I want to talk about processing things with your brain, but first we need an establishing shot, to give you an idea why I talk about this.
The current version (we shall talk about why later) of my life story.
I never accepted the ideology I grew up with, and if that happens to be atheist East Germany, the most you can rebel is by getting religion. A few years before getting religion I was rebelling by trying to go fight for the tiny nation of Nicaragua; this was the mid-eighties, they were still trying to hold back the US-funded Contras, and it was – as always – mostly an ideological war. I went into that as enthusiastically as I did with religion later – spending all my free time with students from there, learning their culture. I never did go there though. At the age of 17, in East Germany, that was out of the question.
At the age of 19, when the wall came down and we finally had all the freedoms, I got religion. I had read bits about mystic Hinduism before, but it was pretty much impossible to find actual books about it in East German bookshops. (In hindsight, great!) I did find a biography of Sri Ramakrishna in a friend’s bookshelf (a sadhu whose frequent bouts of madness were either spiritual perfection or escapes from having to deal with responsibilities, depending on who you listen to.) Then I read about the Hare Krishnas in an anti-cult book. I tried to chant their chants while working a summer job on the biggest East German island, it didn’t do anything for me.
I thought it was because I was too contaminated, and there my at-first very fluffy attraction to Eastern thought brought me to accepting that I probably should follow all the principles the Hare Krishnas tell us we need to follow to ‘develop our spirituality’: Lacto-vegetarian diet, no sex, no gambling, no intoxication. Only think about Krishna, only work to serve Krishna. This seemed very attractive. I was just about to turn 19 and life seemed like a blur. I had gotten drunk a few times, was disgusted by that. I had had sex since the age of 14, was pretty tired of that. I was really angry with being judged for just my looks by men. Living a ‘chaste’ life in a pure ‘spiritual society’ seemed perfect.
So after the summer job had ended, I moved back to Berlin, and as soon as the Wall came down a couple of months later, I ran into a Hare Krishna on the streets of West Berlin. East Germans loved books, they were easy prey, so as naive, sheltered East Germans flooded into the West there was a ‘book distribution marathon’ going on with every disposable bit of manpower being on the street, flogging their (badly edited, but colourful) books. I said to the guy after he gave me his spiel about yoga and meditation: OK, do you have a Bhagavad-Gita? He did, so I bought. Next question: Ok, where’s your temple? I got my little flyer. (The funny thing is that he has never forgotten that meeting and friended me on facebook a few months ago. He is now a Vedic astrologist – never really moved on, like so many.)
I digress. Two days later I visited the temple, it all seemed to make perfect sense, I offered to help out in the kitchen so was told I was a natural devotee with natural inclination to serving Krishna; thus the wheels of making me one of the select few were in motion. I stayed in my newspaper printing job that I wasn’t very good at for another couple of months before I completely dropped out and joined the cult, group think took over, and that’s where I spent the next 8 years (after which I was in a bad marriage, and after that a single parent. So there was a bit of a hangover.)
If I had stayed in Germany I probably would have left at some point but stuck around the fringes like most of them. But I went to join their publishing house in Sweden 4 years later and lived in their tiny rural community outside Stockholm, and that shocked me into actually eventually completely giving up the entire thing.
I had to tell this story again because I have done, many times. It has everything to do with where I am now. But every time I tell it, I realise I have been processing it more. It is painful to realise you have full responsibility for things that have gone wrong in your life. Also, we are lazy and would rather keep false memories than keep re-processing them, even though that would bring the memories closer to what actually happened, and more importantly, IT WOULD HURT LESS. The past only lives on in our memories, after all. So re-processing things, making it hurt less, is fully in our interest.
A bit about having been hurt, and opening oneself up to more hurt.
As you can see from my life story, I tend to follow things through to their logical conclusion. Some paths less travelled have turned out to be not just bullshit but actively harmful. I have written and spoken before about why the very structure in the Hare Krishnas, the daily worship schedule, philosophy and overall hierarchy, work to destroy members’ emotional wellbeing. If you happen not to have 20 minutes, the key points are: If some religion or ideology tells you that someone or something outside of you knows better than you what is good for you, that is one thing. If that thing keeps actively breaking down all your facilities to tell right from wrong, that is entirely another. We have abilities to defend ourselves from going too far, from something bad happening to us. And because according to this philosophy, these are the things that keep us from ‘surrendering’, they are bad and are systematically broken down. So that isn’t great.
Then it turns out the whole thing (the entirety of Hindu scriptures – everything written after the original Vedas, which really only deal with worshipping some demigods) is not based on some ancient philosophy but all made up to keep some powerful elite in power and everyone else in their place, especially women, and then it’s actually quite easy to walk away from it.
