Hijacked Hearts

The most recent episode of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath features the story of Mike Rinder, who was a member of the cult for much of his life and served it in many different capacities as a part of the Sea Organization. It is a heartbreaking and incredible story of the lengths that scientology will go to in order to shut down a critic of their policies and procedures. Mike Rinder is someone who can speak with great authority on the subject, because one of the jobs he did for the cult was to take action against their designated “enemies”. Also, Mike was a dedicated member when he was in the cult, and when he left he lost everything that had made up his life to that point — his parents and siblings, his wife and children, his friends and colleagues, his home and employment, his church and religion. He also had to leave behind his ideas about what he had been doing as an active member — the belief that as a scientologist he was one of the most ethical people on the planet, and as a member of the Sea Org he was dedicating his life to saving mankind from the worst in ourselves. This is what Leah Remini speaks about at the beginning of the program when she explains why it took time for her to see the truth about her religion by saying “I didn’t want to believe that what I had been doing my whole life was a lie.”

Near the end of this episode, “Fair Game”, Leah and Mike are talking and she says to him “You faught for the church because you believed in what you were doing.” Mike affirms this. “You are fighting, now, against the church because you know, ultimately, the truth. And so you’re on the right side of that fight now.” Mike affirms this a bit more reluctantly, and then talks about the guilt he feels about leaving, because of the impact on his family. I think this is a crucial point to remember, when you see and hear these stories of how terribly the cult treats its members, and wonder why they would join and why they would stay. The people who join a group like scientology are generally trying to do good in the world. They have a heartfelt desire to make a difference or to do something meaningful for others. They put their hearts into what they believe and what their beliefs call them to do, and those hearts are hijacked by an organization with malicious intent and a singular agenda — to make as much money as possible and to protect the source of that money. By the time they might realize what is going on, they usually have a deep personal investment in the group and it is not so easy to just walk away.

I have been a scientology watcher for decades, and over that span of time i have had the opportunity to know a few people who were former members or the child of members of the cult. I think, when looking at the cult and speaking out against it, and listening to others who do the same — as well as those who have left the cult because they grew disenchanted with it or grew up and determined it was not for them for some reason — it is important to remember one simple fact. Not everyone who joins the cult, leaves the cult. There are some people for whom it remains something they feel the need to be a part of. This can seem incomprehensible, once you have spent time talking to former members and hearing their accounts of what life in the cult is like. It is easy to assume that anyone who is still in either has not been exposed to the truth, or refuses to confront it for some reason or another. Sometimes it is because there are risks or losses involved in leaving that make it unthinkable — losing your marriage or your children or other family connections, losing the ability to conduct business because customers or co-workers disconnect from you, losing your faith and sense of purpose when you realize you have been living a lie. Scientology does not hesitate to use leverage to keep their membership intact, but outside of that how could anyone ever want to stay?

That is the way that many scientology critics and watchers see it — that the only reason people stay is because of that kind of emotional blackmail, or because the church holds secrets over their head, or maybe because they are too dumb or too evil to walk away. But that is not an accurate assessment of the situation. The reality is, sometimes people choose to stay, and not merely because they don’t know any better or aren’t capable of critical thought. When Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Lawrence Wright referred to the “Prison of Belief” in regards to scientology, this is what he was talking about. The nature of mind control is far more insidious than just withholding information and applying peer pressure or group-think momentum to get cooperation from reluctant members. It is something much more subtle and profound than that. It is also elusive, and difficult to discern, because the mechanisms of control used within the cult are built on the mechanisms of influence that are already extant in our larger culture, and that makes them hard for all of us to see clearly. The tendency to jump to the conclusion that people who join a cult must lack some kind of intelligence or awareness that you yourself possess, as a way of explaining how some people join cults and some do not — that is an assumption based largely on a lack of self-awareness as members of our own society and as subjects of the influence of our culture.

This quote is from an interesting source — an article in the AV Club, a review of an episode of the TV show “The Simpsons” entitled “the Joy of Sect”:

The thing I keep coming back to as this episode’s most trenchant observation is the fact that brainwashing really has little to do with preying on the dumb or the gullible. Cult members aren’t idiots. Rather, they’re people like you or me to whom very clever, very manipulative assholes said precisely the right things at precisely the right moments to puncture their defenses and turn their worldview on its head. “The Joy Of Sect” best illustrates this with how it treats Homer and Lisa. The episode is more explicit in how it subverts audience expectations with Homer, setting him up as the highly suggestible type and then revealing he’s the last of the session attendees to break, albeit for the very dumbest of Batman-related reasons. Lisa, by contrast, is the likeliest character to bring down the Movementarians—as previous episodes have made clear, she’s both an iconoclast and a skeptic—yet the prospect of getting a bad grade, even in a Leader-obsessed curriculum, is enough to win her over. Lisa finds the whole cult thing utterly ridiculous and disgusting, right up to the moment they offer her the peace of mind she so desperately craves.

The storyline of this episode of the long-running series revolves around a spoof of a cult that is very much like scientology. It even features a “leader” that seems as if he could have been modeled at least in part on scientology creator and founder L Ron Hubbard. On the surface it appears to be simply a funny play on the tropes of cult membership and so on — space opera, elusive and mysterious gurus, silly garb like robes, silly lingo and insider language, and lots of manual labor at a secure compound after giving up all of your worldly goods. But the thrust of this review underscores a point I have made over and over to others in the critics and watchers community. The assumptions that people make about why and how someone becomes a victim of thought-control and influence are woefully misinformed and self-congratulatory. Misinformed as to the nature of brainwashing, and self-congratulatory in the sense that they give themselves far too much credit for the fact that they have not joined a cult themselves. Attributing that to being “too smart to fall for such things”, or something similar.

I feel that I must take a moment to touch on something much more basic here, and remind everyone that life is hard, and we all tend to feel like we don’t really know for sure what we are doing or how to be in control of the outcome of our life and our efforts. Yet the vast majority of human beings long for just that kind of feeling of control and certainty. That is undeniably a part of human nature, but we try to deny it anyway. A lot of our culture and it’s standards for success and wellness and validation as a worthwhile part of society is predicated on the appearance of control and certainty. Being confused, being at a loss, being subject to uncertainty and the whims of fate — that is regarded as a state of affairs that must be dealt with and remedied, when in fact it is the inescapable foundation of our experiences. What this means is that we are all walking around with an impulse to control and a need for reassurance that is mostly unconscious and unacknowledged. More than that, we build defenses against acknowledging this, we tell ourselves there is no such thing and proceed to organize our thinking and filter our perceptions to confirm exactly that idea. It is in this area of our psyche that you will find the vulnerabilities that allow those who wish to exploit and control us to get a hook in and pull one way or another.

