Break “The Rules”

Recently, a friend interviewed me about my “school” days at a private event. As I answered her questions, a sea of wide-eyed, un-“schooled”, quizzical and puzzled expressions faced me; their inquiries quickly started pelting out, one leading to another popcorn-ing into a lid-lifting pile. Unprepared for the onslaught, I had to keep reminding myself that their bewilderment was normal. I have become accustomed to talking cult.

The contrast between their shock, my surprise at their shock, and my ongoing conversations with “disgruntled ex-students” provides a stark reality check: with enough exposure, “school”-style thought reform becomes normal — freedom of speech be damned. The longer my tenure, the more dependent I “became”. The more dependent I became, the more I sought “teacher help” and approval. The more “help” and “approval” I sought, the more subject I felt to random “school” dictates – everyone in “school” seeks approval: “students” look to “teachers”; “teachers” look to Robert; and Robert looks to Sharon.

This group dependence comes from a cult-concocted mirage – a hierarchy that conveniently places “teachers” on the upper rungs as those who have been doing the work longer, with Sharon residing on top. At certain key moments a “teacher” would demonstrate his/her prophetic powers – magically sensing personal things and/or bringing up private matters in class, as though s/he was psychic. Of course, “school’s” “younger students” don’t know that “sustainers” report “confidential” conversations to the leadership. “School” uses the information to bolster the above-mentioned mirage, spinning “teachers” into prescient, “higher beings” with clairvoyant powers, connected to and supported by the Divine.

The truth is that the cult only has power if we follow “school” rules and keep cult secrets. If we don’t question where the money goes, or where the ideas originated, why the source of these ideas are kept from us, whether our “teachers” are truly more evolved, if we don’t ask why the lies are really necessary and who the lies protect, if we stay isolated by honoring “school’s” non-fraternization rule, we perpetuate this mirage. As a “student” your “only life things” will get squashed under the weight of propping up the leadership. If a “student” questions why “school” relegates his/her time, un-“schooled” relationships, passions, health, etc, to the lower rungs, in service to the cult’s mysterious “higher aim”, highly-evolved “teachers” will throw the inquiry back: “Why are you mixing levels?” That pat response becomes normal.

When I finally left the ranks, I had to put intentional and concerted efforts into separating my authentic beliefs from cult propaganda. Fortunately, I discovered a simple and clear-cut path to psychological and emotional health: break “the rules” — tell your story to other people; it doesn’t matter whether those other people are colleagues, or not; as you release yourself from “school”-sponsored secrets, you release yourself from a strange and invisible esoteric prison. For the more you talk freely about your experience, the more you separate the wheat from the chaff and your true beliefs from “school” dictates. When you extract yourself from cult programming, and reconnect to your authentic beliefs and nature, you truly do remember yourself.

Repost of My “School”-Free Year

Burning observation notebooks

I came across this post, written in 2012 to mark my first year of freedom. It still holds true today, 2.5 years later. I’ve included a link to the original comments, an accompanying discussion which concludes that life is much sweeter when cult free:

My “School”-Free Year

One year ago this week I made my first independent decision in five  years and left “school”. I would like to mark that anniversary in this post and check in with one my intentions in writing this blog: to sort through and make meaning out of this experience and understand why I chose it and stayed in it for five years. Here are my conclusions:

Why I chose “school”:
As a woman who had been feeling lost since adolescence, I bumbled into adulthood, clinging to artistic dreams, but without the tools or confidence to realize them.  I ached for guidance and sought direction and purpose at every turn, but a longing for something unexplainable (and seemingly unattainable) clamored relentlessly. Ah, but along came “school” – with “aim”, ideas and teachings that touched on everything from the universal, to the personal, to the cosmological, to the historical, to the spiritual and to the psychological. And it came with “help”. “Thank God,” I remember thinking after attending my first classes at the Belmont Lion’s Club. “I have finally found ‘help’.”

“School” may preach that confidence is a fallacy; that it doesn’t exist. I would argue that confidence, or lack thereof, determined my vulnerability to cult marketing; had I the confidence to trust my inner counsel, I may have tried the “five-week experiment”, but I would not have been sucked in for five years.

