Since I was a child I was that kid that sat at the back of the room and observed. I’ve never been one to be the center of attention because it doesn’t appeal to me. I use to be told I was shy and I still to this day am told similar things in different ways… simply because I don’t flock like a sheep with the herd. I am not shy, and I am quite confident in myself and adaptable to my surroundings. As an experienced adult I am able to see more clearly why people tend to single out the one who is “different” and how that action serves the group mentality. I studied and earned Bachelors degrees in Sociology & Metaphysical Science in my undergraduate work, and then Cross-Cultural Teaching for my Masters degree. I was also a facilitator for a small-group (2-8 people) for 2 years with an emphasis on Feminist Pedagogy. That was the foundation of giving insight that made sense to me for my later broad awareness of having experienced first hand the feelings and realizations that come from what I observed to be masks of authoritarian power in groups and gatherings.
I could explain how masks of authoritarian power in groups and gatherings are present in every level of groups including between 2 people or in families, but the most interesting and what I feel to be most important aspect of this concept in regard to how our planet is shifting in consciousness is what I will be focusing on.
Masks of Authoritarian Power in Groups and Gatherings
People form small groups out of survival, and still do to this day need to have some type of cohesiveness to get along and live the way we live. Here in the United States of America we are living in an Individualistic Society, but many are urging for a more collective approach to living. The terms are often misinterpreted, and if you say you’re for Individualism people may think you’re selfish. If you are all about collectivism, all the sudden you’re a “Socialist”. I feel that this is occurring because we all want peace and tolerance in our communities. What better way to have that then to stand up and declare that we should all work together right? Well, it’s not that simple, and the fascinating parts of this subject are what goes on from a social-psychological level. For this article I will be focusing on one thing I see happening in my network online… a lot of women who are choosing to gather together in large groups and set up temporary communities to gain from each other, and to create solidarity online and in real life relationships. I have never felt drawn to attend these gatherings and it’s probably because of my personality, and a mixture of my education, awareness, and time spent doing other things that feel more important.
What we are seeing now with the popularity of social media, is a coming together of like minds. There are many intelligent people and businesses that have taken advantage of these platforms to generate and maintain interest in their product or persona with great reward to their bank account and ego.
Unfortunately many people seeking positive energy, good news, something to uplift them from their day-to-day life, are vulnerable and susceptible to what others tell them, what others insinuate, and what others do, or portray that they do in an online image. I heard someone tell me, and it was quite disturbing, but I appreciate when people are honest with me about how they see things… that since they have a large following on Instagram that they could easily manipulate their followers to believe whatever they say. (*cringe*) I was thinking… ok, maybe? But why is that something swirling around in their mind? Giving that person the benefit of the doubt, we all could ponder how much authority we have behind our screens, especially those who have an audience of some kind, whether blogging, or Youtube, etc. This same person however also told me that they studied how to be persuasive as a way to write and share information to stir people in the direction they desire. I’m sharing this because it got me seriously thinking that I needed to share what went through my mind when I heard all that.
That there are ways of manipulating people’s minds to believe you are an authority on a subject, just simply by saying you are
Sure is takes more than that to get people to truly believe you and listen, but these days there are so many looking for help or guidance that there is a trend to gather together to form a “community”. To meet online, and then take this relationship into real life but in mass form, within groups that meet to further the cohesiveness. The groups have a leader to look up to, and there are sub-leaders assigned to help further the cohesiveness by recruiting and acting as authorities on various subjects.
I see nothing wrong with wanting to meet people online in real life, nor do I see anything inherently wrong with wanting to be in a group setting with other people to enjoy similar interests or learn from each other. My concern with this type of trend is that there are leaders and followers, and hierarchical structures being used to organize events and people willingly take a role and do their best to fulfill it, without questioning what they are doing. Just like in society, there are some who want to be leaders and naturally have the skills to do so. There are also those who are very “helpful” and that like to be the assistant to the leader, to have some of their power but not all. And there are those who just look up and dream, and want to follow along and do what they are told.
