The January 2012 Mass Exodus

I am re-posting this account of the 2012 Exodus, as requested. As I recall, the Great Escape unfolded in three parts:

1) Upon reading the esoteric freedom website, 007 decides to leave, but not without informing his classmates. He goes to his last class, surreptitiously distributes flyers to some and speaks directly to others.

2) Some colleagues return for one more class to spread the word and pass out flyers, putting flyers on cars and confronting “teachers”. 

3) In this class, “school” interrogates its students as described below.

I welcome those of you who experienced this event to contribute to the following account:

Twelve of us left the younger class of 21 students early in January. Three others had left in the summer of 2011. The majority had been in school for less than four years. The following is an account of what happened on the night of the mass exodus, and my reasons for leaving school.

The Heretics

After the class of January 5, a Thursday, some students were given a folded flier, others were contacted by phone. Over the weekend, a teacher called all students twice, asking first if they had received a piece of paper, then a phone call. The teacher reiterated that the papers had to be destroyed, and that we were not to talk to anyone but teachers or sustainers. I had not been contacted and was beginning to feel left out.

Before class on Tuesday, January 10, X happened to walk into a coffee shop where I was reading a book, sat down at my table, gave me a folded flier and told me to read it later. It is hilarious to me now, given my issues with secrecy, to think that I whispered to X then: “You know we’re not supposed to talk to each other?” After a walk and a talk, where I learned of the many who had decided to leave school together (having concurred that OSG was a cult), I realized it wasn’t going to be the same class at all, with all the youngest and brightest gone. I had been planning to leave school for some time – this was my opportunity. X woke me up.

The Inquisition

It was quite apparent that night that a major upheaval was underway. We were greeted at the door of the classroom by teachers telling us class would be in a different format that night. There was no body work. Eleven of us, half the normal class, sat in a semi-circle in silence, with one teacher overseeing the group. Waiting, perfectly still, not knowing what was happening next. One by one, we were asked to go into the big room, where other teachers in pairs made us sit with them to have a talk.

The questions were about the pieces of paper and the phone calls – were we contacted? (read contaminated). I don’t know how the other conversations went, but I admitted that yes I had been contacted, just before class. I told the teachers that up until then I thought a disgruntled former student was at it again, as had happened in the past, someone who “had gone off the deep end” as we were told, leaving leaflets on windshields and disparaging school with “slander”. But no, I found out that this was a large group of the best, most dedicated recent students, who had done such a great job at the Christmas party that for the first time in years, teachers didn’t have to take notes. While I wasn’t part of that group, I always had issues with the secrecy rules, as they well knew, and brought up again my old questions.

One of them was about the black book. Early on I found and brought to school the books by Ouspensky and Gurdjieff (The Fourth Way, In Search of the Miraculous, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution) from which the black book is retyped with the names deleted.

Teacher:
“How did you better understand the ideas once you knew what book they came from?”
Me:
“I was no longer distracted by wondering where this text came from, which had a context in place (Russia) and time (1920s). It seemed more legitimate to know the source. How are the ideas better understood by not knowing their source?”

No direct answer to that. Only that it didn’t matter.

Me:
“If they are concealed because they are but one strand among many other teachings, and that this school is not strictly about Gurdjieff and his student Ouspensky, then why not say that?”

We kept exchanging questions past each other. There were no explanations, just restatements of how things were supposed to be. I repeated that I never understood why we couldn’t talk about the ideas of the work with others outside of school. It seemed to me that something so deep and important deserved to be shared, and that if we couldn’t talk because we would leak energy or distort the ideas, then we couldn’t talk about religion either.

“This is not a religion.”
“I know, I’m making the analogy to something sacred.”
“Why didn’t you bring this up in class for discussion?”
“Because I didn’t want to break the good mood that often permeated class, be the one to sow doubt. Besides, the few times that that ‘I was given help’ about secrecy, I was told to follow the rules, that it was good for me to obey without explanation since I had too much self-will. Ergo, no explanation.”
“Class is the format to bring up questions.”
“I like this one-on-one discussion format. It’s too bad that it is caused by such dire circumstances, but it would have been good to have these asides regularly.”