Why I stayed in “school”:

Observation Notebook Burning

Given that I lacked confidence and sought guidance, I was “school’s” almost perfect target demographic (if I had money, I would have been perfect). Hope fused me to my newly discovered adventure; I longed to believe it was something real. My new “education” addressed body, mind, heart and spirit comprehensively as nothing else had. Over the first two years, I matured in many ways and my life began to reflect that – I went from temp-worker to decently paid copywriter, single to engaged and from seeing myself as intellectually limited to realizing a passion for history, literature and even the previously dreaded sciences. The teaching was helping; the help was working — until it didn’t.

By that time — had I some level of confidence — I would have thought, it is time to move on. Instead, I fell into a common syndrome – the “I’m not trying hard enough” stage show. Many ‘students’ entertain this stage show and the longer one attends “school”, the more “school” exploits the insecurities that orchestrate, cast and choreograph it. “Teachers” reminded us consistently “If you weren’t in school, you wouldn’t have [FILL IN THE BLANK — the marriage, the new job, the lovely home, etc.]”

Fear replaced hope; not trusting my perceptions, I turned to their tutelage, even as my life was deteriorating into the life I never wanted. The more my life deteriorated, the more I questioned my ability to make choices, instead of their guidance – I turned to “teachers” more and more, in fact. I didn’t ask the obvious question: Why am I afraid to say no to instructions given by “teachers” when they feel wrong to me? When I was laid off in 2010, and in a financial quandary, my prevailing thought was,“ Thank God, I have ‘help’!” instead of the more sensible “I can no longer afford to pay the $350 a month ‘tuition’.”

“How did my life get so off track?” I bemoaned myself, “Is my internal compass so out of whack that I can never trust it? Will I have to ask for ‘help’ forever?”

This type of skewed and fearful thinking makes possible the paralyzing dependence fostered by “school”. The leadership reminded us consistently, “Everyone needs help. The student who asks for the most ‘help’ is the student who evolves the fastest.” Thus each day of my tenure, I abdicated more responsibility and inevitably a constant uncertainty replaced my initial optimism. There is no graduation date. Once you’ve entered the den, you begin the march into an unspoken life-long commitment, and “school’s students” “evolve” into indebted bundles of dependent insecurity.

Deriving Meaning – If You Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him:
With one year of “school”-free perspective, I can see that “school” became a mirror reflecting my internal beliefs: I had believed myself incapable, the joy I sought beyond me, my natural strengths and aptitudes for the arts, compassion and empathy unimportant and/or unattainable. “School” was happy to reflect this back adding the unspoken message of you can become a real woman, but only with ‘school’s help’. Otherwise you are doomed to circle the same track of unfulfilled potential until you die.

Thus I turned to false prophets and let them yank me around. The real woman woke up the moment she recognized “school’s help” as a prison with bars constructed from fear and dependence. I became that real woman the moment I said “no” to “school’s” instruction of “Tell your husband to mind his own business.” I finally recognized the blatant disregard for my life, husband and family communicated through this instruction.  The real woman had to embrace the responsibilities and consequences that came along with saying no – this is real freedom, with all of its challenges and rewards.

I have come to believe that every person has an internal compass and it cannot be dictated externally. Once upon a time, mine led me into a false “school” and then – with real help from my husband – it led me out of this “school”.  It may have been a mistake, but do we not learn the most from our mistakes? The moment I said, “No” changed and defined me anew. Today, when I fall into old habits of doubting myself, I can look back at life while in “school” and see the fearful woman who dreaded the sunrise and compare it with life now that every cell in me welcomes each new day. Through my “school” experience, I released myself from the lifelong and constant search for mentoring and meaning; the very mechanisms that led me into “school” fell away the moment I said “no” to it.

Now each new day presents a chance to practice honoring and following my internal compass, for better or for worse. And as I bumble along, sometimes flying, sometimes crashing, I accept my “school” days as the necessary foray that pushed me into a corner that offered two choices – to follow the route whose road signs are constructed and orchestrated by “school”, or to follow this internal compass.   As I choose the latter, I see that life is a perfectly imperfect and lovely journey and its meaning comes from within.

Link to original comments:

Resources and Corroboration: Clever Sincerity & Cult Education Institute

Yesterday, I decided to revisit the blog Clever Sincerity. I don’t know why I haven’t pointed readers to this particular page before:

It provides a clear and comprehensive assessment of “school” in general, as well as links to the Cult Education Institute, created by Rick Ross.

