I became involved in SYDA in Santa Monica. A co-worker introduced me to Swami Muktananda. I was going through a divorce and I thought it was a nice place to meditate. I was not new to yoga and I had been in another yoga group for ten years before that. I had no plans to change my brand of yoga. A friend of mine suggested that I might move into the SYDA ashram before getting another apartment. I agreed, because it seemed like the only happy place on the block (I lived and worked in Santa Monica).

I was in the hell circuit and I thought I was traveling to heaven. My life started to read like a Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone story. The kind of theme were the unsuspecting person thought they were in heaven and then they found out in the end that they were actually in hell.

I did everything right and became a hard worker on staff. I lived in about six different ashrams. I took a break from ashram life for a year during that time when I became outraged at the departure of Nityananda from the scene. I remember the day that Baba named him the next guru. I saw Baba casually give a garland to Nityananda and say "you will be my successor". Needless to say, alot of us felt that Baba was saying that he was going to depart this world soon so we were feeling very sad. Baba gave a speech the next day and said that he was going to go and come back to the United States three times. He wanted to be clear on who was to follow him, because it was not so clear when he followed his Nityananda.

Well, the rest is history. Baba went to India and left his body there and did not bring that particular body to the U.S. for three more times. Nit and Chit (as they were called by the swamis) battled it out for the throne and Chit won. To prove the point, Chit put "Gurumayi's Ashram" on all sorts of written materials. The exiled guru, Nit, held chanting nights and satsangs at local houses. I had the opportunity to go a couple of times. I got called "upstairs" by a manager of the ashram to have a talk with me, because I came to the ashram in the same week. I was asked to make a decision between Chit and Nit. I said I would choose neither one of them and go back to my previous spiritual path if this stupidity continued. The issue was dropped and I also dropped SYDA yoga, not Siddha Yoga, or so I thought.

It was two years after that I just wanted to 'make sure' I had done the right thing by staying away. I went to visit Gurumayi for two days and wouldn't you know it I was back living in the ashram. I became a staff member in S. Fallsburg. What possessed me? I don't know. I thought I had a spiritual experience. My whole body started shaking and I cried and cried. I started to feel some kind of at oneness and at home feelings. I felt wonderful and some sense of adventure initially. All my opinions just melted and I lost any sense of rationality.

During these two last years I became what the doctors thought was an advanced case of a bone tumor. I tried to apply for community health care, but I was told by the ashram that gurumayi wanted me to retract the request for medical help and they sent me home without any clue as to how to get real help. I had $240 in savings to travel by car across the US to California. I drove through rainstorms and camped in a wet tent many nights. I managed to get to an old roommates home in Arizona and she let me stay for a few months. She took one look at me and said a few things I won't forget. When she heard me speaking about the ashram she said that I didn't know who I was anymore. For the first time I had to think contrary thoughts and I realized that that was true. She also saw a green light around me that filled the room and could see that I was healing. She was correct on both counts. The doctors confirmed good health with a biopsy. I had had a miracle and the body healed.

I reached Los Angeles, and I received an ear full about Nityananda's harassment from a few resigned swami types turned human. At first it just sounded like negative gibberish--like something I was not supposed to listen to. Another friend rejected me because I had gone back to the ashram. "So the wolves finally ate you up?", they said. Painfully, I drove the desert wondering what to do when I was still feeling weak. I stopped at my friends again and I stayed for a few months until I got a job.

That is an experience that has never left me until recently. I went on with my life for five years and went back to complete a MS degree and I was still haunted by something that felt missing in my life. I knew that true spiritually always would be with me to comfort me and that the uncomfortable feelings was about feeling somehow rejected by God. I had called the ashram and joyfully reported the good news of health only to be told that I could not return there. I somehow thought that God gave me life only to reject me and what did I do to deserve this poverty and long recovery of health?

This last year when I got into the web sites and I finished my schoolwork, I did my homework on cults and read all the wonderful articles that people had written on leaving the ashram. I "processed" with friends and became somewhat depressed as I realized that I needed to untangle something more serious than I had suspected. I had to face that "shadow side" that I had been in avoidance for all those years. First I needed to become my own self authority and I told myself that I was my own self authority. I started to see the two-sided nature of things as the same thing--a process to be worked through, and not avoided by a quick fix mind set that "everything is wonderful and I won't think this one through". I started to use my mind to look at what was really the "hook" that kept me feeling apart from my world. I threw away all of anything that reminded me of the ashram. Then there were things that reminded me of things of the ashram that I threw away. That was just a beginning. I started to realize this was not a solution, because these things only acted as "triggers" of a mind set. I looked at the guru gita and thought as I threw it as far as I could that passage about being a snake in a waterless jungle of I left the guru. I had felt like one all those five years. I now felt free of the "snake routine" I was "supposed" to feel like with countless years of self induced lowliness of trying to crack the ego. I had already reached bottom and there was nowhere to go now but out of the self induced jungle.

I kept working everyday for a year, "processing" with a friend when I felt like I needed to talk. I discovered a little bit of feelings that I hadn't let happen, and they got released like an avalanche. I started to feel better about myself when I realized how much control the ashram had over me. I realized that the "set up" of the ashram was to have the person self facilitate a mindset that would be open to anything that they would tell you to be truth. I started to strip away the Ashram Person from the Me Person. I was really shattered to find the Me Person did not have as big of an identity as I thought. After that trauma, I finally found that I could live with the before ashram me. I am getting more comfortable with it everyday, although it is not nearly as secure as the ashram self. I now admit I do not have an ultimate handle on truth and I do not believe others do either since we are all on this earth plane together. We are all one and we are all ever-changing and growing on this plane. To try to stop this process by adhering to a truth that is based on guilt is not good for ones growth. I equate it to alcoholism. The true test of the alcoholic is not so much quitting drinking, but when the alcoholic starts to feel the pangs of remorse set in from the emotional immaturity that was in place all the years that they were drinking. I have felt the same pangs of remorse from the "meditation high" thinking versus the problem solving emotional self.

I mentioned guilt as a big factor in this ball of spiritual wax. The guilt becomes a built-in for any ashramite. The teachings are always denying this on the surface, so why would anyone suspect that so much is always being added into the person's psychic? Guilt makes the SYDA the big money maker that it is. If anything is wrong in your own personal life, it is always your own fault. You just haven't reached a place in meditation that will give you your own salvation. You just haven't done enough seva, did not chant enough, did not act humble enough, did not please the guru and/or authority figures in charge. The Guilt Factor gets built in everytime there is another mess up in the Sad Hanna. So you say not I. That is your experience. Look out. Get alone for awhile for a couple of years and try to do the so called spiritual practices on your own. You will find that the basis of SYDA is community oriented. It is very difficult to try to do that yoga in your own bedroom. I really prefer a yoga that gives me the option to meditate and get into my true Self without interference from outside sources. I thank God that I am no longer a product of that organization that chewed me up and spewed me out. I cried with thanksgiving to God when I really realized that I had not been rejected from a path at all, but I was clearly being shown a new Truth that let me out of a very narrow box. Thank You Wonderful God.

Submitted: November 1996