I used to be afraid of having my smug little syda fantasy life destroyed.
I heard about things I refused to investigate. I hid behind the lie that my
own inner experiences validated and exonerated syda and its gurus. What was
I hiding from? What were we all hiding from when we put on our blinders
along with our rudraksha beads?
I think I was hiding from my vulnerability. Syda seemed to offer me a path
to invulnerability, to a fantastic and infantile vision of safety. Having
rejected syda, I find myself returning to personhood, becoming a regular
person again. Does this seem familiar?
This is how I see it: We have descended from the high mountains of
discipleship and supreme attainment, and where have we arrived? We have
arrived at our brokenness, our human frailty, our flawed natures, our
weakness. We have arrived at our vulnerability, the same vulnerability which
once led us blindly into betrayal and humiliation. But that was because we
were afraid of our vulnerability and we were running away from it. This time
we have arrived at our vulnerability in acceptance of it.
What was all that nonsense about putting on the broad smile of the fantasy
Why did I think I needed to dress up my limping psyche in the royal
colors of the magic kingdom and the phony pride of denial?
appeared to be a fortress which would protect me forever from my
vulnerability. After all those years I am discovering that my vulnerability
needs me to accept it, not to run from it, or destroy it, or transcend it.
It now seems to me that this understanding unlocked the gate which held me
inside syda long after my inner voice told me to leave.
It is natural to view a cult with suspicion or as spurious if you are an outsider. The uninformed outsider will not share the feelings nor appreciate the aesthetic appeal, the language, and the meaning behind the devotion. The outsider may even experience revulsion. The scholar and the journalist may strive to appreciate the phenomenon of a cult aesthetically and historically with no intent to convert or “go native.” However, the natives or members of a cult experience a range of satisfying sensual and intellectual responses to ritual and dogma. Satisfying may not always mean entirely pleasurable, for example, in fire walking or fasting and end times myths or demon attack. Satisfaction comes from knowing that even unpleasant revelations and practices augment personal enlightenment or planetary salvation.
Faith provides enjoyment, but suspicion or doubt increases anxiety in the devotee. To sustain homeostasis in devotion, aesthetic judgment must adjust to the demands of the faith. If cults have aesthetic features that enhance their attractiveness, then members will adapt to these features. In other words, to belong to a cult requires certain adaptations and restrictions of aesthetic judgment in the devotee.
CUT viewed colors as aspects of cosmic “rays” of energy, some of which elevated consciousness while others trapped awareness in lower states. The color aided in one’s ascension or hindered it. For example, ascension-aiding rays were white/purity, yellow/intelligence, blue/god power, green/supply and health, pink/love, rose/deeper love, and violet/purification. The cult avoided black, brown, silver, gray, checkered or patterned colors, red, and muddy shades. The latter colors polluted the energy of the “lower bodies” or physical self composed of earth, air, fire and water. Classical music, certain hymns, Hindu bhajans, and chanted CUT decrees were good sounds but rock music, jazz, rap, and country music were deleterious. Gold jewelry could touch the skin but not silver. Silver as gray energy was too intellectual and lacked love. An organic, raw food diet was best when I was involved but basic vegetarianism was required. Sex was for procreation only and performed only after certain decrees or mantras. Celibacy was better. Sleeping was better metaphysically if on the back with right leg crossed over left and hands over the solar plexus.
In CUT teaching, certain environments like taverns and rock concerts contained dark forces called entities that could attach to one’s “aura” (a kind of personal force field). Newspapers, movies and television shows bombarded the devotee with psychic pollution. Nicotine, alcoholic drinks, sugar, chocolate, and all drugs could cause an entity or demon to lodge in one’s aura. CUT teachings chided devotees to avoid all negative thoughts, argument, anger, fear, jealousy, lust, doubt, and thoughts of feeling sick or crazy. Men’s hair length should not touch the collar and almost all the CUT men were clean-shaven. Modern or abstract art was not good, but realistic religious art enhanced one’s consciousness—Picasso, Camille Pisarro and Jackson Pollock were out while Raphael, Gustav Doré and Roerich were in. Cult teaching invaded all of my senses and appetites.
