A Woman Battles a Cultic Relationship -- and Wins
continued from Front Page
knew Don to be a frugal person and $1000 seemed like a great deal of money to me. Don told me that he was [a New Age meditation] teacher although he had not instructed anyone in many years. I didn't understand why he was unwilling to teach me for free. He had much to say about [his leader]'s desire for everyone to learn [a New Age meditation], how it is universal, natural, good for everyone, simple, etc, along with all the scientifically proven benefits, yet he was never able to really explain why people needed to pay $1000. Finally, he said that he just hadn't taught in a long time, didn't have time to study his notes, and didn't have a problem with the $1000. From the onset, I was unable to connect this simple, totally wonderful practice with this totally outrageous $1000. For me [his leader] and the movement lacked some kind of integrity. It is a fact that I would not have paid the money but I did accept Don's gift.
During the time Don and I were getting to know each other, he spoke a lot about [a New Age meditation] and the teachings of [his leader]. I knew nothing beyond the early involvement of the Beatles. It all seemed reminiscent of the 60's which was a pull for me. I had much respect for Don's intellect and the positive impact he claimed [a New Age meditation] had on his life for the past 25 years. He's a practicing clinical neurophysiologist and not someone I view as a crackpot. Although most of the "science" and "philosophy" seemed silly, unrealistic, and narrow, I often thought that I must lack the intellect to "get it". I mostly listened because early on, I realized that the answers to the questions I asked were unbelievably unsatisfying and left me feeling frustrated and angry. I became quickly turned of by sentences which start with "[his leader] says . . ." and there were many.
Don received a Ph.D. from [the movement's university], played a key role in the building of the domes, went on lots of courses, had all of those secret advanced techniques, has a brother with the same credentials, and was married to a [a New Age meditation practitioner]. He seemed to have infinite knowledge of Hinduism, although he didn't call it that. Ironically, although Jewish, he knows nothing about Judaism to the extent that he had never seen the diary of Ann Frank. This was the complementary piece I was to provide and Don assured me there was no conflict. [The New Age meditation], of course, is not a religion.
I am a "child of the 60's" and always prided myself on my open-mindedness. I have utilized alternative medicine and have practiced deep breathing and relaxation meditations. My B.A. is in soc/anthro. I've always been interested in other cultures. I am, however, fundamentally Jewish. I am a serious student of the Holocaust, provided my now 22 year old daughter with a private Jewish education, and would not have become seriously involved with a non-Jewish man. I am not religious but . . .
The man who would instruct me is also Jewish. In fact he was a cousin of my former husband. Don explained that John was living with his parents to help them with the family business. John is in his mid 40's. Previous to this he had been on Purusha which is some kind of celibate, monk-like branch of the [New Age meditation] movement. My former in-laws had always spoken of the "poor parents" of John who was "involved in that [New Age meditation] stuff". Actually one of John's brothers and a cousin are also involved. His parents, however, and another brother, are traditional Jews. I had been to their home for family occasions and remembered it as being filled with Jewish books, art objects, etc. Because I didn't understand the destructive nature of [the New Age meditation] and I was familiar with John's "Jewish home", I did not feel unsafe or strange. He came to my home to deliver the first 2 lectures and the next 5 meetings were at his parents' home. I had never met John at family functions and was immediately struck by his lack of color and vigor. He was "dressed up" which is a big turn off for me. I still wear jeans and tee shirts. He was humorless, stiff, and his delivery was flat. In fact his affect was flat. What struck me was that he used the exact same words and examples that I had heard from Don. What I had believed to be Don's own feelings and opinions were being delivered word for word in this intro lecture. I can tell you that I remember nothing about those two free lectures. It was very boring and I felt like I needed to get up and drink some water just to stay awake. I did that. Because of the frustration associated with "questioning", I didn't question. Rather I made a decision to learn the technique and just not get into the rest of it. I thought that it would not be harmful to meditate regularly and perhaps it would be beneficial. I looked forward to actually learning the technique, and considered the rest to be a big waste of time. When John and I spoke about what led me to [the New Age meditation], I told him it was Don's praises. I also remember telling him that my life was good, that I don't see any big problems, and that I was not really seeking anything. I told him that I practiced other relaxation techniques and was willing to practice this one instead.
