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

Tom Cruise and scientology

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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.

The Arrogance of the Mind, and the Nature of Reality

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I have been doing a lot of scientology- and cult-related reading over the past two months. Lawrence Wright‘s book, Jenna Miscavige-Hill‘s book. I have also read R.J. Lifton’s book on the Aum cult, and Robert Kaufman’s book — the FIRST Inside Scientology. I am re-reading A Piece Of Blue Sky, and also Kate Bornstein’s memoir. Also in the mix, a book called “Rats“, and Ken Wilber’s Grace and Grit.

Also, of course, Tony Ortega‘s blog and the endlessly informative, entertaining, inspiring, and frustrating comments there. OTVIIIisGrrr8! continues to give me insight into the special brand of crazy in the RTC. Marty Rathbun‘s blog is in a liminal space that I find fascinating and informative. Then there is Jesse Prince (who I simply LOVE and want very much to meet and hug and conversate with) sharing music and humor with his friends on fb as he makes a remarkable journey back from the threshold of hell. My comments on the blogs are easy to find, and if you are my friend on facebook — well, you either know me personally, by my real name, or you are one of my favorite artist/activists.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. And I will have some posts coming soon about the things I’ve been reading. But for now, I want to share just a little something I learned a very long time ago, from one of my most cherished teachers — a Rabbi who taught a class entitled “Contemplative Judaism” when I was a student at Naropa. Rabbi Mordecai Twersky, long-time head of the Talmudic Reasearch Institute in Denver, Co.

How an orthodox Jewish Rabbi wound up teaching a class at Naropa is an interesting story in itself. Reb Twersky explained it to us in the first or second session of class. Basically, it was a part of his process of growing into a true wisdom teacher and leader, as prescribed by his mentor and teacher. His challenge was to learn how to effectively convey his own understanding of truth as a Rabbi, to those who do not share the same basic assumptions and language that are common to all orthodox Jews.

In other words; it is easy to make your ideas clear to others who are already inclined to see things the same way as you. But true wisdom and intelligence transcend cultural programming. If you cannot express your wisdom in a way that is comprehensible to those who are truly outside your group and do not share your language and assumptions, then it is NOT a universal truth. Getting to the essential, universal core of a philosophy means understanding how it can be relevant to anyone, well enough that you can translate it into the language of those you are speaking to. In teaching us, The good Rabbi was coming to a new depth of understanding himself. I admired that.

The most important lesson that I learned from Reb Twersky was about “the arrogance of the mind”, and the importance of religious practice as a way of surrendering to a higher authority of understanding. As a freak of nature with a high IQ and great skill as a grade-grubber, and also a seeker hungry for durable truths, this was strong medicine for me. The idea that the mind has limits, profound limits, but also an arrogance that will refuse to acknowledge those limits, was galvanizing to me. Still, in my view, this did not logically correlate to the necessity of religion and submission to a higher authority. So, I had
a question for the Rabbi.

Obviously, there was a time in human history when there was no lineage of Rabbis or gurus or any other teachers, and no body of critiques, commentaries and concordances to any scriptures. What came before religion? What are the roots from which these traditions spring? What is the original, archetypal authority from which all religions must draw reference, if this philosophy holds true? What is the ultimate, basic authority, to which the mind MUST surrender its arrogance in order to remain healthy?

The Rabbi seemed a little taken aback by my question. He sputtered, and chuckled, and then he got very quiet and still and I knew I would get a real, considered response to my question. He said, “Um, well … Nature.” That was all he said, and all the answer I needed. Maintaining eye contact, I gave a soft, gasping “Ahhhhh! Yesssss… thank you!” I got it, and he knew I got it. The paper I wrote for that class, and the Rabbi’s response, affirmed that.

Do YOU get it? It is all you need to know about the true value of direct experience versus perceptions and concepts of that experience. Language versus sensation. Ideals versus intention and impact. For a Rabbi, the obvious answer would be “G-d”. But in order to convey his meaning to someone with whom he cannot assume a shared belief in the divine, he had to dig deeper and speak in terms of what can be directly experienced, in common, by us both.

