Whose empowerment?

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.

The Fight/Flight Response -- can be useful, can be tricky

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.

Get 'em young

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.

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22 responses to “Whose empowerment?

  • spiritinquire

    I am with you on the idea of tv and media as cultish.
    I find that watching tv, more often than not, leaves me feeling anxious, sad, isolated, inadequate, and bored. Luckily, my boyfriend/bestfriend/roommate feels the same way, so we don’t bother with cable and simply download the occasional show or movie from Netflix instead. In my early adolescence, I tried to watch several popular tv shows in an attempt to relate to the media-centric discussions of my peers, but found it unbearably dull. Now, I am grateful not to be a slave to this sort of diversion.
    Your lists above also remind me of certain political factions around the world, and of American social conservatism.

    • Jason Wingate

      I tried to watch several popular tv shows in an attempt to relate to the media-centric discussions of my peers

      Ha, good observation. This is how cults work right?

      Your lists above also remind me of certain political factions around the world, and of American social conservatism.

      I’d say the vast majority of politics from any side is being filtered through cult apparatus at this point.

  • Angela

    Even the way mainstream science (specially medical science – with its so called POPES) strikes me as cultish…

    One of the best things of living on my own is the fact that there’s no TV in my house. I have never digged TV, but Kundalini stuff has made me hypersensitive to it… Can’t afford to get exposed to it (except for the occasional movie or show… but that’s what internet’s for, right? At least for the moment).

    • Jason Wingate

      Oh I definitely agree on science…

      I have never digged TV, but Kundalini stuff has made me hypersensitive to it…

      Interesting… I had some of the same. What do you put that down to?

      • AngelaN

        Interesting… I had some of the same. What do you put that down to?

        Triggering, of course.

        I became aware of that when I began working through my main traumas through K kriyas. During those months I was triggered all the time I was not lying in bed in complete exhaustion (or in long kriya sessions). In a few months I went from barely being able to be in a crowded place without wanting to kill everyone in sight (sensory overload) to being able to walk through one in complete calmness. But TV is different. It’s like the opposite of what you would do to have a smooth K process… Get yourself exposed to constant emotional and sensorial overload in a brainwashing fashion, recognizing the sickness in every TV ad or reality show…

        And the storylines!

        I remember that before shadow integration ramped up I went through a phase in which I found very engaging those characters that reinforced my idea about myself [the one I had before Kundalini]. It made the whole ‘surrender or die’ part of it unnecessarily painful. Then I began falling in love with characters that I would have hated months ago… Shadow integration via Battlestar Galactica… After that I went on a storyline detox.

        PTSD — certain degree of sensory motor integration impairment – lack of boundaries – toxic TV content resonating (amplifying if there’s lack of ego differentiation) neurotic traits — highs are more highs, lows are more lows. You can’t integrate what it’s never really separate…

        PLUS I believe TV physically impairs our capacity to cope with its effects, by the means of fixing our gaze a la tratak. I know the hypnosis analogy is trite, but recreating the conditions in which you can access to states of absorption while exposed to triggering stimulus is a big no-no in my book… Want to research a bit more on this.

        • Jason Wingate

          I agree with all you say, and I don’t think the hypno/tratak thing is trite at all — in fact in clinical hypnotherapy we were specifically warned about it, and I’ve got some weapons to deal with it I’ve developed for those who are interested in hypnosis.

          There is one more aspect you don’t mention though — no doubt you’ve experienced that K energy doesn’t always interact smoothly with electric devices and blown your share of light bulbs etc. I personally believe that strong emotional interaction with TV interferes with the energy and imposes a kind of mechanical grid on what should be a spiritual flow. Any thoughts on that?

  • Martin Gifford

    Andrew Cohen exhibits 10 of the “traits to avoid in spiritual teachers”. It’s so obvious when you are outside such an organisation, but when you are inside, you doubt yourself.

    • Jason Wingate

      Well from what I’ve seen the man’s “method” is designed to make you doubt yourself. :)

      Even on the outside I sometimes think it’s less than completely “obvious” — in the heady atmosphere of spirituality people often lose their bearings which is why stating the signs plainly becomes necessary. If I had not been warned myself, who knows? People make such lists from bitter experience!

