Need something to read? New Yorker Article – My Childhood in a Cult

Good afternoon Readers –

Several people emailed me links to this article: My Childhood in a Cult.

I just finished reading and recommend it for several reasons! What I appreciated the most – no glorification, no salaciousness. In fact the author, Guinevere Turner, says of her childhood in “The Lyman Family” –a group that fancied itself destined for Venus– is this: “Cults are fascinating — but one thing the Manson Family and the Lyman Family have in common is the banality of daily life inside these worlds … there are always dishes to wash and heaps of laundry to hang up to dry. The travel plans for Venus took place against a backdrop of these everyday chores.” Or … “It wasn’t all acid and orgies.”

She also points out “irrefutable truths” of cult-i-ness, such as …
“a cult never calls itself a cult” & the presence of a “… charismatic, complicated leader” (i.e. Mel Lyman) & one who constantly issues “new rules for living”. By the way, Lyman apparently memorialized himself in the book, Autobiography of a World Savior. Additionally, cults always have to include mystical components – the Lyman’s preferred the Ouija board and a spirit they called Faedra.

Other familiar characteristics: the family were the only people with souls. In “school” you could “grow a soul” but only if you followed the “instruction” to the letter. After leaving, Turner’s mom would tell school administrators seeking records, “Oh the school burned down.” Turner’s reaction: “It was the first of many lies we had to tell to seem normal.” In “school” we called such lies, “clever insincerity”.

In my opinion, the most important and poignant line was the subtitle: Growing up in an apocalyptic cult wasn’t nearly as hard as leaving it. To be clear, the group told Turner to leave. She was still a kid when the group stuck her on a plane to Boston to pick up her 4-year old sister, who lived in the Boston-branch compound.

Years later, she returned to visit the “family” before heading to college. She was tempted to stay, to blow off college. “These people really knew me … I felt a surge of love and belonging.” But it turned out to be too late, for her. As a World Person, she could see it — the gender disparity. Women served. Men dominated. That’s the way it worked inside the “family”. “… the custom put me in a kind of panic.”

Interesting that the more dramatic, salacious cultic aspects came as an afterthought in her article … a kind of, I should tell you the “hard things” way … “…kids like me were punished by being locked in a closet for a whole day, or being deprived of food, or being beaten while everyone else was brought out to watch…” Etc.

I think that there are two interrelated human characteristics that make people especially vulnerable and able to normalize abuse: social wiring, the need to belong, and identity, the need to know and be the person you’re meant to be, your authentic self. Often times the social wiring, the need to belong, over takes the need for authenticity. That’s how deeply it runs. Turner writes, “It’s been four decades since I begged to stay, and I still care what they think.”

Alternately, though, these two characteristics are also the components that set us free from predatory groups — the need for authenticity is, itself, deeply wired in us, as well. For as Emerson once wrote: What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Turner says “I had to accept that I had become a World Person” … in other words, a woman who didn’t want her life reduced to serving men. She then returned to The Others, the World People.

Now she writes screenplays and teaches at UCLA.

So … if you feel the need to read about cults this weekend, if you’re still grappling with a personal misadventure, if you’re feeling alone, her article is definitely worth your time.



Some Resources via Podcasts

Hello, Readers – this is a quick post to share some helpful resources. It turns out there are tons of podcasts about cult-i-ness. If you’re trying to understand a cultic misadventure, or feeling isolated and alone in your struggle check out the following – they might be helpful.

Generation Cult – produced by a journalist named, Dhyana Levey. I don’t know the details (I can’t seem to find a bio) but it sounds like her parents got involved in some group and brought her with them. The pod is quite good and I especially recommend it for those born in or raised in cults.


Indoctrination – Marriage & family therapist, Rachel Bernstein, hosts this pod and it’s quite extensive. She interviews ex-members and experts, saying, “I wanted to start a show that gives survivors a chance to tell their stories and for experts to teach us what they know. My goal … is to empower our listeners to protect themselves and those they love from predators, toxic personalities, and destructive organizations.”

Heaven’s Gate– Hosted by Glynn Washington, of WNYC’s Snap Judgement, this heartbreaking account comes from interviews with ex-members who escaped before the before the mass suicide and family members of some who did not escape. It’s been a while since I listened to it, but I remember being impressed and touched by Mr. Washington’s sensitivity and compassion for his interviewees.

Uncover: Escaping NXIVM – By now, if you’ve got a beating heart, you’ve heard something about this heinous group, branding members, forcing sexual relationships with its creepy leader, Keith Rainiere, now on trial in New York for a myriad of crimes that include human trafficking. Producers Josh Bloch and Kathleen Goldhar tell the story of Sarah Edmondson’s twelve-year involvement and how she eventually left.

Memes from “School” or “The Study”, or …

…whatever “school” calls itself these days.

