With this post, I’m breaking from chronological order in the cult saga, but this is what’s coming up for me now, so I’m writing about it.
Let me also cut to the chase here and explicitly reveal the name of the cult for anyone who may not be familiar with it. I was a member of what the news media eventually called the “Heaven’s Gate” cult. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the focus of the cult was to embark on a “classroom” experience, likened to an astronaut training program, as preparation—according to the cult leaders—to graduate into “the real physical level above human” or the “Next Level”.
In March 1997, the cult made international news headlines due to the unfortunate event in which all remaining 39 members committed group suicide in San Diego, California. That was three and a half years after I left the cult. I knew most of the people who died. In future posts, I will write more about that and its effect on me.
For now, I’m at a crossroad, a next step in my life. I’m about to divorce Elizabeth, my wife of nine years, the last year or more apart.
I’m certain by many people’s standards, I was not a perfect husband and partner if there is such a thing. At the outset of our relationship, I was in large part unaware of how to be in a relationship, and unaware of many of my own inner dynamics, particularly those altered by my time in the cult. Even worse, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In the work-a-day world, I was high-functioning. In the relationship world, not so much.
Elizabeth and I first met in early 2005, where she worked and where I would soon work. On that day, I was at the company for a job interview. When I entered the company’s IT area, I saw a woman sitting in deep conversation with a fellow employee. As I came through the door, she looked up, looking straight at me with a penetrating stare as if a deer in the headlights. It lasted just a few moments as I walked past her to the IT Director’s office at the back of the room. Her stare was unusual, but I also had a fleeting view in my mind of her face framed by a nun’s habit, which I immediately dismissed (“what the hell was that?”) until some weeks later. I was focused on the interview.
We ended up working in the same department, sitting two feet from each other, often working on the same projects. Within a few weeks, we started “going out”. Later I understood she regarded it as “dating”; I had regarded it as “hanging out”. I had done no formal dating before joining the cult (just “hanging out”), and there was obviously no “dating” in the cult, and not much formal dating afterward. My view was still that of “hanging out”. This was typical of our differing views on relationships: hers was a more structured view involving distinct boundaries while mine was more laid back with not a lot of boundaries. At that point, I didn’t see this clearly, nor did I see my own boundary issues until much later.
After we began spending more time together, she told me about the first day she saw me as I walked through the door of the IT room. She said she saw a picture in her mind of me in a brown monk’s robe in the hot sun hoeing a garden. She was spellbound by it. She felt it was a flashback to a previous life in which she knew and loved me but we were bound by our respective religious vows to God. Wow! What a way to start off a relationship!
Meeting Elizabeth, I felt like I’d arrived home. She, more than anyone else I had met since leaving the cult, had a depth of understanding and empathy about my Heaven’s Gate experiences. She knew what it was like to live an alternative life, a way of living not understood by mainstream thinking. I felt she understood and related to me deeply. I loved everything she enjoyed. I was fascinated by A Course in Miracles, which she had been studying for a number of years prior. I couldn’t get enough of it—I devoured her tape set of it, listening to the “Course” in the car and at home every chance I found. We studied it together. She had an ongoing interest in the great religious epics of India, the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata, and I was fascinated by those too. We loved the same diet-and-health lifestyle, the same food, and the same movies.
Early on, we were both extremely enamored with each other. But we had differing views as well. I wanted our relationship to include sexuality. I had been celibate for nearly two decades ending 12 years before. She was celibate when I met her, having been so for the past two decades. She broke her celibacy for our relationship. But she had a very tight view of relationship boundaries, while I did not. We had different standards of what was acceptable in relating to people. Often I did not match her view. Just as often, she saw me in ways that did not match my view of reality or my intent. What I saw as being open and friendly she saw as flirting. To me, it was as if she saw me through a lens super-imposed by a story in her mind that at times seemed delusional. All too often, I would do just the thing to trigger her. Looking back now, I realize I was far from being grounded, centered, integrated, self-aware, and present. Elizabeth had her own internal issues as well. This dynamic, over time, brought up in us both an ongoing undercurrent of fear, which we didn’t know how to clear.
