I've been reading a lot lately from people who woke up to the falsity of their spiritual path after a lifetime of unquestioning belief. It started when I began looking more deeply into Mormonism in order to better understand America's presumptive Republican nominee. After trying to read the Book of Mormon and quickly realizing that the title was misspelled (one too many m's) I opted for the straight dope offered at exmormon.org. There, I found post after post after post written by Mormons who stumbled onto internet accounts detailing secrets that their church leaders had zealously withheld. Secrets which, once revealed, cratered and then crumbled their faith. Tellingly, the arc of their stories dovetailed nearly exactly with my own, and with many of those shared here at RoD—the initial fear of betraying deeply held spiritual convictions, followed by discovery of the truth and searing self-examination, inevitably leading to the courage to leave falsehood behind, no matter the personal or psychic cost.
A similar mass apostasy is befalling Scientology, the leaders of which have found their house of cards listing perilously in the winds of the world wide web. It seems both Xenu and Joseph Smith's harem of thirty-four wives are just a Google search away from disenchanting the most devoted of disciples.
The last example came this past weekend on a visit to my sister, when she passed along a book that friends in her reading circle recommended, "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life," by Mary Johnson. Before committing to its 500+ pages I skipped to the epilogue, where I found what I suspected; the book's purplish title belied its contents—a bare-knuckled account of twenty fraughtful years spent with a 'living saint', written by an ex-nun who had seen it all and survived to tell the tale. I considered borrowing the book for the train ride home, but then remembered I had something better on my Kindle: Marta Szabo's excellent account of her years with our own Nearly Departed One.
Many here will remember that Marta's book, "The Guru Looked Good," began as a series of posts on her blog of the same name. Back then, I eagerly read each new chapter as soon as it was posted online. I had known Marta from the Manhattan ashram and later, South Fallsburg; we were friendly if not exactly friends in that ashram way, and I felt I could vouch for both her good heart and scrupulous integrity. But even if I hadn't known her personally, I knew that this simple, unadorned account of her years devoted to Gurumayi would have struck a deep chord in me. Her tale was our tale.
It was the ashram-instigated smear campaign against her that, more than anything, shocked me into the crisis of faith that precipitated my starting Rituals of Disenchantment.
When her book came out I bought copies, distributed some to friends, and dipped in to reread some of the chapters I had loved online. But for some reason I never read it again all the way through. Now I wanted to, and once I started I found I couldn't put it down. I anxiously turned the pages whenever Madri (Marta) was given an impossible seva to accomplish, and squirmed through ordeals when she was called before Gurumayi to face the music for some ridiculous infraction of the rules or imagined mistake in protocol. But there are achingly beautiful accounts here, too, that capture the fatal allure that held us all captive for so long. The small chapter on her seva spent devoutly washing and dressing the murti of Bade Baba, moving as silently as a shadow among the muted blue lights of his numinous nighttime shrine, is a miracle of evocation.
There is much here, too, that I don't remember reading online; juicy tidbits of hidden ashram life as well as wonderfully moving anecdotes that parallel tracked her rise in the ranks of Gurumayi's inner circles, and the growth in self-esteem that eventually led her to leave it all behind.
But it's the quality of Marta's writing that captivated me most. Her prose is limpid, spare and illuminating. Reading it I thought—maybe when we die our life doesn't flash before us, maybe instead we'll be called upon to tell our story ourselves, once for all time. If so, this is the voice I would hope to speak in; clear-eyed, unstinting, invoking neither self-justification nor blame.
I still don't feel I'm doing "The Guru Looked Good" justice; if you haven't read it I hope you will.
Some of you have begun posting your own stories in the comments section. I've found them all equally moving. I hope anyone who wants to share their stories will use this forum to do so. Just tell it like it was, and is, for you. All are welcome.