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Learning To Be An Amphibian: A Model for Re-entry
for Cult Members Returning to Society


by George A. Boyd ©1990

Cults had lost much of the media interest that made them sensational during the late 1970s and early 1980s, until the Waco Texas standoff between David Koresh and his Branch Dravidian sect and agents of the federal government brought them starkly back into our attention once again. Whether cults are featured in media attention or not, the cults continue to proselytize, indoctrinate, and incorporate young men and women. It seems we always have cults with us, dwelling right below the threshold of respectable religion.

At some point in each cult member's career, he or she comes to question the value of continuing participation in this group. He or she must decide whether the beliefs and practices that have been learned still have continued relevance for his or her life. If during this time of existential crisis, the individual elects to leave the group, a new set of problems arises, because trying to return to normal society after having lived in a cultic group is difficult, for several reasons.

First, the rules for living embodied in the group's moral code, embodied in its system of commandments or yama and niyama, are often extremely rigid, and create severe guilt and inner conflict when an ex-cult member pursues normal biological and social drives. The message that has been learned in the cult's moral indoctrination has been, among others, that sexuality is evil, ambition is evil, enjoyment of simple pleasures is evil, desiring material goals is evil, and sometimes, the very mind or ego itself is evil. This initiative-destroying code of morality must be reconstructed to allow a more realistic adaptation to life.

Second, the rules for living embodied by the cultic group have often so lessened the need to make independent decisions by a member, that the ability to make independent life choices has become weakened. Instead, ritual and routine have eclipsed will. This ability to make decisions must be rehabilitated.

Third, the belief systems from the cultic group's indoctrination that are taken into the subconscious mind are frightening, guilt provoking, esteem crushing, and humiliating. These negative messages that have been implanted create an inner core of pain, low self-esteem, and terror. These feelings must be brought out and shared, and gradually, through new, corrective therapeutic and life experiences, be allowed to heal.

Fourth, losing a superhuman love object, be it a deified human cult leader, a historical hero, or an archetypal Supreme Being, requires a grieving process. The attachment of cult members to this central figure of adoration is extremely powerful, and it includes the projection of multiple unsatisfied needs. Indeed, these unsatisfied needs may have been the motivation for joining the group in the first place, as the inductee has been promised the satiation of desires and needs by this All Powerful Being. These needs must be recognized, associated with their appropriate and realistic avenues of satisfaction, and active measures must be taken for the individual to undertake to achieve the goal through his or her own efforts. Further, the disappointment of the individual at not having his or her needs met by this superhuman agency is another issue that must be brought to awareness and dealt with, as there is often a residual core of feelings of anger, betrayal, and unworthiness.

Fifth, the orientation of the group has been to encourage functioning in spiritual or noetic realms of experience, and to severely delimit participation in so-called worldly activity. The re-emerging member must learn how to reuse his or her ability to function in the world, and rebalance it with the newly found abilities to become immersed in the subconscious and Superconscious mind.

Sixth, the cult members may have been indoctrinated with a "chosen people" mentality. The symptoms of this emphasis are an attitude of "specialness", superiority, or exclusiveness, often combined with an injunction to proselytize or teach the doctrine for others. The members of these cultic groups have nominal community, that is, they report a sense of feeling loved by and belonging to the group, yet inwardly feel isolated and disconnected from others. Further, they may have difficulties in achieving intimacy because they have learned that many of their feelings and impulses are wrong or unacceptable to a superhuman agency, and must not be expressed. They may feel split-off from the world and society, or even persecuted by it.

After living for months and years in a cultic group, feeling so different from others makes resurfacing in society an awkward and scary experience for them. Exploration in a safe environment of common interests and similar needs, together with learning new strategies for communicating and negotiating with others can help heal the alienation and loneliness ex-cult members may feel. Ultimately, a former cult member must reconcile within him or herself that it is all right to be a person. This means it is OK to have to have feelings and needs, to be confused and not have all the answers, and to be able to reach out to another from the inner core of humanness. From this core of vulnerability and strength, he or she can step out from behind the "shield of the doctrine" or the "armor of the faith".

Seventh, the re-emerging member must re-bond and reintegrate him or herself into his or her circle of family, friends and society. The stranger must return from the wilderness, and rejoin the network of relationships and obligations that he or she has left behind. This requires understanding, patience and support by those that would facilitate this reintegration.

