Abraham Lincoln once said that no man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent. And then it must be considered that the giving of consent is an act of free will and therefore the giver of consent is governing himself by giving his power away.
The spiritual movement I have sparked is often targeted by people who are made uncomfortable by it. All change is met with resistance, so this does not come as a surprise. But I hear that people accuse the movement of being a “cult”. Many Teal Tribe members have come forward to confess this year that their family and friends are flipping out about their involvement with myself or the group because they think it is a cult. They have asked me to speak about my opinions on the matter. And so I will. Those who have become convinced that this movement is a cult are convinced that I am the ultra charismatic cult leader and that those who follow me are my mind control victims. I have conflicting emotions about this opinion because on one hand, I would love to blow it off as too ridiculous to pay mind to and on the other hand I find that it bothers me. It bothers me because I was hurt by actual cults in my childhood. In fact one of the main reasons I decided to begin giving people the tools to heal and lead a spiritual revolution is to undo the damage done by cults. You might imagine that someone like myself, given my own past would be extra sensitive to being called a cult leader given that cults were the source of my pain as a child.
The word cult is a super controversial one. It is a subjective term and so it is open to interpretation. To begin with, the word cult had no derogatory or negative connotations. Cult was simply a word used to describe a group of religious people. In the 1900s it became a term to describe a group of people who demonstrated excessive religious devotion. And now, it is a derogatory term used as an attacking ad hominem to discredit, invalidate and dehumanize devoted spiritual or religious groups. This is why we need to define what a cult really is if we are determined to use the term. People use the word loosely and flippantly as an insult, not knowing how serious an accusation that really is now a days.
It is accurate to say that religious and spiritual groups do exist that cause harm. This is really what we should be concerned with. We should be concerned with whether spiritual movements or practices cause harm.
No definitive checklist exists to diagnose whether or not a group is a cult, but here is a link to multiple opinions about cult criteria.
Two PhD’s, Janja Lalich and Michael D. Lanagone in association with the ICSA created a “cult checklist”, a way to tell if a group is in fact a cult or not. I am going to focus on their assessment for the sake of this blog. Essentially what they determined is that “concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused”. The following list is a collection of behavioral patterns that are commonly found in cultic environments. The idea is that if you compare these patterns to the situation you were or are in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved) you can determine if there is cause for concern.
1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the truth, as law.
2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, mind control, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
12. The group is preoccupied with making money.
13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group
In the hopes that I may put rest to some of your fears, I’m going to address these items point by point in the context of the spiritual movement I have sparked.
- I ask that people have unwavering commitment to themselves. Questioning is a central theme of this group because it is the only way to find out what is true for you personally. I often teach that the idea of “One Truth” should be let go of entirely.
- Questioning is encouraged; doubt is seen as normal and a healthy part of expansion… A call to discover personal truth. Dissent does not lead to punishment. People are welcomed in the group even if their opinion varies from my own or other members’. The only thing that is discouraged is antagonism and abuse because it is not constructive.
- Though consciousness-altering states are encouraged by myself (just as they are in nearly every spiritual tradition) they are used to help people to access things like personal freedom, peace and authenticity. They are not used to suppress doubts. Doubt is natural and a beneficial calling for knowing.
- I have many opinions about the healthiest or best ways to do certain things. Like any spiritual teacher, my opinion is in fact the cornerstone of my career. But I encourage people to try on the opinions and decide if they are benefitted by it. If not, they are encouraged to drop them and pick up a belief that better serves them. I am an initiator, but I am not a dictator. I do not dictate what people do unless they ask for my opinion and then it is their choice to implement the suggestion or not. No one in this group needs my permission for anything and needing permission suggests a lack of self-trust. I teach people to govern themselves.
- This is perhaps the item on the list that is the most accurate. I do not think the groups “specialness” makes it any better or higher than any other group, but I do think it is very special. I do not think humanity needs to be saved and that I am the only one to save it, but I am here on an important mission and so are many of us at this time. And my life experiences as well as my inborn spiritual abilities do qualify me for this purpose and role.
- I teach oneness. Us vs. Them thinking is out of alignment with oneness. But sometimes language restricts us. In a certain context, generalizations involving the words us and them helps people to comprehend a concept, such as “we have dedicated our life to authenticity and that is not something they will understand at first or thank you for.” This is not done to encourage polarization.
