Getting Out of the Mindset

A young adult (identity withheld on request) sent an email titled “Getting out of the mindset.” In an extensive self-revelatory and reflective message, this young adult explained having been born and raised in the TM community of Fairfield, Iowa, educated K-12 in Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment (MSAE) including some time at Maharishi University of Management (MUM).

While grateful for the deep connections of close friends in the precious home community, this person’s doubts about TM’s validity spurred personal searching into the background of TM and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This person concluded that TM is not what the teachings portray. The young adult wrote of the ensuing personal liberation from a restrictive mindset, “ever since I have been skeptical of about every idea I have, realizing it may or may not be true. Once you embrace that idea you become more powerful, you have more control over your mind and your life, and I have become a happier, smarter, more understanding person because of it.”

This person sent an email because, “Since this first big anti-TM event I have still been unable to completely free myself of the TM doctrine… and still hold some concept that TM might be special…. Indoctrination is frightening, and letting go of world views you have had since you were old enough to understand them is a tough process.. I keep wanting to move out of Fairfield but the utopian style community the movement has established here is hard to escape. I have many, many friends who I love dearly here, and to leave them behind is a scary thought. What saddens me is that most of my friends are still in the TM mindset to some degree. None of them take it very seriously but it still remains in the back of their head that TM is special, jyotish can tell them what will happen in their lives, and that nature can “support” certain things they do. If you have any interesting stories or points to relate to me about my process of escape I would love to hear them! The topic interests me a lot.”

Name withheld by request
Full email not reproduced here at the writer’s request; only a few pertinent quotes included above.

Gina’s comment to readers of this blog: I am neither a professional exit counselor, nor therapist. I hold a deep respect for the potential of existential and psychological crisis when one questions all they have been raised to believe, and the community they love. Many from the TM Movement have been close to others’ psychotic breaks or suicide attempts when the duress of such personal crisis hits. Thus, I avoid acting in a therapeutic role and do not accept clients for cult recovery assistance. Professionals in the field of cult recovery are linked to the right on this blog. The young adult, above, already formed personal conclusions about involvement with the TM Movement. The writer, previously unknown to me, requested personal stories about leaving TM. My response follows.

Hello _____,

Thank you for your kind and heartfelt letter.  I sigh deeply.

You are intelligent and independent thinking.  Good for you!  Your compassionate self and social analysis will serve you well in life!

Your anguish is real.  It is hard to leave a utopian community and mindset.  Oh so hard. However, in a true utopia, you would not fear reprisal from expressing your own opinions. The outside world is not so scary, not tomasic, not full of rakshasas as you have been told.  However, you will never again find the “instant community” of enmeshed, almost extended family, to which you are accustomed in Fairfield. 

You CAN, with time, develop meaningful friendships and deep connections, with others outside of Fairfield.  You can meet others who are willing to question themselves, share discussions of same, and support one another in finding one’s own path of integrity through life.  However, the bonds are not instant. Unlike cult life, healthy bonds are not instantaneous. True connection develops over time, sharing consistently with integrity, and with acceptance of differing opinions.

It is true — you will never find the intensity of social closeness… e.g. enmeshment… that you experience in Fairfield, unless you join another cult!

Fairfield IS a special place, but it is not totally unique. Other cult based communities offer their version of the same social dynamics in which you were raised. There is a range of group-think within Fairfield, as you well know. This is also a common phenomenon in neighborhoods surrounding other cult communities throughout the world.

It is normal to be anxious about losing your loved ones and family from expressing your opinion in a cult setting. In a noncult setting, it is extremely abnormal to have such anxiety. You have normal responses to an abnormal situation. It can be frustrating to have circuitous thought-stopping conversations that return forever to TM, Ayurveda, and jyotish to solve everything. You probably don’t want to hurt the feelings of those you love by directly saying “That’s ridiculous!”

You are correct, in my opinion — once you embrace the ability to question EVERYTHING — you become more personally “powerful”.. thus the name of my blog “Coming to Life.”

