Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Should I stay or should I go? Why breaking with the Fellowship is hard to do.


In the 1970s, "Wachet auf" (literally "wake up") was used as a form of reveille at the Fellowship's "Lincoln Lodge."

"Insider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 5, 2017:
I have also been interested in...why so many people remain in the Fellowship when they freely admit they get nothing from Robert’s “teaching” or from being around him. Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):
Some are employed by the Fellowship and are not ready, or are too old, to replace that income.

Some are not ready to risk losing some or all of their friends. Even if they keep a few, they will probably be excluded from larger gatherings, like at Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Some (quite a few, really) now have their own children in the Fellowship.

Some can’t live with having people think about them (ex-members who have lost all “spiritual” possibilities) the way they used to, or currently, think about members who left.

Some have businesses (housekeeping, outdoor work, carpentry) that might suffer if they lose member support.

Some are 60+ years old and pay so little (compared to their earlier years), that it can be thought of, not as a “teaching payment,” but a modest membership fee to the local country club.

Some want to stick around to see what finally happens to Robert and the Fellowship.

Some imagine that they would have to sell their home and move away from OH, since OH is “Fellowship territory.”

Some (especially the “kids”) find Apollo a fun place to hang out when they come home on vacation. (And they only have to pay $40/mo for the first 2 years, maybe longer if they are friends with Rowena, Dorian or Sasha.)

Some are afraid of the unknown, including what they might come to see once removed from Robert and the FoF.

"Wouldnt You Like To Know" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 6, 2017:
Some have had their brains so washed for so long that they cannot function without the crutch of FoF/REB. As one early FoF student, now dead, put it so aptly: ‘A System or a Way is the thorn one uses to remove the thorn of life from one’s side. If you are not careful, you might get two thorns stuck in your side.’

"Tim Campion" wrote on the - Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog May 7, 2017:
Insider, Thank you for illuminating some of the reasons leaving the Fellowship can be so difficult. It helps soften my judgment about those who stay on. And I suspect some, like me, are more guided by inertia, simply finding it easier to remain where they are, until perhaps external circumstances force a change.

"Insider" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 7, 2017:
Tim [above],

Also, many people stay for no other reason than “Robert is a Conscious Being,” to which I respond (at least to myself), “Since when are you able to recognize if someone else is a Conscious Being, whatever that is anyway,” or “What benefit is it to you that someone else is supposedly a Conscious Being?” or “If that’s what you want for yourself, don’t you think you have to stop following him at some point and become that yourself?” Next reason: Some people, if not all, are addicted to the flattery that Robert dishes out (and expects in return). “Nice to see you, dear.” “Nice to evolve with you.” “Keep doing what you’re doing (including making those ‘voluntary donations’).” “You’re all conscious beings now.” “I’ll be the first to greet you when you enter Paradise.”

"ton2u" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 6, 2016:
What kept me in the cult and “on the fence” after I realized I had to leave, was my connection to family and friends who were still in the FOF. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to see them after I left and I knew what my leaving would mean to them – it would be seen and interpreted as betrayal on my part, and of course I would be considered ‘anathema’ – just another “life person” to be shunned and beneath contempt for the “chosen people” on the FOF ‘ark.’ (When I tried to “rescue” my wife from the situation she quoted burton’s remark about my leaving, he said: “he doesn’t understand the system”).

As a good little cultist I had “dutifully” severed all human connections outside the FOF during the 5 years I lived at “the ranch.” After a brief stay at the Blake cottage I experienced first hand burton’s shenanigans and knew then what his “system” was about from the inside out. With that I knew I had to leave the FOF. But I lingered, I moved back in with my wife, and tried to reconcile what had happened…. but couldn’t.

So I jumped ship… and landed on my face… I won’t go over the details again, it’s already in the back pages here. Suffice it to say, before leaving I knew it would be difficult and that’s also partly why I lingered in the cult beyond the time I knew I had to leave – but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to survive as an ‘island’ in “life.”

I guess the point of this brief rehash is to say this: my general “berating” of those who continue to stay in the FOF supporting and enabling burton, is an attempt to appeal to any shred of conscience which may still be functioning in a member who might be reading here.

I realize there’s a problem with that “appeal” on several levels… it assumes there is a functioning conscience after possibly years and decades of brainwashing… and berating, or playing the “guilt card” is probably not going to be very “appealing” in and of itself… (I guess that’s obvious but thanks nonetheless for pointing that out ION).

