Author: Sandy Brown Jensen
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #150
I’ve heard the bad news about Facebook: it’s community-busting, time-consuming, and addictive for unwary users, as well as a profitable stalking ground for predatory cyber-bandits and advertisers alike. I’ve got plenty of friends who have better things to do with their time than log in and waste time chit chatting with people they weren’t even friends with 20 years ago when we were in community together, and they have no interest in knowing now. I understand that “evil, evil social media” mentality. Oddly enough, I just don’t see it that way. I’ve found Facebook has been a tool for re-uniting a lost community I had long grieved had passed from my life forever.
I was an Emissary of Divine Light (EDL) from 1972-1992, and in my heart, probably still am. I lived those 20 years in EDL communities, 10 of them at the Glen Ivy Community in southern California. What can I say? That’s a really long time to live in community. Those friends were soul friends, forever, as we thought then.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Within our busy center, for many of us friends, mental health bloomed. For others, a variety of challenges arose that made it difficult to cope with stress, to work fruitfully and make the contribution to “the good of the all” they may have wished. Professional counseling in the 21st century is well-known to be useful for countless interventions in the troubled lives of citizens, but, in early to mid-20th-century EDL, the roadblocks to professional mental health started at the top.
When Lloyd Arthur Meeker, known as Uranda, drafted the foundational principles for the Emissaries of Divine Light back in the 1930s, the profession—the art and science—of psychology was in its infancy. Popular access to books, tapes, and the national pop-psych lecture circle was far in the future. To Uranda, mental health meant finding your place in the whole. The tools for this included daily reading of his publications, such as The Seven Steps to the Temple of Light, and working with higher consciousness within your Emissary community.
I discussed this recently with his daughter, Nancy Rose Meeker. She said, “From a young age I was aware of the struggle of adults around me with their psychological dilemmas. Uranda was very interested in what he called ‘spiritual psychiatry,’ but resistance to him and his vision of Truth were not allowable.”
Uranda also developed a healing practice called attunement that worked with the energetic patterns of the body. His son, Lloyd Meeker, Jr., is still an active attunement practitioner. He correctly resists any inference that attunements might be used as a vibrational sedative; however, one by-product of attunement is often to return a distraught person to calm and balance, so attunements often were the prescription of choice for troubled Emissaries.
On August 4, 1954, Uranda’s plane went down in San Francisco Bay, killing all on board, orphaning his children. Lloyd, Jr. told me, “Nancy Rose and I were told explicitly that there was no need to grieve Uranda and Kathy’s death. They had fulfilled their purpose on Earth. That we children were thus informed that we were not part of our parents’ purpose for being on Earth was devastating to me. I still believe that the lack of collectively grieving the death of our parents and attaining the resolution grief brings was a tragic watershed moment in the collective EDL story.”
British–titled Lord Martin Cecil (later Exeter) assumed the leadership of EDL. His relationship with the mental health field was more personal and more influential over my generation of Emissaries. His first wife suffered from symptoms that began with postpartum depression, which was not well understood in the 1930s. Eventually, she was institutionalized and died quite young. Again, the field of effective psychiatry was light-years from where it is now. It is my own view that Martin witnessed early-day attempts to help his tragically ill wife, and he lost her. It seems to me that Martin, as Lloyd observed, did not come all the way through his own grief cycles. This is an issue of mental health, and one that spilled over to affect the entire EDL community.
While he was EDL guide and spokesman, I think Martin’s knowledge about and attitudes toward the mental health field got caught in the amber of time. As more and more trained counselors became Emissaries, it became painfully obvious that Martin did not embrace their profession. This is not to say all Emissary leaders; some were more supportive of these inner explorations.
However, by the late 1980s, I observed that this suppression of the mental health field had grown into a subterranean point of tension within worldwide Emissarydom. There were many articulate, radical speakers who spoke truth directly to power. Some were quickly quashed by the power of silence. But in the gossip underground, there was a lot of pushback as leadership itself began to fragment along this and other fault lines contingent upon the changing psychic landscape of the late 20th century.
When Martin died in the late 1980s, chaos ensued. His son and heir apparent, Michael Cecil, said, “My own perception suggests that a lot of the unrest after Martin’s passing had to do with a lack of understanding (in me and others) of how to navigate the grief cycle within the community, and that many got stuck at the anger and depression stages.” Thus, as I see it, the collective failure to learn how to grieve Uranda’s passing came back to haunt the Emissary collective when Martin died.
