|Journeys: Shelagh C.|
|Date: May 2, 2003|
|My Journey with Knowledge
I received Knowledge in December of 1981. All sorts of predisposing conditions went into that seemingly momentous "turning point" in my life, but it's only since leaving the fold of premiedom in June, 2002, that I've really begun to gain some perspective on the whole journey - how and why I got in, what kept me there, in spite of some doubts, and what finally helped me make the decision to leave. It feels important to try to trace this journey, and what it means, because it's a sort of prototype for all the self-deluding trips I've been on in my life, in the long, slow process of waking up to who I really am!
These are ironic words, in a way, because those are precisely the same words, "who I really am", that were used so much by Maharaji and premies, and were such a powerful draw for me! When I heard him say things like, "this is about YOU!", "this is about trusting your own heart", "this is about the beauty within, inside of you", "put YOURSELF in the picture!", "be the guest of honor in your OWN life!", well, I was hooked. That's exactly what I wanted to know, wanted to hear, and started to feel for the very first time in my life!
How could I know that language itself gets subverted in a cult? That all the usual words you think you know the meaning of - words like "heart", "light", "breath", "real", "simplicity", "love", "service", and so on - all get new and special meanings, a sort of secret code if you will, that brings a special connectedness to others involved in the same game? It's a dangerous game though, because it very quietly takes you away from the ordinary commerce of the day-to-day world on which, after all, your survival and emotional healing and success and yes, even your spiritual well-being depend! In fact, it takes you AWAY from yourself!
The Powerful Attraction of Knowledge
In 1981, I was a single mother of three children, a graduate student in the English department at a major university, and very lost. I was still very much grieving the loss of a family scene even though it had been an alcoholic/codependent nightmare. I was attempting to build a career, knowing that I would now have to manage alone in the world. I was 41 years old by this time, and very scared inside. Many things had happened to me as a child that simply did not provide me with the self-esteem, life-skills and confidence everyone needs in order to manage life. I was more than a good candidate for other people's interests and agendas! Most of all, I felt very lonely and isolated.
So when I met this premie who seemed so blissed out and happy in such a simple way, and who took such a special interest in ME, well, it was too good to be true! Even though I recognized from the beginning that this fellow had some problems, I saw that he was onto something pretty powerful, and I wanted a taste of that for myself! There was something else radiating from his being. And I fell for it - not for a minute thinking that I was just another recruit for his personal pleasure as well as new fodder for the community!
It was a high and blissful time - running around in Indian skirts, becoming a shiny premie, going to satsang at local houses, and -- the ultimate bliss -- those trips to Florida or New York or California, to see the Master himself, and hang out with all these beautiful, radiant people! And it was all so simple - just practice the service, satsang and meditation, and know that beauty within, and to heck with books, study, thought, or any of that stuff! Just "be who you really are!"
I felt liberated in a way I had never felt before - and free to be a kid or an adolescent in ways I had never experienced when I was actually a kid or an adolescent! It was playtime! And I played! I had this intense relationship going on with this premie who had introduced me to the whole thing, and somehow it all seemed to give me permission to forget this whole thing about having to live in the world as a responsible adult! It was heady stuff! When we weren't making love, we'd spend the time shopping for clothes for the next event with Maharaji, swimming in the buff at the local watering hole, hanging out in cafes, doing fasts or eating vegetarian so we'd be slim and brown and beautiful, and talking, talking, talking about knowledge and the good life! It was, in fact, as addictive as any drug, and beat the heck out of spending time in some dull library slogging over a paper about deconstructionist criticism or phenomenological approaches to James Joyce!
But my relationship with this passionate premie guy was a first-class addiction, too! I justified it to myself by saying that the "connection" between us in knowledge was what it was really all about - but in actual fact, the dysfunctional patterns that had us enmeshed were really no different than anything else I had hitherto experienced by way of romantic involvements, and it was THAT side of it that I was forced to deal with eventually, knowledge or no. And it wasn't knowledge that helped me there - it was the 12-Step program! So yes, I now had a foot in two different boats, just like Maharaji warned us not to do! I tried very hard to make it work though - after all, knowledge was supposed to be about self-knowledge, and self-discovery, wasn't it? How could a healing program like the 12 Steps really contradict that? They were all roads to enlightenment, as far as I was concerned, back then. I kept going.
