“School” Vignettes Circa 1980

Recently a former student, circa mid eighties, shared some anecdotes from his “school days”. These vignettes so beautifully illustrate “school’s” cultish ridiculousness … well, what can I say … read and laugh; read and see the true nature of this “evolved school of consciousness”. Read and consider whether his experiences ring true to you. For as Robert is so fond of saying, “you’ve all had your own experiences of ‘school.’”

The next 3 posts are a series of vignettes and conclusions from “Secret”  “School” Circa 1980:

The-Gang-That-Couldn’t-Shoot-Straight

… most of what I remember about school was its certain Gang-That-Couldn’t-Shoot-Straight atmosphere. From the fact that no one had explained the rules to me in the beginning and I ended up tripping my ass off for the first class with Sharon on to so many other things big and small.

At the time I was there the two older teacher/students under Bob were Geoff and Lou. I came to class one night and Geoff was livid at me: “Where’s Bob? You were supposed to pick up BOB!!!!” Well, that would have required someone telling me in advance that A) I needed to pick up Bob, and B) where Bob lived.

There was a time when the younger class was given an assignment that directly contradicted another assignment. The men did whatever-number-line-of-work by playing basketball every Sunday at 6AM at the Arlington Boys and Girls Club. The school basketball method was a certain Bob-Cousey-dribble-low-make-yourself-small fairly unorthodox and perhapsnotwickedsmart basketball style. I actually enjoyed these male/bondage mornings; but on one occasion the guys who used the gym after us asked if we wanted to play a game. Wez got creamed.

No drugs? Oops …
When I was first recruited my two sustainers(?) didn’t do the best job explaining the rules. In particular, they left out the no drugs part. And when I first began, there was also no rule that you had to be in school for a certain time before attending a class with Sharon or Alex (that later changed).

So during my first month, or so, we were to have a class with Sharon, and for that I took about a half a hit of LSD and walked to class from my house nearby. OK, maybe not the smartest idea, but it was my way of “preparing” to meet the woman whom Robert et all had been talking about in holier-than-thou terms.

Tripping does not good articulation make, so I said nothing until near the end of class when Robert asked me if there was anything I wanted to ask Sharon. I mumbled something about homosexuality (duh), and Sharon responded that male homosexuality “was really about having contempt for women.”

Why I didn’t immediately run a thousand miles from her and this group has been with me for some time. I knew this was false for me, in my life, having so many wonderful woman friends, my great mom, and sister, boss, etc… I saw Sharon then as a bull shitter and a false prophet, if you will … but I stuck around for too long.

When sexuality is deemed “chief weakness”…
I certainly came out to the wrong group. I was in a bad place at the time, new to town, “new” to be ready to announce my sexuality, very unsure of myself, afraid, and unfortunately full of a lot of self-doubt and low self-esteem. I, unfortunately for me, let it be known that I wasn’t happy to be gay.

… my curiosity about being involved in a group such as this, led by a charismatic leader, exploring the universe of thought, trumped any misgivings I had — sort of like being asked onto a spaceship and be away! when where you are, at the time, isn’t so great. My sustainer — of course — went and told all to Robert and the older students; so right off my sexuality became my tour-de-force, my “weakness?” —  although never spelled out that way. Besides singing on a bus, or whatever shocks we were instructed to take on at the time, Robert’s plan for me was a little experiment in which I was to rent a hotel room and hire a prostitute. Twice.

… off I went to the Long Wharf Marriott — let’s just say Experiment #1 didn’t “take”; utter embarrassing disaster. And when, a few nights later, Door Number Two opened, I was greeted with, “Hey … don’t I know you? Don’t you work at ______ restaurant owned by the guy who owns the place I work at?” Yikes.

The “Secret” East Somerville “School”

The “Secret” East Somerville “School”

My new millennium “school” days didn’t require me to sing on a bus; or transport a dead fly to a restaurant, slip it into my soup, then pitch a fit about the “deadflyinmysoup, howdiditgetthere???”; or pretend to fall down, call an ambulance, then run away, once transported to the E.R. (yes, I’ve heard these “experiments” reiterated from several different “disgruntled ex-students”, in many separate conversations). But they did flirt with such ridiculousness — case in point: go solicit a free tree from a local merchant for “school’s” Christmas party ($350/month times how many students?) so “school” doesn’t have to spend $30.

Of course, you have all had your own experiences, thus can draw your own conclusions as to whether these anecdotes, circa 1980s, resonate with your experiences:

The Paddock:
The silliest “school” screw-ups related to the secrecy issue itself. At the time we had moved into the Somerville location, next to The Paddock Restaurant; it was a huge space that the older students had put an enormous amount of energy (and sleep deprived daysdyasdays) fixing up. It had huge windows looking out onto some apartments across the parking lot.

In the beginning, the younger class would descend on The Paddock, our newly-instructed-to-be-covered Gurdjieff books in hand. But, as we stood out like sore thumbs in this neighborhood bar, it became off limits.

On many occasions we remembered, but on many did not, to close the curtains for body work — so here we were, this “secret” “school”, whirling and spinning away-till-ya’-puked in front of the neighbors, eye-level hanging out smoking butts thinking… what exactly? Then, of course, add a few, to many New England Retail Express Mercedes trucks parked in a residential neighborhood, and I don’t think there were many East Somerville locals who didn’t think something was up with this group.

GeoffisGoingtoKillMe:
Near the end of my stay, Sharon and Alex had come up for a “class” to kick out Lou and Geoff, in a spectacular kind of pre-orchestrated bullshit session. Geoff’s wife stayed in “school” and shortly after Sharon and Alex kicked Geoff out, at the end of one “class”, she came to me in a panic that she had locked her keys in her car.

“Geoff is going to kill me”, she said. Continuously. “GeoffisgoingtoKILLME.”

