About Cultic Identity Theft

Big storm today and I am content as a kitty. Why, because I’m finally able to accept my innate tendencies towards introversion, with moments of extroversion. At heart, I’m a gentle soul, whose natural affinities lean towards quiet, and solitary activities — writing, reading, long meandering conversations about deep thoughts (sigh) and emotional experiences, hanging with my guitar, my mandolin, writing a new song, etc.

When I was a “school” cog, I allowed the hallowed halls to hollow out my soul. It told me “we don’t know ourselves … thus, you must trust that those who’ve been doing the work longer, know you better than you know yourself.” The longer my tenure progressed, the more empty I felt and the things that brought me joy, made my life feel meaningful started draining out of me until I almost lost my ability to write.

I call that indoctrination process Cultic Identity Theft. Thank God, I left when I did. My writing voice returned almost immediately — some internal part of me said, “Damn, I’ve been waiting for you to come to your senses. Now I can finally say my piece.”

Today, six years plus years “school”-free, I want to share the silver lining with you. Every day – and I mean Every. Single. Day. I am grateful to have my life back. Because each day that passes between me and my last day of “school” brings me back to my core self with a new appreciation for that core self and a new propensity to protect those essential elements of my identity. Cults thieve identity, fashioning members into one-dimensional cogs in the wheel.

But, you Dear Reader, can always retrieve your true self. It doesn’t leave you; it lays in wait and arrives when you’re ready. And it’s a joyous reunion when you discard the cult self and return home. At this moment, I’m listening to Patty Griffin, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, sing one of my favorite Patty Griffin songs, Making Pies (enjoy), and feeling inspired by it!

Inspiration became a foreign concept during my illustrious “school days” — something that other people got to enjoy. “Real” artists. Not me. Man, it feels fucking great to reject that cult doctrine and return home. I highly, highly recommend it and I hope those of you who are reading this blog, because you’re wondering if you’ve been recruited by a cult, will honor yourself, see the con for what it is and rejoin the real world soon, with a more deeply ingrained appreciation for your essential self and identity, never to let anyone try to steal it from you again.

That’s all. Happy snow day, northeasterners!

Cultic Identity Theft

Once upon a time society forced left-handed children to use their right hands. Yep, left-handedness was considered a sign of evil. Sounds ridiculous, yes? Yet we know well that fear & rejection of those who are — God forbid — different. This drama plays out over and over and over and over, ad nauseam and beyond.

The usual suspects are the most blatant: racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-semitism. I also see a range of grey; subtle versions of this flawed hard wiring. The more subtle rejections play out in daily interactions and an accompanying range of psychological suffering. The message: as you are, you are wrong.

In childhood an insidious version of rejection flattened my self-confidence. Thus as an adult, I was vulnerable to predatory groups with radar for such insecurity. Self-assured humans are not as malleable. People who generally have confidence, don’t seek external guidance to the extent that I did. Cults need struggling souls that they can shape into cogs to bolster profit-generating cult wheel.

I call that process Cultic Identity Theft.

About The Set Up

In August, 2011, I departed “school”. A week later, on a road trip to South Carolina, I stared out the car window reviewing my illustrious tenure. This was the first step in my recovery.

The more pavement between myself and “school”, the more perspective I gained. My mind pulled back like a camera lens, the aperture widening. My five-year tenure rolled out like a movie: my recruitment, indoctrination and acceptance of “school” doctrine.

Each passing mile inspired the thought “What the fuck have I been doing?”

I have spent the last five years attempting to answer that question. The cult hooked me at a point when a triad of lifelong insecurities collided: Mid-career change, my hopes for the new occupation to dissolve lifelong insecurities around work and money started dwindling; each opportunity seemed emptier than the last. My boyfriend, at the time, flipped out, the relationship shredded. The political climate –i.e. Bush years, Iraq War, tunnel-vision-ed and pummeling patriotism, empty talking heads blathering about “morals”– gave creed to that message: as you are, you are wrong.

Raw and fragile, I clearly remember wishing I had mentors, people who believed in me and could help guide my choices. I clearly remember feeling embarrassed that, at 41, I still longed for such guidance. I have always tended towards introverted, sensitive, right-brained, creative and artistic. I was an empathic kid — soaking up emotions like a sponge from any and all. I have always needed to withdraw from groups, recharge with a sketchpad, or guitar, or journal, or book. These tendencies have always been with me.

These tendencies — the need for solitude, reflection, the capacity for empathy and compassion — seemed to freak people out when I was young. Rather then affirmed, or supported, well-intended, and not-so-well-intended, said I was “too sensitive”. I “thought too much“. My creativity was a nice hobby, but not something to take seriously. In order to “make it in this world”, I needed to change: as I was, I was wrong.