For further clarification, let’s hear from Nick Herbert, quantum physicist and tantrist. In this post, Nick points out that quantum theory is the most reliably accurate in terms of predicting phenomena, yet it requires that we give up “reality”. Meaning, that comforting sense that science “proves what is real”. Read the post, and follow his link to a report on a most remarkable meeting of our leading scientific minds and their inability to agree on the nature of reality, based on their theories.

“All of the participants were leading thinkers in this field so it would be easy to imagine that they would generally agree on how to interpret quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics.

Not a bit of it. Zeilinger and co put 16 multiple choice questions to 33 participants at the Quantum Physics and the Nature of Reality conference in Austria in 2011 and found that opinions diverged wildly.

For example, in answer to the question “Do you believe that physical objects have their properties well defined prior to and independent of measurement?”, 48 per cent replied “no”, while 52 per cent replied “yes, in some cases”. A further 3 per cent said “yes in all cases” and 9 per cent were undecided (respondents were able to select more than one answer).”

–Source here

Just to clarify: only 3% of these globally recognized leading physicists were willing to say that “real” things are what they are, whether or not we see them as such, or see them at all — all the time. The rest are suggesting that at least some of the time, things are what they are because, and only when, we observe them as such. In philosophy, this is often referred to as “solipsism”, and generally rejected these days as a logical fallacy. But the science of particle physics, which has also brought us Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the Higgs Boson, regards this as the “cautious” position.

Hmmmm…

So, my point is that this is the arrogance of the human mind: that we habitually dismiss possibilities and make dogmatic statements based on our certainty that we know what is real. The hard truth is, our thinking must always submit to our direct experience, and experience shows us that we have NO right to claim to know what is “real” and what is “impossible”. What we do have, are enormous opportunities to learn and expand our awareness and intelligence, by meeting our experience with an open and humble mind.

Keep watching, keep seeking, and keep learning.

Peace.

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[ Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. First-time commenters, you are not being censored, I have to moderate your first post — I’ll get to them as quickly as I can.] 🙂

Nick Herbert’s Quantum Tantra

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Here is totally engaging article from one of my favorite blogs: Quantum Tantra. Nick Herbert is a physicist who specializes in quantum theory (and wrote a great introduction to the subject called Quantum Reality) and also a mystical elfin old guy who writes erotic poems to nature. In short, he fuckin’ rocks!

Check out this post where he uses “Bob” Dobbs and Alice in Wonderland to explain some fascinating quantum stuff. He ends the post with a little poem that makes the whole thing worth reading.

Nick Herbert inspires me, perhaps he’ll do the same for you.

“Let’s face it. We are only at the beginning of experiencing and appreciating the inhumanly beautiful mysteries of the quantum world.”
-Nick Herbert

Who is Chocolate Velvet?

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Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I a scientology watcher? These are all good questions. But mostly, it is none of your goddamn business. (Yep, I swear. A lot) You might like to know shit about me, because you imagine you can use it to respond to my comments and posts. Well, fuck that. My opinions are just that; my opinions. They stand or fall on their own merits.

I will explain at some point why I am involved in the information wars about cults. For now, suffice to say that I have encountered people in my time working, studying, and living in Boulder who have been deeply damaged. None of these people had or wanted name recognition. They were just trying to detach from something that was harming them. In my process of caring about them and helping them, I have come to recognize the need to stop the harm at the “source”. THIS is why I have something to say.

I am not a “deprogrammer”, and nobody would recognise my name as a part of this stupid Rodeo. It is just that I am quite gifted at dealing with trauma, and my low profile makes me a safe person to turn to. That is exactly the way I like it. My life has taken me in other directions now anyway. I have no clients at the moment, and no interest in reviving my practice. My energy is devoted to being a mother and artist, and that works for me. I keep my identity a bit obscure online anyway. I just prefer it that way (and my hubby insists on it). If you are reading this blog and that is a problem for you, get over it. If you really needed to know, you already would…