To begin this process of reintegration and inner healing that is required to emerge from a cultic group, it is important to differentiate those skills or abilities that are required to function "in the world" and those that are required to function "in the Spirit." A self-actualized individual has developed a comfortable facility with both "realities", and can operate in both fields, deriving inspiration, creative ideas, and spiritual sustenance from the spiritual, and the satisfaction of achievement and actualization, that is, making real one's dreams and goals by the practical. The chart below differentiates these necessary skills and abilities.



Process information through the concrete or rational mind

Process information through the intuitional or buddhic mind

Relate to practical or everyday realities, real world people, places and things

Relate to symbolic, archetypal or allegorical meanings of experience

Feel visceral or "gut level" feelings

Feel devotion, spiritual and altruisic emotions

Involved in real human relationships: lover, friend, or relative spouse

Relate to others in an idealized fashion: a spiritual "family", sons and daughters of God, spiritual brothers and sisters, a Father/Mother God

Immediate experience of sensations and emotions; direct response upon and contact with the environment through physical action

Experience of subtle "inner" Planes of reality and the action of spiritual agencies

Being in the body, oriented to the environment

Being focused on an abstract point within the Great Continuum of Consciousness

Being in the world, a participant in one's own life and the lives of others

Being detached from the world as an observer witnessing the contents of awareness in contemplative absorption

Strengths include participating in the world and taking responsibility for achieving one's goals

Strengths include learning from experience, developing receptivity to spiritual influences and expressing the creativity, idealism and altruism of the Higher Mind in the world

Like an amphibian, that lives its life both in the water and on land, the ex-cult member must learn to function again in the practical field of action, yet retain the ability to commune with his or her inner life. This includes the experience of both subjective, the field of thoughts and feelings, and the transubjective domain of intuitive knowledge and spiritual noumena.

The Amphibian World View

There are four ways people come to grips with the practical and spiritual sides of their human nature: through the worldviews of the materialist, the "blissed-out devotee," the psychotic, and the amphibian.

The materialist believes "only the material world is true". The materialist represses his or her spiritual side, effectively blocking out higher altruistic and intuitive impulses. He or she can get things done in the material world and is often successful in pursuing material projects or personal goals, but is not concerned with the quest for meaning and higher values.

The blissed-out devotee believes "only the spiritual world is inherently true", the material world is often viewed as a world of evil, or illusion (Maya), or a prison house imprisoning the spirit. The devotee represses, suppresses or sublimates material desires. He or she may accomplish group-endorsed projects or avocations, but may be deficient in accomplishing personally defined goals and aspirations.

There is also a tendency to live in a world of idealism, hope and faith, without having concrete or clearly defined means for bringing these aims into realization. Instead, they are left to Providence or the Supreme Being to bring into manifestation, and often, these aims simply are never achieved. The euphoria induced in the altered states of consciousness produced by prayer and meditative practices is pleasurable, and the philosophical and moral substrate of the spiritual life provide meaning and value to life. The pursuit of Grace, Beatitude or Nirvana, may give a rationale for the rituals and practices incumbent upon the spiritual devotee, and may give a sense of grand purpose to a life that hitherto may have lacked a sense of purpose. A devotee may lack the material things, but has no lack of substance, possessing his or her Soul in peace and gratitude.

The psychotic believes "neither the material world nor the spiritual world are true, trustworthy or reliable." The psychotic takes refuge in illusion and fantasy, rejects the world's values, and is denied the peace of the Spirit: his or her inner world is one of perpetual psychological torment. The psychotic's world is filled with distortion by hallucinations and delusions. Their effective action hindered is by regressive or inappropriate behavior. The psychotic whose life lacks compassionate and understanding therapeutic intervention often makes little or no progress either spiritually or materially, progressively deteriorates, and ultimately wastes the promise and potentials of his or her life.

The amphibian believes "both the material and spiritual world are true", and thus accepts both the material and spiritual sides of his or her nature. The amphibian experiences both material desires and spiritual aspirations, works on both aspects and makes progress in both areas. He or she can integrate meaning and values, yet has clearly-defined and coherent goals and can accomplish practical projects. He or she can differentiate between the realities and requirements of the spiritual path and the material existence and can function effectively in both.