The problem: try as I may, I couldn’t change. At 41, I had the exact same temperment and associated troubles. How was I going to make it in this world, as I was? This constant quandary, and its close cousin, failure, plagued me long into adulthood. “School’s” lost-soul radar honed in right when I was giving up: other people found fulfilling jobs, creative careers, money, spouses, homes. Not me. It was the perfect time to encounter a “new friend!”  with a “casual discussion group” to offer. “We talk about ideas, tools for living. People come and go. We laugh a lot,” she said.

“Meant to be!”, I thought.

I was easy prey for Cultic Identity Theft.

Six-Step Cultic Identity Theft Implementation

  1. bait with offer of community, and promise of access to “secret knowledge

“School” Baited me with a “free 5-week experiment!”. A “second education”! “School” scoffs at our “only-life” “first education”. Its first lesson: “Self Remembering!”, conveniently ambiguous. “Teachers” told members, “verify this idea for yourself through your own experiences!”  Tasks such as “recording & reporting on self observations (i.e establishing confessions) and “setting and reporting on 5-Week AIMs!followed.

2. encourage confession by offering “help” and “compassion”

“School” Encouragement: AIMS! and “self observations”  whisper of blossoming potential. “School” “supports” its “students” and their elusive (nearly-impossible-to- attain) inner development. It provides “help!”. It teaches ideas! When “AIMs” hit an “interval”, or self-observations became difficult, we learned to ask for “help”.

3. cultivate (sorry, unintentional pun) strict hierarchy through deceptive presentation: the “more evolved” “HELP!” and “teach” the “less evolved”.

“School” hierarchy cultivation:
those who “have been doing the work longer” (“older students”, “sustainers”, and “teachers”) have “refined their vibrations”. They float above coarser humanity  and see all from above (cough). They are uniquely qualified (cough) to provide “HELP!”  “School” rolls out a system of ideas — mysteriously-never-mentioning the source, arcane Russian philosopher, G.I. Gurdjieff:

  • “humans are not unified beings, but multiplicities; we do not have one ‘I’, but many ‘Is'”
  • “humans are unaware of their multiplicity”
  • “humans are all asleep; we come to a ‘school’ to awaken!” to “remember ourselves!”
  • “people lie, all the time; we don’t know that we are lying, because we are asleep to multiplicity”
  • “sentences that begin with the word ‘I’, are all lies, because we are not unified beings.” (Wrap your brain around that one.)

Note how all ideas deconstruct fundamental belief and thought process. With such tools, a skilled practitioner can empty a willing participant of basic identity.

4. spotlight insecurities and take credit for strengths over time

“School” Weakness Amplification & Credit-Taking: Only those who “have been doing the work longer” can provide real “HELP!”  They know “work ideas!” They “know you better than you know yourself.” Students who “ask for the most help” and “followed instruction” expedite evolution.

5. switch as higher ups hammer down on proletariat with reminders of weaknesses and failures

School Switch: the longer your tenure, the more license “more evolved” have to spotlight “weaknesses” in the name of “HELP!” As “older” cogs deconstruct, and empty, “younger” cogs, all cogs become more malleable, feeling increasingly insecure of their thoughts, emotions and perceptions, as well as positions within the cult. For some “essence friends” weaknesses morph into identity. Other essence friends are groomed and positioned to ascend the cult ladder. For the losers, once you are your weaknesses, you will always and forever need “help!”

(Oops, during recruitment, your “new friend”, neglected to mention that the “casual discussion group” expects lifelong membership. Kinda like the Hotel California … you can never leave! Well, you can; but expect to be demonized.)

6. “teach/preach” a prescriptive, soul-manufacturing process as the “only way” to “evolve”

 “School’s” primary soul manufacturing requirement: the longer your tenure, the more you surrender. Personal attachments inconvenience and impede evolution! We climb the ladder to “enlightenment” (cough, profit-generation for Sharon) together! Those who abandon the struggle, endanger all (of Sharon’s retirement fund)! It will be difficult! (a.k.a. “necessary suffering”), but you are lucky! Your “magnetic center” drew you to a “school” (cough).

“School” indoctrinates insidiously, slowly. It “celebrates”  Only-Life successes and offers “HELP!” for Only-Life difficulties. Never fear, over time the cult will credit itself for all-things-good and pin all misfortune on your “lack of effort”, “lack of valuation”, “coarse vibrations”, “not trying hard enough”. The cult couldn’t possibly be the problem! You need to work harder! You must surrender more!

