I feel I should have been prepared for getting into one of these groups. I’m also one who grew up in church. My grandfather was a pastor, and in high school I was president of our Young Life Club and vice president of Methodist Youth Fellowship. But I was also struggling with my involvement in these groups and with drinking and drugs. I had two different lives, and I kept them very separate.
In college my drinking really became a problem. I wanted to quit. I went to my psychology professor and said, “I need some help with this; what can I do?” And she said, “Well, I have a friend who teaches Transcendental Meditation. You might want to try this technique.” I told her, “I’m a Christian.” But she replied, “It’s not a religion; it will just enhance what you believe about your Christianity.” “Well, fine,” I thought. I just wanted to quit drinking.
So I was initiated into TM, and I did it religiously. I stayed sober for about six months, which at that point was great for me. I got more and more into TM. I started reading more Eastern books, such as The Biography of a Yogi, Yogananda’s book, and Be Here Now, by Ram Dass. But because of my addictive personality, I continued to struggle with the drinking; and I was really getting into TM.
My father passed away around that time, and a few months later I got my first DUI. I decided, “Now it’s getting bad, and I really have to quit.” So I got into an outpatient treatment facility, which lasted about three weeks, and I knew I couldn’t drink anymore. But I wasn’t really dealing with the alcohol issue.
So I moved to LA to start working on my acting career (I studied acting in college). In LA, I started attending Self-Realization Fellowship, which had a temple on Sunset Boulevard. There was a little chapel there with a lake, and I used to go there and meditate. Then I began to attend their Sunday services. I became more and more involved with Self-Realization Fellowship, taking their lessons and doing the Kriya.
I still wasn’t drinking; I was sober. I knew I couldn’t drink—but I wasn’t dealing with that issue because I thought it was history.
While I was involved with Self-Realization Fellowship, I ran into an old friend whom I had gotten into TM a few years before. Now, however, she was into Siddha Yoga. She said, “You ought to come down to the ashram and try this.” So I went to the Siddha Yoga ashram and got into that too.
I went from being a Christian and growing up in church, to TM, which I thought enhanced my Christianity, to Self-Realization Fellowship, to Siddha Yoga. I was now bowing before the guru, leaving fruit at his feet, and getting my kundalini zapped (that was the big thing in Siddha Yoga). The guru would come around and either hit you with his peacock feathers, which would awaken your kundalini, or touch your forehead, which also was supposed to help. And I believed it.
The next major event in my life at that time occurred after I began working in a bookstore. The manager gave me responsibility for the whole New Age section, and I was bringing in the best books. I used to get into philosophical discussions with a woman who kept coming by. One evening, she invited me to her house for dinner. Her husband was there, and we all got into a conversation. After dinner, she asked, “What is the most important thing to you? What do you want in your life?” I said, “I want to be like this with God. That’s more important to me than anything. I just want to be like this with God.” And she said, “I have some friends who I think can help you.” She gave me the names of three people and their phone numbers. So off I went again. I made appointments and met these people. The group they were with had been started by an astrologer from Italy who had a large following of actors and actresses —people in the arts—in New York and LA.
So now I was going to meetings with this group, called The Work. I was sitting there with people from the soaps and people from the Metropolitan Opera, and I was very flattered by all that. There were also college-educated people, accountants, and business people there, so I thought, “There’s nothing wrong with this.” To me, what was neat about this group was that when I made the appointment for my first meeting, they said, “This path isn’t for everybody. So what we’d like for you to do before you come to meet with us is to say the Lord’s Prayer. Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?” I said, “Sure, I know it.” And when I prayed it, all I can tell you is that my room just filled with energy. And I thought, “Yes, this is for me.” So I called them back and I said, “I had this experience, and I want to meet you all.”
I went to meet the three leaders of the group. During this first meeting, I was told about how the leader had started the group, that he had been the leader in New York, but that the group in New York had broken up. They said that the leader had been the Christ—not Jesus Christ, but he had the Christ Consciousness. While the group was in New York, one of the members, a gentleman from Greece, had died of cancer, and the group had a prayer vigil over the body for a month because the leader kept saying, “I will raise this person from the dead.” Six people were always there, praying for that whole month, and finally some people from the group called the police. The police came in and arrested the people who were there, and then the group started splitting up. They told me about a trial for the leader, and that people who had given him all kinds of gifts were trying to get their money and gifts back from him. Eventually, I heard that he jumped from a 10th floor on West End Avenue in New York and killed himself.
And even though the group members told me these things the first day I met with them, at that point it didn’t matter any more—I wanted to be in this group. The front, so to speak, for this group was a theater. The fact that actors and actresses were part of the group and that the group was very secretive (members weren’t out proselytizing) was very appealing to me. I remember driving down Hollywood Boulevard to go to the theater one night and watching Moonies sell flowers right near the theater and thinking, “Those poor people in that cult.” One of the things the leaders kept telling us was, “Just remember, we are not a cult. We are occult.” And it was like, “Oh, yeah. That makes a lot of sense.” It sounded very heavy and real to me, and I bought into it.