Apparently, a group of “disgruntled ex-students” from New York provided information to Ross about that branch (i.e. corporate headquarters). It was posted in 2002; the information mirrors my Boston branch experiences almost exactly, and I started this blog in 2012. I guess some things don’t change. Here are some pages I found particularly helpful and poignant:

I hope that you find these resources helpful. Break “the rules”.




Lightening the mood …

Shortly after the inception of cult confessions, there was some banter about creating a musical called “School”. I still think about doing it; “School” provides everything a musical would need: ridiculous story line, characters and song and dance scenes. But there is no topping The Book of Mormon. It covers everything! Last week my husband and I sat in the nosebleed seats at The Boston Opera House and laughed from start to finish. It was worth every penny of overpriced seat. If you can pull it off, it’s the best medicine.

“The Rules” and “School” Paranoia

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to talk about my cult experience at a private event. Rather glibly, I said, sure, adding that we could make it hilarious. I invited some friends, family,  fellow ex-“students” and un-“schooled” spouses. The anxiety it kicked up in my ex-“classmates” knocked that glib-ness down a peg or ten. For the damage “school” inflicts with its cult-induced paranoia is not funny.

As a woman who disclosed her cult tenure in a blog, not caring who read it, or who could identify me — in fact honoring my personal post-cult policy of No More Secrets —  I forget that my fellow “disgruntled(s)” might be uncomfortable seated anonymously in the audience. I felt a sudden guilt for extending this anxiety-inducing invitation to my dear friends–for I love these people and I have leaned heavily on them since leaving the ranks. For the first time, I felt trepidation about coming out as the cult-survivor poster child; it dawned on me that I would be sharing my cult confessions with — well — people. I called a friend to ask, “Am I crazy?”

It is one thing to confess to, and interact with, a computer screen; it is another thing to announce to an audience largely unaware of this little cottage-industry cult, “I got suckered into spending roughly $20,000, over five years, putting countless hours, and a lot of energy into a con job, to chase the ever-elusive and undefinable goal of evolution.”  The words shame and embarrassment jump to mind. The question, “how could I be so gullible and dense?” rears up. The hurt I inflicted on those near and dear during my tenure confronts me.

Shame and embarrassment are familiar feelings to the “schooled”, as well as the following cult-induced paranoia(s):

1) Leaving the institution means “cutting yourself off from the source.”

2) Breaking the silence “seal” and the “non-fraternization” rule creates “leaks” that will drain me of the goodness gleaned from my “work.”

3) If the “sleepwalking” masses learn of my “school” days, I may lose my job, or friends, or house, or marriage, etc, etc, etc.

4) Confessing my cult days will prove, at best, embarrassing, and, at worst, devastating.

Seeing my anxiety rise, my friend said that we could cancel the interview. But since I left the ranks, the more I practice No More Secrets, the more healing and freedom I experience. I guess the time has come to take that policy to another level; to own my cult days in real time, in front of real people, who will be invited to ask real questions–shame and embarrassment be damned.

That being the case, I would like to share how No More Secrets has debunked all of the above-listed paranoia(s):

Paranoia 1 — You will cut yourself off from the source: Robert refers to “school” as “the source” in key moments; when defections threaten his institution the phrase “… cut off from the source” echoes through the hallowed halls. The morning I defected, I distinctly remember the sunrise. It woke me up (literally) to the arrogance of labeling “school” “the source” and the falseness in the threat of “being cut off”. Source was apparent in pink-lined clouds that morning and is available in each and every sunrise and sunset. Source lives in the time I spend with my fiddle, or guitar, or when I am writing a new song, or new post for this blog. Source was in a beautiful concert I attended at Jordan Hall recently and the three-hour conversation that followed (a conversation that could have lasted all night if the restaurant had stayed open). Source is in any honest conversation, good laugh, or good cry, that I share with my husband. Source is in the songs we write and sing together. Source is in the crocuses that are poking through the barely unfrozen dirt.

When you debunk this idea of “school” as “source”, you see that the claim itself cuts “students” off from the real source. The longer my tenure, the more “school” consumed of me. Source does not need to devour my time, stealing me from my spouse, family, job, friends, passions etc. Source does not need to charge me $350/month. It simply needs me to awaken to it, so I can connect to the abundance therein. While a “student”, I was too consumed with “school”-induced self loathing and resentment spawned by allowing “teachers” to dictate personal decisions; decisions that sent me bumbling into the Life-I-Never-Wanted. Source needs me to honor and cherish my energy and life; and for every person to do the same. For source lives inside and all around each and every one of us. These days, I connect source when I feel gratitude for what I have, when I recognize that beauty surrounds me and thank God for my paltry and insignificant “only life things”. Source is always available, if we are awake to it.