Sleep deprived, isolated and increasingly unsure of thoughts, emotions and perceptions, each day more impressionable, malleable and easily shaped into cult cogness. Healthy self-protective components, like confidence and self advocacy, empty out. Indebtedness, insecurity, fearfulness and an incrementally increasing isolation due to the “school”-required secrecy replace those components. We cogs owe! We owe! So off to “school” we go, till death do we part, “paying for our arising” through, “THREE LINES OF WORK”:

  1. Work on the self – self-observations, setting aims, a type of confession called “being work”, completing assignments!
  2. Work for others – “HELPing!” fellow “essence friends”! I like to call second line the feeding frenzy — eventually the group tears into one poor cog. Everyone gets a turn to tear and be torn. Yippee.
  3. WORK FOR “SCHOOL”!!! Recruitment, Recruitment and Recruitment. More members = Greater Profits.

 Theft Complete

RECRUITMENT is the apex of your “school” tenure.  Once a cog is willing to let it devour his/her life, s/he has arrived! Grocery stores, jobs, social events, concerts, commutes in trains and buses, coffee shops, bars, etc. etc. etc, blah, blah, blah, all become potential recruitment venues. The “Third-line of Work” nips at evolved heels, 24/7. It devours time, energy, talents, thoughts, emotions, unschooled” relationships for the “higher cause” ($$$$). With authentic self dismissed, the cult identity marches forth, poised to sniff out insecure “new friends” with “magnetic center”, and bank accounts, who are seeking “HELP!”

Sound familiar? Some must recognize various cults within this description. All cults employ the 6 steps. Indoctrination paces and vocabulary ( i.e. loaded language) vary from vulture to vulture; the marketing spin may target different demographics (bible study, yoga class, self help seminar, esoteric mystery “school”, etc.) but the nuts and bolts are the same.

All cults perpetrate Cultic Identity Theft; it is a psychological violence. That is what cults do. (right, Robert?)

The Result: My “Evolution” (cough)

Needless to say, the longer my tenure, the more my  functioning dwindled. In 2010, I was fired, (again). A constant –and constantly failing—“school”-fueled job search ensued. Between the Great Recession, and my non-existent self worth, job interviews … not auspicious. (Someday, for a laugh, I’ll share my more memorable job-search moments). Dependence increased, autonomy dwindled. My flattering cult-cog identity solidified: “woman who can’t hold down a job.”

Ah, “school!” you so inspire!

More painful, though, my writing voice disappeared. I started writing as soon as I could put sentences together. My “evolution” into an empty shell, with a dwindling bank account and no voice was nearing completion. Ironically, though, my cult loser tag became my ticket out. Angry inner rebels, did not allow the coma to take full effect. They said, “Fuck this! With such ‘essence friends’, who needs enemies?” My husband, witnessing “evolution”, one day, had enough of it. He confronted me. I departed the ranks. I was lucky.

This August will mark my true five-years cult free milestone; my time out now equals my tenure. Our trip to South Carolina, freed my writing voice. She returned with a healthy vengeance, culminating in a number of related public service projects, including this blog (more on those later). And, btw, ALL of my employment problems vanished with my exit.

The silver lining — I am finally able to embrace and fiercely protect the Gentle Soul inside that felt so rejected along the way. Essential components that  shaped my identity and make me who I am today. NEWS FLASH! I am exponentially happier, have a well-honed radar for bullshit and no tolerance for cons, parasites and vultures. Thanks, “school”! Guess you did teach me something. Of course, I had to leave to really understand the lesson.

Cultic Identity Theft touches on a huge problem, though: the societal rejection of innate and unchangeable identity. The human suffering it inflicts ranges from busted confidence, to vulnerability to predatory cults, like “school”, to heinous violence.

We witnessed the worst last weekend, one man gunning down over 100 innocent people — 49 dead, 53 injured. His target — a gay nightclub, celebrating Latin night — attacks on two fronts of identity: sexual orientation and Latin heritage. The perpetrator’s personal grasp on identity appears tenuous, at best. Amidst the carnage, he pledged his allegiance to ISIS. But reportedly he had in the past pledged allegiance to other extremist groups, including Hezbollah, a sworn ISIS enemy. The FBI investigation, thus far, has not produced evidence of said allegiance to ISIS. Lots of evidence, though, pointed to his 10 years of frequenting of gay night clubs and accompanying use of “gay dating apps to make contact with men”.

Was he keeping his identity as a gay Muslim man secret? Was he living a lie? Did he inflict his self-hatred on 100 plus other people? We will never know his true motivation. But this is clear: rejecting identity is a type of psychological violence that culminates into physical violence. The danger it poses large scale plays out again and again and over the last decade appears to be growing. What is ISIS, after all, but one group’s rejection of all things it fears, or deigns as evil. Things it doesn’t want others, to do, or be.

Cultic Identity Theft is simply one insidious facet of a huge and unchecked human flaw.

This topic, honestly, is to vast for a blog post. Perhaps it will become a book. For today, I end on this thought: the world would be a vastly different place, if humans practiced acceptance of ourselves and of others. If we focused primarily on becoming the best versions of ourselves we can become, in the short time that we have on this beautiful, albeit flawed, planet. If we weeded out prejudices, rather than acting them out, I wonder what kind of potential the human race would have.

