Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

But according to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish, while through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated) Fellowship Wikipedia page, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why did you leave The Fellowship of Friends?

[ed. - Originally written in January of 2008, "Traveler's" words below were published on the Wordpress blog "Lea in space or some or no place..." (now defunct) and also on the Greater Fellowship website.]

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, November 19, 2009:
Some of you probably remember Traveler’s many wise words here on previous pages of the blog. I’ve been given permission to pass on some recent writings, which I think are some of the most useful yet.
["Traveler" wrote:]
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 [Robert Burton] was wrong,” or “I left when I saw that GH [Girard Heven] was wrong.” Not even “I left when I saw that PDO [Peter Demianovich Ouspensky] and GIG [George Ivanovich Gurdjieff] 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?"

"Don Juan" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 21, 2007:
After finding this discussion recently and reading so many incisive, candid and heart-felt posts, I was inspired to write a few words myself.
I wonder what it is that compels someone finally to leave the Fellowship of Friends after being a member for ten, twenty, thirty years. I’m particularly curious what it takes for someone who doesn’t buy the party line, who long ago stopped believing that the FOF was the “only way” and other such patent nonsense, but who nevertheless has found reasons to stay for all these years. There is much that is beautiful and much that is odious in the FOF, and I suppose one somehow manages to embrace the former and overlook the latter. (I know there must be many in this position, having been such a one myself.) Why one stays is one question, but for me the more interesting question is what propels someone to finally cut the cord and leave.
For a cult, you have to admit that the FOF is relatively benign and non-intrusive. At least in my day, as long as you paid your money, you could pretty much lead your own life, even living at Renaissance (I suppose that dates me!): there was nothing that was compulsory, you could study what and how you wished, you could think for yourself, you could even study with other teachers (so long as you didn’t spread it around!). If you had a group of like-minded friends around you, and didn’t mind keeping your true feelings to yourself, you could find reasons to stay, even if the school’s actual teachings were no longer serving you (if they ever really did, but that’s another story). Of course, sheer inertia and fear of an unknown world out there played their part in keeping you where you were.
(As I write this, I’m suddenly reminded of the story of Mullah Nasruddin, who, having lost his keys in the bushes, looks for them under the lamppost down the street simply because the light is better there.)
So what is it that pushes someone over the edge after putting up with so much for so long? Robert’s sex addiction? No news there (although the gymnastics described by inner circle facts, part 1 [post] no. 294 are quite impressive). New whacko teachings from Big Bob (“the rhinoceros excreting the sequence”)? Nothing new there either! The incessant monetary demands? Unlikely that money would be enough on its own, for if you could swing the finances for this long, you probably could continue to do so if something else didn’t light a fire under you.
I left the FOF some twelve years ago after nearly twenty years of membership. I was actually quite enjoying myself there (painful contradictions notwithstanding), and it took having the truth rubbed in my face again and again to ignite my conscience and give me no choice but to depart.
First and foremost, I had the opportunity to see Robert up close when his comfort, his lifestyle, and his obsessive control over his empire were being threatened by an earlier round of students asking too many questions and seeking a more open dialog about how the Fellowship functions. It became all too clear to me that, whatever may have been the case in the past, Robert had little or no genuine interest in the spiritual development of his students. His priority first and foremost was the maintenance and feeding of his lifestyle, and he would do almost anything to protect it. This should have come as no surprise to me, having known him for some time, but it took seeing up close his cold, paranoiac and entirely self-serving reaction to pressure – pressure from well-meaning students – to awaken me from my dream of life in the Fellowship. It became no longer possible to pretend that he was any kind of teacher for me.
Robert has a most convincing act when he is on stage, and he is on stage almost all the time. If you want to see what he really is, don’t look to touching little set-pieces such as that of the arrest in the airport [post](no. 272), where he’s performing for a little audience (who publish every word for all to admire, photos and all), and indeed he has no choice anyway but to sit and wait (and pontificate). Look instead to how he acts when he believes he should be in control, and in particular to how he handles even the most gentle challenge to his authority. Part of that is seeing what kind of actions he instigates or at least tolerates on behalf of the minions who do his bidding.
Second, and perhaps more important, was that I could no longer justify my association with a teaching that had become apparent to me was so severely lacking once I had experienced the depth of other spiritual traditions and indeed the depth of an open heart. Much of what went on at the FOF was fear-based, notwithstanding the false patina of emotion that coated it. Divided attention, self-remembering and all of the subsidiary exercises used in the FOF are great tools, but frankly these would be considered preliminary exercises in attention in a complete system such as that presented in Tibetan Buddhism, as one example. Moreover, tools of attention when used in the absence of any real compassion and any understanding of the empty nature of existence seem to solidify the ego, rather than lead to liberation. Others have written here on what is missing in the Fourth Way or the FOF teachings at length and far more eloquently than can I.
Looking back, it’s difficult to understand how I can still feel gratitude for all that I learned and all of the beautiful times that I shared through this strange vehicle that Robert Burton created (or more accurately, that Robert Burton and his students created), and yet I do feel gratitude. I suppose it’s one of the painful contradictions that so many of us, in or out, feel. I wish everyone well, in or out, here or there. And if you’re still in and thinking about packing your bags, a few words from the old geezer poet, for old time’s sake:
AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