(Also if you do have another 12 minutes, watch this video, where a very helpful and very fanatical follower tells us everything that is wrong with the current ‘horizontal, liberal’ society the Hare Krishnas pretend to have and why only a ‘vertical’ society with clear power structures and no equality between men and women can convey pure love of God. It’s brilliant, because these people really believe that that is the truth, and you need to appreciate the process for its ability to make modern humans think like that.)
The reason I talk at length about having been hurt, and opening oneself up to hurt, is so that I can talk about recovery.
Walking away from something that hurt you physically is easy. Dismantling the structures it put up in your psyche is far more difficult, and a lengthy process. And here is where using your brain’s processing power comes in. Because to fight something so insidious, something that has created so much hurt in you and taken away years of your life and your power to such an incredible degree, you want to use everything you have. I mean you could also not, but you do want to enjoy at least the remaining years of your life, right? I do.
The first stage is to allow yourself to start thinking and feeling again. The organisation, for a long time, still features at ‘the perfect place’ that you didn’t make it in because you couldn’t surrender fully, because you’re too contaminated, because you’re bad.
Then there comes a point at which you realise it actually isn’t all that, and that hurts. I would like to say, from my experience, 95% of post cult people never make it to that point, because it would mean throwing away everything you have built up and ‘achieved’ during the best years of your life and realising you’ve made a big mistake.
You then get very very angry and spend years railing against that. It’s not always clear-cut, many rail against one cult by joining others. (A good case study is the Hare Krishnas in Germany, after their main guru had a very public breakdown and left them in 1998, there was no way they could just go on as they had – so they joined another branch of the same exact Bengali school of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Other Indian schools of thought are available.)
Others join another religion, start becoming yoga teachers or astrologers. (I got into healing…) The core message of everything they are doing is still ‘you are the soul and you need to serve Krishna, this world is illusion, and you need to do all these things to realise that.’ A further tiny percentage actually gets past that.
The recovery then includes getting rid of all the guilt about being human, about enjoying everything you enjoy, about having creative thoughts and being able to… do things, do anything. You have no idea how all-encompassing it is.
The next stage is getting beyond the anger. You have to be careful not to blame the cult for everything, because you want to take responsibility for the bits that are your responsibility. Only a few make it there.
I’d really like if we could try to not all go for that kind of thing in the first place
So, if after all that I have a strong desire for other people not to fall for anything that tells them that their thoughts, feelings and humanity are illusion and the best they can do is deny them, this will be why. It is a construct that is easy to believe and very, very hard to get rid of. And if after all that I see that a Hare Krishna, not even disguised, writing in the Huffington Post about mindfulness, I know we’re having a problem. Which is why I’m still speaking about the new trend of accepting fluffy Eastern thought wholesale. Those guys are programmed to exploit every chink in our armour to implant their harmful philosophy.
Human life right now, in this culture, means being free to do everything, and if we make mistakes, we can correct them. But that means we need to process them. Even though it might hurt.
Human life right now also means that we have a new culture we are building. We are working out, all the time, what we want to keep of past cultural setups and what we want to discard. Kinda important, isn’t it? We’re setting ourselves up for the future, all the time, both individually and collectively. What kind of future? What is good, what is bad anyways? What have we brought along since the sixties? Yes to the fluffy Eastern thoughts, no to loving each other? Come on. Don’t we want there to be a progression for the better? Wouldn’t we really want to think about that?
In order to do this, we all need to use all our human facilities, the thinking, the feeling, the so called animal urges. None of that is bad, as long as we keep it together, and separation is exactly what immature approaches to trying to stop yourself feeling, or thinking, or wanting result in.
We all determine where we are going – since we don’t exactly live in a culture that listens to dried out old philosopher guys anymore. That’s a good thing, but then let’s do this right. Let’s actually go forward and not back to what sounds like the earliest stages of every fundamentalist religion. Oh, just stop yourself from doing this bad thinky thing! Come on.
We want to be free to make mistakes and learn from them, but doing that means processing
We should be processing furiously, rather than attempting not to. Together. We want to make all our decisions with all our humanity intact, not denying our emotions, what drives us, NOT trying to shut up ‘your mind’. Let’s try NOT trying shortcuts. Actually doing the thing. Living a full life and growing through mistakes. Because that’s exactly what all these thoughts are trying to do.
Having all that collected humanity available to us, individually and collectively – that would be a way to actually get to a better place, in terms of how we live together. What are we doing instead? Trying to stop ourselves thinking and feeling? As standard?