I thought I was into something new, into a cutting edge revelation that required submission first to achieve clarification with deep understanding coming later.
In subsequent years I learned that most if not all the “new” religious ideas that so intrigued and attracted me were recycled notions re-presented in modern drag or, if you will, a current aesthetic.
Cults continue to reinvent the wheels of human spirituality and too often repeat the mistakes of old and harmful group formations. I also learned that what appears first as a precious opportunity to transform my soul, if that were even possible, can easily convert to a cult of endless submission and mindless ritual.
The wheels merely ran in ruts around and around one leader’s grandiose claims. She wore the crown of the Mother of the Universe! She had the stamp of an ascended host on her metaphysical curriculum vitae! She was the most valuable person living on the planet! Was I willing to pay for the privilege of serving her mission with all I had and with my very life?
Roerich and Gurdjieff inferred that they were specially chosen by some higher power yet all that their disciples had for proof was the guru’s word and a devotee’s personal experience of charisma. Is the lesson here about what we do for our art and not about what our gurus do for our art?
The lesson for me from the cult experience as an artist is complicated. I can no more blame a group’s influence for my lack of creativity or success as an artist than I can blame my career as an exit counselor or mental health professional.
Cults like careers take up a lot of time.
I still exhibit a few paintings a year and attract a commission or win an award now and then but my income from art is negligible. The great artists are not distracted from their quest by jobs and family matters much less by quirky cults. Art is their job notwithstanding cultic influences.
The damage I think occurs more often to sensitive artists who are either early in their creative careers or struggling to establish an oeuvre or art identity.
If a struggling artist buys into the notion that a group or guru’s techniques and influence are necessary for a personal transformation to find one’s artistic identity, then the possibilities of restricting a creative career increase.
I wish to point out how sensual signals perform as “triggers” to stimulate compliance to cult milieu and doctrine. Unloading all the cult-induced meaning (all black is bad) from signs in the environment can seem nearly impossible at first despite therapeutic assistance.
To be effective, I think, therapy of any kind should take into account the context and history of the delusional belief that affects a cult member’s aesthetic world. Most therapists I have known are client-centered and try to honor the cultural beliefs of their clients within reason.
As an exit counselor, I challenge false beliefs by introducing a wider frame of reference based on reasonable evidence—totalist cults by nature restrict information and choice in closed systems. My role is to encourage psychological and intellectual expansion.
For example, one of my clients, a young lady who was a dedicated CUT member for six years, left the cult after talking with me and a colleague for several days. Her parents arranged a non-coercive intervention at their home in Florida. A week later I escorted the now ex-member to the Unbound recovery center in Iowa but it was cold there and she needed a coat. She experienced near panic when, with my encouragement, she tried on a red jacket at a mall.
She was not yet ready for red!
Recovery required months for that ex-member to restore black and red to a wider and positive frame of reference. She needed to learn more about the source of the color code and its flimsy justification to dispel it. In my case, after making the emotional and intellectual adjustments, I could relate to colors appropriately and individually in short order.
In contrast to my client who had little background in comparative occultism, I already knew the history of how conflicted occultists were (and are) over the spiritual effects of color. Goethe saw red as “grave and magnificent” (Goethe, p. 315) whereas the “I AM” cult saw red as anger and charged with inappropriate sexual excitement, and Corinne Heline claims, “Red is the color whereby the Holy Spirit manifests the Activity Principle” (Heline, p. 40).
I was struggling with personal conflict: Was there any ideal or Platonic universal regarding color? Might black always be a negative? This weird color revelation through my daughter reestablished my appreciation for color and styles of art like Cubism prohibited by the cult.
I grasped that I was not capable of finding a universal theme for black, nor was there any compelling reason for me to pursue an absolute. I was neither God nor a god.
Consequently, I could again enjoy a Picasso, a Pisarro and a Pollock if I chose to. However, even if I could afford it, I doubt I would pay millions of dollars for a ceramic urinal even if it is a wonderful, historical joke.