Paranoia 2– Breaking the seal of silence leaks “The Work” out of you: This is complete bullshit.“School” does not have the power to steal what you have in your heart and mind. If “school” sincerely wanted its students to evolve, it would encourage independent thought and authentic expression of, and reflection on, feelings and personal experiences. For me, “school’s” version of “The Work” began with honest efforts to become a financially independent adult and devolved over time; the longer my tenure, the more consumed I was with a constant-navel gazing assessment of every-fault-I-have-and-can’t-overcome-without-“school’s-help“; the end result of my “education” was more dependence, fear, and childish self-absorption. Surprise, surprise, this fear and dependence infected my ability — or inability as the case may be — to find and hold down a job. Once while discussing my not-so-illustrious employment prospects with a teacher named Carol, she offered this heart-warming missive: “Maybe you will never be able to hold down a job.” Her tone dismissed my anxiety as trivial on “school’s” evolutionary scale (with its lofty pursuit of income generation for Sharon at the top and your only life things at the bottom). You can imagine what her “help” did to my already paper-thin sense of self worth.

When I broke the silence with other “disgruntled(s)” our conversations revealed that “school” lies constantly. I saw how “school” twists the ideas presented therein to suit its evolved unspoken “aim” of income generation and slave-labor retention. It serves “school’ to feed the insecurities of its attendees; the more we need the institution, the more we feed it. That revelation set me free to see such “help” for what it really was — a proliferation of my “school” role as entitled and unemployable Jewish American princess who-will-always-need- “the help”. My cult confessions to the un-“schooled” obliterated my “school”-induced denial: I learned that which I had believed “invisible” was — in reality — very visible to them: they had felt my clever insincerity, i.e. lies, and experienced my increasing withdrawal from them as “only life things” —  insignificant on “school’s” grand scale of evolution.

These conversations unsealed and affirmed the questions, suspicions and discomfort that all “students” have, but are afraid to explore — Where does the money go? Why does such an evolved institution need to lie about so much? Where do the “ideas” come from and why is the source top secret? Why do other “students” suddenly disappear, never to be mentioned again? At what point do I trust my own perceptions again? “School” dismisses “students” who are brave enough to broach such inquiries within its hallowed halls, labeling these questions “lack of valuation” and/or “suspicious I’s”, warning “students” against the use of such critical thinking. Stay in that environment long enough, and you begin to dismiss your perceptions yourself.

Breaking the seal of silence began a healing and empowering process, as I realized that my concerns, questions and discomforts were not simply undue suspicions or inner saboteurs trying to impede my “evolution”. The connections and conversations freed me from a childish need to please my “teachers” as well as the “school” dictates, assignments and demands; free from the cult-mandated “clever insincerity” that spread like cancer into all areas of my paltry life; free from time-and-energy-devouring cult tasks; free from the $350/monthly tuition that drained my bank account and damaged my marriage.

Most importantly, though, I had to start trusting myself. When I departed the ranks, I thought,”This might be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, but at least, if I’m going to fuck up my life, I’ll be doing so on my own terms.” The “school”-free life that  followed — with all of its bumps and foibles — is sweet. Ironically, the benefits I did glean from “school” in my early years have only been reinforced by my departure; any real growth I experienced — and there is some real growth to be had — stayed with me. That which no longer served me, or that which ultimately hurt me, fell away. ” By the way, a month after my departure work found me and it keeps showing up.

