“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.




18 thoughts on ““The Rules” and “School” Paranoia

  1. Cara says:

    As usual, your writing sand insights are spot on. You really get to the heart of the matter and name it perfectly.

    And BRAVO for your courage in standing up (both publicly and privately) for yourself, your friends and the poor souls who are still shackled to an impossible situation and can’t recognize the sunrise and themselves for who they truly are.

    Elie Wiesel’s words can never be said loudly and frequently enough:

    “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

 -Elie Wiesel

  2. Cara says:

    “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

 -Elie Wiesel

  3. Thank you, Cara for reading and commenting. This post drove me crazy and I had to write it. I had to post. Even with everything I wrote within, and truly believe, it still feels risky to speak out like this. It’s crazy how the indoctrination infuses and stays with us.

    Break the rules.

    • Upper Lobby says:

      Another very thoughtful and honest post GSR! As you practice “No More Secrets” I hope you realize that there are many souls feeding off your strength and openness. If not for GSR how would people get a truthful view of their situation? If you don’t tell the truth, then, who? If I had not stumbled upon the Esoteric Freedom blog, my blog might never have been. And I know the feeling of writing a truth, my hand trembling over the “Publish” button, asking myself, “Am I really going to put these words out on the internet?!?” And then realizing that, yes, I must!

      Although I am not in a position to become involved with the REAL, sane, Gurdjieff groups, I do know they exist. New York is the central location and their website has a link to all affiliated groups. There is no Belmont group on the list. And the Boston group meets in Cambridge. They can easily be contacted and asked about the validity of various rogue groups. See what they say about the Horn/Klein/Gans group.


  4. gary mascall says:

    This may seem a little out of place, I was in the french branch of this school in Paris for a while, when it was called Renaissance. I left at the time the name was changed to Apollo.
    What I would like to ask is if you know of any good forums that discuss the work ?
    Sorry if this is a nuisance, but it is hard to find any fourth way group’s online.

    • Hi Gary,

      Wow. There’s a French branch of “school”, really, the Sharon Gans, Robert, Alex Horn “school”??? Please provide details? I don’t know of any legitimate forums, but maybe someone else out cyber-land does. Thanks for your writing and I hope you can fill us in a bit on this French branch of “school”.

      • gary mascall says:

        This was back in 1995, and the School was called Renaissance .
        At the time they use to leave cards inside a selection of 4th way book’s by a kind of reverse ‘Shoplifting’ to recruit.
        There were a number of other branches, Milan, for one.
        My experience was quite positive and though the teaching was not 1st rate, any group of people coming together focused on the work will make some progress.
        It seems this is what Burton cashes in on.
        A few member’s had come from america, and a lot of student’s delayed important work, feeling that the Holiday in America was the true time for learning.
        I left because progress was too slow, and I had already done a lot of work on myself.
        I was searching for school work to help with my Stalled development, and I learnt some thing’s, but not what I was expecting to learn. LOL.
        From my fairly brief look over this site, I am angred that Ouspensky’s teaching should have been corrupted, but also saddened that People might be discouraged from the work.
        Evolution is what the work is about, and after Reading Maurice Bucke, “Cosmic Conciousness” I see that man will not evolve purely by accident as Mr Bucke claim’s.
        An interesting book by a man who did not know of ‘Schools’
        The second section Evolution and Devolution (60 pages) is fascinating.

      • Haven't Decided Today says:

        I’m not completely certain, but I think the bookmarks are or were done by Robert Burton’s version of schools. Burton had been with Horn for a while, but from what I’ve read may have managed an even crazier version: http://robertearlburton.blogspot.mx/1998/08/self-remembering-by-robert-burton.html

  5. Hmmm, at some point in my post-“school” conversations someone else mentioned those bookmarks, but I can’t recall the context. If there’s anyone else out there who experienced “school’s” European branch, I’d love to hear from you.

    Gary, was there one specific “teacher” who led the “classes”? Did you have “sustainers”? Were you told not to tell anyone about Renaissance? I’m wondering how many parallels there are between the two “schools”.