"Charles T" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, September 17, 2007:

I was a member for 27 years. I joined in London, quickly moved into the teaching house, did everything I could to enable myself to move to the U.S. Married an FoF student. Moved to Apollo/Isis after a few years. Built a large house there, designed by a FoF architect. At different times I was a center director, council member, traveling teacher, led prospective student meetings at which people joined the FoF. In other words, the whole disaster including the postage.
I was never involved in Burton’s inner circle and had only a sketchy knowledge of what went on there. I read Troy Busbee’s letter and heard some strange rumours, but I was reassured by people I respected that it was all OK, the rumours were exaggerated, everything was consensual, there was a lot of love involved, and I believed what I was told, and in turn reassured others.

I was very committed to awakening. I sincerely believed that Burton was a conscious being. I did pretty much everything that was suggested (couldn’t give up rock music though!). I tried very hard to remember myself year after year. When I was leading meetings I tried to be honest and only describe what I’d actually experienced, or make it clear if I was speaking theoretically.

I admired the FoF leaders very much: Peter B, Girard, Collin, they all seemed wonderful, spiritually advanced people. In fact pretty much everyone I met was sincere, thoughtful, kind, admirable.

After Peter’s death and Girard’s stroke a new set of leaders took over, much more harsh and intolerant, people for whom I had little respect. I began to withdraw. Around the same time Alison became influential and the emphasis on collecting money, money, ever more money became overwhelming. Burton’s teaching became more and more bizarre. The Fourth Way was abandoned. Nothing of any substance took its place.

Eventually I left, principally because it became clear to me that Burton is not a conscious being, in fact he’s no different from you or me, and his teaching is a sham. I didn’t leave because of his private life, though the stories became increasingly disturbing and believable.

So am I a bad person because I supported the FoF for so long? Personally I don’t think so. I did the best I could. I was mistaken about Burton but it was a genuine mistake. I learned a lot in the FoF and I’ve moved on. It’s happening to hundreds of us now. Personally I don’t think we have any reason to look back and wring our hands.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 1, 2008:
151 lostandfound

“And this is the enigma: How is it that there are approximately 1700 members currently experiencing higher states, and receiving very fine and unique knowledge. While at the same time, there were approximately 15,000 who have entered and left with a deep sense of fraudulence and regret?”

This is not an “enigma.” It’s “formatory thinking” and it’s “lying.” No one can know how many other people are experiencing anything–only the person herself. That applies to the people who left, too. Based on their comments, there are plenty of former members who didn’t leave with a “deep sense of fraudulence and regret.” I didn’t leave with such a sense.

I left with a sense that RB was a person of very modest learning, with nothing to offer intellectually beyond quoting Ouspensky and the authors of the Harvard Classics, nothing to offer emotionally beyond a false modesty overlaying a very obvious and unapologetic lack of genuine affection for anyone who didn’t contribute to satisfying his various appetites.

I left with a sense that he had serious sexual hangups, and, much worse, had no interest at all in outgrowing them, or even in acknowledging that they were weaknesses rather than strengths, and a sense that such a person was of limited value to me.

I left with a sense that the members who were joining increasingly were naive people with a limited command of the English language. Make of that what you will.