I remember one notable occasion when I had just come back from that first Festival of Light in Miami Beach, in July of 1981, and had run into one of my professors in a restaurant. When he asked me where I had been, I said, without a moment's hesitation, "In the Kingdom of heaven!" He never looked at me the same after that, and who could blame him? And here I was supposedly working in a doctoral program in English, writing intelligent papers, and teaching other students who wanted to pursue the academic life! Now I'm not saying that intellect alone is a good thing - nor is following the heart, without reference to reason, a good thing! There's a balance that can be achieved between the two that helps a person find the integrity and success they need! I was fast moving from an extreme reliance on the intellect to an extreme desire to just throw away everything to have this bliss that all the premies, and Maharaji himself, kept talking about! Either extreme spells doom-but oh, the ecstasies on the way down! Satsangs, initiator visits ("to clear up all the misunderstandings"), regional events, programs, festivals, trekking around in overloaded cars with screaming kids and doped out premies! It's funny how much you can choose not to see, in order to see what or whom you WANT to see! I kept going for more.
There were "drips" even in the early days:
It struck me, fairly early on, that many of the premies were pretty dysfunctional people - all sorts of muddled relationships, split-ups, re-alignments, incredible family problems, and along with all that, lots of hippy stuff still going on, not the least of which was drugs. Because I'd never done drugs, I felt that I was superior in some ways - and of course, very "professional", by virtue of being at the university, teaching and working on a doctorate! But in all truth, I was as messed up as the best of them, emotionally, and made a very good candidate for the whole premie scene in that small community! But I couldn't help asking myself at times - if knowledge is meant to be the ultimate enlightenment, and we are all so busy doing this thing, why aren't we showing some improvement in our ways and our lives? It was a question not to be asked.
There was a video I remember seeing at someone's house, in the early 80's, and of course Maharaji's young, golden, and happy face filled up the screen through the whole thing, but right at the very end (and this was a mistake that would have been quickly edited out in later, slicker times), there was a very sudden change of expression that was actually quite frightening to me. He looked VERY sad, for that split second before the fade-out, and I asked everyone "Did you see that???!!!", but no-one said anything, and the race resumed. I quickly blotted it from my mind, too. There was such bliss and fun to be had, right? Keep going!
Initiator visits made me wonder, sometimes, if being "higher up", or closer to M, or dedication of one's life, etc, really made for a better human being? Of course, I worshipped them too in that I wanted to be in their nice shoes and good jackets, and spending all that time just talking about knowledge. But some of these people were a mess too, although I bent over backwards to NOT see that at the time! I won't mention names - they all know who they are anyway! If they were "clearer" than the rest of us, it's no wonder things got progressively dimmer!
But hey, I was having a great experience! I was meditating, going to programs, hanging out with premies, buying videos, sending money to Elan Vital, so there had to be some growth in knowledge for me! I surely clung to that belief, and enjoyed whatever experience I seemed to be having, here and there, now and then. There were moments when I felt very beautiful and connected within myself in ways I had never known in my life before - so I kept going. I was seeing a blue light every time I did the light technique, and feeling quite centered and sometimes quite powerful, on those days I gave meditation a fair go. There are probably fairly good psychological explanations for all of this, but of course at the time, and like so many other people, I put it down to the power of practicing knowledge, grace, the connection to Maharaji, and all sorts of things like that. I was doing what was required, and it felt good! I was also blissfully unaware of the things I was avoiding, by filling my life with knowledge and everything that appertained thereunto!
The direction that came down the pike in the early 80's to destroy all the materials we currently had was something I personally accepted as a good thing. Yes, sweep the deck clean! Let's get it straight! Keep it simple! Be sure we're "in sync" with the latest, etc. etc. etc. Still, though, several months later, when I visited the house of the "librarian" of our community, all those old materials were still there, and still being borrowed! It was all very confusing. But I was glad in a way, because I still felt new to knowledge and wanted very much to "get" it. Most of the other premies had been around through the seventies, and they spent a lot of time talking about those times too. I never quite felt I belonged, because I hadn't "been there" then. Kind of like being one of those who wasn't at Woodstock! You missed it, man! But wait, knowledge is now! Right? Knowledge is for everyone! Right? Well…no, not really. But I was determined to find out what it meant for me anyway, so…keep going!
Through the 90's, with the abandonment of satsang as we had known it, a very stiff and cold and non-communicative feeling overtook the local events. It felt like walking on eggs. Only certain people had the right to speak, it seemed, and only in a certain prescribed way (because they had been to more events, or been to special training sessions). It felt really weird, but because I enjoyed the videos so much, and later, the satellite broadcasts, I kept going anyway, and just accepted that it was "normal" for us all to just go to the hall, say a brief hi, watch the video, and then leave. Anything else seemed definitely discouraged or out of order. Questions or doubts? Forget it! And if a new person was there, the less said the better. The world of knowledge was different. But by now, I'd had lots of practice with recovery in the 12-step program, too - so I couldn't help feeling that the lack of open and direct and honest communication between people surely indicated that something was wrong. It was very uncomfortable for me, but I hung in there, always hoping that if I listened enough to Maharaji himself, everything would be clear eventually.
