That tiny thing called hope...

Byron Shire Echo, April 25, 2000
by Adam Blanch

I thought it would be enough to have simply added my voice to those crying 'Beware the cult in our midst' (The Echo, March 21). However, since publication the response has been so overwhelming as to require follow up.

I have been slandered by Hector himself, who declared in an interview with a local journalist that he had videotape footage of me 'threatening to kill him'. He has of course failed to produce that footage as the incident never occurred.

I, and others, have also received letters from the Endeavor Academy's lawyers threatening to sue for defamation if I don't print a full retraction and apology. I'd like to take this opportunity to refute the letter's claim that I have acted in 'bad faith' and state for the record that I have acted with the sole intent of bringing light to the very real problem of spiritual addiction and the dangers posed to members of my community by such institutions as the Endeavor Academy.

For those of you who, like me, have trouble reconciling this litigation with the Academy's professed teachings of forgiveness, acceptance and love for all, I'm informed that Hector has declared that the Holy Spirit 'told him' to sue. It must be very nice to be able to blame God for your every action. Of course this action by the Academy has rekindled a previously abated conversation concerning the possibility of a class action by former participants, seeking compensation for emotional and psychological trauma, lost income and disability. It has also increased the motivation for some to lodge individual actions in regard to alleged incidents of physical assault and financial fraud. A lawyer I know once described litigation as a sword with two edges and a very slippery handle.

I've also had some interesting, and distressing, encounters with various Academy members, and been fascinated by the stories coming out of the group: instructions to members to 'act human for a while', witch hunting among themselves for the source of 'the leak' and all sorts of damage control activity.

However, more important than all this predictable backlash is the depth of response I and others have received for coming forward in this matter - people approaching us in the street to thank us for our willingness and tell us their own stories of loss and pain. Anguished parents, distraught lovers and partners, troubled friends and relatives. People who, like us, have had to stand by powerlessly as people we love recede day by day into a fog of indoctrination. Growing ever colder and more removed, ever more zealous in their preaching of 'the word' according to Hector. Ever more detached from the world around them. Ever more unable to engage in a reasoned discourse, ever more afraid of thinking for themselves, trusting their own feelings, engaging their own capacity for self inquiry.

Then there's the stories of those who have got out. Nervous breakdowns, inability to function in their lives, irrational fears and paranoia, relationship breakdown and even suicide.

So like Ian Hamilton before me, I feel compelled to offer a little of my story, my insights into the nature of this beast, this addiction that has afflicted me and still afflicts so many that I love. To offer a little hope.

The cause, that which made me vulnerable to the predations of the cult leaders of this world, was really very simple. I believed that God did not love me (and therefore no one else could). I mean really believed it. Not just an errant 'thought in the mind, do a few affirmations and it'll be right' sort of belief. More of a 'deep in my gut, unspeakably painful feeling of complete unworthiness, guilt and shame' sort of belief. The kind of belief that's buried so far down in your subconscious you don't even know it's there for the first thirty years or so. A belief so prevalent, so intertwined with your psyche that your entire life, your every action, is dedicated to trying to disprove, negate or avoid it. I really believed it. A psychologist I consulted referred to this as 'Original Sin Syndrome' - a deep and crippling belief that you are far too evil to be worthy of love.

Of course, this is not unusual. A great many people really believe this. A great many, like myself, spend most of their life looking for someone, or something, that will tell us 'it just ain't so'. Someone we can believe - someone who will argue the case for the defence with such power and conviction that our own case for self-crucifixion must crumble before it. Someone to trust, and where there's a market, a need to be met, there arise those who claim to meet it - 'claim' being the important word here.

Thereby arises the charismatic teacher, for charisma, among other things, is necessary to establish credibility. Eloquence and a sophisticated mind are also fairly essential. Persuasiveness and an air of certainty. The ability to understand and induce altered states of consciousness. Many 'students' report the ability to perform psychic and energetic tricks (whether this is true or not doesn't matter, as long as the student believes it). An appearance of being always further along the path (if not completely beyond it) is also necessary. They must get you to believe that you need them. To believe that any error or failing you perceive in them is some sort of deliberate activity for your edification and growth (or a flaw in your perception). Above all else, there must be an appearance of concerned aloofness, of being above it all. After all, we don't aspire to be like someone who is just like us, prey to the fears and insecurities that we suffer from.

At this point I'll add that it is tempting to believe that these teachers are malicious, playing upon the fears and beliefs of others for money and power. In some cases this may be true, but my experience has shown me that most often these teachers believe that they are doing it for others' benefit. This relationship is in fact a classic co-dependence. The Teacher gets to deny and avoid his own fears and insecurities by constructing a situation where he is worshipped and empowered by others, while the student gets to deny theirs, by believing that they are on a pathway to where they too will inhabit this state of perfection. In both cases, there is a very serious state of addiction occurring.

It is interesting to note that many who participate in these activities are victims of childhood abuse - whether sexual, physical or psychological. It is common for such people to seek relationships with dominant personalities that they can give their personal power and responsibility to. They are also prone to believe that any abuse of this power and of themself is something they deserve and need to control and discipline their incipient 'badness'.

Like all addictions it is at its core the attempt to avoid deep and painful feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness and fear. The addict's fear of these feelings should not be underestimated, nor should their loyalty to the things that appear to offer relief and escape. The classic cult approach is to offer states and experiences which seem ecstatic and divine, while encouraging the participant to perceive their previous life (parents, employment, society, etc, ie 'the world') as the source of their pain. Cult philosophies are extremely sophisticated forms of denial. The participants are often encouraged to believe that what they are experiencing in the world is all an illusion - 'nothing is real, this isn't actually happening to me, I've just got to believe hard enough and it will all go away'. Common behaviours associated with it are withdrawal from the world (reality has a nasty way of getting in your face), contact only with other members if possible, strong attempts to evangelise if not (apparently if lots of people believe it will be easier) and extreme attempts to detach from the emotions and the physical body. (I would like to add that this is not the teaching of 'A Course in Miracles'.)

Addicts are usually very reluctant to give all this up in favour of the certain promise of painful feelings and it is often only when the addiction itself gets too painful that they will do so. Sometimes even after the addict has been doing it for a sufficiently long time to discover that it isn't working, they will come up with reasons to continue having the ecstatic experience. Trying to change the cult 'from within' is a very common stage of their withdrawal.

However, the denial cannot be maintained indefinitely. There is always a choice point, at which the addiction changes form (ie another cult or spiritual path) or the addict turns and faces the deep emotional wound that drives it. I did the former several times before finally facing the latter, which, though not as difficult as I feared, required courage and the profound support of those who loved me. All my idols had to fall (an idol is after all, someone you hope will do it for you). All my strategies for avoiding my feelings had to fail, and all my hopes of rescue had to be dashed.

In the end, there could be only me, facing the black pit of my own despair. Terror, shame, rage, unworthiness, hopelessness and self hatred rushing out of the darkness in my own soul; and, right at the bottom, a little wisp of light, a tiny thing called hope, that grew and brightened before me - becoming a gentle radiance in my mind and my heart which filled me with a deep feeling of peace and love. With less and less frequency these feelings still raise their voice within me, and each time I turn to face them I come out the other side more content and happy, my addictions and depression almost completely fallen away, my health better than it's ever been, my creativity and enthusiasm for life constantly increasing.

So, if you have been standing hopelessly by watching those you love recede into the fog of indoctrination; if all your arguments, reasoning, criticism and censure have failed to penetrate the armour of addiction and denial; if you face your own Pandora's box of pain and despair, try to remember that underneath it all, there is always hope.

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