you believed in me

    Yes, it’s only a canvas sky
    Hanging over a muslin tree
    But it wouldn’t be make-believe
    If you believed in me

    Without your love
    It’s a honky tonk parade
    Without your love
    It’s a melody played in a penny arcade

    It’s a Barnum and Bailey world
    Just as phony as it can be
    But it wouldn’t be make-believe
    If you believed in me.”

    It is a “make-believe” world without love. That love doesn’t come from “school” to make our lives real. I asked a friend a long time ago why he left and he didn’t tell me what the circumstances were, he just said: “I realized that they did not have my best interest at heart and very soon after that, I had no choice but to leave.”

    If you are still in school and have the courage to look, it really is a paper moon, hung up with hot glue and safety pins, like the things we used to make for the Christmas parties. All smoke and mirrors. There is nobody behind the curtain but a sad and manipulative, power hungry old woman trying to get as much money for herself as she can. That is the great aim of “school”. There is no magic there and there is no love.

    • Hi Louise, Thanks for your comment! Funny that you should reference that song, I use it at work ( I work with elders) and it has to be one of my favs … especially the line: It’s a Barnum and Bailey World, just as phoney as it could be. But it wouldn’t be make believe if only you believed in me. And it does seem especially suited for this post.

  4. Che says:

    It’s so sad, really, when I think about how all of those people we left behind in “school” are missing out on their lives and the possibilities that they could have. We are not getting any younger and we will not pass this way again (at least in this lifetime.)

    So many of the people still “trapped” in school have been there for 20-30 years and they still kowtow to Sharon and Robert. Of course, they are told that only if they stay in “school” will they lives have any possibilities but it’s all topsy-turvy when you are in school. Everything is turned around and upside down and you can’t really see the truth of the situation at all. As Fred once said, “everything is really the opposite of what it appears to be”. Unfortunately, we were trained NOT to rely on our own inner sensing of what is true and right but were “told” by “school” what was true and right and therefore lost the ability to discern things for ourselves.

    Who know what will happen when Sharon dies…. I don’t think Robert is strong enough to carry on by himself (and he probably really doesn’t even care any more – it’s all a show he puts on for Sharon). One thing is for sure, that there will be a lot of people who will return to their “lives” who are totally out of touch with reality and will need a lot of help. So sad really…

    • Hi Che, Thanks for your comment. I remember the first time I realized that people stayed in “school” for decades. I was floored, really. I actually remember thinking, “What happened to the 5-week experiment?” It was a wake up call for me. And yikes! What happens after decades of relying on “school” leadership for guidance??? To tell the truth, sometimes I almost feel sorry for Robert, as he looks to be the grandest tool — how many decades? how many marriages? how many kids? When he was a young man, did he dream of becoming mattress salesman by day and cult leader by night? I doubt it. That guy could have done anything he wanted, if he hadn’t spent his adulthood trying to please Sharon. Robert, who is so fond of talking about the dash-between-dates on your headstone. What will his dash represent? Thievery? Manipulation? Coercion? He could have been an academic leader, or a policy leader, or a legitimate spiritual leader. He obviously has the intelligence and charisma, but he sold out everything he has for this fallacy. But, let’s face it, he certainly has not suffered as much as some others who lost everything. He’s certainly financially comfortable, shall we say.

      Well, that’s another rant. Really, I should be celebrating our freedom from the charade. Cheers to your “school”-free existence! May you live and love well!


  5. Rhylance says:

    Great post as always. I’m coming up on 5 years out this spring. Hard to believe. And what you said about leaving for the love of someone or something is so true. When I left I felt two things: one, that it was imperative for me to follow my own path even at the risk of losing access to a “real way.” (It wasn’t until after I left that I learned of how deceitful the Gans operation was; up until then I still believed it a legitimate gurdjieff school….) And two–more crucially–I had fallen in love with a woman and I realized unequivocally that I would not discuss her with teachers. That deep down, I didn’t trust them when it came to someone so precious to me. I left and we moved in a month later. Now we’ve been married for over two years and have a wonderful baby girl.
    Life things indeed…
    Best regards!

  6. Hi Rhylance,
    Best “school”-free life story to date! Congrats on your decision, your freedom, your marriage and new family! And thank you for sharing it here. I hope that when others come across this blog — perhaps some current “students”, or loved ones of current “students” (otherwise known as “only life things”) — they will see that we “disgruntled ex-students” are, in reality, normal people, living full and rewarding lives.

  7. Grateful says:

    GSR, your posts are always wonderful and so honest. I hope as the mood strikes you, you will continue to write, even as traffic winds down.

    I discovered some news that may interest others. At the same time I learned the truth about school, at Esoteric Freedom (bless the creators of that website!) I also learned about Andrew Cohen, a self-described ‘enlightened guru’ with quite a following in the Boston area. I had seen his magazine around and wondered about him.

    It turns out this past summer he was confronted by some of his students and ousted from his position, and is on sabbatical


    The entry entitled “My Dinner with Andrew” by S.A. was incredibly astute, I thought, and will likely resonate with the experience of many readers of GSR blog. Some excerpts:

    ” I felt that I was in the presence of an individual with such tremendous willpower that I had to be constantly vigilant in order not to abandon the most basic premises of my own experience. Even more strangely, I suddenly had the profound intuition that he was utterly devoid of conscience, that he lacked any authentic ability to care for or about another human being…..