On that lofty note, thank you, for reading this diatribe!

 

The Anti-Cult Crusade: why I’m donning the ex-member cape … …

Recently a friend and I were talking about how minds/hearts/spirits can be damaged. Esoteric human traits — thoughts, perceptions, emotions, the meaning we assign to experiences — can be broken, or infected – just like any other limb, or organ. Cults inflict such damage: hummingbirdthey are a societal and psychological cancer. Unchecked, they spread.

My cult-ic misadventure, i.e. “school”, spotlighted my psychological/social fragility. Author/clinician Daniel Shaw sums it up succinctly with this formula: Vulnerability + Bad Luck = Cult Recruitment

The more purpose, guidance, meaning, community, a potential recruit seeks, the more vulnerable you are. My chance encounter, at a particular moment, with an ambitious cult recruiter (Lisa), led to a five-year tenure, with $20,000 price tag.

This month, I’m five years “school” free. My crusade has moved beyond the little cult called “school”. (I’ve heard that “school” is doing itself in, anyway). All the writing, and research, and talking I’ve done since departing the hallowed halls has literally freed me to focus on the bigger picture:

    1. Educating through my presentation – cultic red flags, should be common knowledge. We should teach them in schools & churches & community centers & temples, etc. etc. etc. Everyone should be familiar with recruitment tactics and cult practices; knowledge empowers – if you recognize a predatory group, you’re less likely to fall into the trap.
    2.  Advocating, nurturing and supporting, through my clinical healing arts practice — The Gentle Souls’ Revolution — critical aspects of emotional and psychological health that — if neglected — make people vulnerable to spiritual predators:

Confidence/Self Esteem – Robert is fond of saying, “Confidence is a myth; it isn’t real … doesn’t exist.” (how convenient) He would chastise minions for “being in self love” … (yes, folks, “self love”, how sinful) Without confidence — self worth — you’ve got nothing. Confidence & self worth are inner soldiers; they protect from manipulators and con artists. Confidence would have ended my tenure far sooner, or blocked my entrance into the hallowed halls in the first place.

Community – humans are wired to be social, we thus need some type of community; sociopaths are happy manipulate & engineer this wiring for selfish gain. I once interviewed a lawyer who fights litigious cults, who said, ” …cult leaders believe that they are really on the side of the angels”. When angels endorse your delusions, it’s easy to justify heinous and selfish acts. I’m lucky. I left before the parasite sucked up my life savings, broke up my family, ruined my “un-schooled” friendships. But many are not so lucky. The ripple effect from cults, or shock waves, infect communities, inflict exponential waves of damage.

Identity – after the awful Orlando shooting last spring, I wrote a post titled Cultic Identity Theft. Cults squeeze out identity. You can’t be a cult member and an individual, that’s inconvenient for the group. As a member of a unit of profit-generation and propaganda propagation, you must be mold-able . People with healthy identities tire of shoving their lives off to the side for the “higher cause” — they reject required group think that must supersede personal thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

The rejection of fundamental identity — skin color, or sexual identity, orientation, or family origin — is the root cause of so many societal problems. Myriads of isms are rooted and justified by such rejection — hateful, vile and violent acts grow from such rejection and cultural infections. They go way beyond the cult phenomenon; but cults grab hold and ride the wave and I must do my part to advocate for civil rights — fundamental American values of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, freedom of speech, of religion … because, as we say, ALL men and women are created equal.

Only after leaving, could I recognize “school’s” goal, and violation of basic human rights. Like all cults, it exists purely to shape its membership into cult cogs in the machine  that exists to proliferate profits and prop up one woman (whom I’d met briefly, in bizarre and orchestrated visits to my “class”).

Sinister, yes? But this is typical cult fare. And fighting against cult fare is today, my raison d’etre and the reason why I’m crowdfunding for Cult Confessions: The CD!!!

Today, I have 6 days left to raise $1825 more to make the $6000 goal — so I appreciate any contribution that you can make!!!

Thanks for reading!

GSR

 

How to Heal From a Cult

Gettysburg_SunsetDbleWowI must admit it is fun eviscerating this “school of higher consciousness” (cough). But as cathartic as it is, I want to focus on recovery and try to veer away from snarky and cynical (a little). Specific things have helped me in the healing process; starting with admitting that my five-year tenure was in a cult, not an “esoteric mystery school”. Recently, my brother and I were discussing my “School” days and he said, “Dude, that is so weird.” I replied, “Do you think?”

On a more serious note, though, I couldn’t heal without recognizing “School” as simply another predatory cult, among the many. Everybody knows these groups feed on emotional insecurities; now I know how they take advantage of those seeking meaning, direction, purpose, acceptance, belonging, spiritual connection, community, etc. But when it comes to the search for identity, cults really sink in their teeth.

