Freedom is a concept many Americans hold near and dear. But what exactly are values? Now, I think of them as a kind of anchor into the soul-self that stays steady through life storms, allowing me to be receptive but also discerning, They are the long lasting ideals that serve as guides in all situations. We humans are defined by our individual values and those golden threads of morality that are passed on to us from our families, communities, churches, our ancestors and the groups we choose to participate in. Personal values can be challenged and transformed within groups - a natural part of evolution and personal growth, that allows them to mature.
But what happens when a group or the leader of a group, minimizes your values and strives to replace them with values they deem more important? Although this happens to varying degrees in numerous situations, it is always something to watch out for. If it coincides with the surrender of one’s autonomy, it is the beginning of mind control.
For years, I was part of a spiritually oriented self-help group that I dedicated enormous amounts of time, inspiration and financial resources to. I did not know to watch out for the gradual stripping away of my values. I was taught, for example that “God does not care if you recycle. What He cares about is how you do it.” This kind of teaching, combined with a dualistic ideology, a strong set of given values, a compelling doctrine, and what I thought was the spiritual freedom of “becoming a true woman of God”, sent me down a difficult, dark rabbit hole where I became a victim of mind control, profoundly dependent on the group leader.
I believe the slow stripping away of my values, separating me from my core self, was one of the most damaging aspects of my 18 years in this controlling group. I grew up on a farm, was an outdoor educator and passionate about recycling and energy efficiency before joining the group. One of my core values was a deep and respectful relationship to the Earth and her resources. While in the group, I was taught to dismiss my instincts and judge others for their “frivolous sentimentality and arrogance”[Direct quote from the leader of the group] for driving a Prius or separating glass bottles from the trash for recycling. Examples of this level of crazy-making took place at every gathering. I trained myself to not wince when loading a truck full of trash, including hundreds of pounds of food waste after a retreat. I relinquished the freedom to fully be myself, was encouraged to suppress my capacity for making conscious choices and was therefore, vulnerable to manipulation. Whether intentional or not, by diminishing and replacing my core values, the group leader broke down part of the very fabric of my soul and dislodged my anchor of a living, respect-filled relationship with the Earth and her resources. Not once in my 18 years with the group, did I express the depth of this core value and not once did I challenge the status quo of the group. I adopted the leader’s value, or in this case, lack of value for environmental resources, and was set adrift with one less soul anchor.
Since leaving the group 5 years ago, I have been engaged in a healing process that supports me to reckon with the abuse I experienced but almost more importantly, to dig deep into the eternal, the indestructible within me and re-discover who I truly am. From this place, I now have the freedom to make many conscious decisions every day, arising from my core values. I have experienced many ‘re-awakenings’ of my values. One of them occurred through a patch of Forget-Me-Nots. The delicate but hardy springtime flowers re-appeared in my yard the spring I broke away from the group. Today, they serve as a playful reminder and stern warning of what I had forgotten.
And they inspire me to share with others the importance of holding on to one’s values, no matter what. Because life with intact values is a life of freedom!