More conversation, mostly on my part, prompting sighs on their part and comments that I wasn’t being very clear.

”Well, you can appreciate how that leaves us. The rules aren’t going to change. We can’t afford to have a loose cannon like you. How do you want us to respond?”

“If I were you, I would say: ‘These are the rules. Can you abide by them? If not, you should leave.’”

So they did that, and I told them I would think about it and give them my answer soon, on the school number. It was decided that there was no point for me to stay longer – there was vague talk of having a half hour class after each student had been questioned – and that I could therefore go get my coat in the classroom and leave. But that before that, I should give them the piece of paper X handed me, as they insisted on collecting them all. I told them that paper was in my car. (I had the paper with me all along, but wanted to be able to peal off the yellow sticky note with X’s phone number on it, without them seeing it. Creative insincerity.)

The Excommunication

In the classroom, I handed out a hand-written note to Y that said I was leaving school, wanted to stay in touch, and here was my contact information. Without touching it, Y blushed and looked petrified. Another student also saw the note with horror. “Oh, oh. This is not going to go down well.” I thought to myself. The tension in the air was palpable – you could cut it with a knife. I was smiling and feeling happy. With a flourish I put my coat on and walked out of the classroom. I felt like saying goodbye to everyone, thanking all for the good times and great discussions, but the faces were so gloomy, the silence so loud, the vibrations so far below zero, that I just walked out.

I learned later that while I was in the big room, one of the younger students had waited for most students to be in the classroom, courageously announced that he was leaving school, distributed papers (quickly collected by the teacher) and said goodbye.

A teacher escorted me to my car. (All students’ movements were escorted that night.) The parking lot was abuzz with frantic activity. Someone had written on car windows, and a team of older students was hard at work removing the offensive writings (which one couldn’t see in the dark of night). My car was one of those being cleaned, so I couldn’t leave right away. I opened the passenger door, rummaged through bags pretending to look for the paper, took it out of my pocket book, removed the sticky note with the phone number, plunged the paper in a bag, retrieved it, and straightened up outside the car. “There, here is the paper.”

Escorted back to the building, I am left in the little room, waiting to be told that my car is ready and that I can leave. After a few minutes, Robert enters, thundering, holding my note to Y in his hand.

“Did you write this?”
“Yes, I wanted to stay in touch with Y.”
He tears it in front of me, red with anger.
“You have violated Y’s privacy! You are not to contact students, you know that. So you are leaving school? You have read all this slander and…”
I interrupt him, my own anger rising at this theatrical display:
“I did not read any slander.”
Robert’s thunder calms down to a breeze.
“You are leaving independently, on your own?”
“Yes.”
“This event is a terrible denying force – it always happens when good … “
“You know I have always had issues with the school’s secrecy. I had a talk with the teachers just now that clarified where I stand. I can’t abide by the rules, including this one. Thank you for the truly good classes I have enjoyed over these past years.”
“You received a lot of help over that time (a standard line, not really true for me). I wish you luck in your life.”
With a very conciliatory tone now:
“If at any time you want to come back, you can ask that it be with a different framework, questioning the rules.”

These were not his exact words, but that was their meaning. I didn’t absorb this on the spot, my mind already out of there, but in retrospect, how could this even be possible? The other teacher’s words were more realistic: “The rules are not going to change.”

Exit Robert. More waiting. Enter another teacher, downcast, restrained. “Let’s go.” As I leave with him, he says with disgust: “What you did is despicable!” “What? My note to Y? I just wanted to stay in touch!” Down the stairs. No response. I’m truly hurt by his reaction. I liked this particular teacher. Will these be the last words I hear from school? (Yes)

In the parking lot, many cars standing still with their lights on, people running around. You’d thing there was a police raid. I couldn’t drive away fast enough. I stopped several blocks away, left a message on the school number confirming that I had decided to leave school. Once home, another message to Robert, and a final one to my sustainer. Done!