I tend to forget how difficult it was to leave… and I was only in the cult for 5 years. For those who have been in much longer than I, it must be that much more difficult to even consider a new life outside the cult.

I get where ION is coming from and I like the idea of taking a life-affirming approach toward fence sitters… what’s good about living “life” as opposed to what’s wrong with you people for paying your dues to a psychopathic sociopath… but if a person thinks they’re happy in their world then I suppose they’re happy.

If they’re not happy or satisfied, and if they have the courage, or gumption, or foolishness, or whatever it takes to “jump” then by all means… there’s a flavor-full world out beyond the psycho-emotional confines of the cult – but it has to be experienced, it has to be lived, I can’t describe it in a way that will make it a reality.

I wish I would have had the benefit of something like this forum when I’d left the cult – I’m pretty sure it would have gotten me off the fence sooner and I suspect it would have been a source of support which might have helped with my recovery…. but that was then, before internet… this is now.

An adaptation paraphrasing an old story:
…the freed prisoner would think that the real world was superior to the world in the cave; the escapee would feel blessed for the change, pity the other prisoners and would want to bring fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight.

But the eyes of the freed prisoner have by now become acclimated to the light of the sun, and would be blinded upon re-entering the cave, just as s/he was when first exposed to the sun.

The prisoners in the cave would infer from the escapee’s blindness that the journey out of the cave caused harm and that they should not undertake a similar journey.

Therefore, if they were able, the prisoners would reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave.

Plato

"ton2u" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 7, 2016:
Thanks again ION for a thought-full response… although I address you directly here – rather than “sideways” – this is intended for any and all who may be interested enough not to scroll on by.

Maybe a bit more context… although there is criticism herein, this is to provide a little “testimony of freedom” as opposed to an inclination toward derision… I don’t know if it’s “the correct method” but it is another way…. as they say “there are many ways to skin a cat” – a horrible saying, but you’ll get the point.

When I left the cult I wrote a letter to burton to explain why… it wasn’t lengthy, it basically said that I was leaving because there was no attempt at a democratic process in the organization, that if all the decision making came from the top, from burton and his minions, it leaves out the largest part of the membership. I wrote that the “system” he had in place in effect excluded the majority of “Friends” with no consideration for the opinions or concerns – I’ll resist punning on “input” – from “ordinary” folks like me who labored in the field, for example…. or all those folks paying their dues who were supposedly also stakeholders in the organization.

I acknowledged in the letter that a more democratic approach to running the organization would be “messy” when it comes to taking into account the opinions of all members, there would be obvious challenges in restructuring the way decisions were made but the result would be a membership which feels included and emotionally invested in the organization… not just financially.

I realized later how naive that letter was, or how naive I was to hope it might actually change burton’s mind about how the FOF operates.

I gave the letter to my then future ex-wife who hand-delivered it to burton, he read it on the spot – his comment to her was, as stated previously: “he doesn’t understand the system.”

You see, the opinion of others does matter…. although relying on anyone’s opinion – including one’s own – is “iffy” since opinions tend to shift and change anyway. In this case, I was done with the FOF, I understood what I needed to about burton’s “system” and I had already checked-out emotionally. But his opinion of what I’d written influenced my future ex-wife to reject my efforts to free her from the cult… this other person’s opinion factored into the course my life would take from that point going forward.

I can say that I do rely on the opinion of others, does that make me weak? There may be truth in a cliche’ – “no man’s an island” comes to mind. To get along in life I’ve learned that compromise is part of the process of living, most everyone has an opinion and it’s important (to me) to listen and to take in what another thinks about a given situation – and when I have one, to offer my own opinion in the process. If I reject another’s opinion it says something about me and my own state of mind. Listening, and really hearing, is an act of love. Imo a gestalt of the dialectical process is part of what makes us human – this is something that’s missing in burton’s “system” and it’s what I tried to point out – in all sincerity – in my departure letter.

