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Hi! I’d like to talk about Healing

November 23, 2010

Hi, everyone!

Some weeks ago Skywalker invited me to contribute to BAoL. (It took me a little while to arrange things so that I can give this amazing blog a true commitment and the attention it deserves.)

Some of you know me. I’d guess most do not.

I’m a licensed psychotherapist specializing in healing from spiritual and cultic abuse.

I am in awe of what Klim accomplished with the original blog and Skywalker and the team are continuing with this one. And the courage that you BAoLers, as a community, demonstrate every day by sharing, discussing, revealing, and sometimes arguing.

I’ve never seen this extraordinary outpouring from any like community in the 16 years I’ve been at this work.

I have a very warm place in my heart for the community of former AoLers. As you know, Ravi spun off from the Maharishi. His movement shares many points with the TM movement.

But beyond all that, I feel at home with former AoLers. The hopes, dreams, visions that many of you shared in joining and dedicating lives to AoL remain my dreams today. Any of my AoL clients can tell you how often we laugh in amazement at how similar our lives have been.

I spent 23 years in the Transcendental Meditation movement, from ages 18 to 41. I was not highly placed. The Maharishi personally made me a TM teacher in 1978. I knew some of the inner circle personally, but not intimately: Jerry Jarvis, Deepak Chopra, Bevan Morris, some current “Rajas,” others. My most intense, full-time involvement lasted about 7 years. I was at best middle management, a TM teacher/initiator/governor who briefly ran centers in Buffalo and San Francisco. However, I did lecture and provide services to thousands, worked “on staff” for several years (for $25/month), wrote/edited/managed departments for their Press, and so forth.

I left TM permanently in 1995. But perhaps I racked up some good karma. Two warm, generous, brilliant women were there to guide me through the wrenching pain of giving up my dreams: Janja Lalich, PhD was my exit counselor, Margaret Singer, PhD was my therapist.

A lot of people say things like, “They saved my life.” I want you to know they kept me from ending my life during the most desperate year of my life just after leaving TM.

Almost immediately in 1995, I became an “anti-cult activist” by founding the website and being active all over the Net—first with Transcendental Meditation, later with many, many other toxic groups.

These days I do not count myself a member of the “anti-cult movement.” My focus is on healing from the devastating trauma that I and so many others experienced during and after our toxic groups. In fact, I recently retired from a blog I founded that is skeptical of TM, TM-Free Blog, to focus all my time where I feel it is needed most: offering direct care to those who seek help putting their lives back together.

To that end, I’m founding the Center for Spiritual & Cultic Abuse, which provides direct care to anyone regardless of ability to pay. We’re still incorporating, but expect to have our website up and services offered in January. No more nasty Twitter comments to toxic group leaders from me! Who’s got the time?

I actually have a couple of posts ready to go that discuss healing. But first, I just wanted to say hello and let you know where I’m coming from.


  1. Anonymous permalink
    November 23, 2010 9:53 pm

    You cannot imagine how happy I am to read your post. I had written a letter to “Doctor” -where I had asked not to be posted- about the topic that we need to have a place for healing for the individual, psychological trauma people are going through. Because these individual stories are the ones, which really devastate people. Not all of them have been lucky enough to find a place to talk. Although it is very much needed. It´s also essential that the person listening knows from a personal experience what it is all about. This makes things much easier. So thank you for your efforts to help them. I really appreciate. Especially your post being the first really good one in the last two weeks, no Hindu-Western fighting any more.

    • Srikkanth permalink
      November 24, 2010 6:06 pm

      As far as I know you are thogoughly mistaken. AOL is NOT a destructive cult in the sense many of psycho cults like OM or the moonies. If AOL is a cult, then what else would not be a cult. Every nation would be a cult. So would be every political party, every organised religion, society or group. I am grateful to Pujy Guru Dev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the wonderful intensive life he has gifted me. So has been many that I have come across. Of course there have been some disgruntled elements. may the they do not know how to be grateful even after receiving the grace.

