Thursday, June 02, 2005

Reflections Of An Early Student

A Letter From Brook Stone

Dear What Enlightenment Blog,

I’d like to begin by saying how grateful and appreciative I am that this blog has come into being. My story is an old one so I will keep this relatively brief. So much has been said so well and my experience and thoughts match most of what has been written here.

I was a very involved student of Andrew's for 5 years from 1988-1993. Many people have understandably asked in their comments why people didn’t speak up, or why it has taken so long for people to be able to get over their experience. I’ve asked myself that question as well. Reading this blog in detail has revived many memories and thoughts about my experience. Though I feel that Andrew is a tainted teacher and I feel highly motivated to speak up in this forum, I nonetheless had one of the most profound experiences of my life during my time with him. It took me, and I think many people, quite a lot of time and courage to sort out the depths of love and idealism that Andrew inspires from the very twisted and dysfunctional use he makes of them.

Giving oneself so fully and feeling the power of that kind of surrender and commitment makes it very hard to untwist. If one hasn’t been involved, I think it’s difficult to imagine the depths of the pull that this kind of spiritual opening and connection exerts. One then feels a powerful need to protect the beauty of one’s experience and deny the trouble. And the experience gets so deeply entwined with the teacher who helps make this possible. This too makes it harder to untangle. This is a central part of the seduction. Though I have remained deeply involved in spiritual life, sit regular retreats and work with different non-dual teachers, I am still clarifying where my authentic spiritual yearning and direction lies.

I finally left when I felt I could no longer support what seemed to me the very personal needs of the leader in the name of the Truth. In my case, it was deciding to listen to my doubts rather than rationalize them away, that was the turning point. For a long while, I believed that my doubts were my ego speaking. And certainly to some extent they were. But by the end, the doubts I had overwhelmed the benefits and insight that had been worth the journey up until that point. Leaving was terribly difficult. It meant giving up everything I had devoted my life to. Perhaps what’s hardest for those not involved to understand is how one feels one has given oneself to the highest purpose possible. To see that purpose contaminated and then crumble is a profound disillusionment. Hopefully, for many of us, this marks the beginning of a more mature and honest spirituality.

Andrew is living example of how a mind no doubt transformed by profound experience can nonetheless carry a personality that is deeply flawed. Andrew is not able or willing to apply his deep insights to himself. It was one of the things that kept his community so compellingly confusing. He seemed to name the dynamics in other groups and teachers that were going on in his own. How could he be doing the very thing he named as dysfunctional in other groups? He'd joke and tell us to call the group a cult “and be done with it.” It was a truly clever diversion that served to hide some very twisted motives.

Now that Andrew has made it into communities of repute, I feel especially compelled to speak out. One needs a very critical eye to understand that what you see is not what you get. He's a master of sorts, no doubt. But he is not benign nor is his community.

Andrew’s community is shame-based. When I left, it was small potatoes compared to what’s happening now, though the seeds were all there. I was shunned when I left, shamed and told to my face that though I may think that leaving was took courage, I was weak and a coward. End of five years of commitment. But I was not physically attacked and pursuit ended quickly when I returned hostile letters to the sender unopened. Now he hits people, or has them hit, and condones other practices that by any measure constitute abuse. His need for power and recognition trump all else.

I want to say to those of you in the academic community, to Ken Wilber and the others, please, do not be fooled or seduced. In the current cultural context, where truth is constructed to suit the image desired, it seems especially important that in progressive communities, we have open dialogue, the ability to think critically and the freedom to question leaders. Idealism should not lead to blindness. We humans are a very mixed bunch, capable of the highest ideals yet all carrying some kind of shadow. Andrew is no exception to that. If he could own his shadow as others in these pages have suggested, maybe a true transformation could take place. Then we’d have not a perfect person, but a complex and compelling human being with something to offer for those who are drawn. But for now, to sanction abuse, to rationalize it away or trivialize what is happening, is inexcusable. It perpetuates a stance of denial. This does not, nor can it ever, set us free.

Brook M. Stone, MSW, LCSW

Originally published April 7, 2005
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Reflections Of An Early Student