- Everyone on earth is accountable to something that could be seen as having “more authority” than they do including me. But I do not believe in authority in general, over anyone. In a universe that is one, even he who has authority over you is you. So you can only ever have authority over yourself. Power struggles are the heart of “authority” and this ideology has no place in a world of equality.
- If something feels unethical or reprehensible to someone, it is an inner message that they are out of alignment with themselves and this message is never to be ignored. No ends justify inauthenticity. No ends justify a loss of integrity. And it is the fact that I encourage honesty with one’s family and friends that causes the most conflict between members and their non-member family and friends.
- I see the tribe as a healing and support oriented group. As such, I do not see how inducing shame and guilt could play any part in healing and I do not believe that anyone in Teal Tribe would succumb to or participate in peer pressure. And if they did, other members would call them on it. Guilt and shame are not tools used in an authenticity movement (which is what this spiritual movement is) because they discourage authenticity.
- You’ve got me there. I do expect my members to be subservient. That’s why I teach people to question everything, including me, listen to their own internal guidance system, be honest with themselves, become their real authentic self, set themselves free from fears and own their own their own life to the degree that they can fully live it. Hahahahaha, I’m obviously the worst cult leader ever. You do not have to cut ties with anyone or radically alter your goals and activities before or after joining the group. But regardless of whether you were listening to myself or Deepak Chopra or Oprah or Eckhart Tolle or anyone else for that matter, anyone who is in the field of self-help will have you re-evaluate your life. This re-evaluation (and the changes that naturally occur during a spiritual metamorphosis or healing cycle) may reveal to you personally that cutting ties with family or friends and radically altering your personal goals and activities is in alignment with your highest good. But because it is not a requirement in any way, this decision is left to the individual members themselves.
- I do not know if the group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. I think most members are more preoccupied with their own healing. I think wanting validation is a normal human urge and so many people naturally will want to bring people in, in order to be validated. I also think that if people think being a part of the group will benefit someone, they have good reason to bring them into the group. I am preoccupied with positive world change and I have no plan to set up a “missionaries” division of the group. I would hope that the quality of my work and the beauty of the concept of Teal Tribe would be reason enough for people to join of their own volition. There is no need to convert someone to something that feels good and has enough obvious value.
- Money is not what this movement is about. That being said, I am a spiritual teacher by career and I do not think money is a bad thing. It can do amazing things. I think we are afraid of a tool (which is what money is) instead of what the tool is going to be used for. Money is necessary to live in society on earth at this current time. If I don’t make any, I can’t keep doing what I do, including producing free content. No one is required to give money to be part of the group or movement. If people do not think something has value to them, they do not need to pay for it.
- No one is required to do anything in this group. People are encouraged to be self-loving in their actions, regardless of whether that means donating time or donating no time at all. People in this group who want to donate their time, come forward as volunteers and volunteer for as long as they feel called to do so.
- No one is encouraged to ONLY socialize with members. But people do find that they prefer socializing with other members. This is after all, a tribe that exists as a support and place of belonging for those who have no support and no place to belong or who feel like they want more connection.
- I have no control over whether the most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group or believe there is no other way to be. I can officially say that there is absolutely no reprisal, consequence or punishment for leaving the group. And the group is open to return members.
Above all, this group is a devoted group. But what sets us apart from a cult is what we are devoted to. Self-devotion is the thing Tribers are most dedicated to and hold each other accountable for. Before this raises your "selfishness" red flags, think about this, you can not be self devoted and believe in oneness without being devoted to the well being of others as well. They are indivisible from you. Self-devotion is what bothers people the most because many would have you do what makes THEM feel good.
If people are worried about being led astray or joining a cult, the real issue is a lack of self-trust. If people are worried about someone else being lead astray or joining a cult, the real issue is that they do not trust that person with themselves. If self trust did exist, one would trust themselves to keep on the path of what is right for themselves and the world regardless of other people going astray. Let this be the real conversation between yourself and you if you’re worried this is a cult. Ask yourself, why don’t I trust myself? Let this be the real conversation between yourself and those who think this is a cult that you have joined. Why don’t you trust me with myself? It is a very good measure of what they think of you and it is after all very insulting.
As with anything else, trust your own discernment. Decide for yourself. There are no consequences for doing so.