I remember being a little put off by the description of the initiation ceremony, "pagan" I thought. Still I would not be asked to participate beyond bringing a handkerchief, fruit and flowers. I was told that a picture of [his leader]'s teacher would be displayed. I decided to be open minded, and just "go along with the program." Don believed this to be very valuable, had paid $1000, and I didn't want to disapoint him.
I believe I will never forget John's parents' home, walking through the kitchen, and waiting in the living room. Although John had displayed [the New Age meditation] books on the coffee table, they were overwhelmed by the "all things Jewish" surroundings. Then he motioned me into another room. It was a small incense filled den-bedroom where my eyes were instantly drawn to a table/altar. It was not unlike what had been described, but the impact of actually seeing it and being there was intense. I was profoundly uncomfortable with this "whole other world" I had entered. Still I remained and tried to appear "calm". As I watched this young Jewish man bow down to this graven image, I was literally sick. I felt my heart beating faster, and I could barely repeat my mantra when that part of the ceremony began. It's difficult for me to describe what I was thinking or feeling, in fact my memory is unclear. I believe I was desperate to escape into the mantra and meditation in order to rid my mind of what I believed to be the most hideous act of betrayal inflicted on one Jew towards another that I have personally experienced. Although Don was not from a religious home and knew no better, this was not the case with John and I knew that. It was difficult for me to look at him. During the rest of the time we spent together, checking, watching old [his leader] tapes, etc., I only answered his questions "the right way". It was clear to me that this "checking procedure" was some form of hypnotism. Although I did decide to practice the technique while I was at home, I did not really meditate in John's presence after the initiation ceremony or subsequent checkings during the rest of the instruction, and did not indicate to him that I had any problems. The meditation experience I did have after the ceremony was nothing unique and had experienced that "feeling" with other techniques, so I did not feel that it could be dangerous. I did make a decision to never go back to be "checked" or to ever become involved with the [New Age meditation] movement or advanced teachings.
I did not want to disappoint Don so I did not tell him about my negative feelings initially. I told him only that the meditation experience was not unique. I felt badly about his $1000 and questioned my own "small mindedness" and religious bias with regard to the ceremony. The meditation was something we shared, although not really. Mine was 20 minutes twice a day. Don's was much longer, more involved, and included listening to tapes that were in Sanskrit. He also practiced a "technique" around noon every day. It was not natural for me to practice this "ritual" even for 20 minutes twice a day. It made me feel listless and drowsy. Sometimes I would fall asleep; sometimes I would look at the time every couple of minutes; sometimes it was OK. Because Don's "program" was so long, I still had to wait for meals, etc. He would often fall asleep during the later meditation.
Last summer we took a car/camping trip across country. That's when I started to notice negative and destructive elements of [the New Age meditation]. Up until that time I had largely accepted Don's assessment of the positive effect of [the New Age meditation] on his life. You really have an opportunity to get to know someone on that kind of an extended trip. He talked about how he had learned [the New Age meditation] while he was a student at MIT and not in good shape, eventually ending up at [the movement's university] with a wife. Then he went on all of these courses to India, Switzerland with no money and spending months at a time away from his wife, having little connection to his family, but wound up with his Ph.D. from [the movement's university]. The events he described to me as good times or normal events and steps towards enlightenment positively horrified me. My questions were no longer geared toward [the New Age meditation] philosophy but rather the degree to which his life had been controlled by
[his leader]/[the New Age meditation].
