Monday, June 27, 2005

Growing up in "the community" - One view

by Anais Daly

[Note from the Blog Administrators--Although we are generally not accepting new contributions for the What Enlightenment??! blog at this time, we could not resist posting the following article from a former "sangha kid." It is written with exceptional honesty and vulnerability, and provides an aspect of the community experience we haven't heard here before.]

My name is Anais Daly, I am 25 now but spent the majority of my childhood living in community houses. I remember Andrew from before he was a teacher up until I moved out my senior year of high school. I am not here to condemn Andrew, but just tell my story for the sake of information and discussion. I do not have a confirmed opinion of Andrew or the community, there's too much involved to really know where to begin forming a black and white opinion. First off I was never physically or emotionally abused, perhaps confused and left to my own devices too much but I never felt the lack of love and care a child needs. I have lived with many of the people mentioned in these articles and comments and am extremely grateful to read their stories. It takes a lot of courage for people to tell their stories and for whatever reason they decided they needed to I greatly appreciated reading these statements. I along with a lot of other readers am learning a lot of things that I didn't know.

I remember Beenleigh and my mum spending a lot of time with a new group of people. Many of them parents of my friends. I remember Andrew being at the house and talking for hours with the group. He was warm and friendly. I remember he smiled a great deal. In the summer of I think ‘88 we came to Amherst, MA for a couple of months and lived in a huge house with many other people. I remember my mother being happier than she had ever been. The summer was truly amazing, beautiful weather, swimming in Puffer's pond, everybody seemed to be floating on air. Andrew sent the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" to a party we were having.

In June of ‘89 we moved to Marin County. More people seemed to join all the time. We had kind of a pseudo kids group formed from all the kids who moved. I was kind of the young generation of kids at the time; there was my older sister and her group, and my brother and his group who seemed to hang out a lot. We lived in these big nice houses all together. Parents would usually live with other parents so we were often living with other kids. We moved house a lot.

In the beginning there were a lot of events for the families, days in the park and such but over time the kids stopped being invited to activities and my mum started getting busier and busier. In the evening there were discussion groups and meditations and teachings, videos and so on. Most of the parents were gone pretty much every night after awhile, so all the kids would hang out together. From time to time they would decide that we needed to participate a bit and there would be a "kids meeting" or they would ask if we wanted to meditate but there was not that much pressure. I remember Andrew's teachings all sounding the same, the words just seemed to be a part of daily conversation, everything sounded the same. There were a couple of us kids who really learned how to "speak Andrew" and could talk our way through everything, knew when to be quiet or buy flowers and such.

The last couple of years in Marin were interesting, mum was a senior student and we moved out of the houses with other kids and we started living with people like Michelle, Bob, Donna and Debbie. My brother and sister had already moved out and everyone left me alone completely. As long as the house was clean I pretty much did whatever I wanted. We lived in these beautiful houses, with hot tubs and fancy furniture. Andrew become less and less familiar and when he was around I would pretty much make myself scarce. I was always afraid we would move back to England or somewhere so mum could help lead some center. She said we were once but it never happened. I could see from where I was living a lot of the other community kids living in houses together with rules and house meetings and I was very happy not to be in them. Mum and I always got along really well and it worked out great.

Then mum "fell from grace" as everyone keeps putting it and we moved into this square little box and all she ever did was vacuum. She was so unhappy that I ended up moving in with my sister for a little while. I remember feeling really self-righteous, like she had done something really wrong and I couldn't live with her in this state. I visited with Andrew and Michelle and they told me how wrong and bad my mum had been. I never really knew what she had done but now that I look back I feel embarrassed that at such a young age I could have taken advantage of her vulnerabilities that way. Anyways I got a call while I was smoking cigarettes and hanging around the Depot from my tearful mother saying I could come home and she was shaving her head and they had let her back in. I acted all supportive and told her that was great when really I was just worried about my own freedoms to do what I pleased.

In ‘97 I went on a retreat in Switzerland. We spent two weeks on top of a mountain. I remember in the beginning I was stunned, it felt like the heavens had opened up just over this mountain and it was beautiful. I still have the journal I wrote while I was there and I was really in heaven for a little while. I finally found peace to meditate for long periods of time. I also finally felt disconnected from my mum and I was there for me not as a kid. And of course I got Andrew's rebuffs openly in the teaching tent when I asked a question and confidently stated I was fully ready to search for enlightenment. (I was a Californian 17 year old). But towards the end I seemed to lose interest and ended up having a small affair with an Israeli man and smoking too many cigarettes.

When we moved to Boston things seemed to get ugly. Not really with my mum but in the households I was living in. Mum was no longer in the inner circle and some of the other parents were very intense. I remember instances of the kids being turned against each other by new rules and hearing how arrogant a lot of the kids including myself had become. I remember one guy my age saying to a kid who was not in the community that they would never meet another group of kids like this and feeling sick to my stomach. I remember the amount of adults who were leaving and how badly everyone spoke of people who "last week" were just another "community face". I remember how traumatic it was for kids who had one parent who had left and one who was still in. It seemed the kids were always stuck in the middle.

At our teenage years we would find out more things about the community and I could also feel mum's doubt and indecision. My mum kept her head shaved for long periods of time and didn't speak for I think it was 6 months or close to that. For me there were also times in the community when I was really taken care of by other people. I got stuck out in Wendover, Nevada late one night, having been left behind by a greyhound bus, and when I couldn't reach my mother the first number in my head was that of the center. Through tears I explained my situation and they looked me up on the Internet and tried to find me a hotel for the night, stayed on the phone with me until they found my mum and finally called the police. Being in dire need of something I would never have hesitated to go to anyone within the community.

When my mum finally left after I was already in College I was not surprised or angry. My brother and sister seemed more upset but that is their story to tell. Ultimately I am not upset about growing up in the community; there were many loving and caring people. I was taught to respect all living creatures, aspire to open, honest relationships and care about the world in general. I have been angry over time at many aspects of the community, I feel that the community can tear families apart and instills a kind of "close mindedness" or "should be" about what you are supposed to be doing. It is not until years later that I finally let the idea go that one day I would join the community and that his teachings are the only way in life. I watched my mother go to the bottom and back during her departure which was difficult but I guess necessary (but that is her story). I have nothing to do with the community now only remnants from family members who are still with Andrew.

Last year my cousin passed away from cancer who was 23 years old. Both her parents and her sister are involved with community. When I went to the funeral I expected to see a large community presence but instead there was very little. The community's influence on her family has angered me over the last year and has appeared to come between the remaining family members in a harmful and hurtful way. But I will say this—I do not understand the Community's response or the fact that there was not more of a community presence at her funeral. I guess the revolution is more important than children, family, and individual pain but at the same time I want to say that I do not think that Andrew has the credentials to understand what it must be like to loose a child, or a sister. I know these are big things to say and that he will not agree with me but I remember him saying once at a teachings that he could not respond to a woman's question because he had not been through what she had (She was a Jew in Germany and had the number tattoo on her arm.)
I hope this was of some interest to some people and thank you again for your stories.