by Gina Catena, M.S.
Coercive Persuasion, “thought reform,” or “brainwashing” includes taboos against speaking truth. While under the influence, we felt secure and safe in our paradigm. We knew privileged secrets, advanced techniques, mantras and higher level “knowledge” as provided on special courses. We believed, and told outsiders, the scripted benefits of TM and memorized Hinduesque teachings.
Amongst ourselves we chuckled about the Movement’s financial shenanigans, Nazi-like environmental and social control on courses. Still we feared speaking forth to detail others’ psychosis, suicides, wild antics, hidden sexual and drug abuse –in the interest of protecting our teachings and the Movement’s reputation.
We believed in our higher purpose - to uphold the Movement’s integrity and not allow negative press to befall upon our beloved Maharishi, while MMY’s Shrivastara family lived in comfort from our families’ contributions.
Secrets began with instruction of our mantra, never to be repeated aloud, “for our own benefit.” Little by little, we acclimated to organized scrutiny for deemed worthiness, and increasing levels of security “for our own benefit,” as we advanced.
Transcendental Paranoia was instilled from the beginning. We navigated through detailed interviews and applications for advanced courses, letters of recommendation from Initiators or Governors of the Age of Enlightenment (we were denied copies of our files or applications). We proved our allegiance to the “purity of the teachings.” We carried validated photo identification badges to enter meetings, group meditations, and even for some functions at satellite TM centers around the world. We accepted when the “Capital of the Age of Enlightenment” staff told us that our identity cards were the Capital’s property, not ours, to be relinquished if we left.
If we explored other venues, we were afraid of being identified as unfaithful to Maharishi. Many lied on TM program applications, denying exploration of other spiritual teachers, meditation practices or psychotherapy to assure their continued group acceptance (demonstrating a lack of true help!).
We kept secrets to maintain our “spiritual evolution” and allegiance to the Movement, our beloved and dysfunctional “TM-family.” Fear of the truth was deeply ingrained.
We ignored negative press from outside of the Movement, and blamed our communities’ tragedies upon “unstressing,” “purification,” or individual “bad karma.” We attributed all problems to individual shortcomings, all good was attributed gratefully to TM and Maharishi. “Jai Guru Dev” (Exaltations to Guru Dev). More Secrets.
After leaving the Movement, many do not disclose TM-histories with outsiders, lest we betray loved ones, or become stigmatized from the outside world. Likewise, I remained silent for nearly 20 years, while living a double life.
An innate anxiety often arises when disclosing details of our TM Movement/cult with outsiders. Common themes are: “My TM-based loved ones will reject me. They were well intentioned. They are not bad people. What will I have left if they reject me?”
Revealing our TM background knowledge can provoke anxiety precisely because, in speaking forth, we run counter to deeply ingrained patterns. The famed TM “bubble diagram” of transcending to the source of thought, applies to the depth of our brainwashing when in a trance state. The blend of group belonging, fear of ignorant outsiders, and reverence for our “sacred tradition’ were planted deep in our primal brain. Many fear legal retribution, verbal assaults, and rejection from loved ones if they speak of their TM past.
Fear of group rejection is a protective biological mechanism. A primitive lifestyle requires group effort for human survival. In the wild, tribal rejection equals certain death. That is why we want to maintain our group membership.
For silent former TM-ers, your anxiety is real, psychologically and biologically understandable – but not necessary. We won’t die if we reveal our past to the world. What a liberating thought!
Former TMers may also experience anxiety speaking of their history, wondering how this will influence their integration to a new community, “How will outsiders understand? “They will think I’m insane of they know my history.” “How will this stymie me professionally?” “None can understand how I participated in such ridiculousness.” They won’t understand why I continue to love those who remain in the cult.” Or “They won’t understand why I did not leave sooner.”
From sheer embarrassment, many MIU/ MUM graduates struggle with their alma mater on their professional resume. They try “MI University” or “M International University” or other derivatives. Job interviews may focus upon justifying their education rather than upon employment qualifications, while explaining that Maharishi International University really is an accredited private university (meeting minimum standards of academic literacy). Oftentimes, the desired job is not offered because the interviewer was distracted by the story of Maharishi’s exotic university.
Shakespeare’s wisdom, “To be or not to be, that is the question” is appropriate here. To be true to one self includes choosing whether to speak forth or maintain privacy about a cult past. Speaking forth is a highly personal choice. There is not a right nor wrong.
Cult experts (some are now personal friends), often state, “True recovery requires cutting all ties to the cult.”
I disagree with them on this point, and I tell them so. For those raised in a cult, sharing our history may result in rejection from our loved ones of origin. Then where do we turn?
At the 2006 trial for Warren Jeffs, president of the polygamist cult of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (not TM related), a young teenage bride refused to speak when called to testify in court. She was arrested for contempt of court. This reveals lack of understanding of the great emotional and psychological risk to which the court system placed this young girl, by asking her to publicly describe her confusing family and community. If she spoke of her knowledge, she would have lost all that she knew and had nowhere to turn. Of course she kept the ugly secrets, because her identity, life and loved ones are with the controversial community.
The young woman in Jeffs' trial, above, experienced an acute crises of any cult-raised person's inner conflict. Maintaining connections to family of origin, requires continuing to live with shrouds of secrecy. Speaking truth as a whole person, removing the shrouds, risks rejection from family and community of origin accompanied by possible social or professional stigmas elsewhere. It may be a painful choice.
One friend was raised in a different highly publicized cult outside of North America. She attends graduate school in the USA, is married to an American: they are raising their family. She keeps her history private, even to the instructors in her graduate psychotherapy studies. Media publicity about her cult-family is scathing. She chooses silence to protect her children from social repercussions if her history were public knowledge.
She states, “Even experienced therapists and most psychology professors don’t understand about children raised in cults. Many therapists assume we are psychotic, have split personalities or other severe disorders. There were some terrible situations and tragedies. But many of us survived and are functional after several years of painful personal soul searching. We became well after years of wrenching inner work. Therapists will label us too quickly.”
Through her silence, my friend protects her children from social stigma, and from rejection by cult-grandparents. I had chosen the same until my children were grown.
In coming forth, I sadly accept that loved ones from my TM past will reject me as being “of the dark side.” One dear old TM-friend recently glared at me saying I was “flirting with the enemy.” After my well-circulated letter to the San Rafael School Board, a revered TM leader, with whom I'd had a decades long relationship, told me, "May God have mercy on your soul. Do not contact me ever again." I was prepared for rejection from those of my history. Others might not be willing to risk such loss.
Speaking forth is a highly individual decision. Some choose anonymity; some prefer silence about their TM histories. Coming forth brings rewards at a price.
If you read this and are anxious about speaking, please do not berate yourself. There is deeply ingrained programming against coming forth. It takes awhile to untangle. It is important to have others who will emotionally support your honesty and courage, rather than ostracize you for your honesty.
If you choose to come forth, your voice will become stronger with practice. However, It is equally valid to silently hold your history, memories, and loved ones near and dear to your heart.
Vaya con Dios