Close encounters of the school kind …

Monday night I had my first close-encounter-of-a-“school”-kind since leaving the hollow halls in 2011. My husband and I went to an old haunt, The Cantab, in Cambridge’s Central Square. In 1991, The Cantab started an open mic. Every Monday, you’ll find local talent, and songwriter legend, Geoff Bartley, hosting a slew of guitar slinging song writers trotting out their newest songs.

Geoff was featuring a friend of mine, so we met up with other friends to listen, including my one “school” recruit (so to speak)   I now refer to him as 007, a name he earned when springing himself and a number of others free from “school” — but that’s another story. OO7 immediately recognized an ex-essence friend in the crowd  his sustainer. Ex-sustainer-man appeared blissfully unaware that two evil disgruntled(s) were on the scene … that is until my featured friend asked me, from the stage, to join him on a song.

I saw the look – shock and sudden recognition!

The featured ended and open mic-r’s continued the night. 007 told me that his set was back to back with ex-sustainer-man’s set and we laughed; I saw ex-sustainer-man starting to prepare, taking guitar out of case, tuning it up, etc. but upon hearing 007’s name, ex-sustainer-man quickly packed his guitar back into the case and high-tailed it out of the bar.

At this point, I will direct this post to him: ex-sustainer man, there are plenty of legitimate things to run away from in life. As we all know, the world threatens with dangers a’ plenty and in some cases you are wise to run away. Just look at our current orange president.

I pose no real danger to you; 007 certainly does not — I’m more cranky than he is, truth be told. You stayed the entire night, only to scuttle out right before you were going to play. Why? You don’t have to live this way — ducking into the shadows every time you encounter an ex-“school” doobie. The irony is that this group you’re hued to “school”, “the study”, “class”, “the work”, inflicts far more damage  on you, than a brief encounter with a “disgruntled ex-student”.

Ex-sustainer man, I didn’t interact with you a lot. But I do remember a few things about you: for example, your help when I was drawing, enlarging really, an illustration I’d found in a book of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales. It was Christmas Party time. We were making decorations to match the theme — The Snow Queen. You are a gifted artist and under your guidance, I created the first piece of visual art I’d drawn for many years.

It was a magic. The drawing felt like it flowed through me with you guiding the process when I got stuck. When it was finished, I got lots of kudos from fellow essence friends and teachers, a like. I was proud of it. For a brief time, “school” affirmed and let me reconnect to my inner, neglected artist. That experience set deep hooks in to me — I kept waiting for a repeat performance that never came.

I also remember seeing you lurking outside the Belmont Lion’s Club space, back in 2007, when I was a fresh-faced “youngest student”. I noticed it; I wondered why, but never asked. Now I know that you were the sentry, on the lookout for disgruntled ex-students who put flyers on cars and warned businesses and potential targets away from the cult.

I hope that you don’t fritter away your time and talent, till death do you part, following arbitrary rules, and protecting this con job. Really, it’s bullshit. And your talent is real. “School” is sucking the life out of you. Try two weeks away from  “class”. Break the rules. Talk to some disgruntled(s). Tell some un-“schooled” souls about your secret world (if you know any). Watch some bad t.v.

Maybe you’ll start to recognize normal life again. Maybe you’ll be able to go to the Cantab open mic and stay the entire night to play your set, no matter who is in the room! Imagine that. Imagine a life in which “school” no longer holds court over your every thought, decision, emotion, artistic endeavor and interaction.

That, my “essence friend”,  is true freedom.

6 thoughts on “Close encounters of the school kind …

  1. a breath of fresh air says:

    Dear Gentle Soul,

    I’ve had similar experiences to yours when encountering my former “essence friends”. I haven’t said a word to them, but somehow my mere presence is enough to send them scurrying away like mice. What are they so afraid of anyway? Obviously, we have differing opinions on the validity of the group, but we’re not going to kidnap them for goodness sake! Their behavior is rather abnormal when you think about it.

