Jul 19, 2019

How 'New Age' Failed Me | Teal Swan Cult

Crosspost from Andey Fellowes

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Empty Promises

In 2012, I was going through the gradual process of self-indoctrination. It’s a process many who have found themselves listening to Teal Swan have been through. Depressed and suicidal people are intentionally targeted by Teal and her inner circle – a fact Teal herself states proudly. These struggling, suffering people find solace in Teal’s words. They find respite in her confidence and in her charm. But it’s all too thin.

Superficially, Teal’s “teachings” sound good. They sound true to the innocent, the struggling and the lonely. They sell a sense of connectedness, a story of how everything fits together, and a promise that the painful chaos these grieving, depressed and suicidal people see all around them everyday can, one day, make sense. But it’s a lie. Bold-faced and unapologetic.

This is just one of the ways New Age failed me.

In 2012, I was one of these depressed people and I was grieving. And, as I mentioned in my video on how I lost my faith, through a set of chance circumstances, I found myself on Teal’s YouTube channel.

There, I heard her speak about the Law of Attraction for the first time. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of the Law of Attraction, or ‘The Secret’ as it’s sometimes known, but it was the first time I’d heard someone speak on it in a way that sounded grounded and cohesive. I thought, “She really understands this. It makes so much sense.” I say, it ‘sounded grounded and cohesive’. To my younger, suffering ears, it sounded that way. While, in reality, it was anything but.

For a thing to be grounded, it has to be based on facts. A grounded idea isn’t a collage of unproven claims and equally fantastical mythology. For a thing to be cohesive, it needs to fit together without holes, it needs to be verifiable. A cohesive idea isn’t a claim with no proof, spoken with enough certainty to make the unsure falter. That’s just an opinion. Something that someone wants to be true. Nothing more.

For a thing to be grounded, it has to be based on facts. A grounded idea isn’t a collage of unproven claims and equally fantastical mythology.

More than believing what Teal was saying, more than any real faith in anything, I think the truth of the matter is that I just needed what she was saying to be true. Growing up and slowly internalising the emotional consequences of difficult events in my life meant that, when things got hard, I felt at a loss more often than not.

By the time I came across Teal, suicide had been on my mind more times than is healthy and I had previously been prescribed medication for depression. I was a vulnerable person. An at risk person who needed support, understanding and encouragement. I didn’t need the confident words of an unqualified “spiritual catalyst”. I didn’t need to be taken advantage of. But when you’re 19 and grieving, you’re vulnerable, naive. And, in my case, far too trusting.

Just Give It Everything

My life at one point was a testament to the detriment of Teal Swan’s “teachings”. Living by Teal’s advice, I made a series of choices which resulted in my life becoming much less stable. And, at a time when I was desperate for things to get better, I reached out to people I’d met through the community. They were all running spiritual businesses, selling services to people like me. All endorsing what they offered as the answer to some question – the solution to a problem. Each of them, in turn, offered the very best they had to offer in exchange for my time, my ear and my knowledge of Teal’s ‘Shadow Work’ – a process I believe she devised from her interpretation of Jung’s ‘Shadow’.

The people I made this exchange with were, to my knowledge, genuine and well-intentioned people. It was promised that, as a result of our time together, I would experience great spiritual benefits which would translate into emotional well-being, greater ‘spiritual health’ and significant improvements to my life situation. But the benefits of our exchanges were purely psychological, and they were short-lived.

I felt better for maybe a week but the reasons for the exchange went nowhere. I’d sought these people out because my income was virtually non-existent, my depression had gotten worse – along with my eczema and asthma. My living situation wasn’t exactly ideal either and all I wanted was to come to Mexico, to be with Rosa – whom I would eventually marry.

I needed it to work.

Between 2012 and 2014, my personality had been hijacked by my fixation with this Teal-centric Law of Attraction-addled world-view. That, together with my practising of ‘Shadow Work’ meant that I alienated the people closest to me. I can’t imagine I was much fun to be around. Always lecturing or smiling that empty cult smile.

To me, at the time, my friends were potential converts and my family were the cause of my greatest pains. This way of thinking isn’t uncommon among cult members. Meanwhile, those same friends drifted and I shut my family out. I’ve been able to repair my relationships with my family. But some of those friendships haven’t returned, despite my reaching out.