I respect your desire for anonymity, as your social and professional connections remain TM and Fairfield based. Some of those whom I love in Fairfield are well aware of my online activism against the TMOrg and Maharishi’s leadership; others have ended our friendship over my outspokenness. You see, one is predicted to fail if they leave the deemed support of the deemed-utopia. Instead, others and myself have succeeded on the outside. What greater threat could there be?

You requested personal stories of “escape.” In that vein, I offer a bit of personal experience. You may find it helpful.

I, too, dearly love the Fairfield community. I was the first ‘ru to graduate from Fairfield High School in 1975, before MIU prep began a middle school or high school. My daughter attended K-2nd grade at MIU Prep (MSAE’s precursor). We will always miss the idealistic “loving” community that you call home.

Like avoiding social heroin, we could never again live in such a restrictive setting. And like a recovered heroin addict, we will always miss the addictive high of our former community’s enmeshment. Truly, there are many in Fairfield who I love deeply and forever. I will not name them. You and I must know many of the same people.

The only resources that I can offer you, are those linked on my blogsite. You can, of course, reach toward the “extended TM family” of the grown kids who left. They help one another throughout the world. In most major cities in the US there are small groups of young adults who come from Fairfield. They support one another.  I don’t have a listing of such.  It’s not my place to disclose who I’m in touch with.  You could ask around for contacts, perhaps older siblings of your friends.   As you know, there is a range of continued belief in TM and Maharishi. Many former TMers follow Amachi or other gurus.  Some joined born-again Christian groups or the Mormons to provide instant community.

I suggest that you apply to a non-TM university somewhere. You will sharpen your mind while developing relationships with other motivated young adults and university faculty based upon a commonality of interests, rather than based upon adoption of another’s dogma.

Obviously from my online voice, I’ve rejected most of the TMO official teachings and lifestyle.  My home even has a south facing entrance!  I still prefer natural fiber clothing and a healthy lifestyle. I still like Indian food! Unlike many TM kids, I’ve never been a rebellious party-animal.

After leaving Fairfield, my (now grown) children were raised with swim team, little league and the Boy Scouts in an upper middle class suburb.  We’ve made lifelong friends with amazing people who never heard of Maharishi, other than “Oh, the Beatles followed him briefly!”.  We spent some time with Unity church, to give my children a respect for open spirituality.  No more church or spiritual labels, now that the kids are grown.  My grown children live honest lives of integrity; they do not attend church. Yes, it was immensely difficult for me to learn to connect with non-TMers, to consciously eliminate my TM-based vocabulary and worldview. But it is possible. If I could do it without cult recovery information and resources, and no other ex-TMers to assist, then you certainly can succeed! I suggest accessing professional cult-recovery resources; your adjustment will be much smoother with information that is now readily available.

My father died last year in fantasy TM-think, after decades of needless pain while paying for costly TM cures through yagyas, ayurveda, jyotish, mystical talisman gemstones and other such. My aging mother continues the same vein while spouting Maharishi-isms.  I couldn’t tell you how my adult-kids cope with the extremes cult-think or non-cult from their parents. My grown kids (3rd generation TMers) tease me as being part of the “ACC” (Anti-Cult Cult). I’ve told them to be careful because, “cult think / social enmeshment is our family illness.” Be wary of false flattery. Trust others’ behaviors over their words or kisses.

The International Cultic Studies Association runs workshops for those born or raised in cults – Second Generation Adults (SGAs), that’s you and me.  The ICSA workshop for SGAs could help you sort things out, without providing another dogma. My adult daughter found one SGA workshop helpful, even though she left Fairfield at the age of 10; she is really a 3rd generation.  For info on those workshops, click HERE. ICSA also has SGA mini-workshops associated with their annual international conferences, the next one will be in New York City this summer, for information on the NYC conference, click HERE.