      • Peaceful Warrior permalink
        November 24, 2010 7:02 pm


        You are in denial. Had your experience been good, you would not come here. You would have said I had a good experience – if some other people did not have such a good experience it’s not my problem.

        You don’t even know about our experience (your comment shows you have not read any of the things written here) – how can you label us as disgruntled ? All it demonstrates is your arrogance and your dismissive attitude towards people who hold views different from your own.

      • Dayalu permalink
        November 24, 2010 7:15 pm


        Don’t forget that most of the people who post and comment here had been very much like you once. We all went through your phase and sincerely hope you would be able to get out of that. Every cult follower has the same perspective as yours.
        Let truth prevail.

      • Abhilash Shastry permalink
        November 25, 2010 2:08 am

        ###AOL is NOT a destructive cult in the sense many of psycho cults like OM or the moonies. If AOL is a cult, then what else would not be a cult. Every nation would be a cult. So would be every political party, ….###


        Do you think any of the OMs or Moonies would not have claimed exactly the same?

        Many people (esp. those who are very lightly involved) may have good experience with a cult for some time. And some people may have good experience with that cult for all the time. However it does not change the fact of their being cults.

        ###I am grateful to Pujy Guru Dev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for the wonderful intensive life he has gifted me.###

        That intensive life comes at the price of psychological and emotional dependence on a spiritual daddy. If your experience has been otherwise, you are lucky. Rest assured that as long as you do not start thinking independently, daddy’s love and approval will be there for you.

        Visiting this blog is not a good sign. You may start questioning some of the things. And when that happens….I just hope that you do not find yourself in a situation where you have wholeheartedly bought into the idea of daddy’s “unconditional” love. So go back to your JGD. You will live a happy life.

  2. The Doctor permalink
    November 23, 2010 10:59 pm

    @Anonymous – I did read your comment and saved it, my sincerest apologies I haven’t gotten back to you yet, I’m really swamped under with personal matters but I hope that I can get back into the swing of things as soon as these all blow over. Give me some time. And please can you do me one teeny favour: any chance you can change your name from Anonymous to something unique to you, just so we can distinguish you from everyone else here? 😉

    @John – a big warm welcome to the blog, and I’m really glad you’re here with us! It’s so good to have someone with all your years of experience in this area both from during your time with TM and your life subsequent to that. I feel I can speak for so many people here that it is just so reassuring to have you among us.

    I’ve read your contributions on KLIM’s blog, and so really look forward not only to reading your future contributuions here, but also to hearing more about the Center for Spiritual & Cultic Abuse.

    • hope permalink
      November 23, 2010 11:32 pm

      Dear Doctor, of course I understand. I think you have other things to do. You don´t have to apologize at all, thanks for your dedication here. I don´t know, I´m so scared to give a name here… How can I be sure not to be discovered? Still I ask you not to post that recent comment. OK, call me “hope”.

      • The Doctor permalink
        November 24, 2010 8:02 am

        Dear hope,

        Yours and eveyone else’s anonimity is of the utmost importance here, so rest assured you will not be discovered. Your comment has been completely deleted from the blog. Only I have a backup copy of it on my laptop, and I assure you no one is ever going to read it.

        And please, don’t be afraid, you are with good people here, and we are going to do everything we can to help you and everyone else you suffered during their time with Art of Living. You have my word on that.

    • Ronin permalink
      November 24, 2010 12:46 pm

      @ Doctor.

      Hope all is well. Did the old crew, skywalker – WB and others take a break from the blog. It seems like you have taken the duties over, very commendable since it is a lot of work.

      Just let us know, transparency is what we always wanted. The healing aspect is very important indeed. Yet one must also bring the issues to light, and this should not suddenly be pushed to the back ground.

      It is only in the combination of both that one can move on. I know since I have been in both organisations.

      So hopefully we will hear from the others.

      • The Doctor permalink
        November 24, 2010 11:58 pm


        All is indeed well. To answer your question, most of us are still here, with the exception of Whistleblower who has retired for personal reasons I won’t go into.

