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, April 23, 2010

Warning: no fraternization!

"It would be better one were not born than leave the School" - Robert Burton

"Ollie" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, April 24, 2010:
Please do not think for a moment that the Fellowship of Friends has in any way opened up and moved away from its cult thinking. Sadly, things are as sinister as they have always been there. Here is a message to all Fellowship members from Friday, April 23, 2010:
“This is a reminder of the exercise to avoid socializing with former students. While a courteous attitude is encouraged, The Teacher has asked not to casually socialize with former students; by not spending time with students that have lost the School, one gives them the chance to experience the absence of Influence C and therefore, the opportunity to return to it. Naturally, business relationships as well as interactions with close family members are fine.
G.R. for the Apollo Directors”

"Luke" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 4, 2007 :
All

I’d like to share a theme which has become prevalent in many recent conversations with members, though not always made explicit. This theme deals with one of the primary difficulties in leaving the group: the fear of isolation.

To give some background: in the fellowship, we have an ongoing exercise (or task) to cease contact with members that have left the group. The more fundamentlist members of our group have deep-seated negative beliefs about ex-members, and attendant fear and discomfort at even crossing paths with these individuals. At another end of a wide spectrum of beliefs are members that have little regard to the task, albeit in most cases, maintaining their friendships with ex-members very privately. Members maintaining contact with ex-members are subject to warnings and are ultimately asked to leave the group if they are openly non compliant.

Regardless of a member’s position on this or other tasks, one underwrites the view, promoted by those in charge, that ex-members have lost the “most precious gift in the universe – the opportunity to awaken”. In general the outsider or non-member is devalued; in spiritual terms, he or she is considered only a possibility, whose true potential is dependent upon living in the fellowship. Fellowship rhetoric does, after all, frequently imply the group’s spiritual hegemony over all other groups in relation to the divine. The ex-member, then, is considered someone whose possibilities have ended. The ex-member is assigned the very particular status of being cursed. Again, it is important to mention that this is not representative of the deep-seated beliefs of all, but it is the view promoted by the leaders and is publicly accepted by many.

That said, many of us are at a turning point after 15, 23, or 30 years in the group. For a variety of reasons, the least of which may be the aforementioned dillema, we want to move on. Having arrived at this point, which may involve the undoing of financial or practical ties, we are left with one very large fear – that we will lose most of our friends.

Traditionally, long-time members leaving the group have moved away to some place where they could start a new life, especially if they have hitherto lived in or close to the community. There are however, those ex-members that have remained in the area, and to a greater or lesser extent, they exist with the stigma of being outsiders. It seems now that this is changing.

Now many members associate with the growing number of ex-members living nearby – these are after all, old friends that may have shared a good part of their lives. Beliefs are challenged by simple human facts; that members care for, and are inspired by their friends. In the recent words of one member, toward an ex-member and friend, “love and friendship are beyond all that”.

Some members have remade friendships after years of – at best – cordial hellos at the post office. Others are unable to revive lost relationships. Emotional breakdown sometimes occurs in cases where, having seen through their divisive attitudes, members are unable to repair historic divisions within friendships, marriages or family.

Five years ago, my good friend left the group, and in his case, I have privately maintained contact. For five years I have watched him flourish spiritually and emotionally, and this has subtly challenged my beliefs every step of the way. The belief that by following the task I protect my self and my ‘work’ from lower influences and deviations is melting down. An alternate view of the task is that of a device, that helps solidify the fellowship beliefs that are promulgated by the leaders. Moreover, the fear that is a product of such beliefs might mitigate the unthinkable – that I may someday find it not only acceptable, but even desirable, to leave the group.

If we reach out, we find that the concepts of inside and outside are dualistic in nature, limit understanding, and in many of us, engender fear. This serves the instinctive needs of the group while compromising the individual. To put a different spin on a oft-quoted fellowship jingle: the King of Clubs is keeping us in the school.

For many years I privately held the view that only formatory mind was capable of alienating ex-students. While underwriting the central beliefs of the group, I espoused a value system of my own. Now I am forced to consider a whole framework of school beliefs, which encompasses those aspects I still value, as well as those which I find reprehensible. I no longer enjoy the luxury of compartmentalizing concepts to make them fit inside my head. It is my good fortune that the remorse is not causing emotional breakdown, as I have seen in some cases; After all, I shared a special language and mentors – to whom I would now refer as The Great Explainers – that gave me permission. We spun contradictions variously as ‘work on attitudes’ and ‘feeding the higher self, not the lower’ and when the buffer succeeded, we called it ‘separation’. Clearly the Work ideas have practical and useful applications in our group, especially when second line and first line are healthy. What cannot be ignored however, is the growing tendency to use ideas without reference to context in the present moment. Good ideas become degraded by misapplication and by self-serving use. Self-reinforcing logic becomes the only frame of reference for many members, effectively disconnecting them from broader and deeper thought.