I was a car guy. I ran a parking lot. I had a tool to open car doors; but it wasn’t easy. We went over the options: leave the car overnight, get a ride from so and so, get the car towed, (call triple A?). But all ended in “Geoffisgoingtokill me”. So outside we went, and I — with my buglar-ious tool — working on a Volvo wagon, when what doth mine eyes see, but a Somerville Police cruiser pulling up along side.

I am a good bull shitter: just having a slice at the Paddock, happen to have this tool legally, about to call my friend Anthony C at _____towing company — a Somerville-semi-wannabe-mafia-run tow shop; dropped some names, and all is going well, until… here comes M, walking up to me after “class” looking to pay me money back from so and so. This person comes over and the cop says, “Do you belong to that weird group who meet upstairs?” Oh no, not me; just getting a slice, etc. and off they go.

But damage done; at the next “class” my head was on the plate and what Dave Archer called part family, part lynch mob, had me in their sights for “flagging down a cop”, for endangering “school”, for breaking secrecy (wait, what secrecy? what about the neighbors watching us flail about, the trucks, the pizza place, the whatever. What about protecting Geoff’s wife?) But I was done.

Suspenders and Yoga Mudra:
I did have that fear of leaving that has so often been described — that life outside “school” meant you’d be living and dying like a dog — that the spiral where you were either going up or down would be heading down for me. I was surprised and shocked to have continuing visits from older students at my workplace encouraging me to come back and “leave properly”. But I knew what those sessions were like.

The older group had recently come back from a retreat and all the men had strangely abandoned belts and all were wearing suspenders. And I noticed that a few of the older students were continuing to do this thing with their hands… like a Hindu statue… the mudra….holding their thumb and forefinger together when talking…..but yeah, you’re my age and you move furniture all day. So, yeah, cult. Hello.

No regrets; no pain no gain. I am fine and have done well and perhaps I am more of a cat person than the dog they envision that dares leaves “school”.

Circa 1980s Conclusions; New Millennium Response

Circa 1980s Conclusions/New Millennium Responses:

I love to compare and contrast conclusions with fellow former students. Most of the time, the stories and conclusions corroborate and ultimately, most agree that there’s no “evolution” spinning upward from the hallowed halls.  Occasionally, someone will challenge the perception of “school” as nefarious con job and most of the students with whom I’ve spoken consider all the shades of grey between “evolved and enlightened school” and high-demand deceptive cult. The following excerpts compare and contrast the 20th “school” conclusions with those of the new millennium:

20th Century: Most surprising to me is how “school” continues in one form or another for so long? I can’t, honestly, imagine any individual new to the school obeying a directive NOT to use the web to research and discover some of the truths revealed here and elsewhere, and still get sucked in. But I certainly had a dozen or more red flags from day one and continued on … so… not to judge.

New Millennium: I certainly followed the “do not search for ‘school’” on the Internet rule like a good little cog, even after I’d left for a time. It didn’t take very long for me to start filling in the missing pieces and seeing a more complete picture of “school” then the one presented by my “teachers”, and still I obeyed until I thought I would lose my mind from the weird isolated state in which I was living — re-experiencing scenarios from this secret world that had devoured so much of my life and realizing the demands, the “lines of work”, the claim of “being the source” … all lies. I think this speaks to the human need some of us have to be part of something meaningful. The more time, energy, and money invested, the more stronger the need to believe. Emotions trump critical thinking.

20th Century: … I realized pretty quickly after leaving, how programmed I had become, and how we all were victimized by a school structure which seemed to demand that to rise up (or be enlightened, awake, whatever), you had to step on someone else and push them down. So I think it quite positive and healing that — from what I’ve read so far — there is a realization that even those in the group who may have been higher ups, and complicit in running this school and sustaining it for so long, were also its victims and perhaps even more so.

New Millennium: most ex-students I’ve spoken with grapple with this question – do these “teachers” really believe they are evolving and “helping” their “students and the world? Most of them conclude that “teachers” and “older students” sincerely believe in the institution. Why else would all of these intelligent people allow the group to hijack their lives? When I say intelligent people, I mean ivy-league graduates and professors – “school’s” clientele is certainly part of its appeal.

I’ve concluded that intellect is a very different animal than emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is easily derailed when one lacks confidence, is feeling vulnerable, is seeking purpose, or guidance, or all of the above – that was certainly the case for me when I encountered “school”.

Most of the former students I’ve spoken with are simply grateful to be free from “school”, free to reclaim every aspect of their beings and most extend compassion for those still in “school”, often especially the “teachers” and inner circle, whose lives are so intricately linked to “school” (marriages, jobs, businesses, finances) that leaving becomes less and less viable.

20th Century: I don’t have any regrets regarding coming to “school”, as it absolutely was an experience that brought me some quick growth. Then it started to rot and got quite weird as more and more the reality of what was going on at the top and core became revealed. … I have long since given up trying to explain to family or friends that yes, I was in a cult. So just as school had instructed not to “leak”, that trying to explain school ideas to others was counterproductive and … well just not too possible, I’ve kept these experiences to myself all these years.

New Millennium: I also don’t regret my “school” days, although, I wished I’d uncovered the rot in two years, rather than five. Of course, I believe two years is “school’s” new millennium prescribed honeymoon period. Ironically, finding and leaving “school” is exactly what I needed to uncover my raison d’être.

As far as telling others, I find I am very blessed. My family, my friends, even my co-workers and boss have been very supportive. But I do find that — in general — most people scatter at the subject of cults. That’s why I feel so compelled to share, to educate, and to help others heal and speak out. As a society, this blight needs to be shared. As a civilization, we need to understand the emotional needs and social constructs that enable destructive groups to exist. It’s really the only way to combat the phenomenon.

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.