Yes Ion, I have met many others over the years who I consider “kindred spirits” – true friends whose opinions I value, I know I can rely on their opinions because of who they are… to me this is a source of strength. My community work has brought me into contact with some remarkable people, “ordinary” folks… “extra-ordinary” even… one quip that comes to mind was from E… we were “mind walking” one day when she said words to the effect: “you know, we’re not all that great alone (in isolation) – it takes others…”

etc

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 21, 2016:
It seems that some folks within the FoF who have doubts, are ‘on the fence’, or are even nearly ready to leave are visiting this blog. For you, these words by “Traveler”, written in 2009, may be of value. Posted here with permission:

Why did you leave the School?
What do you say when someone you knew inside the organization, and not even too well, calls you one day from another continent and asks you to please explain why did you decide to leave the School? A brave step actually, because such direct questions are not normally voiced by current members.

It’s not an easy answer, mostly because the question is phrased in a way I would not phrase it now. When you’re inside, you hear claims that people leave because they become “negative” about the money or sex or some other external issue, and because of such a trifle, they fail to look beyond to a “higher aim” that the organization is ostensibly serving.

Not to diminish the sexual manipulations and misuse of funds: they are no trifles. But they have been rationalized before and can always be rationalized again, in the name of the cause. That is what keeps people in: as long as they believe in the essential goodness of the cause of an “esoteric school”, any irregularities can be explained away and swept under the carpet, a carpet that I think would be several inches off the floor by now, after 37 years of the FoF.

But current members say external issues are never the real reason: it’s that people “lose the work”. Well, what can I say – they are right. If by “work” they mean perpetual self-monitoring for manifestations of thoughts and actions not in line with RB’s wishes; repetition of a magical formula that is to assist me in reaching the ever elusive Divine Presence, with a view to create an astral identity that will survive physical death – then yes, I have thoroughly lost any interest in the “work”. Whether you view that as a tragic failure or not depends on which side of the fence you are looking from.

I say I never decided to leave because leaving eventually happened just as naturally as opening my eyes after waking up in the morning.

It’s not “I left when I saw that RB was wrong,” or “I left when I saw that GH was wrong.” Not even “I left when I saw that PDO and GIG were wrong.” That all pales in light of the realization that I personally had been spectacularly, mind–bogglingly, fabulously WRONG.

I was wrong to take on faith so many statements of belief just because they sounded good and I wanted them to be true.

I was wrong to feel special.

I was wrong to believe in a hierarchy of more and less enlightened individuals.

I was wrong to assume that others can accurately tell me what I am thinking, feeling or what state I am in.

I was wrong to think that just because some aspects of the teaching make sense, all of it should make sense, even if I don’t yet understand it.

I was wrong to grasp at the slightest bit of teaching that seemed reasonable while dismissing massive evidence to the contrary.

I was wrong to want to be told what to do.

I was wrong to suppress my own dissenting questions because of peer pressure.

I was wrong to want to get others to express support for our beliefs.

I was wrong to make myself feel guilty for being non-compliant.

I was wrong to want to make others feel guilty for being non-compliant.

I was wrong to continue supporting what I no longer believed in.

I was wrong to value security and familiarity over my conscience.

I was wrong to feel that all this was normal.

I was wrong to feel that I had no choice.

I was wrong to think that I would assure any real friendships just by belonging to an organization together.

And above all, I was wrong to not trust myself and my own better judgment.

I left because that period of my life was irrevocably over.

But the really interesting question for me right now is not “Why did you leave?”

Much more fascinating and perplexing is “Why did I stay so long?”

"ton2u" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, October 22, 2016:
The “Traveler” re-post [above] illustrates an “awakening” vis a’ vis the cult trap, an "awakening" which requires first recognizing errors in your thinking and judgement AND a willingness to acknowledge / accept the errors as for what they are… in the old parlance – not to “buffer.”

From there the only sensible thing to do is to engage in actions to attempt correction of mistakes.

Realizing and admitting to your errors is a lesson in humility… then maybe forgiving yourself for being all too “human” can begin…. while you’re at it you can thank your “lucky stars” that you were able to detect and begin to correct your mistakes… otherwise…

Something I quoted from the previous page:
“To learn we must be free to err, to make mistakes, for in correcting our mistakes we advance the process of learning in a way unique to our species. we evolve precisely because of (our) extraordinary scope of error…. We evolve not iust by learning, as all sentient creatures do, but especially by learning from our mistakes. The exceptionally wide latitude for error typifies human singularity, the ennoia (intentionality) inherent to our species. But if we allow our mistakes to go undetected and uncorrected, we demonstrate the singularity of our species in a destructive way, a deviant way.”

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