    I’ve concluded since the above encounter that it is pointless to hold Andrew Cohen responsible for the considerable devastation he has left in his wake. The reason for this is the “pathology” now alluded to even among those of Cohen’s students who, despite his destructive behavior, still remain loyal to him…”

    The last paragraph in particular grabbed me, because as much as I want to point the finger at Robert and Sharon, were the acolytes to simply leave, they’d be devoid of their power. The S/R powerpack is nothing more than the desire of their “students” to believe.

    While I can’t remember the exact quote, in Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron talks about how, if you really want to awaken, you have to decide that you don’t want to be fooled. Until I read her words, I hadn’t considered the degree to which people agree to, even *want* to be fooled. And now I see it all the time– not only in cults, but in churches, with employers, with celebrities, with spouses, and with oneself.

  8. Hi Grateful! Nice to see you back online. Thanks for the kudos! I’ve heard of Andrew Cohen, in fact I think an old friend that I lost touch with followed him for a while. I’ll have to read the full article. But the excerpts you posted bring up that interesting dichotomy of personality traits, strong will plus no conscience, or ability to empathize. I think at times I found Robert to be quite compassionate, at other times cold as an ice pick. Maybe the compassion was real, maybe it was put on for show. Who knows.

    In terms of wanting to be fooled, or not, I can only speak from my experience which was one of desperately seeking guidance. So perhaps I was wide open for it. But, when I left, I never learned a stronger or more life-altering lesson. Better to bumble through on my own, following my internal compass, than to continue to become an empty & passive follower, constantly deferring to the machine for false guidance.

  9. Hi Grateful, Yesterday I read the article. Thanks for including the link.

    What struck me in it was Cohen’s complete inability to recognize and take responsibility for damage he inflicted on his “students”. I think with “school” we’re looking at the same psychology. We can all take a page from the author’s conclusion, that it’s not for him to break down this wall of denial.

    It also reminds of a movie called The Talented Mr. Ripley. In it Matt Damon plays a character who — as he gets more and more desperate to control his situation, surroundings, and people therein — justifies the most heinous behavior. I don’t remember it that well; but for some reason, I remember a line in the movie, where the Ripley character says something like, we all think we are doing the right thing when we are doing it. Meanwhile, he’s killing people he perceives to be thwarting his “aim”.

    Is this human nature? After all, our experiences in “school” are certainly not limited to “school”. I learned a lot about the prevalence of destructive mind-control cults reading Hassan’s Freedom of Mind.

    Our best defense is to learn how to trust our own senses, gut instincts, emotional compasses and to follow our compasses to the things we love in life.

  10. Che says:

    This is so very true of Sharon and Robert:
    (from the previous posts)
    Not being “responsible for the considerable devastation he has left in his wake” and “complete inability to recognize and take responsibility for damage he inflicted on his “students”.”

    That is really the mark of a psychopath: having no conscience.
    No conscience means that you are not responsible for the devastation of human life that you leave in your wake. That you don’t even recognize that you have done damage to others because you are so wrapped up in yourself and can see no farther than your own nose.

    Sad but true.

    It’s all of the people who have innocently been led to the slaughter that bothers me. All the lemmings who jump right off the cliff after Sharon and Robert. All those glasses of Kool-Ade…

  11. Hi Che – Thanks for this comment. Yea, you want to shake those lemmings awake, yes? But I think something inside has to wake up on its own. I know how it happened for me, but not how to do it for others, or if it’s even possible to get those inner guards/rebels to wake up. Steven Hassan seems to have developed a way to guide people towards that inner light, or alarm clock and his method seems to be based in respect, communication and love. And also keeping the faith that those of us who fall prey to cults, don’t really die to that inner knowing, just bury it and lose touch for a while. It’s a hopeful and positive approach.

  12. Che says:

    There is a good article in the NY Times today titled “Why We Make Bad Decisions”. And yes, I am referring to the bad decisions I made while I was involved with the group formerly known as “school” (being involved at all was a pretty bad decision it turns out.)

    “We need to acknowledge our tendency to incorrectly process challenging news and actively push ourselves to hear the bad as well as the good.”

    “It is also crucial to ask probing questions not only of the experts but of ourselves. This is because we bring into our decision-making process flaws and errors of our own. All of us show bias when it comes to what information we take in. We typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want.”

    “If we are to control our own destinies, we have to switch our brains back on…. Anxiety, stress and fear….can distort our choices. Stress makes us prone to tunnel vision, less likely to take in the information we need. Anxiety makes us more risk-averse than we would be regularly and more deferential.”


  13. Hi Che – Thanks for posting! Interesting article. Lately, I have been obsessively reading books about other people’s cult experiences — at the moment the cult of choice is Scientology. I’ve been drawing the parallels between those depictions and my experiences.

    I am seeing a pattern of cult-contrived conditions custom-made to increase anxiety, stress and fear in the true believers. The longer I was in the cult that calls itself “school”, the less I made decisions for myself. I deferred my decisions to the “experts” i.e. “teachers”, more and more often resulting in increased anxious, stress and fear and decrease in any inner confidence I may have once had.

    Towards the end, all of my “decisions” which were based on dictates from “teachers” were turning against me. The “experts” i.e. “teachers” were undermining every aspect of my life.

    Upon leaving, my independent decisions supported the life I dreamed of creating.

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