In the book Quiet Horizon, author Greg Jemsek offers a compassionate understanding of the fragile process of establishing identity and explores the idea of narcissistic wounding –  I will write more about it in a future post; for now, simply put, narcissistic wounding interrupts the establishment of identity, usually at a tender age. Those with faltering senses of identity are more vulnerable to outside influences. Those with stronger senses of identity need less external validation.

On looking back, I realized that “students” with stronger senses of self disappeared from the ranks. Some “students” pushed back on certain unpalatable demands — those who had maintained some ego strength. “School’s” pre-fab response was, “You are in self will (horrors; I’ll write a self-will post in the future, too). “Self will” was a shaming device — the not-so-subtle subtext: you are selfish(again, horrors). Someone with solid identity might respond to that shaming with “so what” or “fuck you”. But those who aren’t so confident in themselves tend to take on the group’s caricaturization.

Cults foster insecurity, paranoia, fear and child-like dependence in the membership – those who obviously “need” guidance from “above” to “become the men/women they wish to be”. Essentially, cults cultivate (sorry, unintentional pun) addictions by flattening members into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves — wounded souls, seeking acceptance, willing to “do whatever it takes” to further the mysterious cause (mo’ students, mo’ money) and “evolve”.

I call this practice Cultic Identity Theft; I consider it psychological violence; it will also get a post in the future. I witnessed and experienced the cult’s soul-sucking techniques. My psyche felt pulled apart and parsed out — but that pain woke me up; I saw fear dictating my choices, abdicating responsibility to “teachers”. I realized I wanted to leave the group; my fear kept me bound to it. “School’s” benefits (cough) had disappeared; I was unemployed, depressed, exhausted and empty; yet, I was afraid of life without it. I remember realizing, “ It’s not like things are so great right now. If I fuck up my life on my own terms, at least it won’t cost $350 a month.”

Thus began my emancipation: a connection to, and trust in, my moral compass replaced the need to seek direction and mentoring; clarity of thought and feeling replaced confusion; self responsibility replaced dependency; self-acceptance replaced a futile need to please the upper echelons. I heard the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, “You never needed me. You had what you needed all along.” I realized that my “classmates” and I didn’t need this group. The cult needed us — lifelong, dedicated, “tuition”-paying members.

BREAKING “SCHOOL RULES” shed light on my path to healing. Soon I’ll write a separate post for each of the following “rules” and expound on the benefits of breaking them:


 

    • Privacy, (cough, aka Secrecy): “Don’t tell anyone about this; it’s private, just for you”:The more I spoke/speak out, the more clarity replaced(s) confusion. The debilitating and exhausting cognitive dissonance plaguing my mind has dissipated. Breaking my silence broke an invisible isolation. I stopped protecting a con job. Refusing to carry this secret to my grave freed my mind and restored my sanity.

 

    • Your Time is “School’s” Time Now: “School” will claim that humans have a skewed relationship to time – Robert said, “If you tell me you don’t have time for this and that, I won’t believe you.”
      Once I left, I started protecting my time and practicing evil and sinful “Self-Love” (horrors): I stopped living as though every moment required a life or death decision; slept eight hours a night; exercised; played my guitar; took solitude and down time; reflected on my experience and wrote about it; gave my marriage, and my friendships, quality time– you know, normal self care (so selfish!).

 

    • NO Internet research! Robert loved to say, “You have all had your own experience of ‘School’. Don’t poison it!”
      Of course I read all the online criticism. It answered the onslaught of questions and addressed the quandaries that had plagued me over my 5-year tenure. I then read academic literature from cult experts: Steven Hassan, Margaret Singer, Robert J Lifton, Greg Jemsek, etc. I learned that the only difference between “School” and Scientology is that it is smaller and less successful — a bit more hidden, but not that hidden. Trust me, all cults are the same.

 

    • Non-fraternization: if you see each other outside the hallowed halls, float past without acknowledgement, forever:Breaking this rule required connecting and corresponding with “disgruntled ex-students” both past and present. Fellow apostates provided the context, connecting the dots that “School” works very hard to separate and keep “private”. Suddenly, I was no longer isolated and alone carrying this bizarre experience inside. The isolation damages you and protects the group. Breaking that isolation sets you free body, mind, heart and spirit.

 

  • If You Order Your Life, Rightly … “School” supersedes all “only life things”:
    A funny thing happened when I stopped keeping “school” secrets and started protecting my time, my energy, my thoughts, my feelings, my relationships, hopes, desires, artistic passions, need for solitude, and beliefs. My life began to work — all areas. Many, many unnecessary struggles fell away.So here’s to breaking ALL “School Rules” and gleaning the benefits of reclaiming your time, energy, thoughts, feelings etc. More on all of this in future posts.

