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CULT ESCAPE - TEN YEARS AFTER

FAIR NEWS Summer 1995. Arthur Chappell.

Ten years after leaving the Divine Light Mission (Elan Vital) in 1985, after four and a half years of intense meditation and mind control can I now put the experience behind me and say that I have ‘recovered?‘ After all, since coming out, I have gained a degree in philosophy /literature, and secured a regular job. My poetry has occasionally gone into print. In many respects I should be regarded as one of the lucky ones, but alas there are many areas of regret and concern for me.

' I find myself constantly wondering what might have become of me had 1 not been invited to that innocuous sounding `lecture' that started it all. I had joined after my Father's death. We called Maharaji our new Father, Mother, Brother and Friend. Was my involvement then just an attempt to find a substitute father-figure? Might 1 have got my degree in 1981? Is my life in schism through the severe interruption when I was in effect, trapped in another dimension? 1 generally try to look on my degree diploma as hard evidence that 1 have regained my mind back from a cult whose guru declared: `If your mind troubles you. give it to me, it won't trouble me.' ,

The whole process of cult- type meditation is designed to cut through analytical thinking. Thinking begets questions, questions beget doubts, and questioning your doubts creates independent thinking processes that destroy the cult's hold on your mind.

I tried questioning in the early part of my recruitment and almost got thrown out then. 1 wish it had happened. 1 conformed instead. I went along with their desire that I suppress/repress my doubts. Such questions and doubts and a sense of guilt and the loss of what might have been, haunt me still.

Each time I - sometimes obsessively - reassess what was an essentially straightforward, even typical recruitment process, I see a deadly time bomb ticking. The cult experience has left me somewhat embittered, hardened and cynical about anything anyone tries to persuade me to accept. This is a very dangerous way of seeing the world.

I was disturbed by things the cult had done. They had got to me by disengaging my mind and encouraging me to go with instinctive emotional, even primal responses. I became hungry for the things they set me craving for. I have, possibly through coming out of the cult alone - 1 didn’t contact FAIR or other support groups until a few years later - overcompensated for the kind of thinking the cult had suppressed.

My thinking has become forced, artificial rather than natural and spontaneous. I seem serious and introspective. Some friends said to me after they saw me talking about cults on TV that until they knew the roots of my cold pessimistic lonely and intense side they just thought 1 was a bit 'bonkers.' Maybe I am, and no doubt many still find me so. but speaking out openly not just to other ex-cultists. but to people in general, has been invaluable to me.

I have become a third person for this latter period of my life. I talk about it now as something that was rather than something that is. The recovery time has finished what the cult started totally changed my personality.

The cult survivor is like anyone else who has been through a harrowing experience - the Vietnam vet, the POW, or the rape victim. All end up recognising they have been changed - their personality and their outlook on life. The affected individual faces not only the prejudices and stares of others who feel themselves safely distanced from such potentially dangerous social activities, but often imposes the spotlight on themselves. That really hurts.

1 find it difficult to become intimate with people. I'd lost myself in the catatonia of meditation - in concentrating all my thoughts on a void. As a result, in relationships, I have an inner third party along - a sort of analytical chaperone, examining me what to say or do. I become cold and mechanical without intuitive natural warmth.

What you are reading may seem very open-hearted but much of it is mindful and mind-felt rather than heartfelt and I wish that wasn't the case. Where does the real me, born and raised and the ex-cult member, induced, contrived and artificial, begin and end? I wish I could put the past behind me but I still fuse the past and the future into one continuous whole.

After the cult-experience, 1 am better, worse? Maybe I'm trying too hard to remember being in a cult; would 1 actually be anything or anybody without the cult experience in the past? It's this thought that frightens me. It may be a key factor in why I got attracted in the first place or maybe not. Still life goes on - mustn't grumble.

Follow up feature - 20 YEARS AFTER

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