Saturday, January 21, 2006

Are Mahikari lives 'wasted'?

A week or so ago, in "Mahikari money matters", I attempted to write about the sense of horror I experienced when I was breaking free of Mahikari's mind control and realized I had wasted a large chunk of my life on something that is worse than useless. In his comment on that post, Dexter made the important point that we lose all over again if we get stuck in negativity, and we need to realize what positive things we have gained from our experience and move on.

In the above post, I was deliberately writing in an emotional manner to try to portray something of the process of breaking free from mind control. I guess I should now explain the concepts behind a lot of what I wrote then.

Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance is a useful tool to help understand part of the difficulty involved in breaking free of mind control. Festinger summarizes the basic principle as, "If you change a person's behavior, his thought and feelings will change to minimize the dissonance". This theory says that people can tolerate only a certain amount of discrepancy (dissonance) between thoughts, feelings, and actions, and that if one of these three changes, the other two will also change to reduce the tension caused by the dissonance. (Incidentally, I think Mahikari is wittingly or unwittingly applying this theory when kumite are advised to 'just do it and you'll eventually understand'.)

Festinger writes about this principle in action in When Prophecy Fails (1956). The leader of a flying saucer cult claimed to be in mental contact with aliens, and had predicted the end of the world. Followers sold their homes, gave away their money, and, on the predicted date, spent all night on a mountain waiting to be picked up by flying saucers before the flood that was expected to destroy the world the next morning. When nothing at all happened, the leader claimed to have received an update from the aliens, saying that they had noted the faithful vigil of the members and so had decided to spare the earth.

One would think that the failed prediction would have been more than enough for all the members to decide that their leader was wrong. Surprisingly, most members decided to believe the hastily concocted update about the aliens changing their minds. Why? Here's where cognitive dissonance comes in.

Since many members had given away everything due to their belief in the original prediction, and also had experienced the embarrassment of having the rest of the word laugh at them, their behavior amounted to an enormous investment in their beliefs and feelings being true. They now had two options. They could abandon their belief in their leader due to the failure of the prophecy...which would entail feeling enormously stupid, feeling conned, feeling betrayed by someone they trusted, feeling like they'd wasted their assets, and feeling abused, angry, and humiliated. Apparently, those who had been only briefly or superficially involved did cut their losses and run, but for most members, it was much less painful (involved less dissonance) to believe the updated message from their leader than to admit that their behavior had been extremely foolish.

So, what happens when a long-term Mahikari member hears, for example, some fairly damning evidence that severely challenges the credibility of Okada and his supposed revelations from God? I imagine, initially, most kumite would experience at least a degree of uncomfortable doubt. Typical thoughts might be, "What if Okada just made up the 'revelations'? What if I've spent all these years busting a gut for something that is based on a falsehood?" Maybe the entire 'wasted life' of the kumite flashes before his eyes....then, he thinks up some justification to explain away the evidence, or kanbu issue some sort of reassuring cover story...and the kumite can breathe a sigh of relief as the discomfort of the dissonance fades away.

Alternatively, the kumite might pay attention to those doubts and really explore the basis of his Mahikari belief, the history of the organization, accusations of mind control, etc. If so, at some point, he will reach the mind control 'release' point where he suddenly realizes that he has been conned, he has wasted his life, and he has been grievously wronged. Obviously, this moment is extremely painful...painful enough that the flying saucer cult members decided to still trust their leader rather than face going through this moment. (This makes it sound like the flying saucer cult members understood the objective view and made a conscious decision...but of course all this happens with very little, if any, conscious awareness of the process.)

I don't know if I can describe this 'release' point moment sufficiently well for people who have not experienced it to understand the emotions involved (and those of you who have experienced it already understand). For me, there was an enormous sense of horror involved in realizing that my actions, thoughts, and feelings had not been my own...I'd been turned into a puppet with the real me locked up inside it. It felt like the bottom had just dropped out of my life. I couldn't even begin to imagine how I would ever deal with that feeling of horror.