        As for issues and healing, as John said below, and as you’ve touched on, both are crucial to what we are doing here. It’s just that up until now we haven’t had that much focus on the healing as we have on the issues. This is why John’s input here is essential to our mission. Think of it as adding a new dimension to the blog.

        But don’t think for one minute that the issues are taking a back seat, they aren’t. I still have a lot to post on these areas, as I’m sure you do and so do many others. Once my personal affairs are in order, I’m going to dedicate quality time to this blog.

  3. November 24, 2010 2:12 pm


    Welcome to the blog. I just want to personally thank you for your work in this area of cult recovery. I was first in the TM movement before I went into AOL. Your work really helped me get clear of what happened to me in TM and it kept me from getting too involved in AOL. Even though i was involved with AOL and may be considered to be part of the inner circle, I never gave up my personal life. Having a life outside of AOL was really important and your websites helped me to maintain that connection with my own life. It took years for me to see that AOL wasn’t a place for me and that it was a strain to maintain involvement. But through it all I would read your TM blogs and they kept me looking for what was true for me about all that was going around me in AOL. Those blogs were very helpful.

    I am also happy that you are focusing on healing. I understand the anger people get into on this blog and the tit for tat people get into with AOLers, but I soon get bored with all the dramatics. So a refocus on healing is much welcomed. Thank you

    • John M. Knapp, LMSW permalink
      November 24, 2010 8:42 pm

      Hi, Ronin,

      It’s not my intention to push the issues to the side. I believe you are right that a combination or balance of many aspects are very important indeed.

      If at any time you feel I’m taking up too much of the bandwidth, I hope you’ll let me know.

      I’m just one individual—and not part of the team here. I don’t want to interrupt these important deliberations. But hopefully add something.


      • The Doctor permalink
        November 25, 2010 12:09 am

        I’m just one individual—and not part of the team here. I don’t want to interrupt these important deliberations. But hopefully add something.

        John – for the record, I too am just one individual, we all are here (hmmm, this is coming awfully close to that scene from Life of Brian ;-))

        We don’t really have any team here, and in all honesty we’re not even particularly organized, if this wasn’t obvious to anyone visiting the blog. Just like you’ve mentioned, we’re all jsut doing whatever we can to to contribute here, in the hope that whatever we can do provide any amount of help and support to anyone who needs it.

  4. belle permalink
    November 24, 2010 3:10 pm

    “I have a very warm place in my heart for the community of former AoLers. But beyond all that, I feel at home with former AoLers.”

    i support this statement too. from my own experience on this blog and on what i’ve read on here, the ex aolers come across as truley nice peeps indeed.

    • John M. Knapp, LMSW permalink
      November 24, 2010 8:54 pm

      Whoops! I’m all thumbs. I meant my comment for @Ronin above.


      Thank you so much for your kind words. Stories like yours inspire me.

      To be clear, I’m not intending to refocus anything on BAoL. This is a fantastic blog with a wise community indeed. Truly one of the best I’ve run across in my 16 years.

      Everyone’s needs are different. People who know me know that when I came out of TM I was very, very stridently critical.

      It seemed so simple. I experienced trauma from TM. TM was a cult. Cults are bad. I will fight TM tooth and nail.

      But in a way, my new “obsession” with criticizing and reforming TM was an excuse to continue my former obsession with the Maharishi and TM—like a divorcé who can’t stop talking about how bad his former wife was.

      At least I still got to talk about TM and the Maharishi every day!

      Sick, but I think true.

      You guys here—on all sides of the issues—are so far ahead of where I was for the first 3 years or more after coming out of TM.

      But life goes on. And even someone as hardheaded as I am gradually changes opinions over time based on experience,new information, and living up to one’s core values.

      I think working with so many people—hearing their stories, their dreams, their nightmares—re-awakened the compassion I had as a youth, that brought me into TM, and then was so badly betrayed in my anxious need to get new members, make the Maharishi’s World Plan a reality—and above all get enlightened myself.

      Like the Grinch, my heart became two sizes too small.