“Based on the introjection of a shared loved object (or outcome), such identification modifies each group member’s ego, creating new special bonds among the group members, insofar as they now find themselves being alike, in imitation of their group leader.”
Large groups like these can be characterized by:
“1) the emotional contagion among members; 2) a weakening of their reality testing; 3) an alteration between apathy and paroxysmal expressions of impulses; and 4) their dependency on a leader.”
– Moore, Burness, and Fine, Bernard. Psychoanalysis: The Major Concepts. Yale University Press, 1999.
Not all leaders are bad, and not all followers are lost, but typically most leaders love to be in control, and most followers are easily influenced.
“A “paroxysmal” expression or impulse means any sudden violent outburst of emotion… and how would any one who is not present at the group know if these expressions happen if the only things ever shown are the most positive and appealing expressions that are accepted by the group…? The advertisement of groups and gatherings are meant to show a good time, and everyone being happy. If they are said to be very transformative, and they bring together so many strangers, there are bound to be some emotional outbursts, but those would not be tolerated.
It has never appealed to me to go to the gatherings that I see happening, and I’ve had a backlash of people constantly telling me I should go, asking me why I don’t, and many who have told me why they go and what role they play to entice me and get me to go with them, and be a part of the group they feel gives them a sense of community and opportunity to make friends, build skills by learning from each other, and network for business purposes.
I’ve gone over the concept several times to see if there were any practical reasons I was overlooking that I could find a way to convince myself I should go, and there were none. Nothing about the gatherings where hundreds of people come together to be told how to live and think and sent into smaller groups to be taught simple subjects appeals to me. I know it does appeal to a large number of women who I also am not attracted to energetically. So I see myself as feeling different, but it’s not that I am different, more so I just have a different awareness. Feeling this way allowed me the space to back up and question why I felt these ways. Whenever a large group of people believe something and I don’t, I like to examine my reasons.
I see a power structure and business venture set up to look like a beautiful arrangement of coming together in peace and harmony, to build community and help each other grow. There are masks of authoritarian power in groups and gatherings that are worn intentionally and unintentionally. It just depends on the situation. All of the positive things about groups and gatherings could be true, and so I value the good I see in these gatherings. I see people feeling excited about something, and empowered to look within them self and become more aware of their path… Unfortunately, instead of looking within though, the focus and the way these groups advertise is to have their followers look at them, and then encourage doing what they do.
“The group entity is not an abstract concept but has a vivid psychic reality; since it is experienced as real, it influences the interactions among group-mates. It is arrived at by a process of (unspoken) negotiations in which members try to make the group-entity what they want it to be, and try to convince others that that is what it is. In this process, everyone’s negotiating strength is limited by the need to belong to the group-entity, whatever it is. The group entity ends up mentally representing the objective external group as the members wish it to be, as a mother surrogate.”
– Moore, Burness, and Fine, Bernard. Psychoanalysis: The Major Concepts. Yale University Press, 1999.
The concept of Mother and Goddess is always spoken of and the Sacred Feminine awareness within us all is awakening, but what this quote is explaining is that the women who go to these gatherings are seeking to find a reconnection within them self by placing the emphasis on obtaining that within the group. The disowned, rejected and projected parts of the individuals together, with everyone else becomes the sum of those disowned parts of the members. The members want to own those assumptions, and there is a kind of conspiracy of anonymity… an inherent virtue within the group, that they’re all in it together, worded in ways that are appealing to the masses.
They showcase the leaders and “teachers” in a way that deems them as wise and full of knowledge. Of course each person has skills and knowledge to share, even the followers, but to come to these gatherings you must bow down to the powerful ones to be taught what they know. The chance to learn and grow is “given” to them by the nature of the gathering being a place to get things… They are told that “we have to gather”, it is what we must do… and they are solicited for money to attend, given a schedule, and prepped for the journey. Nothing innately wrong with a gathering, or schedule… but there are aspects of how these structures work that I’d like to go over.