Recently a small group of my friends helped me think through one of my cult-related projects. It got me thinking about the platitudes that school trotted during my tenure. All cults do this – it’s protocol. Loading language is cult 101

“School” platitudes are mainly drawn from Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way teaching, but not all of them. It might be helpful to share “school”-specific memes — perhaps some “rule” breakers seeking information about a weird group will recognize them. And I’d love it if some “disgruntled(s)” felt inspired to add more to the list!

These are the pat “school” memes that were popular between 2006-2011 …  

  •  private, just-for-you
  • “No unnecessary talking” 
  • ask for help
  • what is your aim?
  • magnetic center
  •  seal yourself off: Do. Not. Leak.
  • protect the invisible world! 
  • No Internet research: it will poison your experience!
  • “… those are only life things.
  • Essence Friends 
  • essence flaw
  • it-doesn’t-matter-what-you-do-as-long-as-you-are-working.
  • internal considering vs. external considering
  • You must not be trying hard enough.
  • clever insincerity – people lie; we can’t help it. So lie cleverly, with intention.
  • do what’s necessary.
  • …. you’ll get it if you Do The Work Long Enough … 
  • intentional suffering
  • you’re identified with [FILL IN BLANK with whatever]
  • “Work begets work…”
  • You need to “build will”
  • Do you have “sufficient valuation”?
  •  Everyone needs “HELP!”
  • work against pictures of yourself
  • “You have all had your own experience of school …”
  • “…maintain a healthy skepticism, while extending a nickel’s worth of trust.” 
  • “… life as experiment.”
  • “worlds within worlds” 
  • “You’re identifying with [FILL in BLANK w/whatever].” 
  • ” …you’ll understand, when you’ve done the work long enough, you will understand.”
  • Five-Week Aim: ‘your aim is your God.’ ‘what is your aim’?
  • ” … if you’re working on yourself, it doesn’t matter who you marry.
  • ” … the non-expression of ‘negative emotions’. “


  

There but for the Grace of God …


Last Wednesday, Cohen confirmed things that anyone with brain cells already knows – undeniable truths. Day after day, we watch “pres” Donny lie and cheat and degrade. Cohen’s testimony: Trump is a racist, a conman, and a cheat. Yep.

I have mixed feelings about Mr. Cohen. Would he have had this crisis of conscience if he had not been caught? Would he have drawn this conclusion? Probably not. But do I believe his testimony and his stated regret? Absolutely. I have swallowed that bitter pill. I know it’s flavor. I’m intimately acquainted with it.

I’m lucky that the “school” con is — in the grand scheme — insignificant, as opposed to the Trump con, which is endangering democracy. Millions of morons still prop up the huckster-in-chief. They say things like, “God elected President Trump”… To which I think, “There’s no cure for that level of stupid.”

But, of all people, I should be empathetic to Trump cultists. After all, cult stupid lorded over me for five years. I lied to myself, friends and family. I let “school” coerce, badger, bully and strong-arm me into doing things that I didn’t believe in, didn’t want to do, and felt crappy about: scam Christmas Trees, recruit “new friends”, dismiss my husband’s legitimate concerns and complaints, etc.

I was vulnerable to the “school” con. Trump’s toadies are vulnerable to the Trump con. I should get this. The dynamics are the same. If it looks and sounds like a cult, it’s probably a cult. Cults suck people in when vulnerable. I know that.

I’m too angry. The nauseating, obsequious servitude; the groveling; the willingness to humiliate others, and themselves, at the throne of their lord and master—mr. grab-em-by-the-pussy-cuz-when-you’re-a-star… Putin’s puppet, have all hardened me. It’s a weird, new, angry version of me. On the positive side, I’m not afraid of confrontation anymore.

The disastrous, Russia-sponsored, 2016, make America “great”, infomercial and Trump “election”, set in place my unapologetic rage. I do not control it and will not silence it. I hate bullies, cons and greedy, sociopathic, crooks and scumbags. My apologies to Michelle Obama, whom I admire greatly. I realize that my language is not high-minded. But it is honest.

Mr. Cohen’s Mia culpa softened me, a bit, to him (only, Cohen; not the other maga-hat morons). I heard him list off the worst in Trump-i-ness, and then follow each point with the phrase “…and yet, I continued to work for him…” I thought to myself, “yea, I get that.”

I heard him say that he’d given everything to a man whom he had admired, only to realize, that this man saw him as expendable. I remembered that, once upon a time, I believed in Robert. I believed, until I saw Robert’s callous disregard for me, my husband and my family. Then I realized that Robert was lying his ass off, to me, to my fellow “students”. To himself.

I get it. Cohen wakes up. It’s painful. He sees that he traded in his freedom, for greed, a blind loyalty born out of ruthless ambition. He endangered his family. Trump loses nothing. When you are a sociopath, other people don’t matter.

