Going Off the Deep End into Cultism

By George A. Boyd © 2019

Q: You include several techniques for working on the personality in your intermediate meditation courses, the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program. How can I be sure I’m not fundamentally altering my personality, like what happens in cults?

A: We can characterize seven major levels of work on the personality, together with the methods that are used to access each layer. These are briefly described below.

  1. Your actual experience – this is your moment-to-moment experience in the present time—what we call the zone of the Conscious mind. Mindfulness, being present and observing your mental activity objectively, taps this level. The deeper form of mindfulness, Vipassana, in which you actively process and release the material arising in the present time, also operates at this level.
  2. Your story about your experience – this is your ego’s attempt to show itself to others in a favorable and positive light. At this level, you seek to appear logical, right, and acceptable in the eyes of others; you may present yourself to them as successful, competent, and expert, even though you are not. This is the layer in which you encounter your defense mechanisms. Psychodynamic therapies interface with your ego at this level, accessing both your owned personal narrative and your disowned “shadow.”
  3. Your emotional reactions – This includes your emotional “conclusions” about what your experience means. This influences your self-image. This layer is the emotional truth that you feel beneath the false impressions you convey to the world through shaping your appearance, what you disclose to others, and what you tell others about yourself. Humanistic therapies tap this level.
  4. The network of beliefs associated with your emotions – This makes up your essential “programming” that colors your mindset. This is the perceptual set through which you view the world and what seems possible to you. You can change this programming through autohypnosis and affirmation. Cognitive behavioral therapy works with the limiting, self-sabotaging, and misery-creating beliefs you harbor at this level, and attempts to reconstruct them. As you uproot this conditioning that separates you from your Soul, you can begin to align your personality with your authentic Self and connect with your Soul’s creative expression and purpose.
  5. Changing selected beliefs to conform to a doctrine or philosophy – Cults and mind-control groups use this method to control your personality and to make it obey a set of moral or ideological principles. This might take the form of living up to ideal behavioral standards, obeying the commands of the group leader, or conforming every aspect of your life to a prescribed lifestyle. You may be indoctrinated to hold beliefs acceptable to the doctrine of the group. You may be “brainwashed” to re-identify with a new sense of personal identity. You may be manipulated to give up your personal life entirely and live only to carry out the leader’s agenda and the group’s mission.
  6. Spiritual detachment – At this level, you enter an altered state of consciousness in which you re-identify with a spiritual essence—nucleus of identity, spirit, or ensouling entity—and regard your personality as unreal or dream-like. Here, you detach from your life entirely and pursue spiritual development. In some groups, receiving a new spiritual name, taking monastic vows, or abandoning personal ambitions and dedicating your life to spiritual practice accompany this new state of identification.
  7. Dissolution of your personality – In some spiritual traditions, you may be trained in practices that actually turn off the personality and interfere with its ability to function. The aim of these practices is to dissolve the ego and personality so that you ultimately realize your Oneness with the Divine.

Cults co-opt many of the methods used at layers one through four—such as focusing on issues, hypnosis, affirmation, and shaping beliefs—to establish you in a new state of identity. They indoctrinate you in their belief systems and philosophy with an aim to control you. They may have you remain in a trance-like altered state of consciousness to have you separate and disidentify with your personality.

In Mudrashram®, we teach methods in our intermediate meditation courses to allow you to interface with levels one, two, and four. We show you these methods to enable you to connect with your authentic Self and your Soul, to express and actualize your unique gifts.

Once you adopt modalities that move you into zones five through seven, you enter the territory where you begin artificially controlling the personality to follow another’s agenda. This occurs in cults and spiritual groups where you learn your personality is flawed, evil, or an illusion; you are urged to conform to an ideal lifestyle or live in an altered state of consciousness.

If you steer clear of shaping your personality according to religious doctrines and other people’s values, you will avoid going off the deep end into cultism and fanaticism. Honor what is actually within you and work with this. If you complete this inner process, your personality will become an instrument of your own Soul—not a slave to someone else who controls you.

If you are exiting a cultic group and you are trying to make sense of what happened to you—and you want a structured way to approach this—you may wish to consider signing up for our Cult Recovery Program.

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