It is a familiar concept, certainly. But I find it necessary to remind watchers and critics, over and over, that we all fall for something, sometimes, and when you stand in judgement of someone else’s weakness and blind spots, it is only by turning away from your own. This is an important point, because one of the things that keeps people in a cult long after they realize that it is a cult, is the fear of being judged and condemned as a fool or a dupe. Many former members express relief and gratitude when they find people to share their stories with who will not judge or dismiss them as foolish. The more understanding the general public is, the easier it will be for more people to leave a cult like scientology and face the truth of what they were involved with. More than that, it is important in terms of the larger goal of steering people away from abusive cults and groups like scientology. The simple fact is, as long as you are in denial about your own vulnerability to promises and lies, you are that much easier to capture and control with promises and lies. As soon as someone is telling you what you want to hear, you will be hooked, and it will never occur to you to pause and ask yourself if you are being manipulated because you just “know” you are too smart for that. There is no easier mark than someone who believes that they can never be an easy mark. Yet it is the normal state of affairs for most people to believe that about themselves, because human nature is to deny and ignore our own shadow, the dark side of our nature where our vulnerabilities reside. To quote the Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman; “Facing our dark sides is painful. It is easier to know so much and no more. It is easier to turn away from our own swamp of anguish and aggression and say, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’ve got friends. I’m well adjusted to my job. Everyone likes me.'”

Scientology and other cult groups of the same type get away with what they do because they offer a kind of out from this dilemma. A way to continue to evade that self-confrontation while cultivating the appearance that you are in fact far more in command of yourself and your needs, impulses and blind spots than most people. The irony is that cults like scientology are most appealing to those who are curious and attempting to live an “examined life”. People who I would say are living with a lot more awareness than the average person, or at least feel the desire to do so. A religious or psychotherapeutic cult is a specific kind of predator that feeds on the idealism and hunger for consciousness that can otherwise allow a person to grow beyond the limits of habit and culture in their relationship with themselves. In fact, you could say that a person only becomes receptive to the kinds of grand promises and huge lies offered by a cult when they are seeking for answers on that same large scale. Cults make big promises and present themselves as having access to considerable power or control or security, on a transpersonal scale. It is only when a person is already asking questions of that nature that the answers offered by a cult will ring true or seem credible or plausible. When someone sneers at the grandiose nature of the ambitions and ideals that are sold by cults to their marks, it only indicates the limitations of their desire to explore themselves and their lives. It is a reflection of the scale of their own imagination and their own thinking.

Taking a more humble and compassionate perspective about victims of cults such as scientology is the better choice, in my opinion. There are not enough people in the world who are truly willing to commit their lives to self-improvement and to the betterment of mankind. This is the sincere and genuine motive of many of those who join scientology, and certainly of all those who become dedicated members of their Sea Org, and work outrageously long hours in very harsh conditions for pennies a day. They do it because they want to be a part of something good and beneficial to others, or in search of a sense of meaning and certainty about life, or they want to think of themselves as good people who serve a purpose beyond themselves. They put their hearts into it, bringing family and friends along, and raising their children to serve the same purpose — all of this because of a desire to create positive change. Cults like scientology engage in a kind of spiritual abuse, hijacking the hearts of the most altruistic among us. Those people are exploited and abused, broken and burned out, and then discarded as “degraded beings” or “suppressive persons”. They do not deserve to be dismissed as weak or foolish, or condemned for the things they were manipulated into doing. The only difference between such people and the rest of us is a matter of what it is you are willing to fall for — what the hook is that gets you to sacrifice more than you should, to pay a higher price than you can afford.

-Watch episodes of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath here

-Read Mike Rinder’s blog here


Proposal to Mike Godwin: Creating a “Church of Scientology Exception” to Godwin’s Law

The Scientology Money Project blog is an excellent resource for documents and analysis pertaining to the Church of Scientology’s corporate structure and operations. Check out this excellent commentary on why it is entirely fair compare the cult to the Nazis.

The Scientology Money Project

A proposal submitted to Mike Godwin for his consideration: Make a “Church of Scientology” exception to Godwin’s Law.

Why? I argue that it is not incorrect to compare the nature, structure, and operations of the Church of Scientology to the Nazis. As I will show in this essay, the Church of Scientology is a multi-billion dollar transnational Master Race group which has a call for genocide embedded in the writings of L. Ron Hubbard.

Secretly operated and managed by a legally non-existent paramilitary organization called the Sea Org, the Church of Scientology finances and operates a psycho-terrorism, propaganda, and intelligence gathering agency called the Office of Special Affairs. While the Church presently lacks the means to conduct a genocide, its decades-long malicious conduct of “Fair Game” argues that it would do so if it had the means.

The Church of Scientology’s fanatical paramilitary is called the…

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Robert Kaufman’s Inside Scientology

In the history of the cult of scientology, there have been many books written by people who were a part of it.  These people were often the most dedicated and enthusiastic of Hubbard’s students, until they grew disillusioned with the dysfunction that is inherent in the cult and it’s systems.  Robert Kaufman was one of the first of such authors, and he was the first to publicly reveal the secret OT III materials, in his book.  He also suffered a great deal of harassment and cult “fair game” nonsense as a result, which made his life terribly difficult for a time.  A highly gifted pianist, and by all accounts a nice person and a good friend, Robert was sincere in his practice of the processes that scientology offers, and he was open to receiving a positive outcome from them. He got into the cult through a friend, named Gerald, who had a franchise and eased him into regular auditing with occasional sessions.  He was reluctant at first, but the more that he practiced, the more enthusiastic he became about the processes.  As Kaufman’s skepticism waned, he eventually decided to travel to St Hill, against the advice of his auditor-friend, who had some issues with how the official church runs things, and often ignored policy in his auditing work.  Kaufman got a taste of the original “ideal org”, and the true cult experience, and that is when things began to go very wrong for him.  In a matter of months, Bob was falling apart, and wound up having a mental breakdown. The constant ethics and fundraising pressure was just too much. Sound familiar? Eventually, he got out, and returned to the US. He decided to leave the cult behind. However, his independent (franchise) auditor friend adds the final insult. He was desperate to help repair the damage Kaufman suffered, and claimed to have gone to AOLA to learn some special new auditing processes at L Ron’s personal behest. He begs Bob to let him help… for a fee, of course. Bob sees this as the final outrage, walks away, and decides to write a book soon after.