    I can make an educated guess about the identity of Ex-Sustainer Man. He’s been in the group for about three decades now. My heart goes out to him – how sad it is to devote such an enormous chunk of your life pursuing a false teaching and following such unconscious teachers. I suspect somewhere inside he knows this, but it would be tremendously painful to admit it to himself.

    This is why you and 007 represented a threat to him, and he had to leave the bar: You two represent a competing and alternate version of his reality, and that is threatening. You might say something that would force him to examine his own doubts and misgivings about the group, and thereby call his version of reality into question. It could lead to a painful upheaval of his world, beliefs, and his sense of himself. If he decided to leave the group it might cost him his marriage, break up his family, cut him off from his “essence friends”. You and 007 could possibly rock his world and turn it upside down, of course he felt threatened and had to leave.

    A man or woman who’s confident and rooted in the light will not be threatened by others with differing beliefs or alternate views of reality. They would be like a rock standing in their own truth and they would not be moved by others.

    It was a cowardly move for Ex-Sustainer man to run from the bar that night, but understandable. That is why my heart goes out to him. Diehards like him must be willing to go through the pain of seeing the truth for what it is. It takes courage, strength and resilience. Many of us have found the guts to do so; perhaps Ex-Sustainer man will also. It’s my sincere wish that all my former friends find their own truths when the time and space is right for them. Blessings to all who sincerely seek Truth.

  2. The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

    hi Breath of fresh air – Thanks for your comment. Here are a few responses:
    “Their behavior is rather abnormal when you think about it.”

    Yes! It’s sad. There’s bound to be a growing number of ex-“school” mates in the world. More people to run away from if you should encounter them in “only life”. Again, ex-sustainer-man, if you’re reading this, I ask: is that really how you want to live out your days?

    “My heart goes out to him – how sad it is to devote such an enormous chunk of your life pursuing a false teaching … it would be tremendously painful to admit it to himself … you and 007 represented a threat to him, and he had to leave the bar: You two represent a competing and alternate version of his reality, and that is threatening. You might say something that would force him to examine his own doubts and misgivings about the group, and thereby call his version of reality into question. It could lead to a painful upheaval of his world.”

    Three decades of “school” tenure! Ugh. Yes, I can’t imagine having to face that. And yet, his choice is stay in the group until he kicks, or leave and face the ugly reality — the entire thing was a con, all three decades. Christ. Do you want your entire life to be devoted to a deception? Do you want to fritter away your talent and intelligence and passions worshipping false idols?

    Hey, Blog Monitor, this is something that you might want to consider for yourself.

    Breath of fresh air, enjoy your “school” free day and life! I’m certainly enjoying mine!


  3. Dr. James says:

    I happen on one of these blogs from time to time (Ok, I search for them from time to time). I was a member of the Boston school from 1988 through 1999. I helped teach Tai Chi, I conducted the choir when it first began, and for years several years after. I joined just a few months out of college, and “school” shaped the early years of my adulthood. I am now 51.

    When protesters call for Donald Trump’s tax returns, I cringe; it isn’t right. Bear with me a moment. It is corrupt to cheat on taxes, especially on a large scale, and I feel fairly certain Mr. Trump is a corrupt man. It is morally reprehensible to cheat the poor out of their need, to pad ones excess, and I’m fairly certain Mr. Trump is without a moral compass. But it is beside the point. If Donald Trump released his taxes and they were a picture of honesty, it would change nothing, other than to deflate his opposition. The reason is because he is not objectionable because of his taxes; he is objectionable because of his heinous, aberrant, well-known and documented statements, views and behaviors. His taxes coming out clean would not prove him worthy of the presidency.

    If I see a former classmate recruiting, or participating in life, I leave them alone, and wish them well. Once I even shared a wink with an old friend. In so much as they believe themselves part of a valid endeavor to seek the good as they see it, their actions make sense. In so much as they believe their school represents higher consciousness, following the rules, even when silly or embarrassing, is the noble thing to do. In so much as they are following their own conscience, to the limit of their sincerity, they are obligated to continue.