Good for you – to access resources to help you reflect back onto your community.   Breaking free is a lonely process, compared to the seeming validation of group-think, but you will ultimately be stronger and more real. As Shakespeare wrote, “This above all: to thine ownself be true and it shall follow as the day the night – thou can’st not then be false to any man.” That’s the bottom line.

Coming to your own perspective on YOU, your community and your life is an important step in claiming your autonomous adulthood!  We must make difficult choices as we move forward into autonomous adulthood.  Sounds like you may be on the verge of such a step!

Let me know if you visit the Bay Area.  I’d be happy to take you out for lunch or coffee.

You are intelligent and determined – you will make it!

With admiration and respect.  

Warmly, 
Gina 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Getting Out of the Mindset

  1. oneperson

    What an awesome blog post Gina!

    It is so true regarding the enmeshment similarities among totalistic groups. Though my long term involvement wasn’t with the TMO, I can thoroughly relate to this post.

    I loved the people, the campuses, the security of “knowing the truth,” the highs, the chewy caramel centers of what I only thought I could receive in the group (The Way International).

    Then, during my third decade of involvement I began to see that I didn’t know ME. And the group had changed and morphed over time, which isn’t unusual (I learned later) in cultic groups or any social groups really.

    My exit was at least an 8-year process, not that everyone goes through that. This October will be five years ago that I cut ties with The Way.

    Someone wrote me this past year who was also involved with The Way that they were concerned for me, that I had “left God.” I responded with understanding their concern (for I know the mindset of a true believer) and reassuring them that I don’t think I’ve left God so much as that I am on a Carol-quest….and that if there is a God, I feel sure that He doesn’t mind.

    I’m still on that quest.

    Thanks to you for sharing and to the inquiring for allowing you to share…

    To life and freedom!!
    ~carol welch

    Reply
    1. ComingToLifeStories Post author

      Thanks once again, Carol, for your encouragement.

      The person who wrote the initial inquiry letter is not afraid to question inner precepts and reach out for support. How laudable!

      Anxiety about leaving is a completely normal response to an abnormal situation!

      Freedom is luscious, is it not? Once one passes the stage of quaking in one’s boots w/ fear.

      I’ll take everyday life’s ups and downs, with personal accountability and decisions, over the high-highs followed by low-lows of cult life, manipulation and others’ false demands/expectations. whew!

      g 🙂

      Reply
  2. Linda

    Dear Gina, Carol, and everyone who may read this, I feel compelled to offer my humble opinions here, out of compassion for all of our collective search/struggle for meaning in this crazy, wonderful, and terrible world. I have had very little exposure to TM,other than meeting MMY in my LA highschool in 1967, but think that some of the examples mentioned above, are components of Hinduism, a religion practiced by millions worldwide. The function of Gurus and religion, is to point us to spirituality,and ultimately to self realization. Religion is the outer, the philosophy, scripture. Spirituality is the essence. Jyotisa and Ayurveda are integral parts of Indian/Vedic life. Jyoti literally means light, Isa like Iswara or God. Light on life..to illuminate ones purpose or lot, which does not exclude free will. Ayurveda is a valid form of medicine, and there are many universities and colleges in this country, and all over India that offer 4 year degrees. Mantras are widely used as prayer. There are many, for example: Peace, good health, to illumine our thoughts, to give gratitude. These are more general, they help to focus the mind in a positive way. Then there are personal mantras whispered in a devotees ear, by the Sat Guru, as a way to focus and calm the mind, (which otherwise behaves like a monkey). Ultimately, the goal is to dive deep inside and realize the self,open ones heart. They are, in this day and age,and traditionally in INdia, given freely to the devotee. I think the problem being discussed is not so much with certain practices, but with absolute dogma/fundmentalism. Fundmentalism is a problem and one of the main reasons for war on the planet. It gives no one room to be themselves, or even breathe. Why am I ranting on? It feels so sad to me that these beautiful young seekers seem to feel like their whole world view is collapsing. It isn’t all, just some of it is. Take what works for you, question everything, do what feels right. Develope your emotional muscles, be brave, and free. Ramana Maharshi, the great saint of Arunachala, realized Himself by asking the question”Who AM I?” You can google Him. He passed on in 1950, and his words have been published(Amazon.com). There are also other Indian and Western teachers that point to “THE TRUTH”. Read Loving What IS, by Byron Katie. Also Amma(Mata Amritananda Mayi) only asks us to LOve everyone, and serve the less fortunate. She is an example of selfless service, charity, and humility. Her words are available on amma.org., Lastly, someone wrote about Rakshasas or demons. In Vedic Puranic myths, these rakshasas were meant as metaphors for our inner negative tendencies. The culture of India is rife with teaching stories to give codes of ethics and morals to the common, uneducated man. We have Aesops fables and other fairy tales in the WEst. Rudolf Steiner, in Waldorf education, used these as Main lessons for first and second graders to teach them to behave with compassion, and in an ethical manner. None of these ideas preclude a free mind. Remember that the mind is the cause of suffering, and also peace and joy. You can change it. Dr.Victor Frankel writes of this in Mans Search for Meaning. He was a prisoner in Auschwitz, and I believe, realized God in the concentration camp. I could go on. I only wanted to give some helpful ideas here. Blessings, Peace and LOVE, Linda