***

From the beginning, I was always on the fence about school: attracted to the ideas, to making aims, to the accountability of the group, but turned off by the secrecy rules, group therapy and recruiting methods.

Therapy

The group therapy I hadn’t counted on: it wasn’t part of what my recruiter had mentioned in the beginning. Sometimes the discussions were useful, meaningful, and general enough to apply to all of us. But often I felt that a student was being put on the spot and raked over coals, unnecessarily analyzed or berated about very personal issues. By teachers who are not trained in therapy, psychology (despite their claims of knowing ancient psychology), or psychiatry. Students’ advice to each other was more helpful and more affectionate. An underlying theme was that we were supposed to have difficult relationships with our parents, the key to unlocking our potential. Another theme was that professional work didn’t matter: there was no respect for work schedules or commitments. Personal relationships, marriage, even the birth of a child, were “events”, to be discounted and subordinated to the higher life of school. The moral tone that was used to talk about class attendance, being on time, and work on the Christmas party I found particularly annoying. Of course, this was only because I had too much self-will.

Secrecy
I broke the secrecy rules often, sometimes without realizing it, and was always amazed at the overblown reaction of the teachers. When I brought the Ouspensky and Gurdjieff books to school, I thought the teacher I talked to was going to have a heart attack: “Oh my God, what have you done? Stay here in the little room while I go get Robert!” I was instructed to cover the books with paper, if I must have them with me, and I did.

I talked about school with my mother, with whom I was very close, and who had taught philosophy. For reasons of her advanced age, where she lived (outside the US) and her language (not English), I didn’t think much “leakage” would come out of that. But no, that was forbidden too. Robert made me promise to not talk about school or the ideas of the work, to anyone, at anytime. And I obeyed, for a long while.

I met Y at Al Gore‘s presentation of his book Our Choice. We were in line together, waiting for him to sign our copies of his book, talking about how great it would be to bring these ideas of sustainability to school discussions. We were both grilled in class for this taboo encounter.

My questions about secrecy kept accumulating: these books are published, what is the point of concealing them? If we highly value the school’s work, as we are asked to do, why not share our positive experiences with those who are close to us? It may very well be that ancient schools had to remain secret because members’ lives were at stake as heretics, but this is definitely not the case today. These ideas are not threatening any social order or political power. If the issue is that we would distort the ideas by talking about them, then how is any knowledge gained? We discuss ideas to learn more about them, to explore and verify their applications, and gain others’ perspective. We would never talk about religion, science, philosophy, love relationships or intellectual pursuits, if we lived under the risk-of-distortion rule.

Recruiting

I thought the third line of work was extremely devious: recruiting unsuspecting people with half-truths, off-topic conversations about this and that, gaining their trust only to hand them over to the older recruiters, a vast bait and switch operation. We were never allowed to say up front: “I’m part of a school of thought. This is what it’s about. Would you like to join?” I brought several people to the presentation on Eleanor d’Aquitaine and Hildegard von Bingen. The follow-up calls they received came close to harassment. One of them asked me: “Who are these people? Why is this woman calling me all the time? Can’t she see I don’t want to respond?”

I told her that it was a school. She told the caller she didn’t want to join a school. When this came back to the teachers, they asked me to not do third line of work, as I was almost “sabotaging” the work. I was overjoyed and relieved at not having to lie. It’s a wonder they didn’t ask me to leave then.

The Invitation

Your Truth, Even if Your Voice Shakes

One of my intentions in writing this blog was to invite my fellow “classmates” to tell their stories. This year writing mine set me free from the experience.  The memories and betrayals don’t devour my attention anymore. I no longer obsessively check this blog for comments 😉

I recommend this process highly to those of you who have the yen to write. Today I feel happy, joyous and free and vast amounts of gratitude that I left before “school” inflicted irreparable damage. Because I left just in time,  and allowed my voice a venue for “confession”, the experience made me stronger. My time is now truly mine; and I am thrilled with the community of posters who have contributed.