    If the “sustainer” as we called them had gone ahead and performed, in the poignant example authored above, it might be that it would change nothing. It wouldn’t vindicate the aims of school, the manipulations of Sharon Gans (as I see it), the confusing, mixed messages driven deeply into the psyche of new recruits. It is a telling behavior that he left, but understandable – in as much as, for him, school is really School.

    I am not criticizing the author, whose courageous testimony is wonderful food for thought. My thoughts about the experience described are just my own long-time pondering, superimposed on someone else’s experience. Resentment and anger are my enemies, and in their grip I waste away the hours that might otherwise be worthwhile. I become of no service to anyone. So I look for ways to remember what to criticize. I find it hard work.

    I no longer criticize the long hours we spent, as I was not forced to be there – I paid to be there. But I do criticize the deliberate dishonesty. I was led to assume that if we students stayed longer and learned more, there would eventually appear more teachings, secret writings, new exercises, and perhaps the gaps in “methods” left by Ouspensky wold be filled in. I never saw it to be true. When, years after leaving, I had conversations with one of the chief “younger teachers” who had also left, I confirmed that the only thing going on in the back rooms was gossip, manipulation and a lot of drinking. This I do not hesitate to condemn.

    I no longer criticize the money I spent – it was my money to spend after all. Granted, had I been better off and donated large sums, I might feel differently! But I learned about work, and I learned about money, and I gained the confidence to turn around my work and money life. It has benefited me in all the years since. But I do criticize the misleading use of money. We were asked to pay the mortgage of a retreat house, which was to become an “artist colony’ of sorts for our use. It became Paul’s weekend house, I take it, and the artistic element was an unstructured overnight visit for a handful of us, exactly once. We were asked to contribute $5 a month to Sharon’s retirement fund, when she was in fact not working in a salaried job that would ever stop paying her! Retire from what, to what? These dishonesties I find nefarious.

    I no longer resent the horrible requirements for recruiting that were placed on me, and which I never really fulfilled anyway. It always felt dirty to me. But, no one held a gun to my head, and my life somehow went on. On the other hand, in an interesting moment of insight prior to coming to school, I frankly asked the man who brought me: “Am I going to be asked to recruit other people to this thing if I join?” And he said, lying, “No.” How did I know to ask that? A bigger question for another place. Stranger things than that happened as I approached school. But he should not have lied. He could have been honest, and said “Yes,” or even “Maybe.” He could have said, “I don’t know.” He could have said, “stop over-thinking it. Come experiment with an open mind.” It would have been better than later having to swallow the dishonesty, my naivety, his questionable motives, and it confused me for quite a while.

    So much to consider. Life outside of school can be wonderful. It will always be missing something, have a gap that is hard to define to anyone who has not been there, hard to define even to some of those who have, and even more difficult to fill. I will never forget a moment on a Saturday afternoon, at a retreat house in New Hampshire, sitting next to my friend Josh (who now I gather is a teacher). We were exhausted. The sun was out. He sat on my right. I looked at him in that moment and thought, in that rare, clear, inner voice that one never forgets: “this is exactly where I belong right now. What other effort could be worth the work of my life…” The words aren’t exact, but that was the meaning. I will miss Josh forever. I saw him come to school, young and naive like me, we worked together closely for years, and he saw me leave. I understand some things about him. Today I understand many more things about myself. The merry-go-round turns on. Thank you all for posting, and letting me post.

  4. The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

    Hi Dr. James – Thanks for your comment. I have some questions and thoughts, so I hope you return and respond:

    “I happen on one of these blogs from time to time (Ok, I search for them from time to time).”

    Why do you supposed you still search out these blogs? After all, you left in 1999 … 18 years have passed … It sounds like you’re living well … what’s the draw?

    “… he is not objectionable because of his taxes; he is objectionable because of his heinous, aberrant, well-known and documented statements, views and behaviors. His taxes coming out clean would not prove him worthy of the presidency.”

    The Trump comment feels a little random to me, but I can’t help but respond to it, because I can’t keep my mouth shut when it comes to the orange nightmare that is now our president … well, I don’t consider him legitimately elected, but that’s another rant. Anyway, I simply disagree with you. He should release his taxes as presidential candidates and presidents do; he should release his taxes because he works for the American people and we deserve to know who he is beholden to; what his net worth really is; because he owes us transparency. And since he’s refusing to release his taxes I find it hard to believe that his taxes would “come out clean” as you say, but regardless, we deserve to know.