    Reply
  3. Bjarne

    Indeed an interesting post! I am not at all claiming to be an expert. I never left or lived in a community like the one in Fairfield. Gina, for whom I have great admiration, on the other hand have the EXP-erience of leaving and that make her an EXP-ert in my eyes, eventhough she is claiming otherwise. However, I do have the experience of leaving many different mindsets including the TM-mindset but even today I am enjoying different meditationtechniques.
    I would say that the young adult already left – You already woke up and discovered that You are a lion who was dreaming You were a sheep – a mature reflexion and discremination, and I would say You can never go back even if You choose to stay on at Fairfield. In every contexts of mindsets if they are scientific, “spirituel”,religious, political or otherwise You can never go back the path You came…..it will never be the same, and that in my eyes is the beauty of true development….but it is frightening. Leonard Cohen in one song said “they sentenced me to twenty years of boredom, for trying to change the system from within” and this is what You can expect if You stay on in whatever outgrown mindset. I do have respect for the process and Gina is the expert who suffered. I chose many years ago to leave, by my own choise, and even that was painful, I think now most of all because it involved leaving a false pride of being a TM-teacher….a “knower of reality”. As I see it now, exactly this process of daring step out of a mindset is true spiritual development, how painful it might look. Also, I will claim that You will never loose friends giving up a mindset, and You can in a while continue your Quest for freedomn and truth, yes, even keep some of the beliefsystem within TMO- if You choose that.
    Also, like Linda, I still need inspiration and inspirators, like her I find great inspiration from Ramana Maharshi, Ammachi and many others among them very sick people…in a way everyone You meet is Your Guru. I even go to India and stay at Amritapuri or Tiruvannamalai in a mindset for a while AND enjoy it. Its nice to walk in and out of circles for inspiration without being affected by their vibration of control. True friends will never let You down for being honest to Your own self. Be playful, the risk is that You get a powerful negative reaction that stay on for many years – and that in itself is a mindset, the shell of that new mindset has to be broken also, and You are the only person who can do the job….

    Reply
  4. Carol Welch

    Love it Bjarne!! And I so agree.

    One thing that came to mind is something I read in the book Coersive Persuasion. I took that snippet from the book, adapted it, and use it as kind of a litmus test regarding healthy beliefs (or mindsets, for that matter).

    Does this “class of ideas, beliefs, or attitudes:”

    [1]serve me as a way of defining my own role in relation to my environment

    [2]express my own needs and personality

    [3]grow and change as my experience changes

    [4]guide my behavior because of their inner logic.

    Reply
  5. ComingToLifeStories Post author

    Great points, all!

