In 2017, I wound up in a cult for nearly a year.
How do I know it was a cult? The attire, the spiritual hierarchy, the "us vs. them" and "this is the way" rhetoric, the dogma, the blind faith of the followers, the charismatic leader, the over-the-top hospitality for newcomers, and the complete diet, exercise, and full-fledged dedication and lifestyle the guru compelled. Because if you didn't, you weren't spiritual enough.
When Nick walked in on me fastening my turban before practice one night, he knew it was time for the confrontation. Though it took me a few more weeks before it finally clicked for me, my eyes were open to something I could not unsee.
Being in this cult wasn't good. But it wasn't all bad. I mean, that's how cults work. There's something to it. There's something in it for you. The practices I was doing made me feel good. The community of "like-minded" (brainwashed) peers made me feel like I belonged. I laughed, I learned, and I had some wild breakthroughs and experiences that I'll never forget.
I met a friend at one of the cult's retreats. We were on day three of no sleep from the strict schedule of chanting until 1 am and waking up at 3 am for our morning sadhna, primed perfectly to have no inhibitions or discernment of information. There we were, loopy in the woods, only to run into each other months later in the aisle of a Whole Foods as completely different women: Escapees. Ex-cult-members with oh so much to share with each other.
Our experience was uniquely our own and also eerily similar. It inspired and traumatized our every move within our career field (wellness and spirituality) for years to come and it's in our plans to shed a light on this kind of abuse down the line in some way, shape or form. Of this community, we are far from the only ones and lately, we have been a comforting echo-chamber for our experiences.
Then something crazy happened. Just days ago, our ex-cult leader died.
It was completely unexpected. No one saw it coming. A freak incident.
I staggered over the news on social media, seeing this charismatic face had been taken from this planet. Shock stunned me for a good fifteen minutes. When its grip faded, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a sense of relief. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't feel mournful.
I felt it all.
This was once my teacher after all. This was once my guru.
I wish she had been what I'd wanted her to be. I wish she was honest, respectful and humble. She had a lot of light and I don't believe she used it for good, but I can't deny the impact she had on an era of my young life.
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes during this confusing time:
"For the faults of the many, judge not the whole. Everything on earth is of mixed character, like a mingling of sand and sugar. Be like the wise ant which seizes only the sugar, and leaves the sand untouched." — Mahavatar Babaji