The so-called work in this paradigm is in many cases defined not only by superficial, but deeply psychological forms of exclusion and exclusivity. When we realize this, we are forced to confront, and perhaps to reconcile the contradiction; well-learned dissociative behavior has become the seedbed for misconception.

One of the many outcomes of this illusory construct, which develops over many years, is the fear of isolation. The cornerstone of that construct, to playfully misquote Gurdjieff, would read something like this: “Life is only real, then, when I am – in the fellowship – “.

If we are prepared and willing to bring more of what we can plainly see to bear on our psychology, a disquieting storm starts to gather, and what we thought was solid ground begins to fall away from under us.

In the words of Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure, that just ain’t so.”

"Skeptical Optimist" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, July 3, 2007 at 4:29 a.m.:
I’m grateful that the letter below recently reappeared thanks to a student who saves such things.
In 1993 Jill and I moved to California. I had “hid out” in New York since 1979, but in coming back we knew it would inevitably lead to the end of our membership. It was time to confront what had increasing looked like lunacy, it could be avoided no longer if I wanted to get on with my real life.
One of the people I had spent the most time with when in charge of the New York group and afterwards was BenjaminY, and we became friendly. He attended one of the workshops that SandraC arranged to “experiment” with the “work ideas” and ideas from contemporary bodywork and psychology.
After SandraC left the FoF Jill and I continued to attend the workshops which grew more, not less, inspiring. Eventually these workshops, which continued in a different form here in California, helped a number of people “transition” out of the FoF.
During the first year we lived in Marin I made one trip to Oregon House—despite repeated proddings—during which I seem to remember spending most of my time riding around with Jill and CharlesR talking about Captive Minds, Captive Hearts and The Guru Papers and everything that was askew in the FoF.
Right at the end of the weekend, BenjaminY told me that he had reported me to the FoF “authorities” for breaking the rule to not fraternize with ex members. It seemed he had changed since moving to the FoF property and was now quite happy in the role he was playing and the opportunities it opened for him. I was aghast at being treated that way by someone I felt I had nurtured, taught, counseled, and enjoyed as a personal friend for years. My response was this letter:
* * *
January 7, 1994
Benjamin,
After thinking about your revelations this past Sunday, I wanted to let you know how I felt about your having “put me in” to the Fellowship authorities.
I feel strongly that your action against me is morally indefensible. While I see that the environment of the school, in which such acts of violence are seemingly rewarded, is partly to blame, there is no way to avoid personal responsibility. Conscience belongs solely to each individual and cannot be dictated by the needs of a larger entity or organization.
I reject your act of betrayal as a person, because by it you abused me, seemingly motivated by ideals of purity, but unconsciously to benefit yourself by showing those whose favor you curry in the hierarchy just how strongly you can cleave to the dictates of the school.
I reject it as a Jew, saddened that another Jew should ever feel compelled, after so many examples of misplaced authoritarianism, to inform on a fellow Jew without trying to find a solution different than the unfortunate “Gestapo” tactics used by certain other members.
I reject your action as a student of conscious evolution, because it came from a set of ideas that, no matter how lovely they sound, in the end only have the effect of destroying individuation, self-trust, and autonomy, without which there is little hope of any real personal change. During my time in the school I have also done many things for reasons that I never questioned deeply, and I have a good deal of remorse now for those actions. But I realize now how much more potent it is to attempt to act on my own, than to remain unconscious of my own motivations, denying my own conscience.
And I reject it as a friend, for no friend should ever be put in the position in which you found yourself, and no one who thinks themselves a friend ought to take the fateful, awful step that you took without first attempting to use the strong offices of friendship that we have built over the years to work out whatever difficulties arise. By rejecting personal confrontation until after the deed was done, you seem to have moved against me from fear instead of moving towards me in the hope of understanding or reconciling the situation.
So I find myself rejecting your action as a person, as a student, as a Jew and as a friend. I hope that the ramifications of your action echo deeply in the recesses of your being until you come to question the very basis on which you believed, and acted. I hope sincerely that you come to question how these acts of violence can be supported by a group that calls itself “conscious” and “loving.”
Benjamin, we have a deep connection going back almost 15 years, and through which I have learned to love you. In this instance I believe you were caught—as was often pointed out to you—between the sides of yourself that curry favor in the school, and the sides of you that relate to others purely as a warm, engaging and intelligent individual. It is this latter part that I love, but I fear it is the former that won out in this case. I do not reject you, the person whom I know and love, but this specific behavior. I sincerely hope you come to a different understanding of this incident. If you do, let me know.
Joel
* * *
The next month I left the FoF.
[ed. - Borrowing heavily from Robert Burton's playbook, Benjamin Yudin now appears to have become something of a guru himself.]

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