Don always differentiated between [the New Age meditation]/teachings of [his leader] and "the [New Age meditation] movement". He claimed little involvement with the movement since leaving [the movement's university] 10 years earlier. He was critical of the Natural Law Party and talked about problems with [their] ayur veda because it was unable to make the same demonstrable claims as Western medicine. This kind of thinking was consistent with the critical thinking he applied to everything except [the New Age meditation]/[his leader]. In the same sentence however he would restate his unwavering belief in [the New Age meditation]/[his leader]. It scared me because I was aware of a change in his face; almost like a wall came down whenever I would probe or question something beyond the superficial. During the course of our relationship this was our only consistent source of strain. I tried to leave it alone but could never maintain my silence for long. It struck me as odd that even during a month long camping trip when we moved almost daily and put in long hours on the road that the priority was maintaining the meditation schedule. Experiences that made me impatient with this chore were many. I remember arriving at Pfeiffer State Beach at Big Sur, California. I spent much happy time there during the late 60's and hadn't been back since. It had been a dream of mine to return. We arrived in time to meditate. I fought back the tears as I closed my eyes on all this overwhelming beauty. I didn't want to "settle my mind" but wanted my mind and senses to totally "indulge". This may sound like a stupid little thing, and of course was only 20 minutes, but it made me sad and angry at the same time. I was not able to see this as "natural" or "good" in any way, still I did close my eyes. The other extreme was when we camped in the desert. I hated it there, heat, stillness, etc. Don always went to great lengths to make me comfortable, pillows, shade, etc. Still meditating in the heat and stillness of the desert made me feel like I was suffocating. Other roadside and campsite meditations were less dramatic. The outstanding feature was the rigid adherence to the ritual and how food, sleep, and activities were planned around it.
I practiced [the New Age meditation] for less than 2 months and figured I just hadn't found a "place for it". I also reasoned that once we got home, I could fit the 20 minutes twice per day practice into times that were comfortable for me. In addition I made a decision to alter the times because I observed something that was scary with regard to Don's practice. I became aware that Don seemed to "change" when his afternoon meditation time approached. Sometimes he became irritable, got a headache, or was sleepy. He always said that he'd be fine after his meditation. In fact meditation was the cure for colds, flues, headaches, bad moods, etc. What I can say for sure is that Don had a difficult time keeping his eyes open when meditation time approached. I picked up on the urgency to pull off the road and meditate. It scared me and I reasoned that I could avoid this "habituation" by varying the times of the day that I would meditate.
For the next few months our relationship deepened, our affection for one another is obvious to everyone who knows us, there are and have been from the beginning so many positives that I would have no problem listing them. In fact I'd have no problem listing Don's positive and endearing qualities. Although Don did tell me that he did not grow up in a religious home and in fact, outside of any Jewish community, I did not really "get it". Still he continually expressed his appreciation of my committment and knowledge of Judaism and said that it was a much valued missing piece for him that I could enhance. We plan to go to Poland in November
followed by a trip to Israel. This is a huge step for Don who never allowed himself to even watch Holocaust films or in fact deal with anything of an unpleasant nature. He seemed to grow and change in many ways. This is why I always felt so guilty and uncomfortable about my thinly veiled attacks on [his leader] and [the New Age meditation]. The closer we became, the more Don shared, the more afraid I became about the seriousness of his devotion to [his leader] and his teachings. It got to the point where he told me early on he made a conscious decision to trust and believe whatever [his leader] said. My fears included the possibility of [his leader] somehow "summoning" Don to some far away destination for some undisclosed amount of time. Don had previously described his frustration while working on his Ph.D. because professors and advisors would "take off" without notice in order to be with [his leader]. Although Don had not been involved with the movement for 10 years and promised that this would not happen, I believed that Don's unwavering loyalty to [his leader] would always prevail. During one of our heated discussions, Don told me that even if [his leader] proved to be a fraud, he would consider the techniques valuable and would continue to practice them. Whatever problems I had with the canned answers, secrets, etc., I continued to meditate as Don suggested. It appeared that Don would "allow" some discussion but would suddenly become profoundly sleepy. He would often just close his eyes or yawn. As time went on, any time we talked about [the New Age meditation]/[his leader] I could see this "wall" come down.|