Joel Kramer and Joana Alstad wrote a book called, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power. I read the book (recommended to me by my friend Petra of Lila Jizo) front to back in a weekend in January 2016, because it was so interesting and helped me understand why I had such an aversion to going to big gatherings, beyond my intuition and personality. Their book highlights my understanding of all my years of studying groups, and it inspired me to reflect deeply on what role I play in the network, and community, even though I feel like such an outsider at times.
In 2012, Elephant Journal published a review and partial interview of the authors, and gave this insight about the book’s message…
Central to their thesis is that we need to find ways to go beyond authoritarian mental conditioning and systems if we are to truly grow up as human beings and survive on this planet together… The authors masterfully point out how philosophies based on abstract conceptions of “oneness” and “non-duality” are often actually variations on familiar religious themes that encourage in-group identification and psychological fragmentation, while perpetuating an unwillingness to see reality for what it is.
The book makes a case for authoritarian power structures as explicitly being ways to enforce control over people’s minds. I have never come a cross a more comprehensive treatment of both the various methods of enacting “spiritual” control and disempowerment, and how various belief systems and philosophical strategies make this possible.
The irony of course is that as seekers, we are in search of freedom, healing and personal awakening, but the very structure of the guru-model itself prevents such aspirations from being attained. In their place it exploits vulnerability and the need to belong, and assuages our existential anxiety by using ever more sophisticated forms of abstract belief to create a sense of having found an ultimate spiritual truth.”
The facade of spiritual groups being immune to authoritarian power structures is the illusion that snags so many into paying respect to the leaders and teachers. When things are worded in such a way to sound healing, and promote community, and togetherness, it’s difficult to find anything wrong in these descriptions, so the entire gathering is viewed as positive. However, if we shift our perspective to unveil the reality behind schemes that gain money and power, while marketing businesses and relationships of the leaders, there are important aspects to at least be aware of. Some of the leaders and teachers aren’t even aware fully what they are partaking in and contributing to. This article is not to point fingers or shame anyone… it is to shed light on another side of spiritual gatherings because when we look critically at something with the intention to help people awaken and better understand their options and choices, there is more awareness and integrity behind true community and coming together to work together. If we really wanted to “work together” and be together, we wouldn’t need a leader to tell us how and when and why to do it. There would be no money involved. There wouldn’t be competition between the teachers, and people left out and told to wait until next year. If we wanted to meet up, we would… It wouldn’t need to be such a huge orchestration of sugar coated happenings to make everyone’s mouth water in anticipation.
I’m going to share two excerpts from The Guru Papers, that explain what I mean about masks of authoritarian power in groups and gatherings…
People are especially vulnerable to charismatic leaders during times of crises or major life change. Most often those who enter into this kind of authoritarian group are having problems bringing meaning, human connection, and good feeling into their lives, all of which become instantly available upon joining. What they also gain is a sense of power, usually greater than any they previously had. Although seemingly relinquishing their power, they actually trade what little personal power they had to piggyback on the “guru’s” (or leader’s) power. Occasionally people who did have power elsewhere forsake their old lives to become disciples, largely because their previous successes were unsatisfying. Interestingly, theses people usually end up in the guru’s inner circle. The higher up one is in an organization, the more one’s power and even livelihood are hooked into it and the guru. This makes it very difficult not to accept, rationalize, or deny any incongruent, greedy, or corrupt behavior on the part of the guru or the organization.
Typically the guru lets it be known that (s)he is on the crest of evolutionary awareness (or whatever is held important), and that anyone who joins him (or her) can participate in being on the wave of history. Competitiveness is built into the posture of being on the cutting edge. In order to get and keep members, each group must believe in and defend its superior position, and claim to be the best at doing whatever is valued.”
