In this post and the next I’m very much indebted to Rodger Garrett aka SighKoBlahGrr, a therapy pro with a scintillating intellect. Not transpersonal really but knows something of meditation and a great deal about psychological change. Check him out (see blogroll on right of screen), interesting.
OK so this post is fairly quick: ways to spot bad training.All spiritual training triggers deep stuff and (if it’s worth anything) will touch the fight/flight response which is where the power is — but that response causes major problems in anyone’s life who can’t handle it. Training is supposed to make people better at handling it. :)
Telling good from bad thankfully isn’t hard. It may seem a little extreme to use cults as examples, but that extremity has the advantage of making the bad stuff very visible. Then one can spot milder problems more easily. (Focusing on cult strategies also gives an unexpected fringe benefit to be explained shortly.)
Cults are the inverse of good training and actually remove actualisation. The golden rule is: training should actualise the trainee who needs to be encouraged to contribute whilst learning and becoming a bigger individual. One may need to be challenged, but not undermined — and always strengthened in the end. We want to see the results of that process already having taken place when looking at personalities high up in the system. If healing is specifically a part of the goal then ever-increasing-on-average amounts of tranquillity and happiness are probably required (which is by no means incompatible with activating the fight/flight done correctly and in due order BTW), as well as solidity. Someone getting edgier and edgier with no reprieve and sensing edginess all around will do well to give back the t-shirt.
Here’s where I refer to Garrett’s expert and thoroughly-referenced post on how to help people leave cults. This is the kind of problem you would be faced with if someone landed on your doorstep breathless from outsprinting Tom Cruise, and you were qualified to help. Highly interesting reading. A few highlights of what they do:
— Leaning on your sense of powerlessness, then helplessness, then hopelessness.
— Love-bombing in the early stages followed by withdrawal thereof followed by increasing pressure to conform to get “love,” followed by threat of abandonment over non-conformance.
— Manipulating and triggering already established guilt, shame, worry, remorse, regret and anxiety.
— Using peer pressure to conform to group norms, including group think and group jargon.
— Inducing borderline organization via compartmentalization of unconsciously opposing, compelled beliefs (“shoulds,” “musts,” “oughts,” “have-to’s”)
— Employing increasing and finally, absolute, control of information and communication.
— Compelling regression from autonomous identity to state of infantile trust and lack of autonomy.
The easily-spotted common denominator is sapping of independent individual power through the manipulation of thoughts and emotions. Comparison with the Maslow capacities of two weeks back is instructive — a person who was, say, responsible, unconventional, creative, and guiltlessly accepting of his/her own animal nature, would not be a cult member.
Don’t think these techniques aren’t all used and mercilessly at that — and worse! Check out this page for example, especially the letter starting ‘Dear Andrew’ a little way down. Every one of the above items is there, and the writer hardly seems to realise yet just how badly he’s been taken. Under cover of “needing to have your ego removed”, he’s unfortunately been turned from a capable man into a pure victim jelly. Only temporarily of course, but many haven’t had the spine to make it back out.
That’s instructive in yet another respect — for this ‘guru’ it’s business as usual. And guess what? His friend, the rather unimpressive Ken Wilber, still thinks the guy is truly “enlightened”! That gives you some idea how deep religious self-delusion can go since Wilber’s widely respected for reasons which escape me, and his imprimatur puts many off-guard. The writer of that letter was bilked of $20,500 under emotional duress (one of many getting this treatment, not biggest payer by any means) and naturally wants it back now he’s himself again. The reply is nothing more than a smirking two-line refusal to pay up. The idea of honour or integrity in such a setup couldn’t be sustained for a heartbeat.
Now obviously it doesn’t need to go that far to be bad training! Yikes. This is pretty unpleasant indeed. But if reservations come up about any methods, it’s good to be able to spot telltales. Since training has to produce actualisation, an educated guess as to whether it really will is a good idea. Glenn Morris, who understood in so much more civilised a way how real spiritual development and ‘enlightenment’ occur, was onto this from the beginning and used to quote his students a list from José and Lena Stevens’ Secrets of Shamanism (1988) (pp. 218-9) suggesting traits to avoid in spiritual teachers. That list in full:
— Has a superior attitude.
— Excludes members of any race or cultural group.
— Expresses an us-vs.-them point of view: “They’re out to get us” or “We’re better”.
— Is bigoted.
— Is shortsighted.
— Is attacking or violent.
— Is insensitive.
— Is overly serious.
— Has a “Do what I say, not what I do” point of view.
— Drinks heavily or consumes lots of drugs.
— Is ingratiating.
— Is controlling.
— Makes you wrong or an outcast for questioning.
— Teaches by belittling or making you an example in front of everyone.
