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Not all cult practices are dangerous, and not all cults degenerate to tragic ends. However, a primary feature of all cults, as they are defined for this workshop, is the relinquishment of individual choice to the authority of the leader, and this feature alone makes them seem foreign and sinister to Unitarian Universalists.
Spiritual preparation for most workshops in this program involves creating the mindset or emotional tenor of the faith being explored. Clearly, this is not possible or desirable in a discussion of cults. Instead, we can create a mind free of fear, resting calmly in reality, and seeking no authority but its own.
To begin, think back to a time when you were influenced by a group or a very influential individual to do something that made you feel uncomfortable. Nearly everyone is strongly, even painfully, conscious of such times in their past.
Try to remember that state of mind—anxious, eager, malleable, suggestible, nervous, scared. Place yourself there again, ready to take the step you have wished ever since that you had done differently... and then see yourself taking a different path. Give yourself the gift life does not allow you of making the choice you wish you had made. In the rich reality of your thought, have the conversation you did not have, offer the reasons you couldn't formulate at the time, argue like a trial lawyer, or simply decline to argue or discuss it at all. With perfect clarity of decision and purpose, with your mind as your witness, do what you think was right.
After you emerge from this affirming vision, allow yourself to process the experience. What was different? What allowed you to take a different path this time? Would it have been possible—or impossible—to have taken a different path the first time around? Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledge that people always, always are doing the best they can, including you, even when you make mistakes. Accept yourself, and accept your judgment. Decide that no one could have done better under identical circumstances.
Expand your thoughts to other people who have made mistakes, perhaps who have let other people make their decisions for them and discovered to their lasting regret that those decisions were bad ones. Expand your heart to offer compassion and sympathy for their mistakes, and optimism for their future. Not everyone can recreate the past and change decisions they regretted, but everyone has a future that mostly depends on the decisions they make today. Where there is life, there is hope.
Turn your thoughts to decisions you have made that were fully in keeping with your ethical values, decisions you are proud to know you made. These decisions make up the person you are, too, the complex, interesting, hard-working human being that is you.
Consider those decisions, ones you would consider good as well as bad. Recognize that all decisions you make contribute to your growth and understanding. Take the radical step of embracing reality—all of reality, exactly as things are—and being at peace with your heart, your soul, your mind. This mind of yours, this calm, peaceful mind, will take good care of you. Your task is to trust it.
Take a deep, cleansing breath, all the way in and all the way out. Take heart: You are the captain of your own destiny. Further, you are ready to provide loving guidance to other young souls on their journeys.