      You were directly involved with Cohen yourself?

      EDIT: Just read your post of June last year which details your involvement with the man. Interesting stuff and worth a look for anyone with an interest in how these things play out.

      • Martin Gifford

        Hi Jason,

        The main thing about my experience was how how the story changed from being about idealism to being about Andrew Cohen. He kept talking about the idealism of improving the world, but in practice it was all about him. He repeatedly implied that he was the very embodiment of your ideals so going against him meant going against your ideals, which meant going against yourself.

        The beginning of me realising that it was all about him was when everyone around him acted as if he was a VIP and that it was a privilege to serve him and obey him.

        With the benefit of distance, it is quite clear to me now that he is just narcissistically producing clones of himself. His disciples all talk the same, dress the same, have the same taste in movies, etc. He has even gone so far as saying that the part of you that resonates with his ideals is your “authentic self”. So everything in you that doesn’t resonate with his ideals is just evil ego. In other words, everything in you that isn’t him is evil ego and must be squashed!

        Actually, he exhibits 15 points from the list you gave:

        – Has a superior attitude.
        – Expresses an us-vs.-them point of view: “They’re out to get us” or “We’re better”.
        – Is shortsighted.
        – Is attacking or violent.
        – Is insensitive.
        – Is overly serious.
        – Has a “Do what I say, not what I do” point of view.
        – Is ingratiating (to newcomers and other gurus).
        – Is controlling.
        – Makes you wrong or an outcast for questioning.
        – Teaches by belittling or making you an example in front of everyone.
        – 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.

        BTW, I can think of four ways that these guys lure people:

        1. triggering spiritual experiences,
        2. appealing to idealism,
        3. using psychological techniques such as reward and punishment,
        4. offering a community of like-minded people.

        Of course, you have to be susceptible to such things.

        • Jason Wingate

          With the benefit of distance, it is quite clear to me now that he is just narcissistically producing clones of himself.

          Makes sense in the context I’ve been developing for a couple of weeks here now… since this post about actualisation where one basic concept is, you can only actualise as an individual and the more actualised, the more individual. And you see that I think with people who get somewhere. Their character beams out very strongly. Any method that doesn’t have development of the individual’s own character as a major plank isn’t going to fly.

          He has even gone so far as saying that the part of you that resonates with his ideals is your “authentic self”

          Heavens! What a douche. :)

          (No disrespect to douches)

  • Martin Gifford

    “you can only actualise as an individual and the more actualised, the more individual. And you see that I think with people who get somewhere. Their character beams out very strongly. Any method that doesn’t have development of the individual’s own character as a major plank isn’t going to fly.”

    Yep. The old strategy of rooting out our immorality is a waste of energy. Instead, we need to cultivate our uniqueness. The happier we get, the less likely we are to harm others.

    BTW, I meant to say, “He has even gone so far as implying that the part of you that resonates with his ideals is your “authentic self”.

    In his online article “The Authentic Self & The Ego” he writes:

    “There are two different parts of the self, one that is passionately interested in dynamic evolution and the other, which is deeply invested in its own narcissistic fears and desires.

    That doesn’t leave much room for the kaleidoscope of healthy human interests! It’s also a bit dense in its binary logic. The article is here:

    http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/authentic-self-ego.asp

    • Jason Wingate

      It’s also a bit dense in its binary logic.

      Absolutism is always a great indicator. I much prefer the kinds of chakra psychology I was taught, mentioned last post. Crosses cultures and has real scientific research behind it.

      As I wrote then, “Fingerwagging that people “should be” more courageous, accepting or spontaneous isn’t nearly as helpful as showing them how to do it — in a way that brings out their own unique take on life rather than some narrow generic definition.”

      We do have the tools to make that happen.

      • Martin GIfford

        Oh, I wholeheartedly agree! Music and sport have taught me that there’s a knack to these things, and it is very individualistic.