When I got into this group, I thought, “What could be wrong with it? There’s no sex outside of marriage. We were supposed to be celibate. We had a vegetarian diet. Everybody was clean cut. We couldn’t even wear jeans.” I remember going to Disneyland during this time and thinking that the Disneyland employees were as clean cut as we were.
The group used the Bible, but they also used a number of Alice Bailey books; for example, White Magic and Ponder on This. They also used Emmett Fox’s book, Constructive Thinking, and his treatise on The Lord’s Prayer—a combination of a lot of things. We also were given a special meditation. One of the things we were continually told in this group (remember, here we were, it was very secretive, and there were all these actors and actresses) was, “Don’t be glamorized by your affiliation with this group.” Well, how could I not be? People in the group were told such things as, “Did you know that in past lifetimes this couple were Mary and Joseph (or another of the old great world leaders)?” It just was a great group to hang around with.
We had a special mission in the theater. We put on shows. People would come in and see a show, and we were doing very well. We received many awards, but nobody outside knew what the driving force of the theater was behind the scenes. We were told one of the reasons we were doing so well is that by coming to see the shows at the theater, these people would have entities removed from them, and these entities would attach to all of us. The people attending the theater wouldn’t know what was going on, but they would “get cleared” by coming to our theater, and that would keep them coming back.
I was in this group for two and a half years. Getting out started for me in 1982 when the leaders had a falling out, causing a split in the group. We had to decide which group, which leader, we would go with. And the group split; families split. Children—eleven-, twelve-, thirteen-year-olds—had to decide which leader they were going to follow, and the parents just left it up to them. So families were split with some children going with one parent and some with another parent. This was a very sad time, and it was hard for everyone in the group. But we made our decisions.
At this point, there were about eighty people in the group, which just about split down the middle. The group I went with began planning to move back to Washington, because that was where our leader was in business. I said, “Fine, I have some things here to close up, and I will catch up with you all in a month or two.” About a week after I had said that, I had packed and was driving the leader’s truck across the country. She was ahead of us, and we were in Flagstaff, Arizona with these U-Haul trucks out in the parking lot. We said in a phone call with the group that it was like the Grapes of Wrath, with everybody just loaded on — but heading east instead. While we were at a hotel in Flagstaff, it was suddenly revealed to the group that “Now you’re going to Raleigh, North Carolina, and not Washington, D.C.” Okay. So there we were, and we headed to Raleigh. We didn’t know anybody, but we set up there. We started another theater, and that was January 1982.
By the following September, people weren’t getting jobs. They were starting to leave and go back to New York, back to LA, up to Washington. By the end of September, I was the last person from the group left in Raleigh. I decided, “I can’t do this any more. I can’t keep moving.” I found a job that I liked there. I was doing commercials in Charlotte, and I wanted to stay. After about a month being by myself, I wrote a letter to the leader of the group saying, “I can’t do this any more. I don’t have the strength it takes; I’m not one of you.”
And I left the group—officially, I left the group. But in my heart and mind, I still believed everything about them. I still believed the leader was Christ. Essentially, I believed that by leaving the group I was turning my back on God, that I could never go back to Him, and that I had done so for all eternity. There was absolutely no way I would be accepted back.
In yesterday’s presentations, I heard someone mention the holy loneliness. I had never been East before, and I was in North Carolina by myself. The loneliness I felt there was the darkest period of my life. I was working in this job, and I would just come home. Or maybe I’d go to the movies.
I didn’t know then that this breaking away was the beginning of a very slow, long recovery. About a month later, I was working in a play and met a woman, Julie, who would become my wife.
When I was standing there saying my vows with Julie a year later, I was thinking, “When this is over, when this marriage ends in another year or two, I’ll go back to the group.” I had never told Julie about them. We moved from Raleigh to New York.
When I was in the group, I had been engaged to a woman in the group. When all these changes were happening, and people were leaving Raleigh looking for new jobs, the woman I was going to marry went home to Brooklyn. She told her parents, who were Jewish, about being in this group, and that she believed the leader of the group was the Christ. She tried to go back, and her parents stopped her. She got really violent, and when she called me the last time I talked to her, she was calling me from Kings County Hospital. Her parents had her put in the hospital on a 72-hour mental health hold. After that, I swore I would never tell anyone about this group, because if I did, what had happened to her would happen to me.
I didn’t mention the group for two years after Julie and I had been married. The first year in New York City we didn’t attend church. I couldn’t even think about going into a church. Then Julie started going to Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, and I started attending with her. Eventually, the church had a seminar called Gods of the New Age. I thought, “This is great! I can go to this seminar with her, she’ll watch this movie and hear the discussion. Then I can explain to her what I believe, and that it’s really not that far fetched.”