    Thank you for sharing your true words of wisdom with a questioning young adult.. for everyone’s benefit!

    Linda’s point about “fundamentalism” is, IMHO, the crux of the dynamics of a rigid worldview.
    Personally, I have nothing against Hinduism, Catholicism or Buddhism (or any other).. just that any -ism triggers me personally (understandably so!). Fundamentalism can be frightening.

    TM’s version of Hinduism is deceptively introduced, just as any dogmatic, fundamentalist philosophy, or cult-like organization. TM’s presentation and conviction is that “TM is not a religion. It’s a scientifically documented ancient technique for deep rest and release of stress.” When in reality TM instruction involves giving offerings and a personal puja (Hindu ceremony of gratitude) to a guru for the Initiation. My peeve is no against Hinduism nor spirituality, but against deceptive marketing followed by a gradual lure to a totalistic lifestyle.
    Om Shanti! Om namah shivayah! Go in Peace!

    Yes, Bjarne, great points that I forgot to make! True friends will remain true friends, regardless of the road one chooses. By leaving FF, one does not leave the old friends, the true friends. The love and respect with them will always remain, despite differing opinions and life choices. For example, a surprising number of old TM-old buddies found me on Facebook – and remain e-connected despite my posting various anti-TM and anti-cult links. Guess we are truly friends! Yippee! By taking the leap to follow one’s own drummer, a person gains more and more while pushing through fear, gaining inner strength, broadening horizons and reaping true growth “infinite possibilities” “unbounded awareness” “infinite potential” — all those good things that Maharishi promised but failed to deliver.

    Carol, yes, great points about evaluating a class of beliefs! Thank you! I’ll adopt those simple standards!

    This “long and winding road” of integrating philosophies and societal evaluation continues to change as long as we continue to grow, until we die.

    Thanks so much for your input, and contributing to growth for all of us!

    g 🙂

    Reply
  6. Tanemon

    The comfort of a harmonious community is powerful and in some ways completely desirable. Getting out of the mindset – freeing up one’s mind to consider not only the philosophy & specific beliefs of the group, but other viewpoints and beliefs and facts too – can be difficult within the comfort of the group.

    It’s possible that, in this regard, the TM movement has a built-in self-destruction factor. The notion that “through the window of science we see the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment” is, I think, the element that clashes with the dogma and false “facts”. Because science means not only hypotheses, research, proof (or disproof), and theories – but also implies prediction power. I believe MMY’s predictions, many or perhaps most of which did not pan out, are part of what conflicts with the ‘reality principle’ in the psyches of many people – particularly young people.

    Predictions?: Well, TMer’s psychological, physical, and social problems will gradually all vanish. TM will spread rapidly because people won’t be able to help noticing its value in the lives of its practitioners, and naturally will wish to learn it. TMers who learn the Sidhis will learn to hover, and eventually fly by mere intention. TM will stabilize society at large. TM will automatically bring world peace, and the safe efficient use of natural resources.

    Such have been the predictions. They must eventually have come to bother many of the people who’d become quite involved with the TMO, and maybe even some of those who had moved to Fairfield.

    Reply
    1. ComingToLifeStories Post author

      Thanks, T!

      Excellent points! So many grand promises! I remember thinking about the predictions vs. the reality while still “in it.” But I stayed longer because I cared for the community, liked a small town for my then-young children, my then-husband was a True Believer, and I was afraid that I couldn’t make it in the outside world. At the time, over 20 years ago, I lacked both professional and social skills to interact with non-TMers.

      I think the anonymous young adult who wrote the inquiring email is articulate and courageous to have reached out to an online stranger who could perhaps offer stories of others’ successful transition to another life.

      Thank you, all, for your various feeback confirming MMY’s teachings are not what they present themselves to be.

      g 🙂

      Reply
  7. Martha

    Your response to the young person made me cry.
    My response to the comments was “get a blog.” 🙂
    Wow.
    But as usual, beautifully said, Gina.

    Reply

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