Along through the 90's. I also began to get a distinct feeling that "knowledge was really only for the rich", because of the rush and expense of programs, the class system instituted by those who could go everywhere and those who couldn't, the amount of debt people who were not rich had to struggle with, well, it was getting rather insane to say the least. I know of one person who borrowed a huge amount from friends and family to go to the Amaroo 2001 event. She will be paying that off for quite a while to come, I don't doubt - and was still willing to go through whatever contortions she had to, to go to other events even since then!
But I was just as influenced by the excitement and agony and thrills of being "with Him" as everyone else! I made last-minute decisions, borrowed money, called around to see who could share a hotel or travel expenses, put all my family and work stuff on hold for the duration, and skipped out of town to play with the rich and the blissed-out for a while. To be somebody else! To be free! And I danced and screamed and cried along with everyone else at those events. But it wasn't really my life. It was an escape from my life - I see it now.
At one of the Long Beach events of the mid-nineties, which I could ill-afford at the time but went to anyway, they had these "side-shows" out in the hall between times - the book stalls, videos and gifts for sale, photo exhibitions, and so on. One of these was a tent where they were showing some videos. I walked into the darkness of the tent, and felt myself being very rudely shoved aside by a premie doing service there - someone who felt justified, no doubt, by their high level of "service", to treat any latecomers as mere nuisances. I felt humiliated, standing by the curtain at the side, and at the earliest opportunity, slipped out. Maharaji's compassion? The true love? The kindness that knowledge promotes? Hah! And the name of this particular event was, "Only by Compassion". There were crystal glasses and prints for sale, with two swans intertwined and the logo, "Only by Compassion", to prove it. And did I buy some of those things? Yes, I did - I was still so entrenched in some aspect of all this that I was willing to even take abuse for it!
The Last Straw?
So what finally tipped the scales for me? It's hard to say exactly - it would be easy to say that accidently coming across the ex-premie website in 2000 and seeing some information, for the first time, about Maharaji's REAL wealth was the jolt that was needed. I'm not sure. I felt a lot of guilt and confusion at that time, and was ready to dismiss this as someone's sick grudge, and not real information at all. After all, I'd seen for myself how weird some premies were! How they weren't really understanding what M was about, etc. etc. etc. Even now, keep going! But I couldn't quite dismiss from my mind what I had now seen. I STILL went to Amaroo in 2001, at great expense to my husband (who isn't even a premie) and myself in rather poor physical health at the time! But something in me knew, I think, that the end was coming, especially when I was on the airplane coming home. I was NOT feeling the bliss of a major event like I had in the past, and I was NOT feeling sad about leaving there. I was actually glad. But I still went back to the community hall for events, and helped clean up the video library, and those sorts of things. An addiction, or a cult, can be a very powerful thing. There's no easy or obvious way out. It's a process.
In late May of 2002, word went out about an event in Pasadena. I was all ready to start my customary lurch into action, and then suddenly I heard myself saying, "I can't do this any more! I don't WANT to do this anymore!" With that, I logged onto the ex-premie website and devoured all the information about the other side that had been missing, and just knew, I was no longer a premie. For the next several weeks I was reading and communicating with people, good people, who had been where I now was, and were willing to be open and honest about it, sometimes at great risk to their own safety. I was particularly moved by John MacGregor's extremely well-written accounts of his long-time and inside experience with this whole trip, and knew then, that I was not such a freak in having come to the end of my own personal effort to hope for or believe in any further "realization" for me on this particular path. I feel that my trust and devotion has been hijacked by a dishonest person who seems to have some real problems relating to drinking, power-mongering, sexual dishonesty, obsession with material wealth, manipulation of information, and all sorts of things that are not very enlightened. From what I have now read about cults, I have no further doubt that this is one.
I have spent nearly 21 years being a premie - doing my best to learn, practice, participate and enjoy, in spite of whatever doubts had popped up along the way. There were many good times and very real feelings of love and gratitude at the time that I cannot deny. Otherwise I would not have kept with it as long as I did. And now I have had one year of being an "ex-premie", if labels are needed. Of course I am still the same person - just a human being looking for truth and meaning in my life, in a way that takes the realities of my situation and my evolving self into account. My head and my heart are intact and good! I value my uniqueness and I value what I share with other human beings.
It's been an interesting journey full of all sorts of things, and feelings, but ultimately, I am glad to be awake to the next phase of my life, and have no regrets about where I have been or whom I have known along the way. It has all brought me to the one person I REALLY need to be in touch with - me!
And there are miles to go with this (after all) not so bad companion!
With thanks, love, and good wishes to all who have shared this journey with me one way or another.
May 2nd 2003