    ” …In so much as they are following their own conscience, to the limit of their sincerity, they are obligated to continue.”

    Well, it’s not for me to claim I know whether those who stay are following their own conscience. I know that my experience of “school” was abdicating my conscience to the propaganda “taught” in the hollow halls. So … I find it hard to believe that those who’ve been “schooling” for decades are still connected to authentic identity and conscience. They could be … I doubt it, but who knows for sure.

    “So much to consider. Life outside of school can be wonderful. It will always be missing something, have a gap that is hard to define to anyone who has not been there, hard to define even to some of those who have, and even more difficult to fill.”

    It’s true that the experience is difficult to define and that there’s nothing like it. I have to say, I’ve never missed it and my life feels full – in fact, so much more authentic and true now than when the “teachers” were lording over all my decisions – So, I’m sorry that you’ve not found the fulfillment that you found there, out in “only life” and maybe that answers my original question: what draws you to the blogs?

    You might be interested in reading a book by Thomas Farber called Tales for the Son of My Unborn Child. It’s a memoir of sorts (out of print, I think, but I managed to find it at a used bookstore) — his adventures in the groovy 60s/70s in Berkley CA. He lands in the Alex Horn iteration of “school” – and writes about it in a chapter called Getting Religion. He ends the chapter with a quote that I love and will just provide a snippet of here …

    ….about leaving the group, he writes: “In the period of transition I heard Alex’s voice over and again: ‘You will wish you had never hard of this Work’. And then I passed out of his reach, I rejoined the rhythms and melodies of the larger flow, and hurried to have my share of the vanities, foibles, whims, conceits, caprices, hopes , dreams, illusions and insistent mortality of those who could live no other way … No, nothing was for free. Yes, I would pay. But I would stay with the groundlings, spared perhaps, perhaps not, from that overriding ambition which made such redoubtable prisoners of those who tried the Work. With a confidence born of ignorance I chose to make my own way.”

    • Dr. James says:

      What wonderful follow-up questions. I enjoy your thorough and respectful tone, missing from so many online forums I have read.

      Why do I search? Hmm. Perhaps it takes 18 years of being away from the experience to understand why one searches after 18 years. School (indulge me to simply call it that, for simplicity) opened the door to certain ideas to me. Most particular were several ideas around time and dimensionality. They had many things right (Rodney Collin, Ouspensky) and some things wrong. I’m making a feeble attempt, or it feels feeble, to write down some of what I know. How do I know? Hard to explain. I am an engineer, a physician, a musician, an amateur mathematician – and flatter myself that I have some well-rounded insights. I have experience of one or two irrefutable “facts”, in my own private history, that confirm some of what these writers say about recurrence. It is so hard to describe, and so useless to argue, certain internal sureties. So I seldom mention them, and not it detail. And I wonder: aside from a few friends I left behind, who would understand what I am recording, synthesizing? Who would care? I don’t claim any expertise, or hope to convince anyone of anything – but immersion into the subject brings me back to the past, in ways that bring old friends to mind. In ways that recall to me perhaps one of the truest beauties of a School, which is an agreed-upon language, meaning of words, so increasingly distant from modern communication. So, I wonder, and I peek and what they are up to.

      Trump? I agree with you!! He should have provided his tax returns long ago. They will undoubtedly be revealing when and if we eventually see them. My contention is that we shouldn’t hinge anything of weight on them, any important conclusion. I ask myself: if he golfed less, would he be a great president? No. Humans need quiet time, to take a breath and see the sun. Our very worthy (to my mind) most recent president golfed frequently. Would acceptable tax returns make Donald Trump an acceptable president? No. So I don’t look there when debating that question. Similarly, when thinking about the behavior of my old friends in School, I don’t question things like payment, hours or secrecy anymore. They may be good, bad, or even reprehensible parts of the machinery of that organization. But they aren’t the keys to weighing its final worth, at least to me. If it cost less, would that constitute an esoteric connection? I was rambling a bit, admittedly, but that was the point I hoped to convey.