Bob Kaufman found himself eventually caught in a double-bind that every member faces at some time, and must resolve in terms of their own character and priorities as to what should be sacrificed when life requires sacrifices.  Scientology generally has one of two effects on a person, either it alienates them from their own moral center, or it causes them to get better acquainted with it.  Kaufman was one of the latter, he remained on the fringes of the cult for a long time, but eventually found his way deeper in to the madness.  It did not take long before the sickness began to overwhelm him and he had to find his way out.  In a way, Bob’s case illustrates the point that it is better if a person *cannot* adapt to the crazy in the cult.  There are so many stories of people who only found their way out because they fell into mental illness or physical distress that could not be concealed.  The cult has no use for those who are suffering.  There is a strong bias against the sick and the mentally ill among scientologists in general, and this attitude is built in to the tech by Ron himself, who apparently was a malingerer identified by psychiatrists as suffering from some kind of mental affliction.  This, from a group of people who claim that they are the only ones who can help in a crisis, and who claim to have a tech that restores and maintains health and well-being.   In reality, scientologists are loathe to confront any kind of real mental illness.  The behavior of a mentally ill person is uncomfortably close to that of a person who has “blown charge” on some process.  Also, when faithful scilons apply Ron’s tech as directed (sort of, because at the same time Ron claimed to have the cure-all for any affliction of the mind, scientologists have always been forbidden from processing the mentally ill) for dealing with mental illness, things do not get better.  The tech is a lot better at inducing mental illness than it is at treating it.

Any confrontation with this fact puts the faithful scientologist in a double-bind.   A faithful cult member never wavers in their faith in the effectiveness of the tech.  Merely to witness a failure of it would be a kind of betrayal of that commitment.   When scientology begins to make you sick and confused, as it inevitably will once you get beyond the introductory processes, you face a moment of crisis as a believer in the “tech”.  You have to choose whether your allegiance is to yourself or to maintaining the appearance that scientology works.  That is when you find out that a large part of supporting the intention of “KSW” is to cover up any instances when it appears that it does not work.  That is certainly one way to keep things working.  Scientology always works, if it isn’t working for you, then you are doing something wrong.  Moreover, in doing so, you are suppressing the goals of scientology by making it appear as if it does not work.  So many exes have recounted this mental hamster wheel that they are put on when they first encounter this cognitive dissonance.   It is incredibly stressful, not because you are being asked to believe in something that doesn’t work, but because you are being forced to dissociate from your own experience of the impact it is having on you.  That enforced dissociation occurs when your “eternity”, i.e. your ultimate well-being, is pitted against your wholeness in the moment.  Setting someone up so that they have to make such a choice is a good way to apply enormous psychic pressure.  Then, if you offer them relief from that pressure, they will grab for it with both hands and credit you with rescuing them.

For some folks, that conclusion sticks a lot longer than it does for others.  For Bob, the whole thing began to break down right away, it took him only three months to decide that he could not stay any longer at St Hill.  He was assigned a condition of doubt, which meant he had to leave the AOUK, and he took that as an opportunity to get away entirely and return to the US and the “wog world”.  On some level, he knew that he was being done no favors by the people he was dealing with in the cult.  The irony of the situation is, he was “inoculated” mentally against the environment he found when he travelled to St Hill, by another aspect of his cult experience: the processing that he did with his friend Gerald, who was a franchisee — what later became missions, and then were ground under Miscavige’s heel when he decided it was all or nothing for anyone involved with scientology.  Franchises were always a looser place to get the processes, and that was certainly Bob’s experience.  Gerald actually warned him against going to St Hill, because he had seen others get a bad result there.  He wanted Bob to continue working with him, in a way that was more centered on his own pace and his own needs from the processes.  But the fact is, the results that Bob was getting were not satisfactory.  They didn’t live up to the promises made on behalf of the “tech”, and he wanted to find that benefit he was looking for, for his musical skills and his ability to make the most of his career as a pianist.  Also, the cult processes really do encourage an accelerated investment — they awaken a hunger that they are always on the verge of satisfying but can then never satisfy.  The moving goalposts syndrome, when the goal you are striving to attain is always just a few steps ahead of you.  I have heard it described as an addiction, and it is certainly analogous in the the sense that it sets you chasing after something that you can’t ever really catch.  Also in the sense that there are those who will push it on you because they profit from your addiction, and then blame you when it goes bad for you.

All of these things are borne out in Robert Kaufman’s story of his time in the cult.  This is a man who had enormous talent, who was sincerely open to the possibility that Hubbard had uncovered secrets of optimizing the human mind and its abilities.  That is all it really takes.  When they promise to “make the able more able”, that is such enticing bait to people who are struggling to bring their obvious talents to fruition in a satisfying way.  A frustrated and talented person can be very vulnerable to the promise of relief for their frustration and fuel for their abilities.  Everyone who heard Bob play agreed that he was truly gifted, but it is always a struggle for artists to find a place in society, and to feel like they are making the most of their gifts.  In fact, some say it is the curse of the artist to forever feel as if they have failed to achieve the potential of their vision and what they feel as if they are capable of.  Scientology ruthlessly exploits that character trait in the creative, by promising a sure-fire way to overcome that self-doubt and the limitations of the artist as executor of a vision.  This is why actors and other creative types, sometimes giants in their field, are vulnerable to the promises of the “tech”.  There is no handbook for art, there is no one way to be certain one will get it right.  The creative process is dictated by the vision behind a specific work.  An artist can never be certain that a work is finished, or that it is good enough, or that it is indeed even art.  Anything that offers a way out of that insecurity is always going to be very seductive to creative people.

Bob Kaufman was no exception to this rule.  His reasons for deciding to try scientology fell right in line with these ideas.  When he played for his new scientology friends the first time, they oohed and aaahed over the spiritual depth in his playing, labeling it “ARC”, and then pointing out the ways in which scientologists are the masters of ARC.  This is a come-on that artists can find hard to resist — “we are the only ones who truly appreciate your gift, and we have secrets which will allow you to make the most of that gift.”  Look at scientology promotional videos readily found online, which always feature creative people engaged in artistic pursuits.  Why?  This is one of their most common tactics, and it works well on young people, who are often at a place in life where creative activities are appealing as a career path.  There is no way that a young person, new to scientology and being shown these videos touting the various services available, could know that all the promises they were made are lies, false and manipulative statements offered purely as a lure.  This becomes apparent only when it is too late — after the young person in question has committed all of their money, or signed on to staff, or signed a billion-year contract for the Sea Org.  Then, and only then, do they start to hear all the talk about how the arts are a waste of time when there is a planet that needs clearing.  The “bridge” always leads there, and when confronted with such a double-bind, the young person usually has a hard time holding on to their dreams and asserting the value of whatever creative talents they have.  It is hard to argue that you should be spending your time in line for walk-on parts or trying to find an agent, when the person you are talking to is speaking in apocalyptic terms and addressing you as a crucial part of the effort to save the world.  Young people are vulnerable to this approach, for the same reason that they are capable of such big and creative dreams for their lives in the first place.  The cult finds the ones who are already ambitious enough to makes some moves on behalf of their own dreams, and they hijack that ambition and chain it to the half-baked dreams of a drug-addled pulp writer.  That is a terrible thing to do — both to the individual, and to the world at large, which is suffering for a lack of truly creative people.

