My childhood was filled with long Catholic Mass and boring lectures by private school nuns. Even as a 12 year old I instinctively felt that there was something missing that we could not entirely leave up to organized religion or money hungry mega churches. My relationship with religion was very much like a CIA Agent questioning a possible criminal. I simply did not believe all the man made rules behind their interpretation of Jesus or God. While I love the scriptures and the lessons left behind by Jesus, I once entered a non-denominational organization out of my thirst for “something beyond” organized religion. In return, I got an even bigger prison than the one described by the nuns in Middle School and High School. Now, I realized that I needed to carefully tiptoe out of a cult.
First of all, you cannot drive around your neighborhood and see the big lights saying “Come Join Our Cult.” We wish we could recognize them as clearly as the big yellow letter or the coffee cup with the mermaid. Unfortunately, they are not as easy to spot because they are under the disguise of the latest new age trend or pyramid scheme business. Not all cults are religious by nature. Some of them recruit members to go around selling miracle drugs or merchandise to other people while a few at the top benefit from those at the bottom. However, there were quite a few red flags before I realized I needed to get out.
#1: PRESSURE, PRESSURE, PRESSURE!!! Just like the Catholic Nun told me that “Sex is of no use. It is the silliest activity two people can do”---a cult will give you some sort of interpretation of what they think is best for you. In this case, the organization truly believed that most of our relationships are distractions. This would leave room for you to give yourself wholeheartedly, just to the interests of the cult. In other words, being human and our natural humanness was not considered to be normal. On the contrary, they endorsed and supported a celibate lifestyle. As someone that believes that celibacy is a wonderful way to get to know yourself before committing to someone else, I did find the concept that all relationships are a distraction from “path” to be extreme. Turning your back towards love and romance felt like a manipulative tactic to just dedicate ourselves to some guru in a painting.
#2: ELITIST LEADERS!!! It caught my attention that a lot of the leaders within this organization were recruiting wealthier members or those in the spotlight to help them receive a certain recognition and validity. It slightly reminded me of Catholic Nuns “singling out” the wealthiest gals in the class that came from parents that would make generous donations to the school. Similarly, I found a certain leader within the organization to be impressed by wealth, celebrities, and those that could somehow generate publicity for the organization under the disguise of “charity” and “wellness.”
#3: DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING: The cult uses another name to help recruit members. Perhaps, they offer lessons in the areas of self-growth and spirituality. The lessons may be wonderful and even helpful. That is just the hook at the end of the fishing rod. There is nothing “free” in life. Once the trust is gained, a new thought process is introduced from how the universe started to how it will inevitably end in a doomsday chapter that we are definitely currently living in. The date changes frequently.
#4: EXPLOITATION: Cults will exploit their members either financially or with their time and/or talents. Whatever you have to give they will have to take. In the end, the sense of entitlement created by the organization is meant to make you a humble and dedicated servant.
#5: CONTROL: An important aspect before recognizing a cult is that they will try their best to isolate you from anyone that is not a part of their organization. Other “less clean” common-folks with terrible habits are not meant to be in your circle. On the contrary, the cult-leader may begin to tell you those that you can be friends with and those “uncleanly sinners” that you should not be friends with on social media. Every aspect of your life from your diet to the way that you dress is “suggested” by the organization. You simply belong to them and any “advice” that they give you is simply to “help” you. The second you start to notice the mental manipulation you are gaslighted as “Anything you say is simply a reflection of yourself and not the organization.” While projection exists and it is sometimes a valid point, when you see lines on something that looks like a horse it is probably a zebra. It is not that deep of a concept to call it what it is. You must doubt your intuition and what it is telling you. In reality, it is just good old fashioned gaslighting disguised as “You must be willing to learn from those that know more than you.”
So who would knowingly join a cult? No one. I didn’t decide to wake up one day and decide “Yay TGIF! It is time I join a cult.” After all, when we hear the words Scientology or Waco, Texas we may visualize a group of lunatics brainwashed by their charismatic leader. From a purely advertising perspective, it is not a smart way to go. On the contrary, they do carefully obsess over their image and public persona and are constantly trying to give the impression of humility and wisdom. Their lessons and meditations may offer answers to existential questions. Peace and joy are there for you if you live by these simple rules. However, they do not come with “small print.” They do not immediately show you what is underneath the external appearance. The leader starts to pressure you for your talents, time, finances or whatever they can get you to do for them. At this point it is no longer a teacher and student. Now, it is clear that the psychological warfare has begun and the leader wants you to continue to be subordinate to their will.
So how do you stumble upon a cult? By accident. Period. You may see a flyer offering a free yoga class or meditation. Maybe you notice an ad in your local paper for a charity or important project that will benefit the community. All of these are tactics to recruit members. The pull has to be gentle and gradual. Like a dose of mental drugs, your tolerance for what they will slowly serve you has to be subtle and welcoming. It is not until some time has passed and a certain “dosage” of new thoughts have been tested on the unsuspecting newcomer that one may notice the red flag of alerting territory that one has stepped into. Cults are fed by rules and restrictions and maintaining the status quo between its leaders and members. Unconditional control must be given to the most wise of them all.
To keep the cult “pure”, there is a clear line drawn between members of the group and those outside of it. The members are “chosen ones” while the outsiders do not understand how “good it is” to be on the inside. They are still too “blind” to see the benefits of surrendering to their true spiritual family. Contact with others outside of the organization is frowned upon and your new family is defined as the group itself. Those who violate the “rules” are punished to maintain the unity of the group. In reality, punishment comes when a member may start to lift from the fog that has been fed to them and start asserting their own clear perspective. The misconception that only weak people find themselves lured by a cult are not true. It is human to want to feel a sense of belonging and community. I cannot think of one person that would not like to feel like they matter in their community. While no one would willingly join a cult, anyone can be lured into a free yoga class.
It is also important to mention that my experience was not all bad. On the contrary, I truly believe some of the lessons they teach are valuable, ranging from learning to love yourself and your God given talents to create a life full of peaceful relationships and experiences. I truly believe that most cult leaders and its members are there for communion, love, friendship and growth. I do not think most of the times that it is a conscious scam. On the contrary, there are positive intentions. As the saying goes “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” However, when your sense of self is ignored in the highest interest of the group, you are supposed to stop trusting your instincts on behalf of what they believe to be true--and may not be in your highest interest.
How did I leave? I simply stopped giving my time to the organization until I was completely useless to them. I literally tiptoed very slowly and left them in peace without any arguments or conflict. I did enjoy some of my time with them, but I am a free spirit that does not enjoy someone else trying to control my life and my time.
At the end of the day, Kool-Aid tastes pretty good and that is why people are drawn to it. I especially love the cherry-flavored drink. However, the artificial coloring and flavoring creates havoc on your body and I choose to not drink it. No real cherries are used in Cherry Kool-Aid. In other words, I went in looking for spirituality, but received creepy duality instead.
I am extremely thankful for this life experience because I learned that gurus are human, God is my savior, and the only one that has my best interest at heart is my spirit. No person, group, or organization can say so otherwise.
Note: I purposefully do not use names in the article to avoid any problems. I simply wrote this for other people that may find themselves in a similar situation.