The ex-cult member has the resource of having taken time off from his or her normal pattern of life, and has devoted some time to the spiritual quest. This open conduit that has been formed through spiritual practices and prayers allows a communication with the Higher Mind and the dimension of Spirit. Most people caught up in the concerns of daily living rarely experience this dimension. This conduit to the Higher Mind can be a pipeline for creativity, inspiration, and intuition. It adds rewarding meta-values to living, and opens the door to communion with Supernal Reality.

Becoming an Amphibian

Guidelines for developing an amphibian approach to integrating material goals and spiritual aspirations include the following:

1) Schedule time to develop the spiritual and material sides of your nature.

2) Question the ultimate conclusions that deny the validity of the material or spiritual world. Approach the problem not from the standpoint of establishing truth or error, but evaluate the relative usefulness and area of contribution that each side of your nature makes to your life and experience.

3) Visualize the ideal of an integral self that has a fulfilled material nature, and an evolved, mature and wise spiritual nature.

4) Realize that attention is the "focalizer" of the mind. Whatever you focus your attention upon is nurtured and developed. Focus your attention upon your material desires and dreams, and these will fructify; focus your attention upon your spiritual nature, and you will reap the rich harvest of wisdom, understanding, and virtue.

5) Have a location where you perform material activities. An example is a personal office with a desk containing a typewriter or computer, a calculator, stamps, pens, pencils, and paper. In this place you will pay bills, write correspondence, set goals, and organize your material life.

In another location, have a place of peace and seclusion where you can devote time to spiritual activities such as prayer and meditation, introspection and spiritual journal writing. In this place you may wish to design an altar, have a meditation cushion, incense, inspirational books, flowers, power objects, pictures of holy men or women from whom you draw inspiration. Spend time in both places daily.

6) Realize the stream of your motivation runs in two directions: toward concrete achievement and towards transcendence. Concrete achievement works on definite goals in your personal life; transcendence works in the realm of the Spirit for the development of your Higher Nature and an ultimate Union or Beatitude with the Divine. Allow your motivation to liberate your determination and aspiration.

7) Each of the functions of your personality have a material side and a spiritual side. Consider the qualities represented in the following table:





Experiences physical world

Experiences spiritual dimensions


Operates in physical world, through work and play

Expresses ecstatic dance, mudras, movement of the Spirit through the body


Experiences longing for a compatible mate, intimacy and sexual union

Experiences devotion and longing for the Spirit, and for liberation


"Earthy" emotions of anger, grief, satisfaction, attraction

"Heavenly" emotions of joy, love, compassion, faith, courage


"Gut level" feeling sense, reveals the truths of the organism, of others' true intentions, and best strategies among alternatives

"Still small voice," reveals truths of the Superconscious Mind and of the Divine Order; makes manifest the requirements of the Divine Will


Plans, analyzes, and defines the steps to accomplish material goals; provides reality testing and checking of the correctness of information

Discriminates the true Nature of the Soul, conferring Enlightenment


Directs human life toward definite goals, makes decisions

Disciplines life according to moral principles, refines habits, character and behavior


Identifies with the physical body, the unique talents and personal history that makes up the human personality

Identifies as a spiritual essence, as the Transpersonal Self, having a sense of Purpose, Spiritual Ability and Compassion

8) Visualize yourself as a spiritual hero or Master. Consider what this sublime attainment would be like. Visualize your material success, doing, being, and having what you want in life. Consider what it would take for you to achieve this pinnacle of material achievement. Notice if these two scenarios make conflicting demands on your time and resources. Design a lifestyle or situation where you could have both.

By accepting and developing both aspects of your nature, you adopt the amphibian strategy. The amphibian strategy, living in the waters of the Spirit, but hatching the eggs of your goals and dreams in the warm earth of practical functioning yields the fullest experience of life.

Successful reintegration is possible, even though you may have spent long periods under a cult's hypnotic domination. The ex-cult member can be reassured that the time spent exploring the worlds of the Spirit was not wasted, but was an open door into a world of understanding and value. The key lesson that must be learned is that practical functioning should not be eschewed, but vigorously pursued with an aim to achieve a balanced development of spiritual and material natures. Those who pursue this path enjoy the best of both worlds!

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