I highly recommend Robert Kaufman’s Inside Scientology, as an enlightening view into the earlier days of the cult and the way it treated it’s students at that time.  It is out of print, but widely available on the ‘net as a free PDF.  It is important to note that Bob was the very first to reveal the OT three materials in print, back in 1972, and he paid a heavy price for it. He was hounded and harassed, of course. The usual terror tactics. The COS did their best to ruin his career as a concert pianist, sabotaging important performances and so on. His book was a milestone in the exposure of the scam, and he is all but forgotten now. This is unfortunate, as I think he deserves as much appreciation as any of the current wave of noisy exes.  Even better, Bob is a great writer and does an excellent job depicting what it was like for a typical public scilon in the late 60’s and early 70’s. If you have wondered how things worked in the cult back in the good old days under L Ron, here it is.

Same as it ever was, that’s the way it is in the cult of scientology. Check out Robert Kaufman’s book to see just how true that is.  Originally published in 1972, Bob revised it in 1996 and made the revised edition available free online.  There are many places to find a PDF, here is one link:



Tom Cruise and scientology


The subject of scientology is inextricably tangled up with that of celebrities. This is not an accident of circumstance. L Ron Hubbard actively sought and exhorted his followers to diligently seek the support and endorsement of people he called “opinion leaders”. That is, people who hold sway over public opinion or the opinions of other influential people, because they are famous or popular or have a reputation in academia or the media that can be exploited to augment the credibility of his cult long-con. Eventually, the empty promises and moving goalposts of Dianetics processes, and the religious footing that Ron took up in order to escape the scrutiny of experts and government agencies, drove away all the opinion leaders in any field where credibility and reputation matters — which left him with only celebrities and the very wealthy to exploit in this fashion.

Many people who are watchers and critics of the cult tend to shy away from the celebrity aspect because they feel it lowers the story to a tabloid level. I think this is a mistake, and it is important to instead look at which stories draw the most interest from the general public. It is always the celebrity stories that get a lot of eyes on them; in America the public loves celebrity gossip and feeling like they know why “those big stars are not as great as they think they are”. This is familiar and appealing fodder for the public, unlike most stories about scientology and its outrageous abuse and exploitation. The bizarre details in the story of the cult of scientology can be so unfamiliar and out of context in daily life as to be repugnant and cause people to turn away — until they are connected with a celebrity. With that backdrop, the same bizarre details become salacious and fascinating. To put it another way: more people have learned about scientology and its disturbing practices via the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes divorce story, than ever learned anything from the Debbie Cook story, which I considered a much bigger and more momentous scientology story by far. Debbie Cook testified in court and had inside knowledge of the billion-dollar reservoir of cash that the cult has on hand, among other things. There was very little interest from the media in this story. The reticence to risk scientology’s infamous cadre of attorneys still held strong sway over much of American media at that time.

It was not until the story of Tom’s divorce from Katie broke, and people began to openly declare that she was leaving to protect her child from scientology, that the media grew more courageous about covering the bizarre story of the cult. When they do so, it is still most often presented in the context of celebrities. Leah Remini’s noisy exit from the cult and open criticism of their oppressive practices did so much to expand that coverage. Now, people are far more familiar with the details that watchers and critics have known all along. Disconnection, and sec checks, and the Sea Org. This is the power of a celebrity tag on a story that is really about an evil cult. This is why I think it is a mistake to eschew the celebrity angle, if you actually want to get through to the same people who might be swayed to join the cult because Tom Cruise says it is great. If we critics and watchers ignore this factor, we can be sure that the cult does not, and they are then free to define the narrative about scientology celebrities. In an information war, it is never a good idea to cede that kind of territory to your adversary.

Further, these celebrities deserve to be called out and held under the spotlight as promoters of the “tech”, so that they can then answer for the abuse and exploitation that is part and parcel of that “tech”, and how they look away and allow their questions to be dismissed or silenced. Leah Remini in particular has pointed up this particular question about celebrities in scientology, with their blithe endorsements of it as something that has enhanced their lives. Are we to believe that Leah is the only one who noticed that their ecclesiastical leader was no longer making appearances with his wife, and seemed to have an inappropriately cozy relationship with his assistant? It is a lot more likely that she is the only one who had the courage to go ahead and ask an unwelcome question and not settle for being told to shut up, and that she was the only one with the integrity to then walk away from an organization that apparently does not allow freedom of thought or freedom of association, despite promising the ultimate liberation. Even Tom Cruise, who is apparently the most valorous scientologist ever, has never had that kind of “confront” when it comes to his religion and its leader.

For these reasons, when you talk about scientology, at some point you absolutely should talk about Tom Cruise and other celebrities that have allowed their images and star power to be used by the COS for promotional purposes. The list of celebrities under the sway of the cult is really pretty short, mostly b-list and below, and many of them really don’t seem to be very actively involved in their “church” beyond making donations to the IAS. Tom Cruise is not one of those, however. Quite the opposite. Tom Cruise is the man who received the “Freedom Medal of Valor” from his leader and friend, David Miscavige. He was presented with that medal, ostensibly, for being such a powerful “disseminator” of scientology tech and ethics. Many within the Sea Org, however, felt that he was given the medal mostly for being a famous movie star that was best friends with the leader of the church. He certainly could not be portrayed as making more of a sacrifice or effort for his “religion” than any one of those SO members, Most of whom live on subsistence pay and are often called upon to break the law for their faith. Tom Cruise was not even asked to disconnect from his “suppressive” wife and child, as so many others have been told to do to their loved ones who leave the cult, much to their distress.

Tom Cruise is held up as the very emblem of what a scientologist can be. He attributes his success in his career to his practice of scientology, and feels it gives him extraordinary abilities and power to save the planet.  He conducts himself, as narcissists often do, with great charisma and solicitude, which leaves people glowing in his wake and wondering what his secret is. If they attribute that to his being a scientologist, then that will certainly lead some folks to the cult. There is no doubt that Tom is an excellent PR asset for David Miscavige. If it weren’t for Tom, Miscavige would have to be the face of the cult, and those crazy eyes and uncontrolled temper of his would drive people away, not reel them in. Tom boosts cult PR, and the cult boosts Tom’s ego, declaring him the number three “big being” in the history of this planet, and some sort of moral savior for mankind. What man who has spent his whole life playing action heroes and moral warriors could resist such an ego stroke? It is no surprise that Tom says such positive things about his cult. He knows that to do otherwise would cost him all the self-aggrandizement that he finds so irresistable. To question the behavior of David Miscavige, or the constant money grabs of the IAS, by the rules of the cult, would be counter to their ostensible intention of saving humanity. That would indicate that Tom had gone insane and needed to be shunned until he got sane again. He would no longer be the celebrated big being that deserves a shiny gold medal and to bask in the presence of the shining ecclesiatical light that is David Miscavige.