I received a [a New Age meditation] flyer in the mail announcing a videotape of [his leader] being interviewed by an Israeli journalist with regards some current project in Israel. I wanted to see it but was not willing to go to the designated location with the other [New Age meditaters]. Don in his capacity of "governor" was able to borrow the tape for me. Don was working so I watched the tape. The format was the same as the ones I saw with John, my [New Age meditation] teacher: [his leader] complete with love beads and flowers, cross legged, and an audience filled with adoring followers. There was a "panel of scientists" dressed in suits. They all spoke in the same monotone and had the same lifeless expression, a frozen half smile. This "interview" was a set of obviously prechosen questions that gave [his leader] an opportunity to say all the "same old same old". In addition, he indicted the Israeli government for their failures and criticized the Kaballah as lacking the perfection of the veda. If that wasn't bad enough, I watched this Sabra (Israeli born) woman batting her eyes and almost "swooning" while agreeing to take [his leader]'s offer of "salvation" to the Israeli people. I was very upset and wanted Don to watch the tape. He saw some of it but never did finish it or "see what I saw". Then the tape had to be returned. In retrospect, I believe I stopped practicing [the New Age meditation] after I watched the tape. I closed my eyes but didn't use the mantra. Most time was spent checking the time.
No matter how I tried to silence myself, I eventually started a discussion about [the New Age meditation]. We went out to lunch one Saturday, and I asked Don "How many mantras are there?" I already knew that the exact number would be a secret but I did expect that he would say something like "300" or "100". Instead he looked at me very coldly and said "That's private." I was caught totally off guard by the way he said it. In the past, Don demonstrated much "tolerance" and really tried to say "something." He always spoke kindly. In all fairness to Don, he did "catch it" and quickly tried to say something like "I only know how many mantras I was given." I tried to catch my breath. It felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. I was not accustomed to Don slamming a door in my face. I think I asked a few stupid questions like "were you given 500 mantras or 50 mantras?". It was very uncomfortable. If I had missed it before, it was now painfully clear that Don was loyal to some kind of "code" and boundaries were clearly drawn. We went on with the day which included a movie. After the movie we came home and Don set up his computer screen. He had been introducing me to the Internet. Until that day I had been "techno-phobic". For some reason, I clicked into [the New Age meditation], then TM-EX and
trancenet.net. I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude. There was not one problem I had with [the New Age meditation]/[his leader] that wasn't echoed over and over again. Whatever I had imagined was worse, much worse. The impact of the 16 mantras being the names of Hindu gods caused me to feel profound guilt and shame. What flashed before my eyes was my family members, dead and living, all part of the proud Jewish continuum. I thought about how my Yiddish speaking grandmother might feel about me invoking the energy of a Hindu god. I thought about my daughter who is married to a Belgian Jew who she met while living on an Israeli kibbutz. I felt "dirty". I thought about John, my [New Age meditation] teacher from a Jewish family, and all the admonishments with regard to Jews knowingly leading other Jews astray. I will never erase the image of John bowing down to the picture of [his leader]'s dead teacher. Once I saw a translation of the puja, I was "stunned", not however too stunned to read on. The information was overwhelming and Don agreed to print it out for me.
If I remember correctly, Don was not able to "stick with it", became sleepy, and at some point went to meditate. For the next couple of days I read, cried, raged, and spoke to a rabbi. Needless to say I did not meditate again. I went to the library and took out books about cults. I continued to read all the printouts from TM-EX and
trancenet.net. Although I didn't know about a lot of the bigger parts of [the New Age meditation], sidhis, yogic flying, advanced techniques, other secrets, it was clear that Don did. The more I read, the more I wondered how this brilliant man could buy into all
of this. At some point, early on, I was able to understand how this happened. Because he had always maintained total ignorance of Judaism, I did not blame him for misleading me about the nonreligious claims of [the New Age meditation]. I won't get into Don's process or pace of letting go of [the New Age meditation]. The point is that he did. Although he didn't "get it" right away, he absolutely "got" my pain. My belief is that once he read the first item of information, the exit process began. We attended a CAN meeting and met other people [Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.]. The stories were not about [the New Age meditation] but everyone had the same story. We got more books, continued to seek information, and talked to CAN members. We borrowed a Margaret Singer tape.