For eighteen years in the cult, and for many years after leaving the cult, I denied the expression of my masculine energy. For reasons I won’t go into now, one of the goals of the cult was to become androgynous, expressing neither masculine nor feminine energy. When I left the cult and returned to “mainstream” life, I realized I didn’t know how to relate well with others in general as a man. I was uncomfortable with many so-called masculine traits, such as being aggressive or loud or “in-your-face” or even in just being confident and assertive. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a masculine individual. I certainly had plenty of heterosexual masculine drive and desire. But my masculinity had been and remained suppressed. I was not aware of how to feel comfortable and at ease in expressing my masculinity.
Neither Elizabeth nor I understood this. I see now that my masculine nature was enlivened when I met Elizabeth, or possibly because I met her. It was enlivened to the degree that I was attracted to the feminine essence of every woman I met or interacted with, to which Elizabeth was hyper-sensitive. I never acted on the attraction to the point of being unfaithful, but in Elizabeth’s view, I was out of line.
I now have a better understanding of the polarity of attraction that can occur between a man and a woman—between masculine and feminine energies. From what I’ve since learned from David Deida and Anthony Robbins about masculine/feminine dynamics, I can see that Elizabeth didn’t trust me because she felt and saw my masculine essence expressed in relating to women other than her but without a strong rudder—a clear view of where I was going in life, particularly related to Elizabeth’s role in my life. I didn’t have vision or clarity of direction in my life, as David Deida says, with which to penetrate the world. Deida says without that vision as a realized masculine expression, the feminine essence will not trust the integrity of the masculine.
Out of her distrust, Elizabeth was quite judgmental about me on many occasions. She would see me as sneaking around the workplace trying to connect with other women when I was just trying to find an open restroom (in short supply there). Or she would see me as having ulterior motives even of a pedophilic nature regarding children. I began to wonder, if she had such a low opinion of me, why would she want to continue in our relationship? And yet she did continue. For that matter, why would I want to continue in our relationship? In spite of the discord, there was much about each other we enjoyed. But the discord remained.
The ultimate resolution was that I did not continue in our relationship. After six months of looking, Elizabeth could not find work in Fredericton (New Brunswick, Canada), where we had moved in 2012. She lacked confidence in herself, in our location, and in our relationship. She returned to looking for work in the U.S. and her sister found her a job in Virginia Beach. When it came time for me to move to Virginia Beach, and I honestly asked myself what I wanted, it was to stay in Fredericton. Because of my reactivity at the time to U.S. politics, I absolutely did not resonate with returning to the United States. Elizabeth assumed it was because I was seeing another woman in Fredericton, but that wasn’t even a remote possibility because of my frame of mind. I could not stomach living in the U.S., particularly in a crowded area like Virginia Beach/Norfolk, with a woman who seemed to despise me but would not openly admit it. There’s more to what I experienced, regarding my outer world mirroring my inner mind—perhaps for another post.
Maybe Elizabeth thought she deserved the poor treatment she saw herself receiving in our relationship. In the last few months of our communication, she vacillated between saying “Our relationship worked—why would you want to end it?” and saying “I’m ready for our story to end.”
Perhaps our mutual undercurrent of fear was one reason we found resonance with each other. The undercurrent of fear in me has been one of fearing failure, afraid to venture beyond my comfort zone. I see that as another symptom of masculinity suppressed. In that state of fear, I realize I’ve not fully lived, as the song The Rose says.
Elizabeth and I have been apart now for over a year. With the help of my personal coach, I see even after a year I’ve held on to her and to our relationship. It’s been an incompletion weighing on me and it’s time to move on. I’ve taken the first steps toward divorce. But I’m sad because, in spite of the conflict and discord we experienced in our relationship, for nearly a decade Elizabeth was my best friend in the world. With the finality of divorce, I feel the loss of her as a friend and partner.