Ah, “Freedom”! “School” Style …

Every April, during my “school” tenure, Robert waxed philosophical about Passover and Easter — the exodus from Egypt, the resurrection of Jesus and freedom! “This time of year,” he told his flock  “… is the most sacred”. We listened reverently. Then the holidays would end and we returned to business as usual:

1) Paying “tuition”, $350/month (at least)  —  checks written to O.S.G. until “school” required cash payments only.

2) Practicing the “non-expression of negative emotions” (Have question? Having doubts? Something’s not right? Keep it to yourself.)

3) Obeying the No Unnecessary Talking before “class” rulewe sat in meditative silence, or read sanctioned material: The Bible,  Emerson, Plato, Socrates, etc. Once I broke the rule in a brief, pre-class, whispered conversation. A panicked “teacher” bustled over to hush us. Idol chat about “only life things” like friends, family, work, movies, politics, etc. all “unnecessary”  — “GOSSIP” that dilutes superior and sacred “essence friendships“.

4) Following “in-Class” protocol — when we had questions, or comments, we stood and waited for a teacher to call on us, granting permission to speak — exactly like grade school.

5) Observing an “hour of silence” after “class”I often violated this rule at the McDonald’s drive through. I would order a cheeseburger and then feel guilty for “leaking!”. Then I would drive around until the hour ticked by. If I went home and explained this “hour of silence” thing to my husband, I would have been “leaking” again. If I’d obeyed the mandated silence at home he may have wondered whether I was following dictates from a cult. Either way, I risked exposing “the invisible world”!

6) Obeying the NON-FRATERNIZATION between “classes” rule — beyond the “school yard”, we were to float past fellow “essence friends” without acknowledgment. Interacting in any way when outside of “school’s” purview was forbidden. Unsupervised engagement could endanger our evolution.

6) Obeying the “No Internet research” rule!!!
“Disgruntled ex-students” who criticize the institution online will “poison your experience!” In general, “school” shunned the internet. Robert told us to get off of Facebook. Somehow, I doubt that anyone rushed home to comply, certainly I didn’t. But I still felt guilty for my sinful and illicit Facebook engagement.

7) On a related note, we were to shun apostates who dared to depart the ranks (horrors!) Once you are “schooled” your lifelong commitment is sealed. Those who leave are all labelled “bitter & disgruntled ex-students”. They all failed! There is no acceptable way to leave “school”.

My recruiter, Lisa, neglected to mention the lifelong tenure requirement when grooming me. Scientology’s “billion-year contract” sets the bar for the Hotel California, you-can-check-out-any-time-you want, but-you-can-never-leave variety of cult membership. But, unlike “school”, Scientology waves its cult flag proudly. “School’s” til-death-do-you-part tenure requirement needs to be subtle — paper trails are not advisable when “protecting” the “invisible world”. Had Lisa told me about the eternal enrollment, I probably would have declined the invitation.

The things that “school” recruiters won’t tell their “new friends” is another story for another day. Suffice it to say that “protecting the invisible world” requires keeping secrets. “School” spins this secrecy as “privacy” (“it’s private, only for you”) and calls lies, “clever insincerity”.

You may have also noticed that six out of seven “school” edicts impose silence on the rank and file, dictating acceptable interactions, orchestrating relationships as much as possible. Given the chance to converse freely, “school”mates might share questions, doubts, concerns! “Essence friends” might note contradictions and double standards! What if one of us revealed “special knowledge” that the other wasn’t “ready to hear”  … for example …

*… the longer you are in “school”, the more it dismisses your “only life things” and devours time outside the Tuesday/Thursday classes.
* … “school” eventually requires all “students” to recruit newbies.
* … like The Moonies, many “older students” are married to each other. So much for “non-fraternization.”
* … “school” used to call itself the “Odyssey Study Group” …  why would “school” change its name?
*  …  these ideas that “school” claims exclusive are the widely available and easily found published teachings and philosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff.
* … the mysterious Black Book is a xeroxed, bound and redacted copy of a book called In Search of the Miraculous–available for $2.99 via kindle (copyright infringement, anyone?) At this point, The Black Book may have disappeared. I do have my copy, if you’d like to see it.
* … the Boston “school” is only the subordinate satellite branch —  corporate headquarters is in NYC. etc.

“School” spins this social engineering as “protection” for sacred ideas, and our “essence friendships” — tools for “refining” our superior relationships and repartee. In reality, “school” rules protect an unstated hierarchy, various silo-ed “classrooms” and other seedy secrets, that if known, would send sane people scrambling away as quickly as possible (see list above).

After I left, I was amazed to look back and see how I had come to accept this highly-controlled social order as normal over time. Robert J Lifton, the go-to guru for those who study cults, calls this phenomenon milieu control: ” …  the control of an environment by controlling the information and activities within the environment.”