      If you like, I wrote a brief post on how my feelings have changed over time that I could repost here for discussion at some point.


      • Peaceful Warrior permalink
        November 24, 2010 9:27 pm


        Please do post your experience of how things changed for you over time. We would all love to hear it.

        Despite the abuse, I don’t feel sorry for myself or people who have come out of AOL. I think we all have grown by leaps and bounds. We recognize and live true spirituality – the essence has stayed with us, the bullshit is gone.

      • John M. Knapp, LMSW permalink
        November 24, 2010 10:46 pm

        Peaceful Warrior,

        Now you’ve done it! You’ve encouraged me!

        You know how, once you feed a stray cat once, you can never get rid of them?


  5. belle permalink
    November 24, 2010 5:34 pm

    “To that end, I’m founding the Center for Spiritual & Cultic Abuse, which provides direct care to anyone regardless of ability to pay. ”

    this is sorely needed. i know there are various orgs that support people leaving cults but imo there are not nearly enough.
    i think the public at large need to be educated about the evils of cults. again there some but in the vast majority, the public remains ignorant of such a thing as cults…

    i think its important to spread such awareness and not remain ignorant to the power of so called spiritual groups these days.

    i also think cults in general have to be held accountable to some other governing power. at the moment its self governing and there are absoulutely no rules on how they can behave/exploit people.
    also i think some of these cult leaders are downright psychopathic and in other cases criminals.

    yet they get a licence and authority to lead others. some of them should be in prison. esp for those leaders who exploit followers for monetart or sexual gain.

    anyway i hope such a thing happens in the future, though i dont think it is immediate….

    the help you are offering is a start at least!

    • John M. Knapp, LMSW permalink
      November 24, 2010 9:05 pm


      Just so you all know, I don’t consider myself anti-cult these days. Others are working hard on defining cults, informing the public, developing materials and so forth—notably ICSA, and before them CAN, and before them Steve Hassan.

      I actually just retired from TM-Free Blog for just this reason.

      Trust me: I HATE abuse, especially the extreme forms many of us experienced.

      But I have limited time, resources, and talent. And I absolutely fall in love with the courage of the people I’ve worked with. Focusing on healing gets me up early every morning with heart pumping eager for the day.

      I couldn’t give this up if I tried.


    • The Doctor permalink
      November 25, 2010 12:03 am


      I couldn’t agree with you more: I’ve had almost these exact same thoughts about cults, and especially AoL. You are exactly right that there is no government body, no watchdog presiding over their affairs, and as such they can and do get away with whatever they want.

      It would be great if governments could step in and do something about them, but for now those of us who are here on this blog and others all over the world in similar situations are can make a huge difference to the public, to people already involved in cults and most of all to those who have left who need support.

      But you’re right, maybe this may change in the future, let us be hopeful.

  6. e=mc2 permalink
    November 24, 2010 5:43 pm

    Blog owners, this is such a pro-active approach. Talk about accumalating great karma. Thank-yoy

  7. belle permalink
    November 24, 2010 6:23 pm


    i was also going to say that some people come on here defending their cults without realising they are in one. you are the perfect example of that.

    you will benefit greatly from the help Mr Knapp is offering once you wake up.

  8. anonymous permalink
    November 24, 2010 11:12 pm

    to: John Knapp,

    I think it is nice that you’ve taken the time to come to comment here, but I question what you can do — if you have never known Ravi Shankar, how can you know what we’ve been through? I also was associated with TM, but never had any really bad experiences, like cult things, like you’ve spoken of. I was not a teacher, though. I thoroughly enjoyed (and still do enjoy) TM meditation. I thought most of the people were pretty whacky, but some were really great! It struck me that some of the “management” on courses seemed like zombies, frankly, and I never wanted to be like them. We all laughed at them in fact. I never met MMY, but loved him for giving TM to us. This is just my experience. My experience with Ravi Shankar was very different — personal, up close, and terrible. All the really awful things you’ve read about personal abuse on Klim’s blog and here are things that happened to me, or things I saw happening to others. So I left long back. I was a teacher for AOL. Truly a waste of several years of my life. It looks as if it’s gotten even worse these days, from reading these posts.

