I was feeling disconnected and lacked meaning in my job when I was recruited by a cult member and my mind was blown.
Lack of meaning
I started my first position as a software engineer in Australia with lots of enthusiasm. Things went well and I was promoted to Team Leader within a few months. Yet I felt a disconnection from the work. I didn’t have the same sense of purpose that I had experienced in my previous job as a maths teacher. Although on the surface I was doing a good job, I didn’t feel that it was the right job.
My boss maybe sensed this as he upped the perks. I have never been a fan of massage (my husband and I had a particularly horrendous experience in Bangkok on our honeymoon) but I took up the offer of a shoulder massage from Sandra (maybe not her real name). She went round businesses giving the staff a little relief from the stress of their day. Sandra was friendly, enthusiastic and gave an excellent rub.
I’m shy and find small talk hard but Sandra was easy to talk to. After a few monthly massage sessions, I had told her about my dissatisfaction with my job. She told me that she had felt the same until she found a friendly group that changed her life. Sandra was kind and a great listener. I took a card and she invited me to a meeting, no obligations, see what I thought.
The meeting took place in an industrial estate. I was nervous going in. The place didn’t look inviting from the outside. Up a darkened stairway, I knocked, and was let in.
Inside a group of existing members sat in a circle with the new recruits. We were encouraged to go round and tell everyone what had brought us here. One man had been struggling with alcohol addiction and was ashamed of what he had done to his family. A woman told us in a quiet voice that she had social anxiety and it had taken everything she had to turn up. Round the circle the tales of struggle continued.
Everyone was vulnerable.
I felt like a fraud. My problem of merely feeling disconnected from my well-paid job seemed so insignificant by comparison. But no-one seemed to mind. They accepted me.
We were then shown a video of a very bright, loud, enthusiastic leader who wanted us to know we could find a place here. Afterwards each new recruit was assigned an existing member to talk to them and help solve their problem.
Martin (again, maybe not his real name) asked me why I was feeling a lack of meaning. I gave him an answer. He asked again, why? I went a bit deeper, giving him more information. He asked again, why? I went deeper still. Why? I tried again to give him the answer he wanted. Why?
This went on for about twenty minutes. I was tired after a day of work. The question was annoying me intensely but he kept on asking it. Again. And again. And again.
Until finally I had no more answers. My mind suddenly shifted from thinking to nothing. My thoughts had deserted me. In their place was a euphoric calm. Nothing mattered anymore. I was free, and happy.
I drove home on a high.
Work the next day was pretty similar to every other day. After work I drove home and took our dogs to the local park for a walk. It is a great park with three large sporting ovals, many trees and colourful parrots. As I looked out across the greenery my mind suddenly reverted again to that euphoric state. No thoughts. No worries. No tension. Just empty.
I carried on walking. My phone buzzed. Sandra wanted to talk to me about the meeting. What did I think? Would I come to the next one?
I hesitated. I am naturally sceptical. There were a lot of questions I had about the group. What was the purpose? How was it funded? What was I getting into?
Sandra answered my questions, though I felt she was only giving me answers I wanted to hear. The group was a membership organisation which aimed to help people find their higher purpose. The lower levels were inexpensive, but if you wanted to attain the higher levels then you would need to invest. I told her I would think about it.
I went home and did some digging on the internet. The group appeared to be a cult. The higher levels involve revealing that we are descended from aliens that arrived many years ago. Advancement involved spending thousands of dollars on more and more courses, but could be offset by recruiting more members.
When I told Sandra that I didn’t want to be involved and why, she tried to persuade me. Eventually I hung up on her.
Next her boss in the group rang me. He kept repeating the same messages. I hung up.
He rang again. Sandra rang again. They tag-teamed for the next week or so, leaving messages once I stopped answering their calls.
I pushed them to the back of my mind and never heard from then again, thankfully. What happened to those vulnerable people with me in that meeting? I don’t know. I hope they didn’t join.
One thing that stuck with me, however, was that feeling of the euphoria of an empty mind.
Recently, reading Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Ethan Kross triggered the memory of my near-cult experience. He talks about Bolte Taylor who had a stroke which as a result quietened her mind.
She emphasizes the overwhelming sense of generosity and well-being she felt when her inner critic was muted.Kroos, Ethan. Chatter.
I identified with this feeling. It was how I felt looking out over our local park the day after having the critical voice in me badgered into silence.
How to achieve it without joining a cult
Fortunately there are many ways to achieve this without having to join a cult. Meditation is one of them, and I have a daily practice now that helps.
Another technique that has been particularly useful to me is to use distanced self-talk.
Instead of thinking I have no meaning in my life switch it to Matt has no meaning in his life. This simple switch gives you some psychological distance from the statement and gives you the space you need to evaluate it objectively. It frees the thought from the feeling.
I talked about how this allowed me to overcome my inner critic in this previous post.
Another technique is to increase your exposure to green spaces. When I experienced that euphoric state of empty mind again in the park the next day, this is what triggered it.
If you want to experienc it yourself, I highly recommend the book Chatter by Ethan Kross. He provides a total of twenty six tools you can use to avoid negative thought spirals and think clearly and constructively.
This post includes an affiliate link.