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “school’s” exclusive esoteric “principles” and practices were common enough to rate another not-so-flattering label, established in Lifton’s book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China, copyright, 1961.

After departing, I laughed with a fellow disgruntled about a rule breaking incident (horrors) at The Harvard Bookstore. She — a  “younger student” at the time — said hello and started a friendly conversation. I must have looked nervous, because she asked, ” Are we not supposed to be talking?” and I briefly explained “non fraternization”. She apologized. I said, “It’s o.k.” We halted our unmonitored social engagement and returned to floating ever-so-slightly above the fray of “only life things”  — two essence friends, from the invisible world, silently doing THE WORK of awakening among “sleepwalking humanity”, in the world, but not of the world. Blah, blah, blah.

As we reminisced, I asked her, “Can you believe that seemed normal to us?” We laughed. It is absurdly funny, while not funny. “Non-fraternization” made sense to us in the context of our “secret esoteric school”. We were protecting our refined and superior relationship from “coarse” daily “only life” interactions. As essence friends, our conversation should float above the “gossip” that “imprisoned” most “sleepwalking” humans.  Thank God for highly evolved “teachers” — people who have been “doing the work longer” — those who could supervise and micromanage our interactions and orchestrate and direct our relationships, “refine our vibrations” and — most importantly — “protect the ideas”.  Eventually, “the ideas” (cough) superseded our “only life things”.

Lifton calls this phenomenon Doctrine over Person: member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 

Indeed, I eventually felt my life slipping away – a slow death by one thousand cuts. “Freedom” “school”-style required that I battle against dangerous entitled and selfish, perceptions, thoughts, emotions and needs! As my tenure dragged on, the more I applied “school principles” to “only life things”, the more I “failed”. The more I “failed”, the more I concluded, “I must not be trying hard enough!” I tried to “try harder” and “failed more” – a perfect, circular, psychological prison. If I had a nickel for every “ex-student” who has confessed this exact thought process to me, I could probably recover at least the $20,000, I spent on this con job.

This psychological vicious circle was accompanied by a constant cognitive dissonance: my mind was constantly at battle with itself – my internal rebels railed out against the “school” dictates, while my starry-eyed believers defended the group’s practices. Cults are full of members who constantly wrestle with cognitive dissonance – it’s a common red flag. It’s also exhausting.

As you can imagine, things weren’t going so well for me and I was asking for “help” right and left. Eventually, a “teacher” announced that I was “a bit of a princess” (read, Jewish American) — flattening my identity into my worst fears and most embarrassing weaknesses. Oh, the heartwarming “help”! Ah, “freedom”, “school” style!

Cults commonly squash down individual members into one-dimensional caricatures of themselves. I call this practice Cultic Identity Theft and it is psychological violence — predatory and parasitic groups like “school” feeding off of the energy and efforts of individual members. High-demand groups have to wear members down in order to fashion them into compliant cogs that will keep the wheels of income generation rolling, primarily through recruitment. This “teacher” did me a favor, because the crippling depression imprisoning my mind transformed into an appropriate rage. With real help from my husband, the rebels overtook the starry-eyed believers — her pronouncement catalyzed my departure in 2011.

Recently, this “JAP” attended a Passover Seder hosted by fellow “disgruntleds” — former “students” whom I met after my sinful desertion. We toasted our exodus and subsequent “school”- less existences, celebrating the freedom we have to muddle through this life without “help”.

Once out, I learned about “school’s” illustrious history — how sociopathic Alex Horn started the group as The Theater of all Possibilities in the 70s. How the “theater” was investigated and kicked out of San Fransisco after the Jonestown tragedy. I read excerpts from a memoir by Thomas Farbor, called Tales for the Son of My Unborn Child,  in which he recounts his brush with Alex’s “theater” and his decision to leave, saying …

“… in the period of transition, I heard Alex’s voice over and over again: ‘You will wish you had never heard 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 morality of those who could live no other way.”

” … 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. And for many reasons, some very good and some quite bad, I faced the old religious question and decided that we all, willy-nilly, have a soul, no matter what we try to do to it, and that there are many paths to the spirit immanent in us. I had begun to feel that it was the process of living that alone redeemed us.

My “school” days and departure brought me to the same conclusion: we all have souls and don’t need to manufacture them via “school” instruction, as the group insinuates. The cult’s “soul-building” machinery merely constructs an esoteric prison-of-mind that leaves its “tuition-paying” student, dependent, insecure, lonely and broke. Every destructive cult claims a version of the “only real” “soul-building” practice — every one of them lays claim to exclusive wisdom.

The good news is that the truth does indeed set you free. When you realize that the process of living alone redeems us, you see that you don’t need a random external source, dictating your evolution. You don’t need the Wizard of Oz, to give you what you already have. When you trust and follow your internal compass to your true north, not allowing other “sources” with other agendas, to derail you, you are free. Because, to quote Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, “No one but ourselves can free our minds.”