So no one is questioning what is happening because it seems all for love and helping people… but who gets paid, and who is getting popular? Why is it that so many flock to defend and advertise for a gathering, to then promote them self, all in the name of being a part of something special to gain awareness…? I think there is a lot of unawareness happening, and that people are just latching on to get soul nutrients for whatever price is asked of them because they want to feel a part of something bigger than them self so badly. It’s the same with religion. When people seek a religion or adhere and defend them, it is because it makes them feel safe. It gives them security. These groups are fostering a dependency and focus on the group rather than helping people realize how to feel empowered within them self without paying money or engaging with hundreds of others to promote each other and make friends. No one needs that many “friends”.
The Guru Papers also says,
It is ironic how deeply competition is built into this profession that characteristically so strongly condemns it. We are not taking gurus to task for being competitive in and of itself. Rather, we are critical of the claims gurus make of being beyond it. Insofar as gurus wish to remain on top of the hierarchy, they must compete and win against all challenges. By presenting themselves as beyond competition, gurus promote a system of values that denigrates competition. Any who compete with them are deemed wrong for doing so. This is one of the ways gurus use competition to remain on top without appearing to do so.
As in the case in all highly competitive activities, those who rise to the top are extremely good at what they do. They are most usually charismatic people who are masters at manipulating image and emotion. The manipulation of images in the game played in most effective advertising; proselytizing and advertising are cut from the same cloth.”
There is a spiritual arrogance that permeates the network of people I have been observing. What once was a simple group of individuals doing good for their family and in real life community, is now a breeding ground for self promotion, group promotion, and business promotion, all with the facade of it being what will save us all. It really skips some major spiritual truths in the process of trying to declare them. Furthermore, their entire set up is based on the same thing that the groups claim to want to break down.
The nature of such so-called spiritual hierarchies is that everyone at every level has a role to play and an image to keep up. This is especially true of the guru (leader), who not only defines how those under him (or her) are to appear, but must himself present the image his disciples want and need. Since the roles are so highly defined, the people who fill them are somewhat interchangeable. Hierarchies in general foster modularity since what counts is fitting into their rungs and roles. The disciple role can be filled by anyone who properly surrenders to the guru. Since adulation from anyone one person eventually becomes boring- they need lots of them. Gurus do give special attention to those with wealth or power; having celebrities in one’s entourage increases coffers, influence, and membership. What appears to be strong personal bond between guru and disciple is illusory, as it depends solely upon the disciple acknowledging the guru’s authority. Should that break, little remains.”
And in my personal life I have reached out to dozens of so-called leaders who are just ambitious psuedo priestesses with big followings, and there have only been 2 that ever gave me the time of day, and it was only after I followed them and payed them a compliment. Most times, since I do not acknowledge them as leaders or above me, I am ignored blankly. It has happened so many times by the most charismatic of them all… the ones who constantly talk about being so loving to all and wanting to gather people together. If you don’t fit in the way they want you to, there is no place for you. If you don’t regurgitate the advertising slogans and make an effort to join, you must be “shy” or against them, or better yet, jealous right? LOL.
I hope that anyone who reads this, puts these seeds of awareness some where fertile so the thoughts can grow and evolve as you experience first hand what this book, and I have explained. Like I said, I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, burn bridges, or make enemies… I simply cannot sit back and play dumb, and pretend that I don’t see what I see, just because I am supposed to be afraid of being shunned from the cool crowd. I value truth and my work is dedicated to helping people look within and harness their potential to be the best they can be… I challenge you to find ways to attain everything you would have paid money to get, by doing it organically on your own… but first meditate on what you truly do need. Do you need community? Ok… look next door, look local, or let it happen naturally when the time is right… Maybe if you feel like you don’t have any friends there are reasons for that… Going to a huge gathering to make friends is like taking a weight loss pill and then never changing your diet or life-style. We need sustainable relationships, not artificial ones that are made in honor of what looks good and sounds cool enough to be worthy of the top positions. What is the deepest intention in your heart when you contemplate going to a big group gathering or not…?