Cohen saw, too late, the unspoken cult leader agreement: you surrender everything to prop up the top dog.  Your family, your wellbeing, your security, your freedom be damned. If you are in service him, you have value. If you aren’t in service to him, you are dismissed. If you speak against him, watch your back and your family members become open season for target practice.

So when Cohen said, ” … I am going to prison and have shattered the safety and security that I have tried so hard to provide for my family… ” I thought to myself, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

I found the following excerpts especially poignant:

* I regret the day I said, “Yes” to Mr. Trump… I am ashamed of my own failingsmy weakness and my misplaced loyalty — of the things I did for Mr. Trump… to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.

*Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Moscow Tower negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it… he never expected to win he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars so I lied about it, too. 

* …being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating … you feel like you were involved in something greater then yourself. You were somehow, changing the world. I wound up touting the Trump narrative … Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life …

* … in the mix, lying for Mr. Trump was normalized. And no-one around him questioned it. In fairness, no-one around him today questions it, either.

*… motivated by ambitionignored my conscience and acted loyal to a man, when I should not have.unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump … was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong. 

*… and I did that … without bothering to consider how it would impact, me, my family, or the public. And I’m going to jail, in part, because of my decision to help Mr Trump hide that payment.

So we come full circle back to “… and I am going to prison and have shattered the safety and security that I have tried so hard to provide for my family.”

Though far less extreme, I recognize Cohen’s story in mine. His language echoes mine. There’s a vocabulary to cult confessing; it’s reflexive. Maybe you, dear reader, reflect back on your personal experiences when you hear Cohen’s confession? This line, in particular, really got to me: “But in the mix, lying for Mr. Trump was normalized and no one around him questioned it. In fairness, no one around him today questions it, either.”

Mr. Cohen, I hope your redemption and emancipation continue. You know the saying, the truth will set you free. You might find that when you’re no longer imprisoned by the Trump fallacy — his self serving web of lies and secrets — you are freer behind steel bars than you were when running around the invisible prison of the Trump Cultdom, touting the party line. As you aptly pointed out to certain GOP toadies during the hearing, propaganda whores like Con-way, Huckabee Sanders and Guiliani, are now caught in the web, defending the fraudster at their own peril. They really should be paying more attention to your plight and Manafort’s and soon to be Stones, etc. etc. etc.

Personally, nothing freed me more than when I declared “NO MORE SECRETS” and stopped lying to “protect the invisible world.”





 


Self Sensing & The Morning Prayer

Who remembers self sensing?   

This may sound strange, but everyday I’m grateful for my “schooling” in one particular way: I appreciate my psychological freedom, profoundly. I’m so grateful that I escaped while still healthy and able, not young, exactly, but not old. Still able to assert independence, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Recently I was mulling over how school’s instruction to practice “self sensing” every morning and recite a scripted “morning prayer” infiltrated the most intimate and legitimately private part of my life. Self sensing, school told us, was the practice of scanning our bodies, head to toe, upon waking up. Once finished with the body, expand the scan: the bed, the room, the house, your street, neighborhood, town … until you felt yourself rising above the globe, into the great wide open. I achieved this nirvana once. Most of the time, I fell right back to sleep — perhaps because I’d became sleep deprived by the contrived stress and demands of a cult.

Anyway, eventually school added the morning prayer … once the nirvana entered, we were to say: Good morning, God. How can I serve you today … and then lie there waiting for our answer from “God”. That one never worked for me and I soon threw in the towel. Mid to late cult tenure, I got fed up with “school’s” presence in my bedroom, first thing in the morning. “Fuck it, I’m sleeping.” It was a small, personal, rebellion — however I can say that not being sleep deprived really helps with clear thinking.

Anyway, among the many reports we gave in the hollow halls, we’d often report on how the self sensing/morning prayer thing was going. Mostly, I opted out, knowing better at that point not to admit my failure. It would surely be followed by a slew of “you must not be trying hard enough” messaging from the cast and crew. I let others pontificate on their amazing experiences and the wisdom gleaned from above!

Now that I’m out, I’m struck by a few things: 1) how I allowed indoctrination into my day-to-day, only-life-things. 2) I can’t remember the justification, motivation for these exercises offered by our “teachers. 3) how grateful I am that — in my most personal moments — if I pray, or if I meditate, or if I take time to notice the world beyond me, it’s internally motivated, not fed to me by a cult con.

I am wondering what others remember and experienced with self sensing and the morning prayer … so, if you feel inclined to share, would love to hear from you!

Eight “School”- Free Holiday Seasons

I left “school” in 2011. I still say, the one good thing about experiencing “school” was leaving. I realized what I almost gave away. I am eternally grateful to have reclaimed it.

