Reasons Why I Stayed in Art of Living
Below is a list that I came up with a few months ago for why I stayed in AOL. It is a partial list. I keep discovering other reasons why I stayed and didn’t move on with my own life. I want to share this with others for it might prove helpful.
Before I give my list I want to acknowledge that this list is not a defense for Punditji or AOL. I find no need or inclination to defend them. This is a list of my mistakes that led me to buy into and stay in the foundation. In acknowledging my weaknesses, I hope to correct them and not fall prey to them again. Also, in understanding my part in all this, I find I take responsibility for what happened and I don’t have to demonize Sri Sri or AOL to keep myself free of them. I can just let them be who and what they are and walk away from them cleanly. I want to be free from AOL in all ways and that includes being free of the anger and resentment I have for AOL. I hope you all find this helpful.
Reasons why I stayed in AOL
I really love being special.
Being connected to a divine guru, an avatar of God is a heady experience. Not many people can say that they know and are personally known by God’s representative on earth. This made me feel so very special and being this special made up for a lot of feelings of inadequacy. Being part of the ‘chosen few’ played into my need to like myself. I have/had my share of self criticism and instead of dealing directly with that criticism, I just glossed over it with the idea that I can’t be all bad because a divine incarnation loves, protect and values me. Getting my validation from a divine master kept me from having to validate myself. And not only was I validated, I was special, about as special as anyone could be. I couldn’t ask for more.
I wasn’t honest with myself.
I said ‘yes’ to many things when I really wanted to say ‘no’. I would lie to myself and say that that was ok with me when it wasn’t. Examples of this are when I said ‘yes’ to helping out with a tour when I didn’t want to. I said ‘yes, I am fine’ to Punditji when I wasn’t and when I had lots of doubts and confusion about him. I said, ‘Yes, it’s ok with me that I give my life to service,’ when I really didn’t want to and what I really wanted was to have my own life. I wasn’t honest with myself in other ways. I turned a blind eye to inconsistent and unethical behavior on Punditji’s and AOL’s part. I justified the exaggerated claims of AOL and overlooked the not so omniscient and omnipotent behavior of ‘The Guru’. When I look at it, there were a thousand and one ways in which I deceived myself.
I indulged in magical thinking.
I believed things like; “Guruji knows everything I am thinking.” “He knows what is in my heart.” “He knows what is best for me and can see all my lives before him.” “He listens in to every course I teach and personally knows every participant.” “He is all powerful and will take care of me life after life.” “He is the highest divine incarnation of this age and will save humanity from ignorance and destruction.” When I look at these statements honestly, I want to ask, “Really? Where is my proof?” These were mighty big claims I was making and did I ever really look at them in the clear light of day? The answer to that question was not for many, many years. It’s like I split my mind it two: a rational, logical mind and the magical-thinking mind that believed all kinds of fantastical things. When I really started to look at the underlying assumptions I was making about Punditji and AOL, I felt embarrassed and foolish. They were just so much make-believe. I was living in a fantasy land, and was somehow convincing myself that I believed it.
[Magical thinking is a funny thing. It gets the most intelligent people to believe all kinds of things like the Noah’s Ark story and the boy Krishna holding up a mountain with his little finger. Rational people believe these wild stories basically because they were told that they’re true. Do we believe everything we are told? I believed in many of the guru stories because there was something in me that wanted to. And it is that ‘something’ that is what I have to take responsibility for if I don’t want to fall into fantastical thinking again.]
I confused seva with propaganda.
I thought I was doing the highest service to others by getting them connected to the grace of the master. I lost sight of helping people in a straightforward way. I saw that the basic and advance course helped lots of people and I wanted to share it. That is all well and good. My mistake was confusing that with the promotion of the guru mythology. In looking back, people didn’t need the baggage of the guru-trip to get the benefits of these courses. I was confusing helping people feel better, more relaxed and happier (seva) with getting them to believe in ‘the Guru’ and his grace (propaganda). I think the basic and advance courses could easily be taught without any connection to ‘the Guru’ or ‘His Grace’ and they would still be very powerful courses. By confusing seva with propaganda, I was idealizing and mystifying the simple benefits people get from breath work and meditation and I was perpetuating the guru mythology.
I confused love and devotion with commitment.
I fell in love with Punditji and became deeply devoted to him. That did not mean I needed to commit myself to him or to his cause. I mistakenly believed that I could prove my love and devotion through commitment. I didn’t realize that love doesn’t need proven and that my commitment to him wasn’t really out of love but a way for me to manipulate him to love me back. I stayed longer in AOL than I would have because I didn’t want to lose his love and approval. In doing so, I betrayed myself. I betrayed what I wanted and confused being dedicated and committed with love. I can love and feel devotion to someone and still walk away from them without betraying them in any way. With AOL, it took me a long while to realize this. Love give freedom, not obligation.
I confused my self worth with other people’s approval, especially the guru’s.
I believe that this is a mistake that many people make. I think we all try to get other’s approval whether it is a boss’s, teacher’s, spouse’s, child’s . . . to boost our sense of self worth. When I believed Punditji was a divine avatar, I went crazy trying to get his approval. I practically did anything to get ‘divine recognition’. This kept me working for Punditji and AOL long after I stopped enjoying it. This confusion was the main motivator to push me to do more and more seva. I really wanted to get Punditji’s approval so that I could feel that my life was worthwhile and that I was lovable in the most basic way. I, belatedly, realized that working for someone else’s approval is a really painful thing to do to myself. Yet, I did it for years always hopeful that once I got that magical approval I would feel whole and complete inside. Out of all the fallacies I told myself, this one is probably the greatest, and the one that caused the most pain.
Some of you may feel that I am being too harsh on myself and that I should not blame myself for falling for the manipulations of a cult. All I can say is that I don’t feel harsh to myself nor do I blame myself. I am finding that I am just understanding myself. Whatever AOL or Punditji did or didn’t do doesn’t really matter in the end. I chose to stay. No one tied me down. If I did so under a delusion or because of some deception, it was still my choice. I stayed because I was still getting something from Punditji and AOL or at least I chose to believe I was getting something from them. I was getting some kind of affirmation, a sense of specialness, a delusion of grandeur. I was getting love and approval. I was getting something that I thought I needed. And I gave accordingly. I traded a lot to get what I thought I needed and that trade was worth it to me for a long while. Once it wasn’t worth it to me, I left.
I think the freedom many of us feel upon leaving AOL is that deep recognition that I don’t need other people’s love, respect, and approval. What I need is my own love, respect and approval. Once I have that, then such strength and peace wells up. It is like standing on solid ground again. The painful and fruitless search for approval and love through the guru or some vague sense of God has ended. I found that the simple truth of respecting and loving myself gave me such strength to stand on my own. I could stop begging for attention and approval from a divine guru or even from some idea of God. I didn’t need theirs. I gave what I wanted to myself. And in that lies my strength and freedom.