I was told by someone in their attempt to get me to join a popular gathering, that they are doing it because it helps them “be seen, get followers, and make money”. Good for business…? Maybe… but what kind of business stands up for something and promotes it with an alternative motive, just to appear for the cause, but really for them self?
Perhaps being a part of a big group of followers is not your true path… I would hope not, but then again, most people are in the herd mentality state of mind on planet earth. I can only do my small part to remind those who are open to it, that there is more to life than playing a role in a scheme to be cool and make money. Even if you are trying to save the world… what we all need to do is save our self. And then, we’ll understand what it takes to make real change and progress. Falling into another dogmatic trap and giving over personal power is not uplifting… it is distracting. Festivals are different than gatherings because everyone comes as they are and enjoys each others’ company. An organized group that costs a lot of money to attend and has a hierarchal structure with followers who do the word of mouth advertising (because the more people buy in, the easier it is to feel like it’s ok and good to be a part of it, reinforcing their affiliation and status), concerns me… simply because it is promoting individuals who are lifted by praise from the newbies, for being leaders, simply because they wear the mask of authoritarian power like their leader.
I challenge you, to consider creating a small, free, group to gather with, if being together with others, and learning is important to you. You don’t have to save money and wait for the big event… you can start as soon as you want… network and do a humble gathering, where the emphasis is on the relationships and exchanges between each other, not to promote each other on social media or gain followers. It’s overlooked as normal and ok these days because our value system has changed along with the approval system we flip onto on our phones and iPads each day… But this article is to lift the veil and remind those who either are confused about how they feel about big groups and spiritual gatherings, or for those who always knew they didn’t want to go, but never had a voice to explain the reasoning behind the intuitive awareness of seeing what’s really going on.
Lastly, in my undergraduate work, I spent time exploring the concept of Groupthink. It’s a term coined by the social psychologist Irving Janis.
Groupthink occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment”.
Since I am speaking out and questioning this group, I am an “outsider” perhaps even the enemy, and the disappointing part is that the only remedy for Groupthink not to happen, is for someone like me to be able to do what I’m doing… to be a part of the group decision making process… Someone articulate and knowledgable and educated in Social Psychology, Sociology of groups and social trends and problems. Unfortunetaly, whenever I have spoke out and gone against the grain of these group enterprises, I’ve been attacked and words have been twisted… I was told once by a covert narcissist, “I feel sad for you…” because I didn’t get to meet someone “cool” when I had just said I did not want to meet this particular person because I didn’t feel a good connection to them… The energy of the ego presence in wanting to assume that anyone who is not a part or that willingly chooses not to be a part is in need of pity is disrespectful and shines light on the loss of integrity… of that individual, and perhaps too the pattern of behavior that is happening in the groups getting more and more popular.
To say that they felt sad for me and make up a story that I wanted to be a part of the group but wasn’t cool enough, is truly baffling, and it shows how people’s egos get wrapped up into creating a safe bubble around them to believe what they want to believe. It’s easier to believe that someone isn’t cool enough or confident or whatever adjective, than it is to admit that maybe someone isn’t buying into the illusion and don’t want to be a part of the group. The outsider is shunned and made out to be separate… and what I am advocating for is a community that gives just as much respect to its non members that it does to its members… because at some point, those who are truly awakened, will realize that in truth, there is strength in being outside this type of group, and being able to speak up and still exist in the sea of networks and social media stuff.
Janis also defines Groupthink as the
psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses disagreement and prevents the appraisal of alternatives in cohesive decision-making groups.”
I simply won’t allow a popular consensus silence my view or disagreement with the group. I mean no harm, only love… because my work is to guide others to change transform and awaken, not go with the herd, and strive for followers, or an image online, friends, or money… Any of those things are possible and attainable, but the point is that it all begins within oneself, not within a large group.
Lastly, I want to explain a simple concept that is interesting and applies to this article.
Abraham Maslow explained a theory called the “Hierarchy of Needs”, and then revised it in 1954 and 1970. The original model had five stages that show people’s basic needs, and how when one need is satisfied the person goes onto the next, until self-actualization occurs.