      ‘You will wish you had never heard of this Work’. I’m not quite there. At times I wish I didn’t know certain things, of which I am never free. I can never go back to my old ways of thinking. I will never have the methods to confirm or explore much of what I imagine is possible. I am not free from my “overriding ambition.” I am not the master of myself. But I am living with that, and pretty well, all in all.

      Fulfillment is a gray term, no? My life is unbelievable. I have a wonderful family, a great job, am in recovery (from alcoholism) for well over a decade. My kids are my teachers, I am my teacher. I am my student. Life is God, God is Great Nature, the great minds of the past are my fellows whenever I care to ask them to be. So what is missing?

      When one knows, or thinks one knows of a possibility and a reality beyond that visible from the point of view of ordinary life, one is in a tough spot. The more sure I am, the more I feel the absence of methods. Functional methods, practical methods. The ones I have are shabby tools. They don’t work, especially working alone. The friends I left had power between them, but misguided, useless, dull tools beyond the initial ones. My God, how many hours did we spend beating the dead horse of “I observed sadness as a function of the emotional center… I observed the legs walking as a function of the moving center… I did not observe myself…”, on and on around the circle, forbidden by our teachers to discuss the meaning of anything we observed??!?!?!?!? It kills me.

      • The Gentle Souls Revolution says:

        For some reason, I feel sad reading this. I think losing the community is the most painful thing about leaving “school” — the ideas are widely available; you could join a chapter of The Gurdjieff Society (I don’t know where you are, but there’s a chapter here in Massachusetts: There you might find others who are (most likely) hungry for conversation about time, dimensionality, human perception …it’ll never match the intensity of this group and its demands.

        And yet, the community “school” offers is contrived — the institution cannot allow for organic connection and relationship development. It must engineer the conversations to fit a particular narrative and protect the never-ending, ever-growing slew of secrets. By the time I bumbled into the hollow halls, it had established all kinds of social rules – the Internet posed a big threat. Someone might Google secret school Billerica and discover that it’s a cult! So “school” stopped referring to Gurdjieff, Ospensky, Collins and claimed the ideas for their own – an ancient study, nodding (but never specifying) at roots that extended back to Shakespeare, to Jesus Christ, etc. etc. etc. No mention of Alex Horn …. No mention of corporate headquarters in NYC, or Sharon Gans. That’s what they were up to when I departed in 2011. I doubt that’s changed.

        So the language changes, the common language that you are now hungry for morphs and meanders — why? B/c “school” tells lies and keeps secrets and the Internet threatens to expose those secrets. In the day and age of “alternative facts” in which we have a president named Trump, with a senior advisor by the name of CON-way, who can blame you, or me, or anyone else for seeking out irrefutable truth.

        But, just like any other cult, “school” uses language to deconstruct, to damage, to inflict pain on its minions, at least that’s how I see it. If you take a person who’s vulnerable, unsure, unsteady on his/her feet and imbue that person with more and more self doubt, that person can be easily manipulated — and who benefits? Whoever gets the tuition money. Sharon. She benefits and everyone else pays.

        I don’t know what made you decide to leave the group — I’d love to know more about your story, truth be told. But, whatever it was, good for you! Instead of spending the next two (?) decades allowing this “institution of higher calling” to steal your money, time, energy, and focus, you had a family, established a career, pursued passions — your questions may have been haunting you through out; but you lived anyway. Good for you.

        Have you ever shared your “school” days with your wife, friends, siblings, parents, a therapist? If not, it might be interesting for you to do so. What would it be like to tell someone close to you about the “school” experience? Not so much about the esoteric ideas and your subsequent wonderings, but the narrative: how you “joined” (cough – no one joins a cult … let’s say, were lured in); what appealed to you about the group; what unfolded during your tenure; why you decided to leave. I wonder how that would feel to you.

        In the meantime, if you enjoy acoustic music, you might like this song:

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