Monday, July 27, 2009

Cults and Their Dangers

I was at a spiritual retreat last weekend. The 3-day workshop went well overall but there was this sense of unease that kept growing in me. The more I looked at people around me the
more I became convinced that everyone had checked their intellect at the door. There seemed to be this unsaid and unwritten agreement to accept everything that the organizers said and to passionately agree with them. There was “group think” in effect for sure, and everyone was just high on the serotonin generated by the sense of belonging, harmony, support, love, and security.
At the end of the last meeting, the unease I was feeling about a couple of the speakers’ claims to heal everyone with energy or with radio waves generated from a simple lap top(!) had started to really bother me. What is more, the speakers kept telling people how great it was to be open, to accept things that one does not have an explanation for; and to let one’s heart and gut feeling guide one in life. I have made enough decisions based on gut feeling to know that it can be misleading. Sometimes your gut feeling is right and sometimes it is wrong. It all depends on and how connected to your intuition you are at that moment of decision making. What is more, some people are generally much better at connecting with their intuition than others are. But to go ahead and instruct everyone to put all reasoning behind, without first making sure they have a sufficient level of connectedness to their inner knowing was quite dangerous I thought. So, I stood up and said, “Hey, I just want to make a comment. I agree that we have to be open and always seek new ideas and be ready to be proven wrong. But I want to warn people here that it is also very important to research what you are getting into, to not agree with ‘everything’ that everyone tells you, and to personally find out if the person and the claim you are facing are legitimate.”
My comment was not taken very well! I had somehow upset the lovely sense of harmony that existed in the group. I took away the source of the high and the ignorant bliss that everyone was feeding on. It was as if people were flying and I suddenly had pulled them down. The organizers were certainly not happy and decided to cut me off on the basis that my comments were irrelevant and that they wished to hear about the experiences that people had had during the 3 days of the workshop. I left the retreat feeling like I had broken free from a cult! I am not used to this sort of environment. I work in the Technology sector, which is a meritocracy. You can’t get people to listen to what you say without having merit, relevance, logical basis, and credibility. In our meetings ideas are presented and discussed, assumptions are questioned, and theories are refuted all the time. We constantly challenge each other and that is how we answer strategic questions or tackle major problems. Any ideology where you are not allowed to state your opinion or question the statements made by others, is a cult in my opinion and ‘very’ dangerous for that matter.
Just a week after my return I heard the news of the three people who died in the sweat lodge administered by the world famous personal coach, James Arthur Ray. (Just as a side note, it just so happens that a few years back I happened to be present at one of Mr. Ray’s talks and found his claims about Quantum Physics so incorrect that I had to leave the meeting after 15 minutes. But that is besides the point). The sad news of these deaths took me back to my uncomfortable feeling and comments the week before at the retreat. I pictured those people in the sweat lodge having gotten so intermingled with the cult they had unknowingly joined that they did not even have the courage to break free while they were dying. Unfortunately, cult power is so strong that even the intense primordial sense of survival could not kick in and help them out. The doors were not locked. No one had chained the people in their place, but no one had the confidence, courage, and energy (let’s also not forget it was 120 degrees in there) to leave. My fears were not baseless. Our quest for spirituality, finding a meaning in life, elevating our consciousness, and finding happiness has created an opportunity for so many so called gurus -who do not necessarily have the credentials- to obtain too much control over our lives. In fact, no one has enough credentials to have control over your mind or your life.
Now, I am not questioning the intentions of these coaches, gurus, and teachers who are helping so many depressed, lost, and lonely souls. I have seen how energized, positive, and happy people are when they leave these workshops. I have seen how in some cases people’s lives have changed because of these classes and the efforts that the coaches put it. I myself have received tremendous valuable and life changing gifts from such gatherings. I think in most cases the coaches are trying to help people.
Yes, I agree with having no resistance and being open. I meditate regularly, and I believe that it is possible to connect to an internal knowing that is far stronger and more creative than our traditional deductive thinking. But I speak out if I see an energy healer who has no power, or a therapist who claims the radiation from her simple lap top running some software program can cure my disease, and I have no interest in listening to someone with no subject matter knowledge talk about the fact that everything is made of energy and that the photons emitted from my body pass through the empty space in atoms surrounding us. 
Let’s be open to new ideas and explore alternative paths to healing and happiness, but for heaven’s sake let’s not be blind, and let’s not take everything that is presented to us as undisputed fact. If we do, then what would be the difference between us and religious fanatics or various cult members? When you put the word and belief of a coach above and beyond your own intelligence, then you have joined a cult. You may not be conscious of it but you have. (And the  fact that it happens so seamlessly and in subtle ways actually makes it more dangerous). My two cents are ALWAYS ask questions, review opposing views, understand the history, and NEVER let fear of being different force you to comply with any group’s ideology. After all, that is what real freedom is about.


  1. Welcome to California. People move here from the east coast, change their name to something silly and suddenly profess enlightenment after a few new age seminars. Have you seen the film about supposed quantum physics called "What the 'bleep' do we know"? My last two girlfriends thought it was "amazing"...they never bothered to question the cult scam. I guess that says more about me than it does about why do I fall for bimbos? Maryam, you are pretty amazing. Probably cause you're not from America. Last time I was at the hot springs in Stinson Beach I heard more of the same drivel about "frequencies and manifestation and healing" from retards that pretty much ruin what could be a spiritual experience for normal people...but then I grew up around all this nonsense. Not that I don't dig groovin in nature but....just ask E-Ball, he grew up here too. Good for you for speaking up...from what I've read of your blogging I don't think you need any more could lead them.

  2. Ahh... Thank you so much! I really appreciate the comment Dino. Hope to see you soon! :-)