  6. gary mascall says:

    There was no leader, but a german woman, and a canadian married woman along with an american guy in his 30’s, who formed a sort of clique. These people obviously had lived in the Renaissance centre in the states and organised most activitie’s.
    Many student’s had been to the states for a long holiday, and some where saving and planning to move there.
    I wasnt very impressed with any of the writing’s or Circular’s sent by robert, but in many way’s the group had it’s own dynamic.
    Yes we were told not to speak about school outside, but an understanding of Ouspensky meant I was already aware of the futility in trying to convey to other’s any of the teaching’s.
    So, like other aspect’s of True school work, this is just another aspect that is wide open to abuse through misinterpretation.
    Im sure some people used the school to develop a feeling for truth, that would have allowed them to see the falseness of robert.
    Unlike the school in america, there was little chance of any intense brain washing, so the Paris school and other’s were mainly for Subscriptions and recruitment I suspect.

    • Hi Gary,

      Thanks again for your comment. Couple of questions:

      “I wasnt very impressed with any of the writing’s or Circular’s sent by robert..”

      So Robert sent writings and circulars … are you sure that this Robert is the same one we refer to on this blog? That this the the same fake Gurdjieff group?

      Also did you pay a “tuition”? Typically “school’s” students pay $350/month.

      ” … so the Paris school and other’s were mainly for Subscriptions and recruitment I suspect.”

      I want to make sure I’m understanding this statement. It sounds like you suspect that the Paris school existed purely to generate income — recruit students who would pay for the teachings. Is that right?

      Thanks, again, for writing.


      • Haven't Decided Today says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s Robert Burton. But Burton studied, such as it was, under Alex Horn. Here’s a link about him. There are others. Some of the pieces I’ve read by those who left the group are pretty damned scary.


      • gary mascall says:

        It was definately the Burton Renaissance group, though as I said The Name was being changed to Apollo.
        The circulars were like a 2 page pamphlet with news of the US centre with vineyard ( The Rose Garden was just being set up) and also some quotes of a vague type.
        Group fees were not high, 4 cinema ticket’s a week. ( a lot of inflation in 20 year’s) and it was French francs anyway.
        To the poster above, Rodney Collin was an Ouspensky student, and one of those present at Ouspensky’s passing on.
        His Theory of celestial Influence is now my constant study.
        As to lineage, it has been my experience that only a small number of actual Experiences ‘MUST’ be taught in person. And anyone who has learnt them can pass them on.
        The almost physical experience of an ‘Objective’ state, can only be taught face to face.
        Jesus may have left no writing’s because in a predominantly iliterate world face to face teaching was the only way.
        My experience of Gurdjieff school’s is that almost all of them begin mixing his teaching’s with eastern system’s.
        Which is harmful but typical of the New Age habit of ‘Shopping’ in the Religion Supermarket, filling your basket with the bit’s you like best.
        It is the same guy robert Burton, and what strikes me about him is the hurt that he has caused. Ex Student’s arent just disillusioned, but whole lives are tainted by this man. The best way to heal is to continue the work, on your own if necessary.
        You know enough to do so, Im sure.

  7. Another Version of the Story says:


    Check this out. There is a lot of bad press out there about this group but this is a link to some info from a true believer who studied with Robert Burton who founded Circle of Friends in California and has a commune of sorts there called Renaissance. There are also international outposts of COF. Supposedly Robert Burton was a student (1967-1969) of Alex Horn who was purportedly a student of William Nyland and Rodney Collins who were direct students of Gurdjieff. In the Horn-Gans Group (mid 80’s ) we were told to stay away from those book marks and not to call those numbers as it wasn’t a “real school”. I tried calling at one point and it was a voicemail asking you to leave contact information. I have since heard elsewhere that the R. Burton Group members stuffed those bookmarks into books to recruit students. The website noted above makes the lineage look legitimate. I find the disputes about “true lineage” fascinating. I met a man who was supposedly part of a 4th way school neither Burton nor Horn lineage but supposedly of the legitimate Lord Pentland branch. He told me that the question of lineage of all the branches was always in dispute and that was part of the on going conversation and dismissed my questions about lineage saying, “Oh they say that about every group…it’s part of the distraction and background noise” This R. Burton Group is not part of the “Gurdjieff Foundation”. There is a lot going around under G’s name— including a lot of hasnamus wise-akering–it makes me wonder how Jesus feels about everything that goes on in his name.

  8. Truthfulness says:

    Hello GSR!

    Thank you for this site – especially for your vulnerability to share and your generosity to create a space of further reflection for others.

    Based on what you’ve written and the nature of your reflection and purpose in creating this site, I would very much value your opinion and a chance to share my experiences too. May I email you personally? If not, I understand – or, if you would like to know more of where I am coming from in this, please let me know and I can share more.

    Thank you.

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