With that being said, would Tom ever leave the cult? That is the question that comes up frequently amongst scientology watchers and critics of the cult. It seems obvious to outside observers that his association with the cult, and his willful ignorance of the apparent exploitation and inurement that is going on, sometimes to his benefit, is costing him a great deal that seems to be good in his life. He has lost two marriages to his devotion to the cult. And now, his power as a movie star is fading, in part because of his association with an increasingly distasteful and disturbing story. When you add in the events and reporting surrounding his divorce from Katie Holmes it becomes even clearer that there is every reason to assume Tom feels an increasing internal imperative to leave the cult. The widely reported reason for Katie leaving Tom is that she wished to protect their daughter from the impending onset of her scientology “instruction”. That is, the drills and interrogations that scientology deems an appropriate way to initiate a child into awareness of themselves as a spiritual being — a “thetan”. This twist to the otherwise mundane story of yet another hollywood divorce, was the crucial element in allowing the media to put aside their fear of scientology’s legendary litigiousness. Tom’s religion became a fair topic for reporting, because it was apparently an element in the story of his divorce. It could not be characterized as bigotry or prurient interest in a highly personal matter. With Tony Ortega providing leadership to the media in the form of some well-written articles defining the stakes for Katie in terms of what was ahead for Suri in her father’s “church”, there was a sea change in reporting on the cult and its mad practices. That change persists to this day, and the media’s curiosity about the subject, and their willingness to milk it for all the sensationalist value possible, has lead to a very different environment for the cult in this decade.

It is also a very different media environment for Tom Cruise. Where he used to be able to effectively control the conduct of interviews with him, with his publicist dictating to reporters and media outlets that the topic of his religion is off limits, now he must simply avoid most media outlets and speak only to those known for sticking to softballs and celebrity ass-kissing. If Tom were to open himself up to the kind of media junket most movie stars do to promote a movie, he would soon find himself being asked some uncomfortable questions about his religion, his marriages, and his behavior. He would find that he is not the universally beloved action hero that he once was to the average movie-goer. Tom would be confronted with the hierarchy of public affection, as it applies to the story of his divorce from Katie Holmes. In the eyes of the public, the child is always number one — she is young, lovely, well-behaved and doted on by her mother. Katie comes next in terms of affection, because of this. Katie kept quiet through the entire divorce process, leaving the public to decide for themselves what her motives were in leaving. As details emerged concerning the steps she felt it necessary to take to get out of her marriage — the disposable phone, the cover story about developing a script about a single mom, etc — the media and the public began to form an impression of her as a woman who stood up and said no to an unhealthy situation imposed on her and her daughter by Tom Cruise. The stories fed to the media about how shocked and hurt he was, and how cold-hearted Katie was for dropping a surprise divorce on him, never took root. People had not forgotten how Tom had treated his ex-wife Nicole, and he got no sympathy on the whole “ambush divorce” angle. This is when it became clear that his standing in the eyes of the public was degrading, steeply. Tom came in last in the competition for public affection, and that will be his position from now on. No matter what he says or does, unless Katie were to trash her image and Suri turned into a brat, he will remain at the bottom of the list.

The important question is, what is Tom’s personal hierarchy of affection? Tom has made it clear that David Miscavige is his personal hero, and presumably he believes David should be an object of even greater applause and adulation than Tom himself. However, it is also clear that Tom loves being a star, he loves the public affection he receives, and he loves being the hero in the movies he makes. Even Miscavige himself has emphasized the importance of Tom’s celebrity as his means for dissemination to “billions of people on this planet”. When he is confronted with a situation where one is pitted against the other, he is put in a double bind. He is caught between two competing investments, psychologically. Being a devout and sincere scientologist as defined by his best friend David Miscavige, and being a beloved celebrity who is spoken about with respect and admiration. If these two are at odds, that dichotomy can create a real ego crisis for him. It begs the question; which is more fundamental to maintaining his ego intact — being a good scientologist, or being beloved and respected by the public? In considering the answer to this question, it is important to remember that he sought celebrity before he ever heard of scientology and often refers to scientology’s value in his life in terms of how he imagines it has enhanced his career as a movie star. This suggests that being a movie star is the real bottom line for Tom.

Tom Cruise must eventually realize that he is stuck on a false dichotomy. When he realizes that there is a way to remain a “good scientologist”, while also rescuing his beloved celebrity status from the corrosive effect of David Miscavige and his abusive behavior and remaining popular and respected by the public, that would be a turning point. He could come off as brave, and strong enough to admit he was “misguided”. Tom could announce he is disaffected with growing corruption in the hierarchy of his church and unanswered questions about it.  Then, heroically walk away and declare himself an independent scientologist, courageously reclaiming his right to practice his faith on his terms regardless of any authority. He could even claim that it took losing Katie to wake him up, thereby reclaiming some public sympathy in that situation. This would be the move of a powerful, big being, who is in fact free and fully in possession of himself. That is the irony of Tom’s situation, joined at the hip to David Miscavige, and dependent on his validation, while Miscavige puffs him up as the most powerful and free being in the world, and has control of his entire life. Tom’s career choices, marriages, relationships with his exes and his children, and especially his money, are subject to the “ethics” dictated by scientology, via David Miscavige. Being under the thumb of another man doesn’t support the assertion that Tom is a heroic and powerful being. It would be surprising if this has not already occurred to him.

It really comes down to one question — how much has David Miscavige persuaded Tom of the necessity of his leadership and influence? How much does Tom conflate the power of his religious beliefs with the leader of his religion? That’s hard to say. Tom keeps quiet about Miscavige most of the time, and in any case he is an actor capable of projecting any emotion with conviction. He could persuasively pretend to suck up to important people in his sleep, I’m sure. He has seemingly been persuaded that being a good scientologist means absolute unswerving dedication to the agenda and ego of Miscavige. If Tom should change his mind about that, then it would be a simple matter for him to become an independent scientologist, if that is what he wants, and to reclaim the good will of the public and his standing as a go-to guy for big box office returns. This is true to some degree for any celebrity scientologist. Whatever secrets the cult may hold over their heads, culled from recorded auditing sessions, would cause far less damage to their image and career than a continued association with an allegedly abusive and psychotic cult leader. Here’s hoping that all the celebrities who have been shilling for the cult can wake up, and walk away for good.