— Wants lots of money up front.
— Has assistants or senior students who act inappropriately in your view and whom you are expected to obey.
— Believes the form of ritual is more important than the results.
— Pretends to be perfect.
— Is overly idealistic, not practical.
Not that even the very advanced are in any way “perfect” so slack needs to be in place, but if the above are regularly evinced without apology or understanding of consequences, the training may be wasting time or worse. Even when just using a book or CD, being cautious, asking around, and feeling into the answers pays dividends. It’s also worth looking at a teacher’s actions in the community over a long period (although the bitchiness of some milieus will need taking into account, especially online).
A further point: as mentioned the fight/flight response is key to kundalini training, which is why it’s so fascinating to see the following additional cult strategies on Garrett’s list:
— Employing stimulus deprivation and/or amplification, rapid deep breathing (to induce hyperventilation), repetitive motion exercises, chanting, meditation, guided imagery and/or trance induction to create dissociation, de-realization, depersonalization and/or excitotoxic (nerve-damaging) anxiety.
— Compelling relentless loading of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system to set up the leader(s)’s ability to trigger the fight, flight, freak or freeze response to support learned helplessness whenever desired.
These are signs that a sect might once have had a real discipline which has gone by the boards as the higher-ups fell victim to adrenal paranoia combined with hubris. Many of those things in the first para have their non-shadow versions which could help you (yes even hyperventilation although I don’t use it) but thanks to the power trip implied in the second, they will have the opposite effect. They will build anxiety, not insight and peace. Your nervous system is a great treasure, not to be squandered.
Now for the aforementioned ‘unexpected fringe benefit’.
If you still watch TV, especially zoning out for entertainment and relaxation, take an hour to see how many times cult strategies are used on you. Every time you’re made to feel powerless, manipulated by good loving vibes conditional on your good behaviour, experience guilt or social pressure etc., make a mental check mark. You may end up with more notches than you can comfortably dismiss.Our society is pretty much being run like a cult, and if you watch TV you may be constantly signing up to new memberships! Don’t miss that ‘control of information’ is a central cult strategy. People who don’t actually give a toss about you, nonetheless trying to make you feel “befriended”, filling your life with “meaning” whilst influencing your worldview and emptying your bank account? Not so good my friends, and so very common! You can also get anxious and worse, easily, watching many forms of TV, factual and fictional, and SNS activation duly follows. A ‘safe thrill’ may not be. Quick cuts prevent thought and you are in a trance entrainment when watching which does not allow for a response, thus you are locked out of your own psyche. Did you give permission for all that? If you didn’t choose the philosophy of what you’re watching, who chose for you? What were their priorities?
Of course, as stated more than once on this blog, society itself can’t do the job of actualising all its members. But it can still be either more or less helpful and can choose to stand massively in the way. Media groupthink tries to exercise control for money and power reasons. The devices available at present are far more effective than ever before and viewers are mostly convinced it’s all for their own benefit! (It’s all about “What you want…” after all.) If someone is genuinely being manipulated into powerlessness it can’t be beneficial so one should read the ‘Dear Andrew letter’ again and wonder how much one has been taken for. :)
Glenn was onto this too and did more than offer real training in the right spirit that actually did the job — he also gave weapons in rhetoric to counter the programming.
Socially, rhetoric is power and we have known that officially for 2½ millennia. That’s a lot of what Crawfish is about. Already in Shadow Strategies Glenn pointed out that “passive schooling by network television” atrophies critical thinking (p. 124). As a college professor he had to deal with the results. In Crawfish he went further and offered resources. A particularly useful volume he recommended is Gass & Seiter (4th edn. 2010). Let us pause and pay homage to the barefacedness of this volume’s title: Persuasion, Social Influence and Compliance Gaining. What a thing of beauty, for those who want to know the score! A level-headed review of most of what science currently knows about manipulation, and an easy read. Be informed and be ahead on this one.
Lots of other good stuff in Crawfish along the same lines. Glenn was a man of the world. Manipulating people into weakness was not his interest. He wanted friends worth having, people who could develop in interesting ways, not pawns to make him ‘feel powerful’ but actual powerful people he could be proud of having trained — to surpass his own benchmark if possible. That kind of attitude is rarer than I’d like in our commercialised spiritual marketplace, so the message is: develop integrity metering. :)
Next post we will venture further into the mire. Already some will be saying, kundalini relates not just to fight/flight but also to sex energy, hence to love and all that stuff. Don’t some of the cultic manipulations depend on maxing out your desperation for love? And in fact don’t many dysfunctional families use some of the same methods to keep people in line? The stuff I came upon here really made my eyes go doing-oing-oing so more next time.