Untangling myself from my previous life
Posted by: figlady ()
Date: March 19, 2009 12:37PM


I have been reading some other people's accounts and I thought I would go ahead and share about what I am currently going through. I am grateful to have found this board.

For the last 5-6 years I was in a yoga group, small around a dozen people, working very intensively with a yogi in "healing unto God". When I first came to the group I was very sick and had almost died. The group helped me heal from this place and was in fact correct that my self-destructive mind had gotten my body into that place. I did some very intensive work with a lot of hatha yoga and personal "therapy" and life skills and communication skills and I did progress a lot from it. There was a great deal of support; the yoga group is a very tight-knit "family".

Over the years certain things wouldn't seem right to me but I set them aside because I was trying to lessen my mind's grip on my life. These certain things fit into some of the stereotypical signs of a cult, like the leader being very authoritarian and controlling (although he expressed his desire that we be self-empowered and free), questioning/dissent strongly discouraged (dismissed as the ego-mind trying to cause problems), former members who left were always somehow wrong (their egos took control, etc.), etc. etc. I could go on.

But the real point for me wasn't so much of being victim to the group's cult behaviors as much as my own behaviors, for example totally depending on the group leader's approval to feel good about myself and when he would get angry and withdraw then doing whatever necessary to get him back in my life. Or the feeling that to find connection to God I needed guidance from the leader otherwise I would be lost.

I don't think the leader is intentionally evil or anything, I do think he has good intentions but has fallen into some predictable patterns of behavior being in the position he's in. And my boyfriend, who is still working with the yogi, does seem to have a much more healthy relationship with the yogi. He was mature enough not to hand over his power and make the leader an authority but he seems able to learn from him in a balanced way. So I am not totally blaming the leader or the group but it is just the circumstances that have unfolded for me that are very painful.

Over the years I had gone through several rounds of acting in a way that the leader was displeased with or that didn't feel good to him, and him withdrawing for weeks to months at a time and then I would work my way through something and he would decide I felt good to be around again. I did this for so long it was just the way of life. Then a couple months ago in January he said he had gotten the message it was time to let me go. I had questioned something he did in a way that he decided meant I was asking to leave. And he may have been right. I had been torn for a while in feeling that what was going on wasn't quite right for me but I had too much time and energy and emotions invested in the life I had created for myself with the yoga. So I guess I "pushed up against him" and got him to kick me out. So he expelled me from the "inner circle" of really intense work that the core group was doing together and severed all communication from him and the ashram.

I am still going to some yoga classes in town (the ashram was out in the woods) and interacting with the group on a less intimate level but I still see them a couple times a week. But I am not involved nearly as much as I was. I just went to a meditation retreat with a different teacher and I am trying to reach out and interact more with new people. I didn't have a social life outside the yoga group for the past almost 6 years. I have been going through some rollercoastering where one hour or one day I will feel fine, excited that my life might take a new direction that will be good for me, and then the next hour or day I will plunge into despair that I totally ruined my life and I am totally lost without my (previous) guide who was in charge of saving me from myself! Like, without him I will inevitably self-destruct. At least that's the direction my mind takes when it is negative.

So it has been very painful and I know there are many people on this board who can relate. Feeling like I am "lost on the spiritual path" or like I really "blew it". Also I haven't been clear yet as to whether to totally break off all ties with the group (since I am still seeing them twice a week). The classes in town are pretty benign but I sometimes wonder whether I am hanging on to the past and keeping new opportunities from showing themselves clearly. I have started moving forward but maybe I am still blocked by hanging on. They do mention the guide a lot and all the activities the ashram has going on (the work days, the meetings, the practices, the meals, the outings, etc.) and this is very painful to hear about.

This feels kind of scattered but I really just wanted to start by putting something out there. Thank you so much to whoever has taken the time to read this. You are a blessing.

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Re: Untangling myself from my previous life
Posted by: Lady Pleiades ()
Date: March 20, 2009 12:32AM

Just wanted to say I did read it and relate to some of the ambivalent feelings. Some of what they do is good. No one forced me to stay there. But, those warning signs you write about are tell-tale signs. I have recently taken a class on how groups are supposed to be run and everything you describe, and everything I experienced, are completely counter to how real groups should function: from teams, educational groups to psychotherapy groups.

I think your instincts were right. And however you have to grieve that loss, by still seeing some of them or breaking ties completely will become more obvious to you. hang in there. it gets so much better. I now have some affiliations with organized groups but nothing like that.

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Re: Untangling myself from my previous life
Posted by: tsukimoto ()
Date: March 20, 2009 06:06AM

I left a Buddhist chanting group two years ago. I was very ambivalent for years -- leaving and coming back, leaving and coming back. There were things I loved about it. Chanting was very grounding, I liked the fellowship and the feeling of being in a community, and just the positive energy -- feeling optimistic that I could really change my life for the better and help others. Some of our activities were also interesting and fun. Yet I also began to see the downside: demands that you do more and more work for the organization, disrespect toward other Buddhist sects, not being able ask questions or express opinions that differed from the leaders', being told that anyone who left, or criticized the group was wrong, and doomed.

I think that the passage of time helps; I've been out for two years, and my life has not gone to hell in a handbasket. In many ways it is better. I don't have the anxiety and guilt of trying to meet my leaders' expectations. My group was quite structured and demanding. Most of the time, I like being free of that, but occasionally, I do feel a bit lost. If I'm not trying to achieve their goals -- what AM I doing with my life? Where am I going? AM I doing the right thing? I miss the fellowship...I was so involved in this group, that I didn't have many friends outside of the group. Since I have been out, I have not been able to maintain my relationships with people in the group. I just no longer have the same priorities as they do. Maybe they never really were the real friends that I wanted to believe that they were. Or maybe we've just grown in different directions.

This is an exciting time for me, because I have the opportunity to decide what my life should be....rather than just following what my former leaders say...and yet it's a bit scary and lonely, and I miss some things about my group. In a way, it felt easier to be part of a group and just go along with them. If I did that, I might be wrong...but at least I wouldn't be wrong and alone. Yet...if it were really easier to just follow the group -- then I would still be there.

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Re: Untangling myself from my previous life
Posted by: figlady ()
Date: March 22, 2009 02:10PM

Thank you both for your support.

It definitely isn't black and white, would maybe be easier if it was...

It is hard to separate how I feel about the teachings and the leader, from the desire to be part of a community that is so tight and supportive.

It is comforting to know that feeling lonely is actually a predictable, common part of the process that many people go through when in this situation. It makes me feel like it is OK and something that will pass.

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