I look back on those years and remember how everything was, excuse the pun, coloured by Teal and by my New Age beliefs in general. I was never anywhere completely. Always disconnected from the moment under the guise of being “connected with myself”.

It’s True If You Believe

By the end of 2014, I realised that Teal and the Law of Attraction had failed me. I realised I had been lied to, sold on a fantasy. And after two years of unfulfilled promises; of spiritual highs and ceaselessly recurring depressive lows; after changing my life entirely; after alienating my oldest and dearest friends and blaming my loving family for all my pain and shortcomings; after policing my thoughts and feelings endlessly, I was worse off for it. And I couldn’t ignore that any longer.

I got angry then. Really angry, though I didn’t acknowledge it until much later. In the years that followed, yet more promises were made and yet more promises were broken. Elaborate yarns were spun by countless “authorities”, cloaking myself and so many other hopefuls in delusion.

Elaborate yarns were spun by countless “authorities”, cloaking myself and so many other hopefuls in delusion.

For all I wanted to believe, for all I needed it all to be true, in the end I had to face facts. Having given my all to the spiritual path for so long… Having put myself in the hands of teacher after teacher, guru after guru, practice after practice, lie after lie, I had to be honest with myself. None of it had worked.

A film had sealed itself around my critical mind. Clever answers had defended my inability to confirm anything I hoped was true. High-concept stories and veiled arrogance kept me safe from my own scrutiny. But now that the seal was cracking, I was starting to see the truth. I was starting to realise that none of what I had taken on in these past years had done anything more than convince me.

Had I become convinced of a lie?

A Steady Deprogramming

For as long as I can remember, I had always been trusting. I’d been hopeful too. A perpetual optimist. One of those things is still true. In the years since my post-cult debriefing began, I have learned that trust needs to be earned and it shouldn’t be given freely. I’ve learned that hope is idle and, at times, a cop-out – avoidance of taking real, effective steps to securing what matters to me in life.

But I am still a perpetual optimist. Only, now, I’m optimistic about realistic things. I don’t waste my time listening to people claiming to know things they can’t prove. I’m optimistic that, if something can be proven, it will be – sooner or later. I needn’t waste my time investing trust in people who will squander it. I’ve learned to trust slowly and use hope as a stepping stone to practical choices. I’ve learned to trust myself and to question the prettiest ideas most.

I’ve learned to trust myself and to question the prettiest ideas most.

Most importantly, I’m optimistic that, through these blog posts, I can make a difference. I’m optimistic that, if I can tell my story – be open, be honest – then I can move others to do the same. That way, when grieving, depressed, suicidal people hear about Teal Swan, when they hear the wild and fanciful claims of the New Age, they might just hear about one of us too. And, instead of adding one more number to Teal’s subscriber count or her Facebook group list or, as is always a risk, to the obituaries of their local newspaper, they might just add their name to a therapist’s week planner. Or they might turn to their family and open up, or they might lean on a friend who really cares.

I’m optimistic that, in making these blog posts, I can provide critical, rational, logical resources for people turning away from Teal. And I’m optimistic that, with this perspective shared, these videos can play a part in reducing the number of people estranged from loving, supportive families; alienating life-long friends; throwing away hard-earned money; “recovering” false memories of abuse and, most significantly, at death’s door because of the advice of an untrained, unqualified professional unprepared to recognise the suffering she’s causing.

I need to echo the sentiment of Lloyd Evans on the John Cedars Channel and say that if you know anybody currently in a cult, please be kind. They’re there because, in some way, it is fulfilling needs they have and they haven’t found a better, healthy way to fulfill them yet. They may be in pain, they may be suffering more than you know. So, please be kind. Listen, ask good questions and, most of all, be patient. Human psychology is complex and these things take time.

If you’re like me and you used to be in a cult and you’ve left, I get it. I’m with you. Well done for getting out and if you’ve only just got out and you’re still trying to figure out what’s going on – and you’re trying to make sense of the different things you’re thinking – it gets better. You can be happy without it. There’s a way. Things can be good.

Thank you for reading.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting story...thanks for sharing Andrey. IMHO I found my piece by establishing a connection with my Creator, I found out that life in earth is a test from God and that the true happiness awaits us in our afterlife. You can find many answers regarding the purpose of life and how to combat depression in Islam. Give Islam a chance and study the Quran and you will gain spiritual piece. Free our mind from the media stigma about Islam and hijackers of this religions (extremist). I hope you will find true piece someday brother...


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