About Cognitive Dissonance: Letter #2

This is the second letter to my grandmother I stumbled over recently (click here to read letter #1) and as I transcribe it, a number of things strike me:

  1. I left “school” in 2011 and I wrote these letters in 2008 — even in my cult coma, I employed quotations around “school” language.
  2. I don’t remember writing the letters, but I must have written the one below after “class”, during the required “hour of silence”. It’s clear that I believed I was violating “school” code by writing a letter to my dead grandmother. I did not ask permission, just communicated out of a pure spontaneous need — what a bad student!
  3. In the letter, I struggle to remember what happened in “class” and feel guilty about my faltering memory. “School” often employs character assassination to those who struggle with their memory. It claimed something like your ability to remember, reflects your ability to love. Those who had memory lapses, well, they weren’t really able to love.

But now, I think I do recall the context that triggered letter #2 — one classmate had lost her father. She asked for help; she found she couldn’t simply go through her day and act normally. She wanted to scream it to the world – DON’T YOU KNOW MY DAD JUST DIED. If you aren’t in a cult coma, you recognize this phenomenon as grief.

Cult-Coma-Robert’s “help” consisted of telling her she was “in self pity”. I was astounded by his coldness. In a rare moment of courage, I challenged him, saying, “She just lost her father!” He turned my question over to my “school” cohort and “essence friend” to respond — she explained to me that Robert was saving her from drowning in “self pity”. I guess I didn’t buy it — thus, letter #2 followed:

Dear Gran,

I have no idea if you see or hear my thoughts, but I’m going to keep writing without asking permission. My question continues: should I stay, or should I go? I’m told I could walk out tomorrow; that I am “a free woman; that it is a choice and a privilege to be in ‘school'” . Is it? 

Tonight I saw the full spectrum of what is referred to as the “pendulum”. We start “class” with either Tai Chi, or what is called “body work”. Tonight’s body work exploration was so lovely — can I remember what it was? It was about the idea of being invisible and the “time body”. I felt light and playful and relaxed.

Then we discussed time and perceptions of time — which is fascinating to me. I really do experience time differently. Then came the kabash: the “Non-Expression of Negative Emotions”. This is where I start to wonder. Is that because, Gram, “I’m attached to my unnecessary suffering”, or is it because I’m being brainwashed?

I asked whether A’s expression of sadness was an expression of negative emotion, Robert responded, “You could say, I’m fine. What is it to lie, really? In this ‘work’ it is said, It depends on who — which I — is speaking.”

“But,” A said, “What if I feel the tears well up and the tension?”

“Then you aren’t trying hard enough,” Robert answered.

I don’t think I understand that exchange. What of grief? What of honoring honest-to-God loss and sadness?

I, myself, have been feeling so empty and numb, Grandma and I hate that sense of emptiness and this sense that this life is simply a long and lonely trial — an “experiment”. “School” highlights that sense, Grandma, but not always. Sometimes I walk out feeling light and hopeful. Sometimes I leave “class” with a sense of “possibility”. 

What will I become, I sometimes ask myself. And sometimes the question is what will I become if I leave “school”? Will I ruin absolutely everything?

So we’ve a new “instruction”: “go out and make new friends”. This is the one I felt creeping up and I’ve been afraid of, due to my ambivalence. There’s always been a piece of solace in my “school” exploration which was I’ve not been asked to recruit newbies. Well, that is starting to change and I’m uncomfortable with it –VERY!

If I talk about it with K, or in class, I can guarantee you I will be told to change my attitude, or that I am being stingy. We’ll see — I guess, I’ll experiment. I sometimes sit and stew instead of voicing my objections. We all do. But since we are working on “NON-EXPRESSION” of “negative emotions” many of us sit, and nod, and even smile.

You can see how well I’m doing at this “NON-EXPRESSION” of “negative emotions”. How is one to know oneself if one cannot trust his/her thoughts, perceptions, feelings? I observe suspicion, resentment, blame spewing out. “Some people sit here and don’t want to be here,” Robert said. Yes. That person, as it turns out,  is me and lately that person shuts up a lot — that “set of Is”.

And yet, I observe the required “hour of silence”, except that I pen this letter to you. That may be considered a violation. So I ask you, again, should I stay or should I go? What am I doing here really, if I’m flip-flopping and vacillating, swimming in my ambivalence?

There is so much to do: I’ve got work and a wedding to plan and a stepson to get to know. Why, then, do I stay? Because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t. I am afraid I will simply fall back into old habits and sink, sink, sink — losing everything. Is that really reason enough to stay? 

I told myself I would reach my second anniversary and I will honor that promise to myself. Perhaps this is simply a state that is temporary. But Gram, I am asking for your help in coming to clarity. If I quit, would it be another one in a long pattern of quitting things, or are my perceptions accurate and my anger justified? Am I allowing myself to be manipulated? What for?

So these are the questions I ask and am afraid to utter out loud. Why all this fear?

I’m getting tired now, Gran and must go home.  But I’ll be back to the page soon. I find great comfort in consulting with you.

Love, Your Granddaughter.

4 thoughts on “About Cognitive Dissonance: Letter #2

  1. Open Eyed says:

    I think the not remembering is by design. I found Robert himself to have this hypnotic effect. I walked out of a conversation I had with him just thinking “WTF was that?!” The exercises before class are designed to put people in that state. Then there is the whole not taking notes. So you are left with nothing in hard copy to refer back to, just a memory that is constantly questioned and in question and open to manipulation. I think all those years of learning how to keep from dissociating and ground myself helped save me, and when I kept feeling disoriented after class it was an alarm bell. When I stood in the middle of my house at the end of a couple weeks and saw things ranfomly strewn about and having little to no memory of how they got there it was another set of alarm bells. In my last days I was quietly but actively countering the intended effects of “body work”. It’s amazing how differently “school” looks when you can stay present and aware.

    • Hi Open Eyed, It must have been interesting and perhaps horrifying to have been in “class” knowing that the “teachers” were lying and manipulating. I’d love to hear more about how you countered the intended state of the “body work”. Once I left and started reading academic literature about cult techniques, I saw a lot of description about inducing trance states — of course, body work fit the bill. It’s funny, though, through the years many have commented on the Tai Chi — not too impressed. However, I guess it did, also, fit the bill of inducing a trance state. Real Tai Chi would get you more in touch with your gut instincts — “school” (cough) “the study” wouldn’t want its students to truly be present and aware of their bodies and emotions. That would be inconvenient.

  2. BestFootForward says:

    Thank you as always for your thoughts….it was reading them all in one final night into morning that gave me the courage to leave.
    I was ready, but it was essential to know, for me, that you were all out there!
    (insert heart)

  3. BFF — I’m so happy to hear that! Congratulations on your cult-free life! I left in 2011, four years have passed and every single day I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I have my life back,that I’m not still marching to “school” like a good foot soldier, that I’m not letting these cult zombies run me into the ground. Like all the other ironies of “school”, since leaving, I am profoundly awake to the gift in each and every breath now. This might deserve its own post … gonna chew on it. Your weekend is now yours! No running around recruiting newbies or preparing for a “Christmas Party”. Savor it! xo, GSR

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