To Elizabeth: I love and honor and respect you, and all we did and were together. Thank you for our time, our lessons learned and wisdom gained, of which there has been much. I am grateful for it all. I wish for you only your best life, as I wish the same for me. And I wish you all good fortune and above all, Peace.
My musings and meditations have embraced other deep and impactful friendships of my adult life.
From age 18 to 21, my best friend and lover was Erika Ernst. She was two and a half years younger than me but we had full-spectrum affinity. She had a number of other friends, while I had few. I had one other male friendship, which paled compared to how much I loved being with Erika. She and I were together for three years before we both joined what later became known as the Heaven’s Gate cult.
In the cult, we didn’t have the familiarity inherent in normal human friendships. But we had community, the commonality of our experiences together, and the perhaps misguided belief that we were a part of something so entirely special in the world—an elitist view that we shared something amazing and sacred not available to or shared by anyone else. My Heaven’s Gate “classmates” were my friends; there was a strong bond between us, bound in part by our shared world-view.
There was a period in the mid-1980s when many members of the group made orchestrated visits to their families. The goal was to appease family members and remove any reason they might have to come looking for us. For years, most or all of us had been incommunicado with our families, until we became aware that some family members had hired private investigators to try to find their loved ones who they regarded as having been brainwashed or kidnapped by a cult. From our point of view, we wanted to maintain the privacy to continue our cloistered classroom experience undisturbed. The last thing we wanted was to have a distraught family member hire a private investigator, find us, and focus media attention on us.
Since Erika’s family and mine both lived in Calgary (Canada), it was decided we would travel together. Our families had been in contact with each other, and it wouldn’t have settled well with either family if one had received a visit but not the other. Plus in traveling together, Erika and I could be each other’s check partners in accordance with classroom procedures.
I remember waiting with Erika during an airport layover on the way to Calgary, and feeling overcome with desire for her. Being alone with her outside the physical presence of the classroom environment released my desire that I otherwise automatically suppressed in daily classroom life. We were sitting together on a bench and I leaned over to give her a hug. She quickly said she had asked Do before she left if she could give me a hug and he had said “yes”. It was as if she wanted to bring us back into the realm of the classroom but also to justify the hug as sanctioned. I had not been as foresighted before we left as she had to get approval for hugging her, nor did I care at that moment. I believe she felt the same pull to hug me and also felt the fear of straying from acceptable classroom behavior.
I now know that as we sat there, as close as we were to each other, our energy fields were touching and intermingling, creating a third field, which we both immensely enjoyed and wanted more of. I think Erika, more than me, was fearful of enjoying it too much. My sense of why a similar thing never happened with the same intensity in the classroom is, first, we would have been more guarded, more inhibited, knowing it was unacceptable, and second, the energy fields of any other class members nearby would have added their energetic signatures to any common field, creating a different dynamic and likely something less appealing than just our two fields creating a third.
Years later, I did astrological charts for Erika’s birthday and mine and synergistically compared them. Our astrological charts showed our high degree of affinity across a spectrum of areas of life. Since then, I have yet to come across anyone with that degree of affinity—in my experience or astrologically.
When I left the cult, the memory of how much I loved being in Erika’s presence was not in my mind at all. And Erika was in another location so I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to her. In my leaving the cult, I was following an inner compass, but otherwise out of touch with my relationship with her. It’s amazing the inner compass was active at all since I had all but silenced my inner voice.
A few days after I left the cult, I received a call from Erika. Certainly, someone else was on another extension with her to be her check partner and to help her stay focused on the message she/they wanted to convey to me. Only Erika spoke. She was emotional and crying part of the time on the call, asking me to come back to the group, conveying I was throwing away my opportunity to graduate into an entirely different kingdom level. My sense was she was crying because she missed me and was afraid she wouldn’t see me again. I told her I needed to be outside the class for a while and invited her to come as well. She didn’t respond. Even if she had wanted to reply, she would have felt inhibited from doing so because of her check partner also on the line.
That was late summer, 1993, and the last time I spoke with her.