Cult Recovery – Using Different Language to Re-evaluate your Experience

Different words have different effects on different people. What inspires some may make others want to puke. The same words have subtley different meanings and associations for different people, and the language we habitually use effects the way we see the world.

While in a cult or religion, we use the language of their teachings to describe our spiritual experiences, and cult recovery experts say it’s helpful when recovering from a cult experience to re-evaluate and reframe our spiritual experiences using our own language. This helps us to claim those experiences for ourself, to see them as our own experience, not something dependent on the cult teachings.

Though we may find some of the cult terminology still useful, we will likely need to discard a lot – or all – of it because it lilely triggers a renewed sense of betrayal and cause flashbacks to traumatic memories for those who were directly abused. If we continue to use cult-speak without re-evaluating the language we were programed to use, are we still, to some degree, under the sway of the cult teachings?

In this video I also mention the problem that we also might have unknowingly – to some degree – manufactured an ‘experience’ to meet the expectations set up by the cult’s language. Or we may have assigned certain terms to experiences that may not have been the actual meaning of the terms, simply because we expected to have an experience we could label that way. I wonder how many of those now teaching in Rigpa who declare that abuse was a teaching for them dissociated in response to the trauma of being abused or watching abuse (which is an automatic self-preservation response to that kind of situation) and mistook that state for the ‘nature of mind’. If so, they’re now busy teaching others to make the same mistake! Sigh.

Are there any terms that you just can’t abide now because of their close association with your abusive lama?

For me, for instance, I refuse to use the word ‘karma’ now, especially given how it was used to enable the abuse, and I can’t use the term ‘rigpa’, for obvious reasons. I try not to use the ‘nature of mind’, preferring to use something like ‘essential awareness’ – not that it’s something I need or want to talk about much these days! I heard Jeff Brown use the term ‘unity consciousness’ recently and I thought that was quite good. Does that work for you?

If any of these questions of what I say in the video inspires a response, please share in the comments below.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

2 Replies to “Cult Recovery – Using Different Language to Re-evaluate your Experience”

  1. My comments are not so much coming from cult recovery but maybe a step after that- reclaiming the dharma as our own. I don’t mean that in an individualist sense but in the sense that it must take root in Western culture and language, just as Indian Buddhism did in Tibet. And also in the sense of reclaiming it from cultists who have appropriated the dharma and are selling it back to us.

    Hmmmm “the nature of mind” does make me a wee bit nauseous, mainly because of it being repeated ad nauseum in Rigpa. I think it might take a western practitioner to gain significant realization and express it in a western language. At the moment I prefer “dharmakaya awareness”. It’s interesting that the Pali terms like nirvana and dukkha are so hard to translate, but are such precise terms when you read about their meaning.

    I wasn’t even a Buddhist when I had an experience of dharmakaya awareness reading the fourth chapter of Sogyals book. My mind completely fell away and a vast infinite awareness was revealed. I told my friends I had had an “out of body experience” because that’s what it felt like and was the closest phrase I could find. The awareness was extremely vivid and awake and made ordinary consciousness feel like sleeping. That analogy is in the texts. The aspect of complete absence of thought manifested for me as an incredible silence. I’ve heard Hindu teachers refer to this pure consciousness as the silence but not Buddhists. Anyway, alas it was only a couple of seconds so I don’t feel in the position to “translate” terms from any deep realization.

    It is true that after I read more of Sogyals book I began to couch my experience in Tibetan Buddhist language. I also became a bit paranoid about it as I realized this experience was a big deal for these Rigpa people. It put a lot of anxiety around it. I told a senior student at my first Rigpa retreat and I’m fairly sure he believe me (I later realized because it didn’t fit his mould) which was quite demeaning. I kept it secret after that. It probably protected me from being sucked too far into the Rigpa vortex as I had my own reference point to what felt like increasingly fake teaching from Sogyal.

    Stephen Batchelor is very passionate about Buddhist language and I think comes up with very good translations. But he’s very focused on his Buddhism without beliefs project which doesn’t gel with me and has him leaving out material he believes is belief 😉 I still admire him though.

    1. I feel the same about ‘the nature of mind’ for that very reason. It’s just too ‘Rigpa’. I’m liking ‘unlimited open awareness’ as an alternative at the moment. The only reason I need to label it at all is that I’ve returned to a pared down, extremely simple form of refuge practice – no religion, no deities, no mantra – just saying ‘I take refuge in unlimited open awareness.’ I’ll probably do a vlog on it at some point.

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