I left with a sense that what may first have reflected my sincere interest in awakening was becoming little more than a crutch that allowed me to maintain a sense of being special, along with other ego-boosting illusions, while also allowing me to believe I was doing everything I could to awaken. But I knew better.

I left with a sense that the financial cost of participation was exhorbitant [sic] and out of all proportion to benefits offered, in a common-sense way, and it would only become more so.

I left with a disinclination to be a part of any group that prided itself on looking down on five billion people as worthless shit.

I left with a sense that the vanity of the group had crystalized [sic], and that this vanity was contagious.

I left with a sense that I was bored with the routine of gatherings, arranging “biscuits” on pretty platters, bored with hearing the same recycled “angles,” bored with the strain of pretending that any of the activities were actually enjoyable.

I left with the sense that there was much more to maturity in any sense of the word than dressing up in grandpa’s clothes, overindulging in alcohol, and acting “intentional.”

I had no regrets, and as for fraudulent, well, if you believe RB sincerely believes that he is the highest being since Jesus, that the Fellowship is not only a “conscious school” but the only such thing on earth, that allowing him to suck your penis is the best possible choice you can make in your life, that God speaks directly to Robert Earl Burton and only to him, making him infallible, that artists throughout history and prehistory have transmitted their knowledge of the Sequence and the Four Wordless Breaths in their works, etc., then no, I would not call it fraudulent. Just delusional and pretty silly.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 8, 2008:
More from John Knapp relevant to grieving the loss of a cult

Why do people leave? How do people leave?

Members typically:

walkaway (“walkaways”),
are thrown out (“castaways”),
lose their leader to death or their group to dissolution,
or are counseled out —

in roughly that numerical order.

Walkaways may leave gradually because of love for family or friends or what is called “cognitive dissonance” — a growing realization that the ideals of the group are at odds with their actions. They may float into new groups or eventually return to their original group. Frequently they do not face the damage that they have endured, and they experience reduced functionality for many, many years.

Castaways are tossed out by their leaders or groups for real or imagined offenses — or to keep other members in line. This group may experience the most traumatic reentrance into mainstream society. They usually have not rejected the beliefs or leader of their group and have the added guilt and shame of having been rejected.

Someone involved in the disbandment of their group may experience an ego-strengthening sense of power and control. If the group disbanded against their wishes or their leader died, they may experience a depth of despair similar to a castaway.

Those who are counseled out, through therapy, exit counseling, in-residence programs, or the like, usually experience the smoothest and quickest recovery.

What should a recovering cult member expect?

I’m not usually like this. I pride myself on being organized, and punctual, getting done what I say I will get done. Before “therapy” I set up a business of my own…. After the “therapy” I was just barely able to stay out of bed more then three days a week. That has gotten better and I rarely stay in bed and may nap once in a great while, as I am extremely tired all the time. I wonder if that is ever going to go away.

Don’t make any commitments for awhile. Take it easy. Think of yourself as recovering from a heart attack or a stroke. Set some time aside in your mind for recovery — at least a few months.

Many people experience “triggering.” You may find that anything associated with your group or any of its practices will cause sudden, unexpected discomfort — even panic. Honor it! It’s like the Vietnam vet being triggered by backfiring cars or other load noises. It’s a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s real. Others have gone through it. And recovered.

Sometimes you may be triggered for no discernible reason whatsoever. After time educating yourself about your group, you may find those triggers and how these suggestions work to keep you from thinking and growing emotionally.

The trick is to keep in mind that you can and will recover. Don’t allow yourself to identify with being a victim or abused. You have survived some of the worst life will ever dish out to you. Like a hero returning from a concentration camp during war, you are one tough SOB.

Another analogy: Some people after a heart attack go back to work too soon. They never really recover. Some people slide into depression or don’t work toward recovery. They never really recover. Some people acknowledge that they’ve taken a serious blow and work toward recovery — setting aside a reasonable amount of time to recover their faculties. These people do more than survive — they can be stronger after the heart attack than before.

I believe that recovery from high-control groups and trance abuse are very similar.

As hard as it may be for you to trust a therapist or doctor, it would be very wise to work with a “dispensing psychiatrist” and therapist familiar with cult survivors, battered spouses, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tobias and Lalich’s Take Back Your Life has a thorough list of questions you should ask your potential therapist before deciding to work with him or her.

