The Heart of a Cult
by Lena Phoenix
Set adrift by sudden unemployment, web designer Michelle Thomson is at an impasse in her life when she is introduced to a charismatic spiritual teacher known only as Ma. Though initially skeptical, Michelle is soon captivated by Ma’s energy and insight and begins to find new meaning both in Ma’s teachings and as a member of her insular community. While at first she blossoms under Ma’s guidance, when Michelle uncovers deception at the heart of all she has come to believe in, she is forced to face the ultimate test any spiritual teacher can give.
Written with the intimacy of a private diary, this novel details the human struggles and failings that can turn a well-intentioned quest for truth into a nightmarish journey. A fascinating book that’s hard to put down, this is a must-read tale for anyone who wants to understand more about the inner dynamics of spiritual groups, why people get involved in cults, and how they can grow and heal from the experience.
– Source: Back Cover, The Heart of a Cult
In some corners of America, anything less (or more) than a fundamentalist, Protestant, King-James-Bible-quoting corner church is widely viewed as a “cult.”
But here in Boulder, home to countless adherents of “alternative spiritual groups,” the opposite tends to be true: If you use the “c-word,” you’d better be prepared to back it up with proof of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
One of the many achievements of self-published Boulder author Lena Phoenix’s new novel, “The Heart of a Cult” — based on her own experiences with several of what she calls “alternative spiritual groups” — is that it realistically explores the vast gray area between those two poles without ever resorting to sensationalism.
Cults, Phoenix reveals, are not always easy to define or identify. Most alternative spirituality groups tend to be made up of smart, idealistic, educated people, not wackos. And while such groups can be destructive, they also can offer real benefits to participants.
– Source: Boulder author draws from personal experience describing The Heart of a Cult, The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colorado, USA, Mar. 2, 2007
I first became interested in the world of spiritual growth after a visit to the Findhorn Foundation when I was nineteen. I spent the next dozen years in active study with numerous alternative spiritual groups. Having both positive and negative experiences in these communities caused me to develop a particular interest in the psychological dynamics of spiritual groups and the relationship between teachers and their students.
I am a graduate of the Naropa University Inter-Arts Program. I live in Boulder, CO with my husband and two enlightened cats. – Source: About the Author
, The Heart of a Cult
I never intended to join a cult. Like most people, I assumed that cults involved Kool-Aid and Nikes and dangerous madmen who would teach you that suicide was the most direct path to God. Cults were things that happened far away, to other people. People who were nothing like me.
I suppose none of us likes to think of ourselves as cult material. But there is in fact a type, a kind of person who is more susceptible to the influences of groups who may not always be what they first appear. This was the kind of person I suddenly became, just before my thirtieth birthday.
You see, one of the things that makes you susceptible to these kinds of groups is change. It happens all the time to everyone, but certain kinds of change can make you vulnerable. The job of change is to uproot us, to tear us away from the familiar so we can open our minds to the new. But in the space between shedding the old and discovering the new, the path is not always a clear one. It’s easy to be tempted by the illusion of a group that seems to have all the answers that, ultimately, we need to find for ourselves.
For me, the catalyst was the loss of my job. It was such a simple thing, but it unleashed a cascade of reactions that undermined the stable framework of my life. In a very short period of time, I went from being a focused, levelheaded career woman to someone who was very confused about what to do with my life. I suppose I was just lucky that Heaven’s Gate didn’t find me first.
The group I hooked up with wasn’t that bad, of course. There were no suicides, no surrendering of personal assets, no proselytizing on street corners. They would even deny that they were a cult—but then, people who are in these groups always do.
And at first, it all seemed so perfect.