The Best Time I Almost Joined a Cult
by Jamie Schuh
Last year, I was d-e-p-r-e-s-s-e-d. I had just been dumped by my stoner boyfriend (and then rebounded with a dude who asked, in all sincerity, if puppies were born live or hatched out of eggs), my freelance work was drying up, and I thought all of my friends hated me and that my life was descending into a black hole of quicksand.
So at a fancy dinner party over the holidays, I met a cool girl. We’ll call her C.
C and I bonded over music and being vegetarian, and I secretly coveted the way she could get away with wearing thigh-high wooly socks with shorts, all the while shoving tiny pieces of cake into her mouth. She shared my disappointment over our lack of meaningful work, the demise of our dreams, the burdens of modern life. Maybe it was the wine, but I felt like she got me. She just looked at me with her big round eyes, empathizing. You know how you meet someone and you instantly feel comfortable enough to tell them all the weird shit that goes on in your head? I usually do this on first dates (which obviously never lead to second dates).
C told me about a group that she attends every Saturday evening. It’s a group of young women, just like me, burnt out on life, searching for meaning. They talk about their problems and they celebrate their successes. There’s a man that runs the group. He used to be a writer, and then he found that his true calling was helping women find their potential. He was an inspiration, which of course was her word.
“It’ll light your fire for sure,” she said, and I gave her my email address, urging her to keep in touch. Who couldn’t use some new friends and some motivation to follow their dreams?
So, jump to a few weeks later, and there I was inside some yoga studio in lower Manhattan. I saw C, and she seemed so excited that I actually showed up. (“You’ll love it!,” she exclaimed, giving me a big hug.) I took off my shoes and sat down on the floor, feeling slightly relieved that there were indeed plenty of other girls there, too. They were young, friendly, and they looked smart enough. Definitely none of them had a look like, “We are going to dismember your body in the basement later.”
Most of the girls seemed to know one another, so I sat there and awkwardly listened in on conversations about so-and-so’s new apartment, the vintage skirts bought on Etsy, someone’s awful boss. The girl in front of me in a flowery dress with long curly hair turned around and asked who had sponsored me. Sponsor was a new word to me in terms of this whole thing, but I mentioned how I had met C at a dinner party, and she had asked me to come.
All the girls quickly fell silent when the man entered the room, though. Prior to the meeting, the only things I knew about him were that he went by a weird fake name, and he had a creepy photo of himself up on his website, where he’s basically making Derek Zoolander’s “blue steel” face.
In his message online, this guru guy described these meetings as a way to utilize “spiritual technology” to tap into “highly targeted information” located at the “level of Divine Intelligence.” I had no fucking clue what that meant, but I once spent a summer in a Taiwanese monastery so I’m usually up for anything.
Anyway, this guy actually seemed like a pretty normal man in person. He was funny and charming, cracking jokes to lighten the mood. He talked for a bit about how you shouldn’t be afraid of things, and how you should always follow your soul’s instincts, whatever that meant. Then he asked some of the girls to come up to the mic and share either their problems or successes of the week.
One girl was beaming when she stepped up to the mic, and said she had a few writing jobs come in since she started doing “the work” and believing in her true potential or whatever. Another girl had gotten up and was about share a problem, but then she started crying a little, and the guy asked anyone who was here for the first time to move to the other room.
A second location? Surely this was where they would cut off my toes as offerings.
So two other new girls and I followed three seasoned members of this… whatever it was. Can I just call it a cult now? It was totally a cult. I sat on the floor of the next room between a nervous goth-looking girl, and another girl who looked wildly unimpressed.
“We just want to talk to you guys for a little bit,” my new friend C said. She made a point to smile at me with her eyes, Tyra-style. I think she was trying to hypnotize me.
The three elders, who had all seemed like normal ladies in the yoga studio, then began to share their stories of how they found this dude, and his cult, and how their lives are so much more rad now. Hey wait, wasn’t C telling me how shit her life was when we met at that party?
The Unimpressed Girl asked a lot of questions, while Goth Girl and I mostly kept silent. The more that the three elder girls talked about “doing the work” and “following the process” and “unlocking their soul’s potential,” the more I started to think that this was getting super weird, and I wanted to leave.
And then they started talking money. For only two hundred bucks a month, you can apparently get this guy’s illustrious message (of… something?) and 25 or so new best friends who will always be there when you need help. If you are, like, totally poor, you can buy a subscription to the podcast, but that does not come with new best friends, thank you very much.
Uhh, I was having trouble just scraping together $750 every month for my Bushwick apartment.
“This all sounds really great, but…” I started, trying to explain that there was no way that I could fork over two hundos every month to this weird dude and his doe-eyed cult of girls. Besides, I didn’t even know what they really did at every meeting. I was ushered out when that girl started to cry. But every time I had an excuse, the three elder girls had a sob story about how this guru dude fixed all of their problems, and how crazy I would be to walk away from this opportunity.
“I was down to my last dollar when I met him,” said my new friend C, who at this point was totally not my friend, and was just trying to get me to open my wallet. “I believed in him, and I signed up, even though I didn’t have the money. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
At this point, I was feeling super uncomfortable and just wanted to get the hell out of that room. Should I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and then climb out a window? “Dammit, my purse is in the other room,” I thought,”and what if they locked all of the doors?!”
“If you just believe, the money will find its way to you,” one of the other elder girls said, smiling. Always smiling. “Just sign up, and everything will work out financially. I promise.”
Yeah, no, thanks but no thanks.
In the end, Goth Girl and I did escape the clutches of the lady cult that night (surprisingly enough, Unimpressed Girl signed up). I got a few emails and phone calls from each of the three elder girls urging me to come back again, but then I moved, so at least I knew they wouldn’t be showing up at my door with hacksaws.
The weirdest part, though, was that maybe a week after the meeting, I got a huge tax refund in the mail. It was way more money than I was ever expecting to get. Did the money really find its way to me after all? Who the fuck knows, but I bought a lot of beer with that cash.
Jamie Schuh lives in Brooklyn and loves cats, whiskey and basketball; she maintains a super awkward blog about her childhood.