    Again, it’s nice you are here to comment, but how can you understand what we’ve gone through with Ravi Shankar if you never met him? I see that you and others lump all spiritual groups together, but I don’t. I think it’s possible to heal and still be on a spiritual path. Unlike some who post here, I am not anti-everything guru. All gurus are not bad. There are real saints. I found this out after leaving Ravi Shankar. India is filled with wonderful, loving saints (as well as charlatans, of course).

    For me, healing means leaving AOL, not all spirituality, or mantras, or practices. I take what I need and leave the rest, basically. I definitely never want to be told “live like this, do what I say” ever again, by any “guru”. A true guru would never do that anyway, imo.

    Anyway, welcome, and I guess you will learn what Ravi Shankar is like from those who post here.

    • November 28, 2010 6:32 pm

      Hi, anonymous,

      I may have partially replied to your questions in the comments to “What IS Spiritual Abuse?” above. I won’t take up space repeating those ideas here.

      About TM:Large, mass toxic groups are structured like onions in layers. Usually, the public exposed only to the outer layers have little idea of the daily reality of people deeper in.

      To the inner circle of TM, Maharishi’s alleged violent temper, sexual escapades, setting one against another, other forms of manipulation, and willingness to break the law to achieve his “World Plan” were the waters they swam in. The side-effects of prolonged meditation courses (“rounding”), experienced by me and thousands of others, were daily conversation at the middle level where I worked. Casual practitioners and the public are frequently outraged when we share what we saw and felt.

      I believe that’s true in Scientology, rigid Christian groups, and AoL as well. Heck, mainline churches do it, too. Clergy are taught different values and beliefs than church members. Bishops, Popes, Elders have different beliefs, values, and concerns than other subgroups in the same organization.

      I’m not aware of lumping all spiritual groups together, so any insights from you as to that are most welcome.

      I explicitly say every group is different, everybody’s experience is different. There are organizational similarities between toxic and benign groups, but they don’t concern me much. I also write at length about retaining the positives from one’s former group, even while rejecting the systemic abuse.

      It does seem to be true that people reporting spiritual trauma fall into categories along with those with similar experiences and symptoms. But even saying that, not everybody is “the same,” not everybody falls into categories.

      I definitely agree that it’s possible to be healing from trauma with one group and still continue following a spiritual path. I practice meditation and prayer every day and actively pursue study and my own thought on spiritual matters. (I did yoga faithfully even after leaving TM, but I’ve kind of let that drop in the last two years.) I don’t follow an individual or belong to a spiritual group, however.

      I can’t offer specific critiques of or share personal anecdotes about AoL or Ravi, but former members of hundreds of different groups and traditions have sought counseling and found value.

      What people like me can offer is compassion and understanding from our own group involvement, seemingly lacking in mainstream therapy. As well as specific exercises and techniques that have worked for other former members—even if no one approach works for everyone. I have worked with 12 former AoLers, all but 10 of whom claimed credibly to be insiders. So I have some knowledge of AoL, although nowhere the amount you and other participants here have. But no direct experience.

      Much healing doesn’t lie in examining detailed knowledge of the events themselves. I learn more from my clients about details than I have to offer them.

      But I do have some knowledge of human mind, heart, and spirit from graduate study, talking with thousands of individuals, and my own personal experience. Some people find it useful.


  9. belle permalink
    November 26, 2010 5:28 pm

    @ anonymous

    ” but how can you understand what we’ve gone through with Ravi Shankar if you never met him?”

    you’d be surprised how similar cults are. some poor innocent people including children have gone through some harrowing experiences with their gurus, so your expereinces are not out of the ordinary.

    “Unlike some who post here, I am not anti-everything guru. ”

    i dont think anyone on here is “anti – everything guru”. i can be pretty caustic in my comments sometimes and sometimes i dont sugar coat my words though at times i do try, but even i am not “anti-everything guru”. but i am anti bad guru and thats pretty normal.

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