Try imagining that you are in a fairy tale and that you've been under the spell of a wicked witch for many years. This spell controlled your actions, thoughts, and feelings without you even being aware that the 'real you' was being controlled. Suddenly, the spell is broken and you realize that the real you has been made to spend years doing stuff that you would not have chosen to do if the real you had been in control. Life is finite, and half of your life has already passed....years when the real you could have been doing whatever is important to you. By now you could have learnt a profession, developed a satisfying career, built a house, formed many good friendships, contributed something useful to society or science or global prosperity. How dare that wicked witch take away half your life!

In this fairy tale, the witch is wicked and the victim is innocent. The blame clearly lies with the witch, and the victim's sense of self-worth is not affected. Unfortunately, things are less black and white in the real world. Most people are confident that they could never be sucked in by a cult, and blatantly assume that the people who do get recruited by cults are weak or stupid or somehow to blame for being sucked in. Thus, for me, the mind control release point also involved and an enormous sense of shame and embarrassment. How could I have been so-oo stupid as to allow a cult to waste half my life! I felt guilty, too, as if I'd somehow knowingly contributed to that waste.

I've now realized that thousands and thousands of good, strong, intelligent people have been recruited by cults over the years. The blame DOES lie with the cult, not the victim. I must admit, though, I still find it hard to shake off the feeling that my recruitment was at least partly my own fault. (I wonder if that is because Mahikari does train us to always blame ourselves for anything that goes wrong?) Certainly, the dominant feelings at the 'release' point were horror and humiliation...the sense of righteous indignation and anger at what had been done to me came later.

Happily, the story doesn't end there. At the moment of release from mind control, the only thing that registers is the pain....but of course it is also the moment when one's real self is set free. Over the next few days, as I gradually assimilated the shock of the 'release' point, I began to see completely unexpected changes in myself. I didn't recognize myself! At first I wondered if I'd just forgotten what the real me was like before it was pushed into the background by mind I think that the real me had been growing and developing and gaining strength somewhere inside me during all the years it had been hidden. Discovering the 'new' real me, and starting to experience life directly and vividly again, was perhaps the most exhilarating experience of my life! I'm now having a wonderful and busy time...feeling strong, confident, capable, sociable, resourceful, empathetic and, above all, intensely alive.

The thing I don't understand...and perhaps someone else can explain this to that I keep thinking I should still feel rather upset about so much of my life being wasted by mind control, but I'm enjoying getting on with being the new real me too much to bother thinking about it most of the time.

I do, however, feel highly motivated to 'do something' about Mahikari and its mind control for the sake of all the other people who are still affected: for the kids who are born into Mahikari, for the people like ZT and Darcy who have had their families ripped apart because they have broken free from Mahikari, for the people (like me for many years) who have left Mahikari but are still affected adversely by the notions planted in their brains by Mahikari's mind control, and for the long-term full-time members who really have wasted an entire lifetime on the Mahikari fantasy.

I guess the wicked witch analogy I used above applies best to those members who have been active in Mahikari on a full-time basis for many years, although it also applies, to a lesser degree, to kumite who have had ordinary jobs, etc., but have devoted most of their spare time (and spare cash) to Mahikari.

Some of my former friends are now kanbu and have devoted all of their adult lives (so far!) to Mahikari. These are energetic, smart, and idealistic people who could have contributed an awful lot to society in one way or another if they'd not been recruited by Mahikari. These are the people I usually think of when I use the term 'wasted lives'. Imagine how these people will feel if/when they realize that they have been conned! Consider, also, the practical difficulties they would face. Most would be close to unemployable, too old to learn a new career, have families to support, and have no savings to fall back on. They'd also be an emotional mess for months as they struggle to deal with the aftermath of leaving Mahikari. Even so, I do believe that these people have enough integrity that they would leave Mahikari and face all those difficulties if they ever realize that the Mahikari fantasy is not true.