I need to take a break from posting; other passions are vying for my attention.  After all, I don’t want to give away another five years. And yet, I don’t want the conversation to end either. I would like to offer this blog space as a community forum and extend this invitation —

Many of you have nodded to stories untold; would you be willing to tell them here? Here are some I would like to see:

Veronica:
BullFrog, or anyone else who knew Veronica, are you willing to tell us more about who she was? What was her last name? Where did she live? Does anyone know how she died? Would be possible to find an obituary?

“School” Ideas:
Odysseus, Cara, River of Joy, or anyone who feels they have some understanding of the ideas misused by “school”– I would love it to turn the ideas or “work” phrases widely misused in “school” into key words for Google searches. I had envisioned taking one idea at a time and writing a post on each, defining it and “school’s” misuse of it.  I have two hesitations — the first being that this task would devour a lot of time and the second being that my understanding was limited since that I didn’t know about or have access to the original source material initially. Would any of you be willing to choose a favorite, or least favorite idea(s) and write about them here?

The Sustain-er Story:
Is there anyone out there who witnessed the birth of “sustain-ers”, became one, and could tell us more about that experience? What is the process of “becoming a sustain-er?” What types of pressures are sustain-ers under?

Alex Horn:
Another Version of the Story, you seem to have some insight into the man and perhaps some personal experiences; would you be willing to share some of that here?

Bill S & the Nervous Breakdown:
Bullfrog, would you be willing to tell us about Bill S and how his break came about? Like the Veronica story, this seems like important information for those who’ve left school and are wondering whether they’ve done the right thing and/or those who might be attending and starting to wonder what they’ve gotten into.

Country Retreat:
Bullfrog, Charlie Chaplin or anyone who is willing, would you share your Country Retreat experiences?

School’s “Leadership”:
Haven’t Decided Yet, Would you be willing to share school from the perspective of “leadership?” What is that experience like? How does one rise up the ranks from student to “teacher”?  What types of pressures are teachers under?

Le Grand David Magic Company – Cher-Tea,  would you be willing to tell us more about this group? How did it start? How did it recruit its members? What was life like once one was “in”? Did people ever leave? When and where did it meet? Who was this guy, Cesareo?

I would be interested in hearing from anyone who experienced “school” back in CA., under Alex Horn. And I’m open to other topics and suggestions.

I am still sorting out how this would work. But – for starters – if you want to participate, please contact me at hummingbird2916@safe-mail.net. I don’t check that address unless I get a head’s up, so let me know if your message is waiting.

My School-Free Year

Burning observation notebooks

One year ago this week I made my first independent decision in five  years and left “school”. I would like to mark that anniversary in this post and check in with one my intentions in writing this blog: to sort through and make meaning out of this experience and understand why I chose it and stayed in it for five years. Here are my conclusions:

Why I chose “school”:
As a woman who had been feeling lost since adolescence, I bumbled into adulthood, clinging to artistic dreams, but without the tools or confidence to realize them.  I ached for guidance and sought direction and purpose at every turn, but a longing for something unexplainable (and seemingly unattainable) clamored relentlessly. Ah, but along came “school” – with “aim”, ideas and teachings that touched on everything from the universal, to the personal, to the cosmological, to the historical, to the spiritual and to the psychological. And it came with “help”. “Thank God,” I remember thinking after attending my first classes at the Belmont Lion’s Club. “I have finally found ‘help’.”

“School” may preach that confidence is a fallacy; that it doesn’t exist. I would argue that confidence, or lack thereof, determined my vulnerability to cult marketing; had I the confidence to trust my inner counsel, I may have tried the “five-week experiment”, but I would not have been sucked in for five years.