Paranoia 3 — If the “sleepwalking” masses find out about my cult days, I could lose my job, friends, partners, kids, etc, etc, etc: please believe me, those who haven’t been affected by “school”–i.e. most people– DON’T CARE ABOUT “SCHOOL”. Very few people are concerned that a group seeking enlightenment gathers twice a week to “move all parts of your body in circles,” or practice a watered down version of tai chi and discuss certain not-so-“secret” esoteric ideas. This paranoia feeds “school”-induced delusions of grandeur. It is highly unlikely that the un-“schooled” have the time, or the inclination, to dig around seeking cult information. People are busy and absorbed in their own lives. Others only begin to care when the cult impacts them personally, or if they work in a cult-countering profession. Potential “school” recruits have contacted me on occasion, when the weird behavior of a “new friend” aroused suspicions.  If “school’s” required “clever insincerity” begins to destroy a relationship, than the “other” — spouse, sibling, friend, employer, employee — will seek information; for the institution has deluded itself into expecting the “others” to suck it up while their spouse, friend, brother, sister, parent, employee, business partner, or child silently “evolves” school style. I must admit that while indoctrinated I  believed my relationships magically immune to any damage inflicted by the lies I told and the neglect I inflicted on those near and dear — and that is the biggest lie of all.

At this point, I’ve spoken with many and various un-“schooled” spouses; while the personal details are different, being on the receiving end of “school-style” “external considering” (i.e. putting yourself in the “other” persons shoes) is the same  — what begins as a seemingly benign bi-weekly pursuit increases exponentially over time, consuming the “schooled” partner while his/her lies increase in correspondence — the longer your tenure, the more you lie. The un-“schooled” confronts the “schooled”; the “schooled” ask for “help” and then “school” starts to work its divorce-commencing magic. The “schooled” start dismissing the perceptions, experiences and feelings of the “un-schooled” spouse. At the same time s/he will try schedule special gifts, dinners and surprises between school’s required demands, on “school’s” recommended help. Anything but confront the real problem — that the “schooled” spouse is in a cult and believes the institution should supersede his/her marriage.  This evolved expectation, coupled with the required lying, is becoming, and will be, “school’s” downfall. I’m confident that “school” is and will continue to corrode from the inside out.

Paranoia 4 — Confessing my cult days will prove, at best, embarrassing and, at worst, devastating: School’s arbitrary and self-serving “rules” infuse in your bones after you steep and marinate in them for a number of years. The fear of “breaking the rules” runs deep even after you leave the “evolving” rank and file. I consider this a cult-specific post-traumatic stress disorder.  Unlike P.T.S.D. experienced by war veterans, or victims of violent crime, the sense of fear is induced by a slow wearing away of the self — after all “we don’t know ourselves”; we need the more “highly evolved and enlightened teachers” who have been “doing the work longer” and “see us more clearly than we do”; they live from a higher level, floating above sleepwalkers and crawling caterpillars seeing “only life things” from a higher vantage point. The attack on your psyche is a slow-moving cancer; it gets under your skin and seeps into your bones, infecting your thoughts and emotions. The more you keep the silence, the more it spreads. The more it spreads, the more imprisoned you are by it and the more it damages you and yours.

The No More Secrets policy set me free; the truth unshackled me from my dependence — my addiction to “school”. As the shackles continue to fall away, I am no longer consumed with “school”-style evolution. I wake up to the wonder and beauty innate in every moment of every day. Like the Wizard of Oz, lift the curtain and you find a little old, bald guy — or in Robert’s case, a kind of round and overly tan guy — hiding behind a curtain manipulating strings. When you lift the veil, you find its “privacy” policies hide a seedy past and questionable and possibly illegal financial practices, “protecting” Sharon and Robert and hurting everyone else — although the possibility of tax evasion, or money laundering may bite “school’s” top lieutenant’s in the ass eventually. For in this age of vast technology, one only needs to turn to the internet to expose a con job, as you can see.

Still, for many people, the experience is too painful to reveal. Everyone has a personal reason for protecting their hearts. Admittedly, I may be crazy in my need to confess my cult days, to expose the institution as much as I as can, to keep others from falling into the “school” net. But my ongoing confession keeps healing me and setting me free; I strongly advocate finding a safe way to release and process those secrets, for in letting them go, I am confident that you will recover yourself. Each cult confession I make untangles me further from the invisible “school” shackles. This written account of my often ridiculous cult day untangles my spirit, heart and mind from the vast web of “school”-induced lies and paranoia. For “school’s” only power lies in the secrets we keep for it. When we raise the curtain, we see that “school’s” influence is limited to the poor souls who keep showing up at the Faulkner Mills building in Billerica, every Tuesday and Thursday — some of those attendees have been lugging around “school” shackles for 20, 30, 40 years. Ask them how its going; see if you get a sincere answer, or “clever insincerity”.

When you walk out and let go of the secrets you empower yourself. Your story, your truth, will set you free.