Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Circle Game

(Yes, Joni. You're the one.)

I think it was the summer of 1999 or 2000 when Sharon Gans went on a reign of terror during the Montana "retreat." Her daughter's marriage was unraveling and she appeared to be drinking heavily. Her mood was foul, explosive, angry, and vengeful. When we arrived at the ranch, she greeted us by upbraiding everyone because the children were making "too much noise." The following day, she became furious at several people for no apparent reason and ordained that they were no longer "on retreat." This group of approximately 8 were forbidden from seeing Sharon and were forced to do extra work - cooking, cleaning, projects. The other 8 of us were considered still on retreat and would meet with Sharon and dine with her.  It was excruciating.  At meetings, Sharon would rail against the other 8. Everyone was miserable. She even had the audacity of splitting up some couples - one spouse would be "in" and others "out."  I remember privately begging Sharon to bring everyone together - she refused and cautioned me for not "approaching her" properly.

This experience led to several people deciding to leave the cult after we returned to NY. Most of the people who left were interestingly part of the "in" group; most of the "out" group stayed. For those of us who stayed, we were very demoralized. To make matters worse, for a couple of weeks after the exodus, we were made to stay late and get ripped new assholes and blamed by Graves Kiely, Steve Burzi and others for "ruining Sharon's summer." I remember Graves saying that we made him "nauseous." The exodus led Sharon to return to NY quickly and convene more sessions with us where she would raise the volume on the abuse.

Sensing, however, that she and the others had pushed our little group a bit far, she decided to basically throw everyone a bone. She "promoted" this little group to become student leaders of the "circles."  Circles were comprised of 6-8 members of the larger group who would meet to discuss certain subjects and books during the normal class time. The circles would be led by 2 other students. I was selected to be a leader. I considered it a sort of consolation prize for the summer disaster, and it did not really make me happy. It was an "honor" I never liked.

 Us leaders would meet separately before and after each circle meeting to discuss the reading material and then to recap the evening. The circles themselves lasted about 90 minutes or longer. Each student would contribute their thoughts on the assigned chapter/reading. Us leaders were there to not only moderate but to also comment on what students said, keep everyone on track, and spout the party line on various things that arose.  The recaps consisted of basically complaining about and insulting the students behind their backs. Leslie Okladek, Saul Brown, Judy Fowler, and Greg Koch were vicious.

I hated the circles. They were boring. They were long. The discussions were idiotic. People were falling asleep most of the time. These circles have continued for almost 2 decades every week. I don't know how people can stand them. Im falling asleep now just thinking about them. Eventually I quit being a leader because I couldn't stand sitting there and pretending I was superior to the other people in the group.


  1. Thanks Spencer. Boston had circles too. We read the same book sometimes for years! We read Odessey for 3 or 4 years.
    The worst of us were the circle leaders who lorded over the minions. Long boring discussions. Clearly, they were running out of material. What a waste of life and time. And then we were all supposed to be awake and greatly interested when his highness came in the room to rake A over the coals for not wanting to marry B or other nonesense. Oh and then late meetings regarding recruiting.
    Yawn. I am getting sleepy just thinking of it. The only joy was the night's end.

  2. Haven't Decided TodayMarch 8, 2017 at 9:38 PM

    >> To make matters worse, for a couple of weeks after the exodus, we were made to stay late and get ripped new assholes and blamed by Graves Kiely, Steve Burzi and others for "ruining Sharon's summer."<<

    Wouldn't it be her responsibility for letting her summer be ruined?

    1. No way. Sharon responsible for herself? That would be like expecting our current president have control over his Twitter thumbs!!!

    2. Haven't Decided TodayMarch 9, 2017 at 3:24 PM

      I remember her claim once that she was immune to any negative that might come to her from someone in the group but that it would rebound ten times stronger on that person. Sounds like another idea not supported by demonstrable experiment.

  3. Did the NY branch go on about RECURRENCE? Boston did. It's funny to be out and able to see that while "school" lectures against RECURRENCE, it inflicts it's own version of RECURRENCE on its minions -- an exceedingly boring, slow boil of social damage sure to reap damage on any un"schooled" relationships. I might have to write a "school" version of The Circle Game ... it would be a shame to taint that beautiful song, though.

    1. Haven't Decided TodayMarch 9, 2017 at 3:26 PM

      Maybe use the Wheels on the Bus?

    2. Thank you, Sir Spencer :-)

      H.D.T. - Hmmm, now The Wheels on the Bus ... that could work!

  4. I remember the circles started in NYC about a year before that final Montana Carnage. The people asked to lead them seemed very pleased with themselves. I was just glad we didn't have to meet in a big group for once! the conversation in the circles was pretty boring - lots of 'mansplaining' and 'manterrupting'. I have never experienced a place where the intellectual ideas of women were so consistently ignored and/or trashed! In our group men could babble on forever about ideas, but with no substance or growth to their thoughts. There was no genuine discussion. It was full of false revelations - like "I just realized that Hamburger is 768, and so is filet mignon, so why aren't we all happy with hamburger?" Or some shit like that. In some circles the leaders thought they could be mini Sharons and we heard them yelling at people and being rah-ther strict and condescending. The guy who led our circle was kind and sort of lost. We women did make a stand and things were a bit better , but then I left. I knew those circles would just go on on on on forever, and like everything in school, would become mechanical, dull, uninspiring, by rote, without real growth, stimulation, or intellectual fruit. Boo. Hoo.