Part of my daily routine is a workout at the health club. I work out at our local Jewish Community Center (JCC). Although I have never been religious in terms of practice and ritual, the community aspect has always been important to me. One day, I received a flyer from the [New Age meditation] organization that announced an upcoming lecture about ayur veda by Dr. Edwards Smith scheduled to be given at the JCC. I couldn't believe it! I was aware that they had an upcoming "health and wellness" series for the spring, nutrition, stop smoking, etc., but I couldn't find anything about this particular lecture. I called the center and spoke with the young woman who set up this series. She told me that the lecture had been scheduled by the director of the Phys. Ed. department. Yes, she knew about the "[the New Age meditation] connection". I voiced my concerns and she said that Bob, the director, would return my call. He did. He told me that Dr. Smith's lecture was originally scheduled at the Barnes and Noble bookstore. They cancelled and somehow he was asked if Dr. Smith could speak at the JCC. He told me that he knew many positive things about [the New Age meditation] but wanted to meet with me to discuss my concerns. Before our appointment, I called a couple of members of the board to express my concern. The woman who originally took my call and Bob, the Phys. Ed. director, met with me. I had all my printouts, CAN information, reprints of articles, etc. There was something in Bob's manner, lack of affect, "noone's home" look in the eyes, etc. You guessed it, a 23 year [New Age meditator]. Because I was pretty "well read" I knew not to step into the closed system in order to make my points. Fortunately as a member of the center, he was forced to "give me my say". He remained stone faced, and when the other woman read the mantras, puja, and description of the yogic flying, [the New Age meditation] descriptions of yagyas, etc., it was obviously enough to determine that m ayur veda might not be consistent with the goals of the JCC. The lecture was cancelled. However, when I returned to pick up my materials, it was clear that this woman did not understand the destructive cult dimension at all. I suggested that we have a Cult Awareness Day, as cults claim a disproportionate number of Jews. Hopefully this will happen as part of the Health and Wellness Series in the fall. I loaned her Margaret Singer's tape as an example of what I have in mind.
As a P.S. to this, Don called a prominent rabbi with regard to this lecture. A board member returned his call, a lawyer who learned [the New Age meditation] in the 70's. He stopped and really didn't see it as a serious problem. Although he called Bob about pulling the lecture, it was more on the basis of something "controversial" rather than [the New Age meditation] is a destructive cult. I spoke to my new friend from CAN who tells me that this is common.
I received another [New Age meditation] movement flyer that offers $25 off residence courses for anyone who can bring a new person to [the New Age meditation]. They suggest leaving flyers about the free lectures in health food stores, etc. Don and I plan to design our own flyer including mantras, and will display them anywhere I see the [New Age meditation] stuff. If I can "enlighten" one person, I'll be happy.
Don and I share a good life. We continue to read, talk about the cult stuff daily, and participate on the Internet, because it is very important. We laugh a lot now and we don't keep any secrets. Don looks so clear and bright. We both have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life. It's good to get excited! We eat and sleep when we want. I am back to my "normal" state, which is to be passionate and free. It is astounding how profoundly effected and uncomfortable I was for the short time I practiced [the New Age meditation]. I can appreciate the courage and strength it takes to "start fresh" while at the same time struggling to overcome the past. It is a joy to watch Don "come to life".
Yes, information is freedom. To this I add "Secrets keep people sick." In gratitude for all the information, I offer my story, no longer a secret.
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