The below is my personal opinion of the groups described, based on extensive experience with them:
Recovery from cults, my story… Part 2
My first awareness of cults came in my late teens. My parents had once been scientologists (before realising it was a cult) and on holiday with mates in Amsterdam I was horrified when we were approached by Scientologist recruiters on the street. I explained my anger to my friends and that was that. However this insight wasn’t enough to be immune to more subtle coercion from a different cult a couple of years later.
I worked in London in a decent I.T career. I wasn’t thrilled with my involvement in the advertising industry, but the money was good and I was doing well in life. A co-worker started telling me about a ‘seminar’ he regularly went on, which gave him a big boost in his life. He waved an enrollment card at me. I wasn’t interested but he continued mentioning the group to me for about a year. When another co-worker went to the group with him my curiosity in the group emerged. The second co-worker seemed to be more chilled after going on the seminar and I felt jealous of the secret chats the two shared about the mysterious seminar.
I resigned from work to start a new job in a ski season (a significant change making me vulnerable) and after much persuasion reasoned there would be no harm in giving the seminar a try before I left the UK for France. BIG MISTAKE.
The seminar was called ‘the isa experience’ and is the first stage of recruitment for a sophisticated and highly experienced money-making and power-trip ‘new age’ cult, wrapped up as a spiritual path to enlightenment. When I got there it looked like a cult and smelled like a cult. At some level I already knew I’d made a mistake. But I was a long way from my home in London (in Bradford), with no transport and a big commitment of around £400 already spent. Plus from the moment you enter the hotel where the ‘seminar’ is held the thought reform process begins.
You are greeted by ‘overly smiley’ strange looking cult members who comprise the core of the cult. And not left alone from the start , so not given the chance to use your critical abilities to evaluate what you’re being told and what’s going on. The authoritarian, charismatic leader begins the seminar with various ground rules (no watches, don’t sit next to anyone you know, no side-talking, no eating and drinking) in a room devoid of natural light. That’s where the seminar will unfold for the next two evenings and days (one of which goes from 10am to 10pm at night). You are persuaded to put aside your own doubts and thoughts in favour of ‘learning something new’ a suggestion from the authoritative leader that actually means you suspend your ability to think for yourself.
By the end of that weekend I had been well and truly brainwashed and turned into one of the smiley, strange looking folks who would go home and try and sign everyone he knew up to the seminar. I know that’s cutting a long story of the weekend short, but really there’s nothing else to say. The books on cults document how these seminars work, in detail. How they manipulate and control you. I’d been given a ‘peak experience’ which felt good, but which came at a terrible cost.
At some level I still knew it was a cult and vowed i’d take the good from it and never do the ‘advanced’ course (£600+) with even more control techniques introduced. And certainly i’d never ‘assist’ – the ‘process’ they call it that gives you the real fast-track growth, but which is in fact where you become a full on recruiter for the cult, tasked with recruiting as many people as you can and ‘supported’ to do so under the false statement that it’s for ‘your own personal growth’.
A few years later i’d done both the ‘advanced course’, been an ‘assistant’ and recruited around 20 friends or family to the cult. This, by the way, made the cult around £5000, of which I received nothing. I’d been brainwashed. My thoughts and behavior had changed so much that my friends and family were worried about me. Most of those I’d recruited had smelled a rat and wanted nothing to do with the cult. I however was on a path to destruction, bent on becoming ‘as good’ as the charismatic leader, punishing myself for all my short comings and imperfections. Short comings and imperfections that the cult induced me to believe I had, by the way.
It was disastrous being an ‘assistant’. I alienated many friends, ran up a £200 phone bill and my business fell apart – all in a ‘process’ that I was told would fast track me to the wealth, happiness and success I wanted; andmake the world a better place.
Eventually I left the ‘process’ but still bent on fulfilling the goals of the cult in my own life I fell for a second cult, that seemed an easier option….
Read more in Part 3: Damanhur.