The original model expanded to include 3 more “needs” that are cognitive and aesthetic…
Note: Self-Actualization is slightly different than Self-Realization, but both mean to fulfill one’s potential. Self-Actualization is more of a Western Psychological interpretation that places the individual in the same plane as the world… which means one must intereact with the outside world to fulfill their potential. Whereas, Self-Realization as termed by Advaita Vedanta, places the individual before the world, and states that the individual’s potential is reached only when one turns inward and realizes the existence of this “I” (internal wholeness of self). One is outward one is inward, but both are the same thing per se.
1. Biological and Physiological needs include: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs include: protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.
3. Love and Belongingness needs include: friendship, intimacy, affection and love -from groups, family, friends, and/or romantic relationships.
4. Esteem needs include: self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Cognitive needs include: knowledge, meaning, etc.
6. Aesthetic needs include: appreciation, search for beauty, balance, etc.
7. Self-Actualization needs include: realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence needs include: helping others to achieve self actualization.
What I want to point out is that one reason I said earlier that I feel different sometimes in regard to those who like big groups and gatherings is because I am not interested in fulfilling needs by being with a lot of people. I feel that I have my needs met already, and am on a path of self-inquiry, personal growth and work to help others do the same.
What I see as a driving force for individuals drawn to be a part of big groups is the desire to fulfill some of their needs… The most obvious needs are, “Love & Belongingness”, “Esteem”, and “Cognitive”… There is nothing wrong with this… but it is apparent to me that the leaders of these groups use the needs of others to reel them in. They know people have these needs to be met, so they tell them they will fulfill them in the group setting. And perhaps they will… I would hope that they would.
7 characterstics of people who are Self-Actualizers like myself are that they:
- Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people…
- Seek personal peak experiences and deep relationship…
- Have a need for privacy, and enjoy solitude…
- Are highly creative…
- Are resistant to enculturation, but are not purposely unconventional…
- Are concerned for the welfare of humanity…
- Have strong moral/ethical standards and a value system based on integrity…
4 behaviors of people that leads to Self-Actualization are:
- Listening to their own feelings instead of the voice of authority or the majority, or tradition when evaluating experiences.
- Being honest, “keeping it real”, and avoiding pretense (‘game playing’), setting firm boundaries (narcissists hate when people do this, beware of backlash).
- Not concerned with being unpopular when their views don’t coincide with those of the majority.
- Taking responsibility and working hard every day, not because they have to, but because they enjoy it.
Self Actualization is an awareness, not a perfect state one reaches or becomes. No one is better than anyone else depending on what stage they are at, but there are evolutionary stages to get into another day… What I think is important to note right now is that part of self actualization and self realization is looking deep within, and understanding that not everyone is at the same evolutionary stage of awareness. Most people (70%) are in the consensus stage at varying degrees and want, strive, and need to fulfill experiences in groups, and go with the herd. There are others who have gone beyond and although they are a part of society, choose to stand back from it and question things… Then there are a few souls that commit themselves to reuniting with the Source… and do healing work on behalf of All That Is. In the higher stages, there are those who go between the awareness of ego and soul, back and forth purifying the impurities to continue to draw closer to the Divine… And the last stage which is often impersonated by “leaders” is the stage when all you want to do is serve… to serve others… You can tell the difference between a humble soul and one who seeks ego driven praise and acclaim and money… People who are seeking to be leaders naturally attract those who can see through them, and see their intentions, but they push them away or ignore them, or try to sabotage them, because their ego feels threatened, even though it is the Universe’s way of showing them their own dishonesty and false persona. I speak of this from experience being someone who has pulled a few cards and seen others’ projections spewed on to me, when they are threatened by my presence.
Always point the way home… it’s not about “leaders”, “gurus”, “teachers”, or “idols”… It isn’t about you or me… it’s about Source… going home, going within… remembering who we are.
Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.”
– Ramana Maharshi