The pain of recovery comes and goes. It gets better over time. You must have heard about Kubler-Ross’s steps of grief recovery? Shock, denial, bargaining, anger, acceptance?

As a cult veteran, you are in a grief process for the time, money, love, and life that was stolen from you. You can’t skip any of the tasks of the grieving process. If a parent or loved one died, you’d give yourself a year to recover wouldn’t you?

Part of you has died. Give yourself the same respect you would if you had lost your most intimate loved one.

Some therapists insist that you can have a full recovery from cult trauma. But I suspect this isn’t exactly true.

Cult veterans have had an enormous life-changing experience. One that is shared by relatively few people in the world. Many of us feel that we have been changed forever by time in the cults.

Like all things in life, there is good and bad about this. Our lives may never be the same, nor even similar to what we once envisioned, but we can experience joy, fulfilling work, and deep, satisfying relationships again. We can have great lives.

We are stronger emotionally for what happened. Only a strong person survives a cult. We’ve been to Hell and back. We lived and our lives are fuller and richer for it. We may still have much healing to do. But we’re on our way up and getting on with our lives.

I have a lot of problems sleeping.

Yes, it gets better. It may last a few months.

Many cult veterans continue to tire easily — some for a few years — sometimes because of dissociation, sometimes depression. But we’ve found many ways to deal with it.
At the first sign of trouble focusing, try taking a short nap or walk. Aversion therapy, snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you notice you’re fading, works for some people.

Sleeping too much may induce, prolong, or intensify depression. Some psychiatric research indicates that people prone to depression should sleep no more than 7 hours a day. The trick is to relearn allowing your mind/body to tell you when it is really tired without sliding into depression. Try setting your alarm for 20 or 30 minutes and taking a nap every time you start fogging over.

Some people find some medications or a sleep clinic are helpful, too, under a doctor’s direction.
Many of us who went through high-control situations react with extreme aversion against order, scheduling, working, and so forth. It’s quite natural. You’ve been “brainwashed.” Allow yourself to be pissed off! And know that you may not feel like dancing to anyone else’s tune for awhile.

But if at all possible, try to maintain regular sleep times: when you go to bed, when you get up, and a set number of hours a day. Cult veterans appear to be at great risk for depression and other mood disturbances.

If you have trouble getting to bed at a fixed time, try setting an alarm clock to wake you at the same time every morning. You’ll naturally tend to get drowsy at the same time every night.

Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer suspects that many, many former cult members suffer from sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation. One common-sense way to test for these conditions is to take an over-the-counter sleep aid, such as Sominex or Excedrin PM. If after 3 days you have begun to wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, in all likelihood you do not have a serious sleep disturbance and can cease taking the sleep aid. If, however, you notice a surprising new depth to the quality of your sleep, continue needing naps during the day, and begin to have trouble falling asleep without sleeping aids, you may be well advised to explore this situation with your doctor.

Is every cult member severely damaged for life?

Definitely, not.

Many things can affect the aftereffects you experience: your physical and psychological constitution before entering, the severity of your group’s practices, and most importantly the length of time you were involved.

Conway and Siegelman’s research indicates that the number of months meditating, for instance, correspond directly to the number and severity of the side effects cult veterans experience.

"Just Another Voice Out Here" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, May 8, 2008:
And one last offering from Knapp:

I have found many former cult members continue to be influenced by beliefs and mores of their group — even years after they have left. This is certainly true for me, even though I underwent exit counseling in 1995. Whether it’s fear of nonmeditators’ “impurity,” fear that I will age more quickly if I don’t meditate, or the belief that enlightenment brings human perfection, I have stumbled on dozens of concepts and behaviors strewn throughout my consciousness like “alien artifacts” from my decades in the Eastern Meditation Group I belonged to.

Today, as a psychotherapist, I have found cognitive therapy useful to help my clients discover and rid themselves of unwanted, unproductive beliefs. The theory behind CT is simple: How we think about ourselves, our world, and our future affects our feelings and actions. The method consists of noticing uncomfortable feelings, examining the thoughts we had just before the onset of the feelings, and consciously undertaking “cognitive restructuring” — replacing the dysfunctional belief or thought with a balanced, rational understanding. People are taught a formal process of journaling, known as “thought records,” that makes cognitive restructuring a habit fairly quickly — usually in 12 to 20 sessions.

