How I Make Sure My Spiritual Institution Doesn’t Become a Cult
Rather than telling the students what to think, I encourage them to learn through the knowledge they already have inside themselves.
I run a global institute for awakening with students from 35 countries. It’s an 18-month program first packaged as a health coach/life coach training that will soon be certified as a Master of Science in applied epigenetics. It’s essentially a fast track to “enlightenment.” Not in the Buddhist sense, but in the self-realization, “I’ve found peace within” sense. We base our growth in understanding the complexity of modern life, embrace of non-duality (existing beyond good/bad, right/wrong) and acknowledgment of childhood trauma as the filter through which we see life. Our goal is to hold higher standards for humanity. And as Michael Jackson advises, we are starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.
The untrained, cynical eye may scoff us off as a cult. Yep, the students totally look up to me as a guru. But the great part is that whenever they try to give me power or want me to tell them what to do, I liberate them back into connection with their own inner knowing. That’s the only way to dissuade dogma.
No matter what I teach, I’m teaching critical thinking. My most famed words are, “Don’t believe me; verify me.”
I Challenge Students to Tap Into Their Innate Self-Knowledge
This constant experimentation leads them down their own path of truth. We constantly speak of the field of wisdom versus that of knowledge. Wisdom is embodied learning from your own subjective experience (aka “embodied research”). Knowledge is someone else’s wisdom. We’re allergic to dogma in this space; we pioneer embodied research.
Whereas it might look like I “teach” a course with a full-on curriculum in order to pass on knowledge, I actually do it to crack open their psyches and worldview to see the world through a new, expanded lens. This pressure cooker for profound transformation is an undeniable straight shot to facing oneself. The community constantly reminds one another that it’s going through the course that’s the real learning, not the curriculum. From having to complete several assignments in a short period of time, revisiting traumas of being good enough or smart that stem from childhood experiences, and needing to produce content that is relevant to move the human species forward, being a student at our institute is not an easy task. But facing the challenges and academic rigor and triggered traumas in self-awareness are what makes it so healing and growth-oriented.
This embodied research is my insurance policy against cultism. As the founder and main spiritual steward, I’m definitely the one onto whom they project all of their mother wounds and infantile thwarting of authority. I’m 75 percent used to it by now. The more we can talk about it, the easier it makes things.
However, therein I tread a fine line—the tightrope between non-duality and duality. (For all you non-spiritual seekers out there, between “nothing is real; we are all one” non-duality and “get the fuck out of my way, bitch, this chocolate is mine” duality.) When we surrender to what is happening and look through eyes of curiosity into the deeper meaning and symbolism of events in our life, life becomes richer. It’s for us—not against us. We put down our shields and our swords. We let our hypervigilant nervous systems relax. Our experience of life becomes much more pleasant. No one is out to get you. Everyone is conspiring in your favor—whether it looks like that or not. This is a process of seeing life from a more expanded point of view. This is living non-dualistically in a dualistic society.
I Refuse to Let My Ego Get in the Way of This Work
When I’m deep in with someone, he’s reliving his 4-year-old abandonment trauma, and I hold space for this process. Then the next day, he’s complaining about money issues from a fear/scarcity mindset (“I have to put food on the table”) and attempting to imply how the institute is indirectly causing them. I have to be very delicate about how I bridge the two issues. (For perspective, his money issues are definitely not our fault. My role is to hold him to a higher standard of becoming. “WTF does that mean?” you ask? Being more emotionally intelligent and self-resourced. Not complaining about external factors or situations as the source of his problems but rather looking within. He’s the common denominator amongst all of them.)
My ego has to be hugely kept in check.
I must be willing to be wrong in every situation.
I could easily manipulate the truth and his psyche to get him to “do self-work” on my behalf. I have to be really fucking squeaky clean to work with people while being their “teacher.”
“We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.” This is a central tenet of our institute. It takes us far.
Nonetheless, if I react or have one weak moment of simply being human and definitely having an ego (no matter how evolved it may be), it’s like feeding fish to hungry alligators. They come running! Like once, in a moment of exasperation from working too hard on operations (I’m not made for that), one of the students who is teaching a short course for us was negotiating to increase his profit share. And in response, I said, “The institute still has to stay afloat.” Unsurprisingly, he went in for the attack, hyperfocusing on that phrase and saying, “It’s not my job to keep the institute afloat.”
Then, life becomes anything but fun and games because rather than defend and protect (as one would predict), I let myself be feasted upon until they’re satiated. (In this case, I immediately said in response, “Did I say that? If those were my words, it was a moment of weakness, and I definitely didn’t mean to imply it’s your responsibility.”) At which point, they still have the same core issues and in the end realize it’s not about me.
But this constant ego sacrifice is indeed what keeps the operation afloat and what allows me to lead from a place of humility and common inquiry.
I’m Only Running the Institute for Five Years to Protect It From Becoming a Cult
In writing this now, I feel Jesus’ path, the turning of the other cheek. Well, I fucking hope my story doesn’t have a martyr ending. To buffer for that, I’m very clear with everyone involved that I’m on a five-year plan.
The only way I’m able to run this spiritual institution without it becoming a cult is because I don’t want to be here. Go back in history and look at cult leaders gone awry…mostly men who grew intoxicated by power and privilege (and vulnerable female attention), from Osho to John of God to Bikram.
My ego itself has no interest in having a training school. These initial five years until I can step away and the organization runs itself, governed and owned by the graduates. I constantly push away power and encourage students to think for themselves about everything, from food questions about the chemistry of digestion to understanding how they can approach a coaching situation without bringing in their ego agenda. I don’t teach what to think; I teach how to think. And they catch on.
What happens when they don’t? We sit and find the entry into their inner knowing. No “take my answer” is accepted. Most of the time, they get an answer that asks them more questions. “How’s that for a non-answer answer?” I hear myself say. Dissuading dogma at its best.
I Hold My Students—and Myself—to a Higher Standard
We are not here wanking off on self-growth for ourselves. Yes, it makes life much easier and fun to have a widened perspective of reality…but at the same time, it can be lonely at the top of a mountain (not the mountain—don’t project assumptions upon us, dear reader!). We have perspectives on ourselves, society, power dynamics and more, which drastically change how we show up in the world. (The Australian medical practitioner who’s been through our program over the past two years now has massive confidence walking into any situation. The flavor of her strut only comes from deep self-knowing, a regulated nervous system and the emotional intelligence skills to know that we can work anything out, and if we can’t, it wasn’t meant to be.) We are inherently privileged to have even been able to take this hike. And what do we do with that privilege is the real question.
Dedicated to “upleveling humanity” and holding higher standards for our species, the only way I can lead this mission is by continuing my own journey. So I stay human with the students. I constantly reinforce that I’m not perfect. I’m mindful of my trauma and my bias, and I own it and voice it. I’m open with them about my own challenges—never pointing to something outside of myself as the issue and always revealing my own shadows to whatever extent I’m able.
When we look back in history for movements that made an impact, the best of them were leaderless. Think the Apache, Napster or Craigslist. With blockchain technology and true democratic governance encoded into the human future, decentralization gives hope to organizations like ours.
I am here as a catalyst—to awaken leadership inside of the humans at the institute—so that they can, in turn, change the world.