A Needed Shattering

The time in my history that I look back upon with the most shame and sorrow is when I led an experimental psychospiritual community (from 1986 to 1994) that gradually became a cult. I had envisioned the community as a place of deep healing and awakening, and in many ways it was; there was plenty of caring, with deep growth for many people. Despite this, however, it didn’t take me long to get way off track. I assumed far too much authority, getting increasingly grandiose. There was too much me in the community, too much uncritical focus on what I did.

I said from early on that the community was an experiment — and experiment I did, with little or no awareness of the damage I was doing, letting what was working in the community obscure what wasn’t. I was out of control, and did not doubt my vision. I made decisions that I had no right to make. I thought I had a sacred mission and wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of it, even if I had to run roughshod over people. My arrogance was immense. I was a spiritual asshole, surrounded by followers, entrenched in a position I’d vowed never to be in.

I was a very different man then, aggressive and short on compassion, making choices I could not even consider making after the community ended. I look back on that time and feel ashamed for how out of touch I was, how badly I behaved, how messed-up and deluded I was. In my grand vision of the community — clearly a cult, with me as its supposedly trailblazing guru — I let down and hurt many people.

When I fell apart in 1994 (from a drug-induced experience that almost killed me, about which I wrote extensively in my book Darkness Shining Wild), I soon thereafter disbanded the community. I was immensely humbled, broken down so deeply and for so long that I could not resurrect my former way of being, and took steps to make amends, including writing a large number of individual letters of apology. I also began working on myself deeply. My abuse of power, my aggression, my shaming and lack of vulnerability, no longer fit me, and in fact provided the raw material for a very different way of being, manifesting not just in my work and writing, but also in my work on myself and way of living. (I cannot recommend any of the books I wrote before 1994, because they do not represent what I teach and believe, except here and there in seed form.)

The reason I’ve been able to write and teach about topics such as spiritual bypassing, cults, shaming, anger versus aggression, relational dysfunction, being run by our shadow, and so on, stems from the specific experience of having been there and been caught up in them all (especially during my time of leading the community) — and also from the deep inner changes that have occurred in me throughout the past two decades. I remain grateful for the rough grace that has again and again decisively brought me to my knees, breaking me open to what truly matters.