As we pass finally pass out of this long winter, through April, into May, I congratulate you for breaking the “No Internet Research” rule and, implore you to reclaim your life, and toast your freedom!

New Blog: Diary of a Muslim Transgender Girl …

The more I write, research and share my cult experiment, the more parallels I see to other societal blights and diseases: abusive relationships and domestic violence employ the same seduction to destruction social engineering; drug addictions mirror dependence on high-demand groups; racism mirrors the paranoia and fear cultivated (cough, unintentional pun, sorry) in “school’s” petri dish.

Homophobia attacks identity in a way that rings familiar to me — its message to the gay, lesbian and transgender population: as you are, you are wrong; thus, you can’t be who you are.

Transgender people probably experience the most extreme in heinous attitudes and violent behavior — imagine living a life in which your innate identity does not match your outer shell; imagine that the very foundation of who you are is so threatening to cultural norms that some would be willing to resort to violence to silence you. If you have trouble imagining this plight, an Indian woman calling herself Arena — born into a male body —  writes beautifully about her experiences in this new blog: Diary of a Muslim Transgendergirl

A dear friend of mine, a classically trained vocalist, is building Butterfly Music, a non-profit that creates choirs to give voice to marginalized groups — those whom societal forces try to silence, or sweep away, including transgender folks. She is helping Arena publicize her story through this blog to expose the cruelty innate in efforts to suppress a human being’s essential identity.

The only common denominator between Arena’s life and my little 5-year cult adventure is the fundamental issue of identity — pesky esoteric questions of who am I? and why am I here? made me vulnerable to a group that offered answers. Though I often say my “school” days were more ridiculous than damaging, recently an un-“schooled” witness, and dear friend, said to me,” ‘school’ was killing you.”

Sounds dramatic, yes? Truth be told, the longer my tenure, the more dead I felt; I was evolving into an empty shell, my days metamorphosing into the “school”-dictated “life I never wanted”. The group compiled the sum total of my weaknesses into my cult identity, the woman I never wanted to be:  unemployable, entitled and helpless Jewish American Princess.

The “ideas”, the constant inner monitoring through “self observations” and the fear of displeasing upper echelons ate away at my psyche. Constant analysis of every, thought, feeling and movement parsed out, flattened and shoved aside all personal nuances for this one-dimensional, cult-defined, person-hood. And “school” called all of this naval gazing “evolution”. Like any good cult, it put the magnifying glass on my faults until those faults identified me and that’s what “school” does to most of its students — although I suspect those with a lot of money get more slack.

I call these types of practices cultic identity theft and it is a form of psychological violence. Arena’s case goes far beyond what I’ve experienced; her world sends her a constant message: your identity threatens our existence, therefore you cannot be who you are. I am grateful that my cult days are over — I am grateful for the choice to walk away, embrace my fundamental identity, and start a new, feeling stronger than I ever have — thanks for the lesson “school” — as Tom Waits says in his classic, San Diego Serenade, I never saw the morning, ’til I stayed up all night. But that’s another topic for another post.

In the meantime, I hope this young woman gets the same chance, somehow, someday, to be fully embraced and loved for who she is; she longs to move to the states — I hope someday she can. I think the parallel attack on her identity is worth sharing on cult confessions, if for no other reason than to shed light on how damaging these attacks on identity are and in hopes that someday the world at large will find the practices completely unacceptable, perhaps even criminal.

 

Recovery Thoughts: BREAK “rules”

Need to recover from a cultic experience?
Whatever the cult demanded, do the opposite. Break “rules”.

  • Cults isolate:connect to authentic relationships/communities.
  • Cults require secrecy:refuse to safeguard and carry burdensome secrets.
  • Cults silence:claim and use your voice and share your story with whomever you choose.
  • Cults numb:claim your emotional/feeling self by acknowledging, allowing and expressing ALL the feelings: grief at losses; anger at abuses; cynicism about the hypocrisy; joy at your reclamation and ownership of self and life going forward.
  • Cults deny individual rights:claim your rights and attend to your needs; guard yourself and those you love, fiercely.
  • Cults employ and require deception of self and others:seek and speak truth.
  • Cults commit identity theft, emptying participants of soul/authentic self:claim your authentic self through all of the above practices.

I have experienced recovery as reclamation. Cultic dynamics devour members, mind, body, heart and spirit, in psychological webs of tangled confusion. You have the power to untangle those memes, clear out the twisted ideology, and deceptive narrative – you can return to emotional and cognitive clarity and heal relationships damaged by the group. You have the power to return to yourself, and your life, by breaking “rules”.

Reclaim your humanity. Believe it or not, this difficult healing process can lead you to joy and laughter … sometimes lots of laughter.

My opinion, for what it’s worth.