So, did I 'waste half my life' in Mahikari? The short answer is definitely "Yes".

I must admit, however, that I have no idea at all what my life would be like now if I had never come across Mahikari. Perhaps I am, after all, a better person in some ways due to my experiences in Mahikari...I guess I'll never know for sure. Certainly, I think that everything involved in the struggle to break free from Mahikari's mind control has made me a stronger person than I would have been otherwise.


Blogger CZ said...

Dear Anne,

you are definately a better and stronger person. Knowing that someone shares and knows what it feels like gives me alot of strength. Thanks for all your efforts!

January 23, 2006  
Blogger Anne said...

Hi ZT,

Thank you very much for your vote of confidence and kind words! Mostly I write and post things which I hope might be some help to someone out there somewhere, but I never really know if it does help much. It's nice to hear that it gives you strength.

I must say, though, that I think you must already be incredibly strong! I know from your own posts that you often have a very hard time and that you berate yourself for complaining, but just think about all you are doing!

In my case, I first left Mahikari, then a long time later I rejected the teachings, then later again I came to see Mahikari as just another cult, then years later gain I finally managed to recognize and break free from the mind control. You seem to be doing all this pretty much all at the same time! I wish I had been strong enough to do that...if I had, I could have reclaimed my life years earlier than I did.

In addition, you also need to cope with the negative reactions of your family who are still members (I didn't have to deal with any of that). I suspect dealing with that is even harder than dealing with all the Mahikari stuff.

I really admire your bravery and strength (and wish you wouldn't be quite so hard on yourself). You're doing well!

January 23, 2006  
Anonymous Darcy said...

All of us, as former members at one time were forced to have to cope with those feelings. For me the feelings that seemed to be the most predominant were humiliation and anger. I felt ignorant and dim-witted…and I know this might be the Mahikari mind control mechanism working in me still…but for me at least, I felt that I was partially to blame. I say this because I always had a gut-feeling, a doubt in the back of my mind, telling me, “Darcy, this isn’t right.” But I still kept going to the dojo, offering okiyome, and being a “puppet”. The anger came when I realized that this wasn’t me at all. I was a strong person, I was an original person, and I was an individual. I sacrificed everything that made me who I am, for sitting on my knees for hours, raising my hand and radiating the light of God. On the quest to self-discovery…I lost myself. Have I wasted my life? For me, thinking that way is not an option. The strength inside me will not allow me to think that way. I have to think of my deprogramming as a gift from God. I might not have a secured faith; I might not belong to any religion presently, but my faith in a higher power is something I think I will always have. I think I was removed from Mahikari, I think we were all removed from Mahikari to help others. Why did we come out of the trance? Were we just stronger than the others? More suspicious? More skeptical? I don’t know…a lot of the people who are still trapped in the dojo are strong people as well. I have to believe that God removed us all to use our special skills…for me my ability to speak and connect with people…for Anne her ability to write and convey her emotions through her writing…for Steve his intelligence and crazy ability to find any and all statistics or facts on anything…for ZT his down to earth honesty and approachable persona, not to mention awesome story telling ability (when I read your blog I feel as though you transport me somewhere). The others who have left, but still don’t feel strong enough to come forward; it’s only a matter of time. But I encourage all of you to find your voice and use it. Don’t let what happened to all of us happen to anyone else. If you don’t feel ready to speak as yourself, use a pseudonym, but don’t remain silent. Problems become epidemics when ignored.

January 24, 2006  
Blogger Anne said...

Way to go Darcy!

When I started the After Mahikari... blog, little did I imagine that we'd soon have 3 new blogs out there, all contributing something slightly different.

I'd imagined a type of community developing between people talking to each other via comments on this we seem to be starting a small community of bloggers! I wonder who will pop up next?

January 25, 2006  

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