From 1986 to 1994 I led an experimental psychospiritual community that gradually became a cult. I called myself its guide but was more its director and centerpiece. More often than I’d like to admit, I was arrogant, aggressive, and misused my power, and those in the community paid the price for this. Everyone was caught up in my dream of a new kind of tribalism.
I didn’t doubt what I was doing in the community, didn’t see the harm I was causing, and numbed myself to the suffering of those I was leading. I took minimal responsibility for my part in their difficulties, not considering what it must feel like for them.
I assumed that my community experiment would not only be a legacy to be proud of, but would outlive me. It had plenty of momentum heading into 1994, but this came to a sudden halt early that year when I took a drug (5-MeO-DMT) that knocked me unconscious and almost killed me through prolonged respiratory failure. My sense of self and ground was shattered during the experience, and remained so for quite a while. My heart got blasted open, so that I deeply felt the pain of those I’d hurt — and at the same time I was severely destabilized. I was extremely shaky, suicidal, and teetering at the edge of insanity, enough so — and for long enough, nine months — to not be able to reassemble my old self.
I needed to be stopped. The community had been expanding, starting to take root in other countries. My drug experience didn’t just interrupt me, but obliterated my capacity to keep going on as I was. Without the massive intervention it provided, I very likely would have continued for some time on my deluded path. This event marked the beginning of the end of the community, which I formally disbanded in August that year.
What I did upon my recovery was begin a long process of personal work to ensure that I could never again behave as I had in the community, and to take steps to make amends. This included expressing my remorse, along with sixty or so individual letters of apology.
The context of the community had been partially rooted in the teachings of different “Crazy Wisdom” teachers, including Rajneesh, Trungpa, and Adi Da (for whom unconventional or even bizarre behavior was supposedly employed to help students evolve). When I chose to operate under that premise, I framed it as an awakening device of sorts. It was all about trying everything that was out of the box. The wilder, the better, or so it seemed, in stark contrast to mundane cultural suppression. What arrogance, and what a place for unacknowledged shadow to be expressed! Soon after my near-death experience, my pull to Crazy Wisdom teachers was gone for good.
I do not excuse any of my harmful actions. As I wrote recently, the collective movement towards accountability is morphing into a tsunami, as it must in order to have its needed impact. More than silences must be broken; the edifices of male denial, entitlement, and aggression must be leveled. I continue to support and stand in this fire.
For many, I imagine that my remorse and my holding myself accountable, no matter how sincerely expressed, was and is not enough — and in a way they are right. If I apologized — which I have, ever since the community ended — but didn’t also face and work through the roots of what originally drove me to make choices that hurt others, this would not create a lasting change, one through which I’d no longer be capable of making such choices.
I also view it as essential that I continue to share my hard-won understanding through my work and writings, doing my very best to guide others in core-level healing and awakening. A key aim of such work is to prevent harm on every sort of scale as much as possible, including cutting through the all-too-common tendency to dehumanize others.
My capacity to write and teach about topics like cultism, shame, anger versus aggression, relational dysfunction, spiritual bypassing, being controlled by our shadow, and so on, arises from having been there and been caught up in them all.
I did fall into a very dark place, and was — thankfully! — brought down to ground zero, learning how to be responsibly human, step by stumbling step. This is one of the reasons that I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to guiding others into full-spectrum healing — and bringing their shadow out of the dark, so that it can no longer run them.
And I am not finished with my personal work; it’s not something to be done with, but is an intrinsic part of my life. I am still learning. It’s easy to forget or only superficially acknowledge that we’re all in the same boat. I had an upper deck berth for a while, but that sense of special status is long gone.
I feel the humanity I share with those I’ve hurt as well as with those I’ve helped, as I continue to immerse myself, more and more deeply, in that shared sense of being, that shared sense of heart.