Why I stayed in “school”:

Observation Notebook Burning

Given that I lacked confidence and sought guidance, I was “school’s” almost perfect target demographic (if I had money, I would have been perfect). Hope fused me to my newly discovered adventure; I longed to believe it was something real. My new “education” addressed body, mind, heart and spirit comprehensively as nothing else had. Over the first two years, I matured in many ways and my life began to reflect that – I went from temp-worker to decently paid copywriter, single to engaged and from seeing myself as intellectually limited to realizing a passion for history, literature and even the previously dreaded sciences. The teaching was helping; the help was working — until it didn’t.

By that time — had I some level of confidence — I would have thought, it is time to move on. Instead, I fell into a common syndrome – the “I’m not trying hard enough” stage show. Many ‘students’ entertain this stage show and the longer one attends “school”, the more “school” exploits the insecurities that orchestrate, cast and choreograph it. “Teachers” reminded us consistently “If you weren’t in school, you wouldn’t have [FILL IN THE BLANK — the marriage, the new job, the lovely home, etc.]”

Fear replaced hope; not trusting my perceptions, I turned to their tutelage, even as my life was deteriorating into the life I never wanted. The more my life deteriorated, the more I questioned my ability to make choices, instead of their guidance – I turned to “teachers” more and more, in fact. I didn’t ask the obvious question: Why am I afraid to say no to instructions given by “teachers” when they feel wrong to me? When I was laid off in 2010, and in a financial quandary, my prevailing thought was,“ Thank God, I have ‘help’!” instead of the more sensible “I can no longer afford to pay the $350 a month ‘tuition’.”

“How did my life get so off track?” I bemoaned myself, “Is my internal compass so out of whack that I can never trust it? Will I have to ask for ‘help’ forever?”

This type of skewed and fearful thinking makes possible the paralyzing dependence fostered by “school”. The leadership reminded us consistently, “Everyone needs help. The student who asks for the most ‘help’ is the student who evolves the fastest.” Thus each day of my tenure, I abdicated more responsibility and inevitably a constant uncertainty replaced my initial optimism. There is no graduation date. Once you’ve entered the den, you begin the march into an unspoken life-long commitment, and “school’s students” “evolve” into indebted bundles of dependent insecurity.

Deriving Meaning – If You Meet The Buddha on the Road, Kill Him:
With one year of “school”-free perspective, I can see that “school” became a mirror reflecting my internal beliefs: I had believed myself incapable, the joy I sought beyond me, my natural strengths and aptitudes for the arts, compassion and empathy unimportant and/or unattainable. “School” was happy to reflect this back adding the unspoken message of you can become a real woman, but only with ‘school’s help’. Otherwise you are doomed to circle the same track of unfulfilled potential until you die.

Thus I turned to false prophets and let them yank me around. The real woman woke up the moment she recognized “school’s help” as a prison with bars constructed from fear and dependence. I became that real woman the moment I said “no” to “school’s” instruction of “Tell your husband to mind his own business.” I finally recognized the blatant disregard for my life, husband and family communicated through this instruction.  The real woman had to embrace the responsibilities and consequences that came along with saying no – this is real freedom, with all of its challenges and rewards.

I have come to believe that every person has an internal compass and it cannot be dictated externally. Once upon a time, mine led me into a false “school” and then – with real help from my husband – it led me out of this “school”.  It may have been a mistake, but do we not learn the most from our mistakes? The moment I said, “No” changed and defined me anew. Today, when I fall into old habits of doubting myself, I can look back at life while in “school” and see the fearful woman who dreaded the sunrise and compare it with life now that every cell in me welcomes each new day. Through my “school” experience, I released myself from the lifelong and constant search for mentoring and meaning; the very mechanisms that led me into “school” fell away the moment I said “no” to it.

Now each new day presents a chance to practice honoring and following my internal compass, for better or for worse. And as I bumble along, sometimes flying, sometimes crashing, I accept my “school” days as the necessary foray that pushed me into a corner that offered two choices – to follow the route whose road signs are constructed and orchestrated by “school”, or to follow this internal compass.   As I choose the latter, I see that life is a perfectly imperfect and lovely journey and its meaning comes from within.