Scientology’s Convenient Ethics of Honesty


With the premiere of the new documentary “Going Clear” by Alex Gibney (based in part on the book by Lawrence Wright) at Sundance, there has been an enormous increase in scientology presence in the media. In addition to releasing statements to the media, they have also spent large sums of money to take out full-page ads in the New York Times, USA Today, and elsewhere, to strike back against what they see as an attack: a new documentary about their organization which does not cast the “church” in a flattering light. I always find it fascinating, the vehemence with which the “church” of scientology lobs accusations of dishonesty and lack of integrity and openness against those who criticise them. Wright and Gibney have been labelled as unethical and sloppy and guilty of using “discredited” sources. They have been scolded about using “free speech as a pass” for publishing or broadcasting false information. This is, to say the least, and extremely ironic accusation coming from an organization with a policy that has all sorts of euphamisms for lying, when it is for the benefit of the COS: “acceptable truth”, “shore story”, “safepointing”, and sometimes “dead agenting” when the lies are intended to discredit someone who is deemed an enemy. All this while calling themselves “the most ethical people on the planet”. I prefer the description provided by Leslie Felperin in her review of Gibney’s docu on the Hollywood Reporter: “famously litigious, allegedly religious”. That is an apt description of an organization that has a very long history of litigation and harassment of reporters and media outlets that propagate negative information about scientology and it policies and practices. An organization that rejected the label of “religion” until it became useful to deflect the scrutiny of federal health officials and medical professionals. Tony Ortega, in a recent article, recalls that scientology took out a full-page advertisement to respond to the damning cover story in Time magazine in 1991, and that this was itself just an extension of the practices put in place long ago by founder L Ron Hubbard during scientology’s “golden era”, when he was confronted with criticism and scrutiny from the FDA and various reporters and others critics.

One thing that can certainly be said about scientology is that it imbues an, erm, shall we say unusual idea of ethics and what constitutes ethical behavior. For members of this cult, the concept of ethics is used as a lever and a cudgel. It is a lever for extorting money from members, by equating an unwillingness or inability to throw large sums of money at the various registrars and fundraisers with a degraded ethical state. In fact, the cult delineates a very specific, rigid, and easily manipulated code of ethical behavior that is impossible to fathom because it is nonsense. The cult also delineates very rigorous processes for restoring one’s ethical standing with the church — a series of steps labeled with letters that appear to be clear-cut criteria for redeeming oneself, but which actually function as constantly moving goalposts that are only deemed achieved at the discretion of those who enforce ethics “corrections” on members who have strayed. The concept of ethics as enforcement is an effective tool for control, when paired with a sufficiently vague and malleable definition of correct ethics. “Ethics” as defined by the cult of scientology, is this: “According to the Church of Scientology, “ethics may be defined as the actions an individual takes on himself to ensure his continued survival across the dynamics. It is a personal thing. When one is ethical, it is something he does himself by his own choice.” (Source) A crucial point is the idea that the individual takes these ethics actions “on himself”. It is voluntary, as a demonstration of one’s inherent sanity — sanity as it is defined by scientology, which asserts that only an insane person would refuse to have their ethics put in order so that they can be a better human being, on scientology’s terms.

It must also be said that this is a very slippery conceptualization of something that is so foundational to the practice of scientology, and in particular one’s ability to remain in “good standing” with the group, that they publicly declare themselves “the most ethical people on the planet”. Essentially, according to the above definition, ethical behavior is whatever behavior you yourself deem it to be in pursuit of your survival. There is an implicit expectation that your survival is in alignment with that of Ron and his “tech”, but that is beside the point when dealing with the outside world. That means that anything, any behavior, should be acceptable, and there should be no basis for labeling someone unethical that could not be refuted simply by asserting that it is pro-survival to do what they want to do. That is certainly how Ron justified whatever he did or bid his cult to do for him, for his protection and preservation. that was always the bottom line for him, but the concept of ethics is where the double standard in the cult is most apparent. What was ethical for Ron, what is ethical for COB David Miscavige and his cadre of stooges, or any other so called “big being”, is not ethical for you as staff, Sea Org, or a public member. The leader is ethical by definition, because he is the “ultimate terminal”, the final point of determination in scientology. You are not the source, and you are not a “big being” and so your ethical boundaries are far different than those proscribed for the Dear Leader.

This is even more so when dealing with those who are not members in good standing with the cult — wogs, and even worse, suppressives who have turned away from the tech created by Ron to save the planet. Scientologists may lie, deceive, and cheat; they may manipulate and distort, and they are entirely allowed to do so, because they are on the right side of the only ethical line that truly matters in any cult: in, or out. This boundary — being in good standing as a member of scientology, is the primary determinator of one’s ethical standing, and by definition, anyone who is not in is subject to a different set of ethical rules. Outsiders can be absolutely crucified for lying, or the suggestion of lying, by omission or commission, deliberately or by virtue of deception or ignorance. Thus, we have scientology’s response to those who publish or produce material that is critical of the cult, or that conveys unflattering information from former members, which they would discredit by labeling the information as lies. In recent months, that would be Lawrence Wright, who wrote a powerhouse book about the history and influence of scientology. And now, Alex Gibney, who has produced a documentary based on that book that premiered recently at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been picked up by HBO here in the US. In part the statement reads:
“Given those facts, the Church asked Mr. Gibney to share statements and allegations being made about it and its leadership so the Church could comment on their accuracy — or lack thereof — as well as provide evidence to support what it was saying. Mr. Gibney refused.
Mr. Gibney’s film has been in the works in secret for two years. He and HBO never bothered to tell the Church it was even being made until recently.” Source
The apparent indignation at Gibney’s refusal to let them know what his next film subject would be, and to seek their input and guidance the entire time, as if that would be normal practice for a documentarian in any situation, is charmingly naive and arrogant. The characterization of keeping something secret as something which can discredit a person and their work, is highly ironic coming from scientology, which has litigated extensively and intensively to protect their copyrighted tech and secret religious documents from public view.

At the time that Wright’s book was released, the COS released a series of statements regarding the sources used in the book, and Wright’s alleged unwillingness to talk to someone officially connected with the Church of Scientology. In fact, he was unwilling to submit his work to the approval of his subject, which is pretty much standard practice for a reputable and objective reporter. Yet scientology chose, through the statements issued by their spokesperson, to portray this as dishonest and unprofessional behavior by Lawrence Wright. The same behavior has applied to Alex Gibney, now that the premiere of his documentary is imminent. There is a predictable sameness to what they say in these situations. Their statements always contain shrill accusations of unethical behavior, and a slew of insults that call into question the professional qualifications and integrity of the journalist. Always, the accusation is that the reporter is engaging in dishonesty in order to promote their own agenda. But how exactly is this unethical, by scientology’s own definition of the concept? If a journalist wishes to bend or distort the facts in order to advance their own agenda, or even just to sell books, how is that wrong?

In fact, by their own lights, it is not wrong at all. They don’t actually believe the things they are saying about the journalist in question, they are simply following their own rules for ethical behavior. It is in their best interest to do whatever they can to discredit someone who is criticizing them or drawing attention to their more questionable and troublesome policies and practices. It is not about pursuit of the truth, or concern for the state of being of whomever they target as misinformed and ethically lacking. It is entirely about self-preservation. When you realize this, then it becomes clear that their statements are not to be taken seriously, except as evidence of their typical mode of “always attack, never defend”. In this regard, Alex Gibney hit exactly the right note in the statement he made to Tony Ortega, in response to a full-page ad that scientology took out in the NYT in order to declare his movie discredited: “What I find so fascinating, from having studied the church for more than two years, is how eerily predictable it is. It’s almost as though all the voices from the church were channeling the views of a single individual.” He did not take the accusations leveled at him, the criticisms of his methods, as worthy of refutation or response. Instead, he simply treated the entire thing as what it is, the intensely defensive reaction fo the leader of the cult to any threat to his money-making enterprise. The more that highly reputable journalists — Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, and Oscar and Emmy winner Alex Gibney, for example — take up this story and bring it the attention it deserves, the harder it will be for the cult to suppress information to make it easier to recruit new members and retain access to money from their current ones.