    I also remember hearing about that summer that Sharon had fun calling some people "Dead". Spencer,I thought I heard that about you - that she gave out the wrong time for her private swim (when the pool had to be clear) and that you and Howard were there with your kids and had the misfortune to see her in her robe (I hear she likes to swim in the nude - yuck.). So she declared you guys dead for the week. But that may be a mixed up story. I know she did that to a lot of people in Montana, and sometimes when she 'expelled' someone, they were just told to hit the road! This place was like 40 miles from anywhere, and people weren't allowed into the buildings or given food, people were expected to hitchhike into Kalispell rather than bring their contamination into a car with "pure" people. Someone could have (might have?) died from exposure or been taken up by the wrong person. When I was in school I had this screwy idea that they knew things, or that they were looking out for me. Once I was sent in the middle of the night to take a train up to a CR property and told to clean it again as a punishment. I was convinced that when I got there , someone from school would be there with a car to pick me up and take me to the house. Guess what? No. I was stuck in the middle of the country with no way to get to the place, miles from the station. I realized then that they couldn't care less what happened to me. I also realized (later) that I could have skipped the stupid assignment (the house was perfectly clean) and just told them I did it. Schmucks. I could have been hurt. So, people in school,please remember - THEY DONT CARE. Before I knew about how sustainers report, I thought they had special perception. Wrong again. This is why they night when I was in class at one of the hotels, early on, with four ounces of pot that I had contracted to buy before my recruitment, no one had any idea, even it stank to high heaven!

    I hear Sharon rarely comes to classes because people think she's very ill. I doubt she's as sick as they say - I think she's keeping a low profile because she's tired of going to class and she doesn't want anyone hassling her. But I bet you all think those other 'teachers' know things - they surely do not - only what your 'friend' is reporting to them. So just tell them everything is great, you're making your aims, your stories are strong, la di dah, and they wont' pick on you. Best idea - somehow let it out that you will one day get a large inheritance. They will treat you very well indeed! they will expect some of your money when you 'inherit'. Just tell them Auntie is sick, everyone is surprised and delighted she continues to hold on so well.

  5. What a pleasant summer that was. For the record, I was not in the "dead" group but was in the "awake" group. But I did accidentally open the pool door when Gans was in there; she was very surprised and in her robe. Would you be surprised to hear that she went stark raving bat shit yelling at me in front of my very young son; although I can't remember exactly what she said at the moment. Gans was definitely have a mental breakdown that summer and everyone suffered more than usual.

  6. Haven't Decided TodayMarch 19, 2017 at 5:03 PM

    >> I know she did that to a lot of people in Montana, and sometimes when she 'expelled' someone, they were just told to hit the road! This place was like 40 miles from anywhere, and people weren't allowed into the buildings or given food, people were expected to hitchhike into Kalispell rather than bring their contamination into a car with "pure" people. <<

    Well, holy crap, that's ridiculous and horrible. I remember in the 80s someone being told to leave from Montana. They at least were able to stay in a building, got food, and a ride into Kalispell with the next person heading in, even though the whole shunning bit was going on. I've been under the impression for a while that things got far worse than I had ever seen. Clearly they did. Under those conditions, you could literally be telling someone to go off and die.

    I remember starting what appeared to become a trend of getting at least 4 hrs of sleep before making that drive and taking another nap in town. There was some late night thing, I said I wanted to be excused as I had to go do a run the next day. Bob pushed back and I said there was no way I could or would drive on less sleep than that. He tried the "you're going to miss something amazing" argument. I thought, "Yeah, I'm going to miss my funeral," as I would have fallen asleep at the wheel. Even at that I had to sleep another hour and a half there to be coherent enough on the way back. And, of course, the practice became something that Sharon came up with in her infinite wisdom.

  7. I really do miss the sleep deprivation practiced by the cult, especially at the Montana prison camp. We never had more than 3 hours of sleep per night, would spend 21 hours of either building, cooking, cleaning, and sitting through at least 3 long meetings/meals w/ Gans where she really heaps it on (extreme shouting, crying, bragging, insulting, prophesizing, etc). The real fun was being abused by Gans and Klein, Mindel for working too slow, being weak and therefore likely gay, having no stamina (and therefore probably being impotent) because you could not help from dragging your ass around the entire day. At the end of the ordeal, Gans would expect you her thank her for the wonderful opportunity she gave you to work on yourselves and have breakthroughs. No wonder I came home completely freaked out but somehow even more drawn into the cult because I was caught in the dynamics of an abusive cult where the more abuse given, the more the victim is sucked in and kept in. Think fly in spider web.