Today’s post is a weaving together of endorsing, Living the Deeper Yes, and highlighting why I feel this book is such a wonderful resource for ex-cult members, and, in particular, “school’s” “disgruntled ex-students”.
Since leaving the cult in 2011, I have used this blog to glean meaning and understanding from what happened to me, rail against cults, and all forms of gaslighting & victim blame.
Thanks to my “schooling”, the post-“school” me is more savvy, more guarded, and less afraid of confrontation. I like the tougher me, frankly; it was born of being played a fool, but — thanks to “school” — I now have a finely-tuned antenna for bullshit. The pre-school me felt like a magnet for manipulators and swindlers. Plenty of them graced my life before the ultimate con. Since my graduation (cough) grifters no longer drift to me. That feels good. It tells me that recruiters and cons no longer see me as a viable candidate — better move on to the next one.
But that protective presentation does come at some cost to the kinder, more loving, more compassionate and perhaps naive parts of myself. The part of me who constantly felt raw and vulnerable and who –once upon a time– met a “new friend” and a new community. She wanted desperately to believe that she’d found a safe haven, full of mentors, and kindred spirits, when in truth she’d been led into a Ponzi scheme.
That’s a tough lesson and to some extent I’ve packed her away as a protective mechanism. This part of me had to retreat and let a more angry & assertive, self take the wheel; it’s hard to remain a Gentle Soul in a world that feels increasingly meaner and colder. Given the current state of the union, I was starting to wonder if that Gentle Soul had been killed off — ironic, yes?
But recently, a car accident made clear that the pre-“school” me — the Gentle Soul, whose well-intended, but confused, meanderings, once made her the ideal cult recruit — is still in there. Though, not physically hurt, I am freaked out. The accident brought out a vulnerability I haven’t felt since right before I departed “school”, when my tenure was really at it’s worst. Life is fragile. We are all fragile.
This gentler part feels vulnerable all the time. It has been much easier to pack her away — to tell her, “You go retreat. I’ve got this.” I have a feeling that many ex-members can relate to that. But packing her away completely, as in denying her voice, does require a kind of death of the soul.
That brings me to, Living the Deeper Yes. For once, this is NOT a book about cults– instead it is a book that offers the esoteric ideas, concepts and strivings that attracts Gentle Souls who are struggling to navigate this world. Author Anna Huckabee Tull takes the same concepts and ideas that cults claim in order to abuse, and reframes them into the healing context. It is clear that her true intent comes from desire to empower, to affirm and to love. She offers them as guide posts for the gentler parts of us to follow when feeling over exposed – tools that embrace the very vulnerabilities that can be exploited by those so inclined.
These tender parts of us need protection, but self protection can go too far. Your gentleness gets cast aside. That makes us less human, less decent, less loving, less kind. And God knows, we need more decency, kindness and love, not less. The good news: you don’t have to pack your tenderness away. In fact, if you’re anything like me (and if you’re an ex-member, I guessing we share some common tendencies) those inner characters will find a way to get your attention. For example, consuming your mind so completely that you end up in a car wreck.
The good news is that you don’t have to lose your essence. You only need to assemble your personal inner tool box of protective ideas, practices, safety nets, compassion for those parts and for others. Over the last few days, I’ve turned to this book. I highly, highly recommend it.
Particular to “school”, Ms. Tull reframes the Essence concept. “School” trotted out an origin story about essence, upon which everything else relied: we all began as “an essence” in the starry world. Each essence has a fatal flaw. They choose parents and are born into this world, planet earth, to resolve this flaw, but once born, forgets; falls asleep to essence: “What does it mean to remember yourself?” “School” would pontificate. Of course, it is nearly impossible to “remember yourself.” And NOT possible without the “Help”, exclusively available from “school” for a mere $350/month. Of course, claims of exclusive knowledge is cult common. Readers from other cults probably recognize that tactic.
In direct contradiction and stark contrast, Ms. Tull says that we traverse two levels of existence: logistical and essential. Both are available to mere mortals at all times; in order to avail yourself of the essence level, give yourself permission to stop and listen. Take pause, open eyes and ears and hearts. You can find the essence level everywhere and in all things. Right now I am trying to find it in this event, called The Car Accident. Ugh.
My favorite thing about Ms. Tull is that she’s not presenting as a guru with the answers. Instead she shares her humanity and imperfect meanderings — poignant, funny & magical experiences at times when her vulnerabilities felt exposed to the hilt. In stumbling through those events, she comes to the knowledge shared in the book. A marriage ends. Her life, and her plans, crash and burn. At the age of 30 she packs her car and drives from Texas to Ohio, back to her parents. When she gets there she stops. She shelters in place, surrounded by two people who love her. She cries a lot — letting herself feel it fully; allowing that vulnerability just to be. Then one day, she packs herself and her stuff back into the car and points her wheels due West, destination unknown.
Each day of this adventure, she practiced consulting her internal compass, her essence, and allowed it to lead her back out in the world, exposed. Some times her essence said, take a left here, go right there. Or go ask this question to that seemingly random stranger …
“…I was tapping into some strange kind of courage, some irrefutable rising inner momentum. And I was using it to step right into someone’s existence. I was asking to be seen, asking others to open toward me, if even just for a moment. Sometimes people assumed I was trying to sell them a Bible, or corral them into taking a marketing poll. But most of the time, to my delight, people, when I asked them for input, just piped out variations of, ‘Okay, sure. What’s on your mind?’ ”
” ‘I don’t know. I’m hurting I guess,’ I would say to the woman in the parking lot, or the hotel clerk … the old man waiting outside the hotdog stand … ” I had (the marriage/the job/the business, etc) … now I don’t have anything … It feels kind of worse, on the surface. But it feels kind of better, somewhere deeper down. I can’t quite make sense of it.’ ”
‘Do the thing that feels good,’ the pet shop worker on break would tell me … (etc)
“I was beginning to hear the deeper, more essence-level, reverberations of messages everywhere. Each one felt tailor-made for me, for exactly what I was ready to hear, right then. The student was ready, and the teachers appeared all around — in the flowers, in the wind, in the faces and chances, all along the highways and gas stations and toll booths and back roads of state after state. And I was hungry for their ready wisdom.”
Folks, fellow “disgruntled ex-students”, fellow “essence friends”, fellow ex-cult members, and current members if you’re “breaking rules” and reading this “evil” missive (Blog Monitor???) isn’t it freeing, and wonderful, to embrace that ESSENCE is always available?! You don’t have to rely on “the source”. The REAL SOURCE is everywhere: inside, outside, in others and in other things. Inhale, exhale.
This is the Gentle Souls version of If You See the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. You don’t have to kill anyone, actually. You just have to embrace the messy truth — no one person, or group, has “the proverbial answers”. Kind of a simple how to avoid cults rule of thumb. Walk away from those who make such a claim, gently consulting your inner compass, your essence.
When I’ve trust my essential self –feeling my way through — it has never steered me wrong. When I’m making decisions out of fear, or clinging to a dependency, the results are never good. So, thank God, I didn’t kill her off. I’m pretty sure that she’s been giving me marching orders ever since a sunrise walk in late July of 2011, when I looked at the previous five years and thought to myself: “If I’m going to fuck up my life, I’d prefer to do it on my own terms.Thanks.”
I’ve been following the inner compass ever since — most of the time. When I veer off course, well, I risk a 3-car accident.
Here’s to your inner compass! More to come on Living the Deeper Yes soon.
[…] “Cult Confessions,” through which she has blogged about my book three times now (Blog 1, Blog 2, Blog 3). Each time, in yet a different way, she shares (to my utter delight) about how […]