Every ex-cult member goes through an almost identical experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian, Hindu, Tony Robbins, or popular alternative school cult. Every high-control experience follows a similar pattern of oppression and mind control. And every ex-cult member travels a similar journey into and then out of his or her particular group. (Note: The experience into a cult is different for second-generation adults.)
I learned this at the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference in Dallas, Texas, held June 30th to July 2nd. I had never been among such a large group of ex-cult members before. The experience was eye opening, mind expanding, and life changing for me.
Although I had moments where I thought I might drown in the flood of our shared bad experiences and personal pain. That never happened. Not even close. In fact, quite the opposite.
I was buoyed by the strength, intelligence, and willingness of these people to face the facts of what they had experienced. They had been conned by psychopaths. They had lost a few or many years of their lives to the con game. They had experienced the downside of the vulnerability and gullibility that exists in each of us, but which is only triggered at our darkest depths by some of us. Ours is an experience only a percent of the people in this world will ever know. I love that we could come together to share, learn, and grow beyond that traumatic experience.
While we all have that shared negative experience, even more importantly, we also all share the experience of finding our inner wisdom, determination, and inner warrior — and leaving our cults. These qualities were never lost. They were just lying dormant while I was in my ex-cult until I was triggered by an inciting incident. An extraordinary circumstance. A final straw. That is something that current blind-faith followers have not yet experienced. Some many never know the light and joy of that personal strength, wisdom, and freedom. Only ex-cult members do. And that shared human experience was amazing and invaluable.
My Unexpected Spiritual Awakening
The second most important experience I had at the conference was a personal spiritual revelation. It was the most surprising, because it was not what I was there for. In fact, I had no expectations for anything when I headed to Dallas on Wednesday June 29th.
Since I left the cult I was in (Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat) nine years ago, I have not pursued “religion” or “spirituality.” I needed a break — especially from religious dogma and fake prophets. Instead, I lived my life in a state of non-Buddhist “be here now” simplicity. It was enjoyable to experience the world out from under any oppressive dogma and without need to have all of the answers. I’d been in that state nearly my whole life. Now it was my time to view the world with a free mind. I felt like I could finally breathe.
I didn’t need to think about God for those nine years. Honestly, if there was one, I was mad at him or her. After all, all I wanted in my pre-cult years was to find God. I sure never wanted to land in the cult of a sicko wacko sex addict and child rapist, and his mini-me convicted felon child molesting sidekick.
Out of the blue, very recently, I started thinking that I was ready to get back to figuring out what this life is all about. With my heart healed and my instincts back, I knew that whatever the answer was I would not find it in any religion. I could only find it within myself. The answers would come from my own effort, not some ridiculous orange-carrot-shaped promise from some orange-cloaked faker.
I already had a few puzzle pieces floating around in my mind. But I did not have a single clear picture of the purpose of my life and where I would go after this life — if there were any next life at all. Then I walked into a session at the conference that gave me a piece of the puzzle that was so critical it filled in all of the other missing pieces.
This is a topic I will write about in more detail in future posts. But I will say this now. Finding the truth of our existence is truly a solo journey. Yes, you need a few teachers along the way. I believe the man who shared the critical insight was one of hundreds of people who have been my gurus. They enter my life, drop an important tidbit of knowledge, and I move on and put the pieces together myself, because I already have the power to do so. These encounters are meant to be brief. You definitely do not need a “guru” or “teacher” to cling to as if they are life rafts in a rolling sea. That’s not how true enlightenment happens.
A true spiritual journey is a solitary one. I instinctively knew this when I was a younger spiritual seeker. But after 11 years of searching, I got tired. Just then I found a so-called guru and handed over my life to him. What I needed instead was to stay the course. True knowledge takes time and effort. There is no fast track. But it’s so rewarding in the end, unlike following the path of a conman or woman to a dead end.
As a side note, many of the people in my ex-cult lamented the fact that after years in the cult, they felt no closer to God than the day they walked through the ashram gates. They will all die in that same feeling, because they are on the wrong path. But then it will be too late, and they’ll return here to start over like a scene from Groundhog’s Day.
Now, thanks to my own hard work — which included a wrong turn into the darkest pits of hell — I have gathered together the knowledge I needed to fully awaken my inner wisdom. Now I know that I am, at last, free from the shackles of this mayic world. This time, when I leave this body, I will also be leaving this world.
Until then, I will do as much as I possibly can do to share the true journey with others. In this way, I hope to help others avoid the mistakes I made in my search for divinity.
Valuable Knowledge Gained
In addition to my breakthrough spiritual event, I also gained a lot of other insight from the ICSA conference — all of which I’ll share in future posts. Discussions I attended included:
- Vulnerabilities and Techniques of Undue Influence
- Cliques, Crooks and Cults: Understanding Power and Control as Shared Core Components of Abusive Social Organizations and Relationships
- Combining Identity Development Theory and Trauma Counseling in Helping Heal SGAs
- 25 Years After – The Friedrichsh of Commune (FHC): An Exploration of How a Diverse Selection of Ex-Members have Adjusted to “Normal” Life
- Gnosis, Faith, and Reason: Using Epistemology to Analyze any Cult Experience
- Panel: An Empirical Cultic Research Program in China
- ISKCON and Beyond: An Updated Understanding of the Global Hare Krishna Landscape
- A Fish Rots from the Head – How Bhaktivedanta Taught by Example
- The “Oprahfication” of Rob Bell: New Ageism, New Thought, and the Post-conservative Evangelical
- Mild and Mainstream: Understanding and Mitigating the Damage Caused by the Milder, More Accepted, High-Control Organizations
More soon. Until then, keep searching to find the spark that ignites the flame of your innate inner wisdom and power. Only you hold the knowledge of who you truly are and where you truly belong. Do not let any con man or woman trick you and lead you off course.