Well, the woman at the seminar, Nancy, gave her testimony and started talking about a group she had been in that was very similar to the one I had been in. I thought, “No way! Our group was the special one. We were the ones who had all the answers.” But hers was so similar. And she said two words in her testimony that just jumped out at me. She said, “I’ve been duped, and everything I believed was a counterfeit.”
And with those two words, “duped” and “counterfeit,” I thought, “Yikes! That’s what has happened to me. I was duped.” And I knew I had to talk to her. I called the church and arranged a meeting with Nancy. About a week later we met in the church. She started sharing some scripture with me, and it was as if the blinders rolled off. It was as if I had never heard these things before.
But I still wasn’t ready to make a recommitment. She asked, “Do you know what you really need? You need deliverance.” I thought, “What am I getting into now?” She sent me off to a ministry where they laid hands on me and prayed for me. I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to go through with it because I don’t ever have to see these people again.” This was two and a half years after I left the group.
A week later, I was down on Eighth Avenue in the Village in New York, and I realized it had been a week since my prayer experience, and I had not thought about the group I’d been in—I hadn’t thought about going back to them. Before this, from the day I left the group, I would go to bed thinking about the group, and when and how I was going to get back to it. I would wake up every single day thinking about the group. Before the Gods of the New Age seminar, I had written a letter telling the group that I would leave my wife and come back to them if they would let me. I had stood at the mailbox and could not mail that letter.
That event was the beginning of my realization that I was free of the group. Somebody spoke yesterday about “parking issues.” I love the way she explained that when you “park” an issue when you go into a cult, the issue is still there when you come out. This is what I had to deal with then: parked issues.
Shortly after this realization, our son, Tucker, was born, and we moved back to NC. About a year later, I started seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Through a series of courses at the seminary, writing papers, and getting down in black and white the story of my experience, my healing really started. I was looking at the group. I was writing about it. I took a first-semester course called Theology and Self-Understanding. In that course, we wrote out our three earliest memories and compared them with a parable of Jesus. I always thought of myself then as the Prodigal Son—I had been out there in the world and come back.
But I started reading this parable differently, and I looked at the older son who felt like he was on the outside, looking in. I had said that same thing to my family all the time when I was growing up. I was adopted (it wasn’t any big secret), and every once in a while I said, “I feel like I’m out here, looking in. I’m not really a part of the family.” My family always said, “You’re being ridiculous; you’re part of the family.” That’s not the way I felt, but they wouldn’t acknowledge that. In the cult, I was on the inside.
So I was looking at those kinds of issues. I took another class called The Family as the Cradle of Theology, where we looked at our families from a family-systems perspective. Writing the paper for this class was the first time that I had to look at my alcoholic father, my alcoholism, and the kind of family I grew up in. This exercise forced me to start dealing with issues I had parked—not really when I started in the cult, but when I started drinking years before. It was as if I had just taken one addiction and transferred it onto another one.
I think the clincher for me was doing a couple of units of Clinical Pastoral Education. I worked as a chaplain in an alcohol and drug abuse center. Suddenly, I was counseling other alcoholics. I remember one evening I was listening to someone’s story, and I started shaking. I didn’t know what was going on. The story really started kicking up all the issues for me. It was Thanksgiving, and my wife and I were going to South Carolina to visit family. On the way back, we were driving along at night, and she said, “You know, Tucker’s little blanket is in the trunk, and he needs it so he can sleep in the car.” I pulled the car over, got out, and went to the trunk. I took his little bike and I threw it off to the side of the road, and I was tearing things apart, looking for his blanket so he could have it to sleep. I stuffed the things back in the trunk. I got back in the car, and my wife asked, “What are you so angry about?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know I was acting angry. We were driving along, and I started telling her a story about something that happened to me growing up. I looked at her, and she was crying. I asked, “Why are you crying?” She said, “Why aren’t you? That’s your story.” And I didn’t feel a thing. I really didn’t feel a thing. That’s when I decided I needed to get some counseling.
I just called a counselor in Raleigh and started seeing him, going back and working through the issues (I didn’t know it at the time, but he had graduated from the seminary). So my recovery from the cult was a recovery from my alcohol and the cult. But my recovery also was looking at my story and where I had come from, and accepting that. And the recovery was a long, slow process. It was getting away from the group, writing the paper in seminary, and talking to people about my experience. I really feel that things changed for me after the Gods of the New Age seminar when I realized I had been duped. And having those people pray for me really set me free. But even at that point I wasn’t able to work on the underlying issues. Seminary was a really good experience for me, because it gave me the opportunity and a format to look at those things and struggle through them.
Carson Miles, M.A. was a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation, Self-Realization Fellowship, and Siddha Yoga, and a member of a group called The Work. A 1995 graduate of Denver Seminary, Mr. Miles is a counselor in private practice in the Denver area. He and his wife have two sons