Are you in a cult?
Here’s the short answer: “You bet.” And, worse, it’s most likely an invisible cult!
Okay, you’re probably not a member of “a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre by the larger society”.
But you’re almost certainly a member in good standing of the Public Cult of the World, whose beliefs and practices are bizarre and abnormal by any objective healthy standard. After all, as the Dalai Lama has pointed out, in the Cult of the World you:
“…sacrifice your health in order to make money. Then you sacrifice money to recuperate your health. Then you are so anxious about the future that you don’t enjoy the present: the result being that you do not live in the present or the future; you live as if you are never going to die, and then you die having never really lived.”
It’s a totally crazy way to live, when you look directly at it! But among us members of the ubiquitous and invisible Cult, it seems the natural order of things, unremarkable and inevitable. The Cult reinforces and conceals a great many other unwritten rules, invisible beliefs and unexamined assumptions too. (One example: the Cult inculcates you day and night with the message that you’re a separate individual who must compete to “succeed” and build up a big, impressive ego-domain, or otherwise you’re a “failure”.)
Some of the Cult’s beliefs may be crazy (and make you miserable) but as soon as you start questioning them, you’re the one who’s risking madness. After all, you’d be departing from the Public Cult of the World’s “consensus reality” (which is what defines insanity).
One of the strictest rules of the Cult is the taboo against acknowledging that the Cult even exists. Thus, every day while you’re working hard and focusing intelligently on your priorities, you’re also being lulled back into being oblivious to the Cult and its bondage.
You’re being drawn into what consciousness researcher Charles Tart memorably dubbed “the Consensus Trance”. He described it as “a state of partly suspended animation, of stupor, of inability to function at [y]our maximum level… [dominated by] automatic and conditioned patterns of perception, thinking, feeling and behaving…”
Is there any escape from the Cult? Sure, but here’s the paradox: to leave the Cult you’ll have to risk being seen as…joining a cult! The official Public Cult of the World won’t provide any support if you want to wake up from the consensus trance. And if you find someone who has in some sense awakened and who offers to help you wake up, or if you band together with others for mutual support in waking up from the trance so you can leave the Cult….now that’s when your family might start to ask “Hey, have you joined a cult”?
Maddeningly, your family (and critics) will probably be right! Most small groups, however healthy and intelligent their premises might be, readily develop “groupthink” dynamics that can easily become unhealthy, and even dangerously “cultic”.
And yet without support and teaching, you’re just going to be sucked back into the consensus trance and the mediocrity of the Public Cult of the World.
What to do?
Well, you can recognize that the consensus trance and the “programming” of the Cult is everywhere and that going in and out of trance is a constant, on-going process. As you do, it will become obvious that waking up from the trance needs to happen again and again, in many little moments of choice. This is what I mean by “practice” — that choice to live deliberately, to embrace a way of life that’s fully alive, always evolving, spontaneously in-the-moment, self-aware, humorous and free. (This is the core of the “Integral Spiritual Practice” I teach.)
From this perspective, yes, you’re in the big Cult, the one that keeps re-hypnotizing you back into the consensus trance. The point is this: you can “leave the cult” now—in this very moment. May you do so, and may you keep leaving it, by waking up! Again and again and again—every day, for the rest of your life.
To your practice and awakening and freedom,