Expect the intensity of attacks by the COS against this film and its sources to intensify. A full-page ad in the New York Times, believe it or not, is only the beginning…

More information:
On why Scientology claimed to be a religion:
“L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology’s founder) claimed that Scientology was a religion because he saw the claim as a marketing device to make money and avoid taxes (Kent, 1997b: 25ff; Miller, 1987: 199-203, 220) as well as a way “to reduce the likelihood of governmental interventions against it for allegedly practising medicine without a license” (Kent, 1996: 30). Moreover, Scientology denies its reputedly religious nature if it is attempting to enter a country that might react adversely to religious proselytization (such as Japan or Greece [Kent, 1997a: 18-19]). Nevertheless, the historical reasons behind Scientology’s religious claims, as well as the organization’s selectivity in making the claims, do not diminish the probability that many Scientologists view their commitment as a religious one.”


Poison is Poison, Whatever the Type.

Warning: scientology may be a hazard to your health.

Does scientology deserve the label, “cult”?

Words have power. This is a truism that has become a cliche, and like any overused concept, its precise meaning has gotten lost in the vast set of circumstances to which it has been applied throughout time by various people with various agendas and degrees of credibility. However, it remains at the core none the less true and none the less important to consider. Particularly in an information war such as the one waged by me and other watchers and critics of scientology. I have done a lot of reading and commenting on the subject, and in doing so it is impossible to avoid the ongoing debate concerning the word “cult” and whether it is accurately and appropriately applied to the “church” of scientology. Some authors and reporters try to sidestep the whole issue in one way or another, in particular because it is easy to get bogged down in arguments about the word, its proper definition, and even who might be properly considered the most reliable authority on the subject as a whole. Some people have very strong opinions on the subject, and are not satisfied until they have imposed their opinion on everyone who might have any interest in the matter. In the archives of various message boards and comment threads on stories about scientology, folks have offered many detailed, fully-formed arguments iterating the various criteria that qualify a group as a cult, or invoking the authority of one author or academic or other, who should then be accepted as the final word on what language to use, where, when, and how. These arguments are pointless, and serve to divert attention from what is really important in talking about scientology — the harmful effects of the abuses committed under the aegis of that group.

Think of a “skull & crossbones”, the traditional label for poisons. When we come across such a label, we do not stop to wonder whether it is fairly applied to the material in question. There are many different categories and classes of poisons, with different actions and effects and means of delivery, but we do not quibble with placing them all under the umbrella of “poison”. Here is a Definition of the word (from Merriam-Webster):
1a : a substance that through its chemical action usually kills, injures, or impairs an organism
1b (1) : something destructive or harmful (2) : an object of aversion or abhorrence
Any substance that meets this basic definition can be labeled a poison. We will place a simple mark – a skull and crossbones – to let others know that this substance can be harmful. One knows enough to avoid contact with it until one better understands how and why it can be harmful. Then a judgement can be made about the use and efficacy of the substance versus the risk entailed, and appropriate measures to be taken in engaging with the poison.

A similar, simple concept is useful in dealing with cults. The criteria used to define poison — “usually kills, injures, or impairs” — is focused on the effect, not the cause or the theoretical framework. Not the specific chemical structure or means of delivery or physiological harm caused. Poison is anything that usually causes harm. Even a normally harmless substance, such as water, can have a poison dosage. That is the correct language to use: too much water is poison. A fact established by its impact, not by any debate about whether water deserves or qualifies for that term. We do not argue about whether or not poison is a “fair” label, because it is a pragmatic concept. It is defined by its observable harmful impact. I am suggesting a similar approach to cults. When speaking about groups such as the COS and whether they are cults, a similarly concise understanding of the term is helpful. I will offer one here to clarify discussion.
For my purposes,this is a workable definition of the word, “cult”:
-A human group system — family, church, wellness community, commune, military unit, etc — that through its social function usually harms, impairs, or kills.
-Something destructive or harmful
Most importantly,
-an object of aversion or abhorrence.
-Something to stay away from
-Something to think of as undesirable

As a watcher and someone who has served as a “first-responder” to cult victims, my stake in this issue is a pragmatic one. To help people leave such groups, to help heal the damage done to people by such groups, and to help educate people to avoid such groups in the first place. I have found that in such work, the word “cult” is a powerful tool, just as the word “poison” would be in other circumstances. I think it is very important to err on the side of the pragmatic in this matter. Besides being a distraction for watchers and critics, the fact that there are arguments among critics about whether or not the COS is a cult has been enough to cause some folks to linger longer than they otherwise would in that abusive, exploitative environment. Members of the COS certainly need the balancing influence of a contrasting point of view to the one they are fed within the cult. If there is a consistent message from critics that scientology is a dangerous cult, and needs to be known as such for safety purposes, that is enough to give a push to anyone on the edge of waking up, in my opinion. I am not suggesting that simply using that word will change anyone’s mind, or that it should. My perspective is that folks need to be encouraged to trust their own experience. If eating something usually makes you throw up or damages your health, it’s probably poisonous, at least for you. Stop eating it, and don’t let others eat it, until you better understand what you are dealing with. Same goes for cults and their victims. When confronting the fact that their chosen “religion” is doing them more harm than good, it can be a profound help to introduce the idea, “it’s probably a cult.” Ideological debates and crusades are all very fascinating, but I will leave them to the academics, the crusaders, and their critics. My intention in offering a definitive statement about using the word “cult” in regards to scientology, is just to clarify the language I use here, for the benefit of my readers; and to offer some food for thought to those who wrestle with this issue.