Every holiday season, no matter how perfectly imperfect it is, no matter how many years have passed between my tenure and my cult-free existence, I’m thankful to be free of the Christmas Party — the event to supersede all events that devoured five years worth of holiday seasons. Yep, folks, I don’t miss the constant and ever-growing demands always coupled with growing dismissal and disregard for all things personal, especially spouses and family.

Another gift that comes from leaving: time and agency. In that spirit, I decided after leaving to re-read classic literature from junior high and high school … you know, real school, as opposed to the cult that called itself “school.”

Recently, I finished John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden. As a holiday offering here are two quotes. Blog Monitor — I suggest that you share them with “school” leadership:

“A [human], after [s/he] has brushed off the dust and chips of [his/her] life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?” (p.475 )

“It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.” (p.477)

Happy, Merry! May you have a cult-free New Year in 2019!!!

 

Cohen Leaves the Trump Cult …

At some point over the life of this blog, I made a political comment that offended a reader. At the time I apologized and said this is not a political blog, so I’ll refrain from political commentary. Obviously, I have stopped worrying about that, because today presidential politics intersect with all things cultic. Trump could bomb a nursery school and the Trump cultists would justify it. Daddy Donny would come up with some b.s., like “those the toddlers were terrorists!” All the monkeys would jump up and down, pick it up and repeat, repeat.

It then makes sense that I’m also obsessed with the Russia investigation. This week, Micheal Cohen was sentenced to three years in jail for campaign finance violations. Cohen is the man who once professed, “I would take a bullet for this president.” I’m no fan. For a while, he clearly enriched himself through his Trump alliance (financially speaking, of course).

I don’t trust this sudden epiphany of consciousness. But I will give him this: the statements he made during sentencing do have a somewhat authentic ring of someone exiting a cult. He previously admitted in court to arranging hush money payments to women who had affairs with Trump (barf) “for the principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election. At his sentencing hearing he added the following:

  • Blind loyalty to Trump overrode “my own inner voice and my moral compass.”
  • And “…  time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”
  • He described his life as “personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen … I deeply admired.” (ugh)
  • He said of his prison sentence, “Today is the day that I am getting my freedom back.”
  • He said, “…and it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man” — a reference to Mr. Trump — “that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”

Blind and unquestioning loyalty, losing moral compass and authentic voice, feeling responsible to protect the group/leader no matter what, recognizing suddenly that you’ve been walking through life in a cognitive, psychological and emotional prison, being lorded over by a false belief in non-existent benevolence, or business acumen and the feeling of relief, of freedom, that comes when you wake up to the con – yep, those are all common cultic hallmarks. I wonder if Allison Mack — the Smallville actress who is being charged with human sex trafficking after becoming deeply entrenched in the NXIVM cult— can relate. I wonder what her story is.

Cohen probably was no angel before he partnered up with the rapist-in-chief. The phrase business acumen seems to me to be a euphemism for corrupt and sleazy. But it will be interesting to see what unfolds after this confession and dissolution from the Trump cult.

Things that are wrong

Given that while I was at the Spiritual Abuse Recovery Conference, a man gunned down 11 innocent people in a synogogue, wounding several more, I’m veering into politics. Most things in life are complex, containing many shades of gray. Some things aren’t. Some  things are blatantly and unequivocally wrong:

  1. Violence
  2. Condoning and encouraging violence to millions of toadies at rallies
  3. Calling White Nationalists, i.e. Nazis, ” … very fine people”
  4. Shooting people, randomly, in temples, in churches, in schools, in movie theaters, in malls, etc.
  5. Allowing entitled, violent and sick people access to military grade weapons designed to optimize killing in the least time. (Spare me the b.s. argument about technical details. Technicalities don’t care about right and wrong, life and death. Technicalities don’t have morals.)
  6. Ripping apart traumatized families escaping violence and seeking asylum
  7. Locking toddlers in cages after ripping them away from their parents (gosh, I feel so much safer now that those toddlers are in prison)
  8. Lying from the bully pulpit every time you open your mouth
  9. Mailing pipe bombs to political opponents
  10. Raping 13-year olds and then saying this about Mexicans, “they’re rapists”
  11. The appointing lying rapists to the Supreme Court because doing so means your lackey “justice” owes you and will let you get away with your crimes

The liar-in-chief will now click on the gaslight and turn it up, blaming this avoidable violence, these murders, on  everyone else: “protesters”, “liberals”, “the press”.

Trump and the Republican Party — the party that props up and supports a demogugue while claiming to be great patriots, defenders of the rule of law and christians  — have blood on their hands. When Trump speaks in public, he sends the clear message to every asshole with delusional vendetta that he now has permission & entitlement to do whatever to whomever, whenever, no matter how vile and wrong. Trump as a role model.

Use your vote on Tuesday Nov. 6th to oppose things that are wrong. Because those wrong things are running our country into the ground right now.