In the 1960s Aaron T. Beck developed cognitive therapy — one of the most thoroughly researched forms of psychotherapy to date. Cognitive therapy has been found to be effective for many problems including depression, anxiety, panic, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Researchers today are studying its value for treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, inpatient depression, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and relationship problems, among others. I am extending its use to the aftereffects of cult-induced trauma.

A key concept of CT is “cognitive distortion.” These are “fairy tale” ways of thinking that contain some logic, but they are not rational ways of looking at the world. They distort our understanding of the world — and cause us pain.
Below are ten common distortions, explained in Beck’s words, with examples I’ve added, paraphrased from former members that I have counseled. (These examples are based on Eastern Meditation Group members. You can read examples more useful for the general population here.) You can rate yourself by giving yourself a point for each distortion that you use, with one being low and ten being high. Then you might ask yourself if you can stop using the distortions and think in a different way.

ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your, or someone else’s, performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself or others as total failures. Examples: I worked with one group member who saw any concept different than the his leader’s “perfect teaching” as wrong, or at least less than perfect. He explained he left the religion he was brought up in because “they believe life is suffering.” Another example: Many former members go through a period after they leave the group where they now believe everything the leader teaches is “bad,” where once they believed everything was “good.”

OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Phrases like “You always…” or “You never…” exemplify overgeneralization. Example: One former member told me that nothing had gone right for her since she ceased meditating. “I just know that all my bad karma is coming home to roost.”

MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and obsess on it so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors an entire glass of water. Example: A former meditation teacher, who had left the group 6 years previously, told me, “I just can’t get used to working with nonmeditators. They’re just not refined. I mean some of them smoke! How can you work with people so stressed out?”

DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. Often this manifests as making excuses or minimizing when somebody pays you a compliment. Example: A very successful businessman once told me that he couldn’t take pleasure in his accomplishments. “I feel like my success is due to my time in my group. I can’t shake the feeling that if I hadn’t put worked full-time for the group [earning "good karma"], I just wouldn’t be successful today.”

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion — often a “wait and see” attitude is called for in these situations. Example: A elementary school teacher, who had belonged to a meditation group, explained to me, “I’m very intuitive. Maybe it was the advanced meditation or something. I can ‘read’ people. I know what they are thinking before they say it.”

MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude (usually by personalizing their behavior) that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out. She went on to tell me that she “knew” many people in her school were “against” her — although she could provide no proof that this was the case.

THE FORTUNETELLER ERROR: You often anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact. A former advanced meditator explained, “I can tell when it’s going to be a tough day at work. There’s just something in the air that I can detect when I walk through the door. Maybe my leader wasn’t so wrong when he talked about stress in the atmosphere.”

MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your achievements or someone else’s goof up), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own character defects or other people’s acceptable behavior). This is also called the “binocular trick.” Example: I corresponded with a meditation teacher who left the group and married a nonmeditator. “Sometimes I feel like the only reason my wife is doing so well with her business is because we’re together. I mean all those months of long meditations, I figure she’s getting the benefit because she’s near me all the time.”

EMOTIONAL REASONING: You allow your negative emotions to color how you see the world with an “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Example: A long-term meditator who had left the TM Org some 3 years earlier confided in me, “I still feel like I can tell when I’m “purifying.” When I feel rocky, the people around me are so negative!”

SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself or others with “should” and “shouldn’t,” as if needing to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct “should” statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment — as do they! Example: “I still follow the old ayurvedic diet [Indian alternative medical diet],” one woman told me. “I feel it’s something I should do for myself. Who can trust doctors? There all tied into the drug companies. They’re just in it for the money. When I slip up and eat junk food, I feel terrible, I mean more than usual. I think ayurveda made my physiology more refined. I really feel I must keep to the diet or I pay for it.”

LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a dumb jerk!” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded — and generally not factually descriptive. Example: Talking about nonmeditators, one former meditation teacher told me, “They’re all so gross! They’re so negative! Everyone is so stressed out.”

PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for. Example: A friend from my meditation teacher training course told me, “I just know that the trouble in the Middle East right now is because I haven’t been regular in my meditation program lately.”

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