I think avoiding the arguments about right usage is a good call, but I don’t think that requires that we not use the word “cult” at all, or that we avoid coming to some kind of conclusion about the appropriate use of the word. As I said, this is an information war — the entirety of the effort against the ongoing damage done by scientology hinges on freedom of information. The worst acts of the COS have always been committed under cover of secrecy, and often in an effort to control or suppress some kind of information that was unflattering to them or somehow undermined their moneymaking goals. This is a description applies all the way back to the earliest days of Dianetics. L Ron Hubbard often declared people — including his son — suppressive who had potentially damaging information that they could not be trusted to keep out of the hands of his loyal followers. Anything that revealed the true nature of his money-grabbing scam, or that was unflattering to him and thereby undermined his ability to manipulate, was to be suppressed by any means necessary.  Avoiding a “flap”, and preventing the dissemination of any “out PR”, this is the language used.  All for the sake of protecting the one thing that could save this insane planet from itself — the “tech” — so any means necessary are justified. This imperative has remained a core motivation in the COS throughout it’s history. It developed a reputation for scorched-earth litigation tactics — not, in the main, against those who tried to take their money or their membership, but against those who attempted to offer a critique or objective examination of the “church” and it’s materials. As a result, there was a long period when news organizations, journalists, and their legal advisors went in fear of the COS’s lawyers, and did not report anything about them at all. All that was ever heard about the COS were some fluff pieces about their pet celebrities and how much they credited their religion for their success. The COS did not have to sue, or even threaten to sue, because the reputation was enough that most legal counsel would of course err on the side of caution and advise avoiding the subject altogether.

This is exactly the sort of scenario that L Ron envisioned as a result of his policies about handling critics. It worked so well, for so long, with minimal effort or expense and excellent results for the COS. Throughout the media, most folks were unwilling to even entertain the idea of writing about this bizarre “religion”, because of the implied threat in their litigious reputation. Those who did write about it were regarded as on the fringe, and no mainstream outlet would publish their work. There is a lot of this sort of “thought-stopping” in and around the cult, and it is not just among its members. I have observed that critics sometimes seem to shy away from certain terminology, concepts, and even punctuation because it carries some scientology-related baggage for them. I think that this is an unfortunate and generally unanticipated effect of working so close to the subject of cults, and often engaging with people who are coming from a cult mindset. The simple fact is, Ron stole everything that he used to make dianetics and scientology, and ceding any intellectual proprietorship to him is misguided. Even the wacky, invented terminology of the “tech” often appropriated words with already established meaning and usage, and tied them forever to Ron’s madness. This calls for reclamation of that stuff, not surrender. On that note, I would leave you with the suggestion that language is best regarded as a tool to be used, not a territory to be battled over. In the campaign against scientology, arguing over the word “cult” distracts from the fact that it is an invaluable warning signal for anyone who might be attracted by its PR lies and false fronts.

It must be said, over and over and over: scientology is a destructive cult, and ruins lives every day. Stay away from the cult of scientology.


some personal reflections…



This is one of my morning journal entries.  I thought I’d share it here, because it touches on matters of the spirit, from a personal point of view.  As I confront a very common family crisis — the illness of a parent — I find my thoughts turn to the subjects of time and death more frequently.  I hope my personal reflections bring you some comfort, or insight, and food for thought.




The passage of time is strong on my mind this morning. My parents getting old, and my dad having a very serious illness has brought that to the top of my mind in a way that it has never been before. I see my boys getting older — My oldest son is an adult, and I am used to that, but now my youngest is growing up and it is weird not having any children in the house at all. I mean, it is such a cliché, and it is not like we don’t know, every second, on a conceptual level, that time is passing and there is always less of it ahead of us than there was in the moment before. No one should be surprised by that experience.

I am not; I don’t think it is about that, what I am feeling this morning. In fact, it’s the opposite. I find myself feeling the cyclical nature of life, and that there is always exactly the same amount of time ahead of us no matter how much time passes: infinity. It is hard for me to put into words; well actually it is hard for anyone. These kinds of concepts are always elusive when you try to put them into words. But the eternal moment becomes more real and clear to me as I face this situation with my father. I find myself thinking about the fact that we are all a part of a process taking place on a scale so much larger than any of our perceptions — especially our perception of time.

We treat time as such an absolute, and the way that we measure it out and the way that we experience it become these landmarks that are supposed to be a rock-solid reference in terms of scale and meaning and the value of things that we have and that we lose. Our lives seem to have duration to us, they seem to have a span, and we have a lot of opinions as to the length of that span and whether there should have been more or not. We see the passage of time in our lives as a straight planar path extending ahead of us and trailing behind us. But as I move into this phase of life where I have to face the deaths of the people who have always been the anchoring presence in my experience of life, I feel that less and less.

Instead, my experience of living is more like that of a constellation of stars, a galaxy of constellations. Instead of that straight planar path, we are actually walking along an eternal loop. We are going around again and again, and the symbolism of the circle and the spiral and the orb are all ways of expressing that. Every life is just a point of light, a momentary flash, in a sky full of lights and flashes and sparks. That is the sum and substance of any one life, no matter what the impact or significance of it from our human, linear perspective.

I have said it many times, though usually not out loud: time is not a “real” thing, it is instead the projection of our process of perception onto the field of experience. The field is there, the whole of what is possible for an individual to experience, all manifest simultaneously. But, our perception cannot encompass that whole. We must take experiences one at a time, and process them in a way that allows us to eventually comprehend that interconnectedness of it all. And yes, we lose sight of the forest for the trees. We think that the sequence of our experiences has some kind of meaning, or even worse, that each individual experience perceived is a whole thing in itself, large enough to define the whole of our lives or even the whole of ourselves.

So often, that is the mistake that we human beings make. We imagine that one moment, one event, one outcome, is enough to color the entire stream of our existence and being. The only thing that can color that entire stream is our perception — the filter that we lay over the moments that we encounter. That includes the moment of death, as well as any other moment that we make into an enormous passage of one kind or another. I am coming to understand that these moments are not inherently stressful or painful or fearful. We tend to take them that way. But this is just an echo of something that we understand on a deeper level. Something that is also expressed in the religious imagery that depicts moments where a person encounters the light of god directly and is devastated by it.

The ego is devastated by those moments, it is burned up in the light that shines through those cracks in our mental armor that occur when life strikes a blow. In those moments that we see as passages or initiatory shocks, we are in a zone where there is an invitation to see the truth of our being — the wholeness and continuity of it. The pressure of loss, grief, transformation, growth, etc can throw us back on the changeless ground of who we truly are underneath the sense of ourselves that gets us through our days. In order to get through an ordinary day, it is better not to be aware of the inerconnectedness of things. Our perception and our sense of self is indeed overwhelmed by this awareness. It is for this very reason that touching in to that awareness can be therapeutic.

When the sense of self has become confining or self-destructive, then it *needs* to be overwhelmed and devastated. That is the point of most spiritual practices and traditions — to bring us to a moment of meeting the larger whole with clear seeing, in order to devestate the ego. The goal, in my understanding, is not to entirely shed the limiting effects of our ego and human perception, but rather to cultivate a sustained awareness of the fact that the whole is larger than what we are able see at any point in time, and that our perception is indeed limited and we do not have to ever *suffer* for that, when we can understand that we have choice about how we take in our experience.

Perception is always limited, we don’t have a choice about that. But we do have a choice about which parts of the whole we are taking in at any given moment. What I am becoming aware of lately is that I have actually cultivated a good bit of flexibility about that.  Death is a gifted teacher — I think it is best to seek its lessons long before we die.