When most of us think of a cult, we think of things like the Manson Family, the KKK, Children of God, and many more. These were massive, well known cults, that had very extreme and had harmful outcomes. The thing we don’t often stop and ponder is that there are cults being formed, right now, all around. And recently? I almost got sucked into one.
I had a few weeks that I was training for a job that was lead by the nicest people with the biggest smiles that seemed oddly genuine. Being from New York City, this isn’t a common occurrence. They laughed over little things, smiled constantly, and were very intelligent and interesting. I was intrigued by the way they were and how in the world they ended up that way.
After some time with them, they began to talk more and more about their ‘leader’. He was spoken of like he was some sort of immortal, brilliant, wizard that was all knowing and perfectly perfect in every way. He even had as a special name to signify that he was undoubtedly the ‘leader of the pack’. Turns out, he had tens of thousands of followers, some which even pick up and move to be close to him, like he was the Fountain of Youth or something. I thought it was all pretty weird and nonsensical and couldn’t wrap my head around why these people were so involved with this man, and why they lived their life around him, but then I learned the power of word of mouth.
Their community was having a get together, and I was invited to join and get to know everyone involved. One of the teachers in the job training I was doing came up to me, and told me she would like to introduce me to their leader and to come over to their table when I was ready. Someone sitting next to me said that it was very rare to get a personal introduction--and then I felt it. I got this weird sort of feeling in my gut. Was it excitement? Nervousness? Fear? Eagerness? I couldn’t tell, nor could I grasp why I felt what I felt. I just know I felt something, something powerful.
I waited a few minutes, went to the bathroom to make sure I looked my best (not knowing why I cared, but I did), then headed over to the table where the leader and my teacher sat. I, not so gracefully, maneuvered my way into their booth, and reached out my hand to introduce myself in a bumbling manner. He was different than I expected. He was awkward, shy, and seemed to not really know how to make a conversation happen. For a man with so many disciples and teachings I expected that he’d be smoother and better at this sort of interaction. I stayed no more than a minute, and with a lack of interest, got up from the table and went back to mine.
All of that intensity I was feeling before I met him was gone, and I just felt disappointed. He was no immortal being, no god, just a guy. I had gotten so excited and worked up to meet him, not because he was otherwordly or so utterly different, but because everyone spoke up about him and made him seem extraordinarily special. He was just a man, a smart one for sure, but was only human.
The days following my meeting him, people in his community asked me what I thought about him and raved about his being and whatnot, but I no longer could pretend like what they were saying was true. I was asked if I wanted to move to the area, be close to him, and be further in involved in their community, but at this point I was just on the edge of being creeped out.
I could see how someone that is very lost or misguided could easily fall into something like that, a cult. Having a supportive community, a person to look to for guidance, and a safe space to talk. It’s all quite alluring but wasn’t for me as it seemed a bit like brainwashing to me. Sometimes we don’t realize how people are manipulating us, and that, to me, is a scary thought.
At the end of my weeks there I left with my job, and no leader guided path towards enlightenment... I guess I’ll just have to find my way on my own.