        In music, I can be hopelessly out of time, then a moment comes when I’m in the groove. It’s like magic. People would say, “Give up, you don’t have any talent,” then suddenly it’s like you’re a different person. We all know stories like Robert Plant being told he can’t sing, then becoming a legendary singer. Of course, there are many who try and fail, but maybe they just failed to notice the crucial ingredient.

        Regarding sport, I’m a mental type, so I can be physically hopeless – low energy and poor reflexes – simply because the energy is in my brain, not my body. When I restart martial arts, I’ll be punching the bag like feeble baby, but after a week or so a moment comes when the energy moves down into my body and I’m slamming the bag. In cricket, I start off missing every ball, or hitting it with all my energy but it goes nowhere. Then suddenly a moment comes when I effortlessly tap the ball and it goes flying – the magic of “timing”.

        It would be great to be able to direct the energy at will rather than having to wait for it to move. Maybe chakras can help with that. I know they exist from my experience. But they can also be frightening when they come on fast and strong.

        It’s not about fighting with yourself or effort. It’s about luck (being “gifted”) or knowing how things work.

        • Jason Wingate

          Regarding getting the energy to be in your body, a regular practice of moving qigong is the best way I know. Personally I think effort is very important, but of course it has to be productive effort in a way that will actually bear fruit! Patient and consistent training is always the way for me.

          Well — good luck in any case. :)

          • Martin Gifford

            But how much effort does it require to be yourself? It should require no effort. I think we only need to stop leaks of energy into illusion. That’s in an ideal world. But since society is so busy creating the illusion, I think we need to change society.

            • Jason Wingate

              For the types of achievement that interest me the approach is very different from that! As mentioned here, there’s no evidence society can or ever could actualise its members — let alone enlighten them all individually by the energetic and consciousness standards that interest me! Individual work is always required to be one’s best or most actualised self in the traditions I like. The result is very different from anything that would occur spontaneously, like the difference between running quite fast and winning gold at the Olympics — serious training is needed for the latter, but of course it only brings out the best of what is already naturally there, and in an individual manner — as with a runner like Michael Johnson who won with a running style that wouldn’t work for many people but was ideal for him.

              My way of training similarly involves self-change in awareness, awakening the kundalini and gathering ch’i, learning to interact with the esoteric and paranormal stuff, whilst refining myself to follow the best ideals I can etc. and this just isn’t done by a snap of the fingers. Nor would I honestly wish it to be! Dedication suits me better, especially with the teachers I have had who’ve given me an ass-kicking example. I like learning and experimenting with interesting methods. I’m using stuff that has been passed down for many hundreds of years and the process of transforming is fascinating and challenging, and that’s how I like it. The end result is specific to me and natural in the sense that the potential for it was always there — but training has developed it.

              Not everyone is interested in the ways I prefer, of course, which is also fine with me since I dislike monocultures. :) However from the reactions I’ve got to this blog I can see there are plenty out there who like this particular perspective and its ramifications. Check out my posts this year for more or the Reading List. Best wishes. :)

  • Martin Gifford

    Maybe we can say that effort is natural for some people. Some people love to take on big challenges. That’s their nature. I know when I get into something I love doing, I can spend nights on end doing it, e.g. creating music. It doesn’t seem like effort even though it’s constant activity over a long period.

    However, when we talk about “enlightenment”, I don’t think it’s a matter of effort at all. Nevertheless, esoteric knowledge and experience are optional extras, I think, and they might require effort.

    • Jason Wingate

      I think there are multiple definitions of the term “enlightenment” — I never saw one that interested me personally which hadn’t been the result of long work. But my interests are as they are… kundalini and whole-body alchemical transmutation styles of enlightenment are my bag; they require judicious use of the esoteric plus a certain amount of cooking time. :)

  • William Yenner

    I recently gave a talk at a cult awareness conference in New York entitled “Making Sense of Post Cult Trauma.”
    I’ve posted the text and video of that on my website; I thought you may be interested to see it.
    http://www.americanguru.net
    I hope this finds you well,
    William

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