In the lower-level circles of the Emissary world where I lived, gossip became viral. Talk flew from community to community—incessant talking about leadership, about what cult was, and if we were one; some people were “de-programmed”; anxious talk swirled, flowed, boiled over. The truth probably was that a whole lot of people could have used a whole lot of grief therapy at that time to help them think through the grief of losing Martin and their own changing life choices.
In Emissary history, the late 1980s and early 1990s were marked by diaspora. Emissaries left the communities in droves, and I don’t think I’m far off by saying this demonization of psychology at the highest levels by some leaders was one powerful root cause among others, which included issues around feminism, democratic or consensual decision making, and gay rights.
I would like to say I left my community for many well–thought–out reasons—lots of my friends use the term “cognitive dissonance,” but I can’t honestly claim that phrase as my own. I felt like a slugger’s batted ball. A colossal stroke sent me flying out of the ballpark—over the familiar field of my community, over the upraised faces of my fellow communitarians, out past the big lights into the distant darkness. I know I’m supposed to take responsibility for everything that happens in my life, but I couldn’t have felt less in control. It felt as if mysterious forces were rushing together to shape my destiny, and all I could do was go along for the ride until I fetched up on the farthest end of the legendary Oregon Trail in Eugene, Oregon. Then all those powerful forces sort of lost interest and wandered away, leaving me to reinvent a life.
Few things rend the heart and mind like grief, and in so many ways grief and its resolution lie at the core of mental health for so many ordinary people. For 20 years, I had lived and breathed and had my being in the vibrant embrace of my community. I didn’t live that long with my biological family growing up from birth to age 18! When I left home to go to college, the separation from my bio-fam was hard enough. But I had letters and visits, and summers at home. The bonds loosened slowly and naturally while our relationships became richer in more adult ways. But the bond with my community was severed like a bunch of grapes clipped off its vine.
I didn’t know it then, but I had left most of my heart and pieces of my soul in my community at Glen Ivy. My heart was always full of tears in those days as I struggled to learn how to get jobs teaching and then with teaching itself. I was depressed and full of unacknowledged grief.
I tell my own story of the soul loss that came with leaving my community as one story among perhaps hundreds. So many of my friends in their 30s and 40s, who left EDL in the late ’80s, found themselves alone, in grief, with no money and no education. Each of them has a story to tell, and none of the stories is easy. We all left part of ourselves with each other and struggled alone through the 1990s finding our individual paths to peace. Many marriages broke up after community-bonded couples tried to survive in the arid air “outside.”
Let’s take another look at the WHO definition of mental health in context of our broken community: we were no longer in a state of well-being realizing our own abilities. I for one was not coping well with the normal stresses of life, working neither productively nor fruitfully. We were all floundering to recover those states of healthy equilibrium which had been ours so easily for so long. We’d lost our emotional support system, our social network that had held us intertwined.
During these years, while hundreds of ex-Emissaries fought to reinvent their lives without our accustomed social network, virtual social networks came online. In 2004, Facebook went public, and as of July 2010, it had over 500 million active users, or about one out of every 14 people in the world. It has met criticism on a range of issues from data-mining, to censorship, to intellectual property rights.
So if I am such an aware media consumer, why am I not more wary? I was a fairly early adopter of Facebook, so I have been witness to its birthing pains, but I have also been on the welcoming committee as, one by one, my old communitarians have found their way online.
I have around 300 ex-EDL Facebook “Friends,” and they are still showing up. People are posting their old EDL photos, and the rest of us flock in to tag familiar faces, to recite stories of those who have died, to discuss where a picture was taken in what year. I have fallen into Facebook conversations with a woman who lives in Auckland and whom I met only once or twice—we talk about the best way to make sauerkraut. I talk every week to an ex-Em in Amsterdam, whom I knew of “back in the day,” but I have never met in person. Like others, I post short memoir pieces for others to read and comment on, and I enjoy engaging in the back and forth in the mix of memory and everyday life.
With every old friend who becomes my Facebook “Friend,” I feel pieces of my soul coming back on line. And it’s not that we are once again propounding the meaning of Martin’s words or our origins in the sun—that was great when we were kids in the ’70s. We talk about everyday things, we tease each other, we organize parties—one in New York last summer, one coming up in Canada, one in California to usher in the New Year 2011.
I don’t think I understood how important the human heart bond is to individual mental health. In my connection to others, whether online or face-to-face, I experience a state of well-being in which I can realize my own abilities as a communicator. Knowing my friends are, as the saying goes, “there for me,” helps me cope with the normal stresses of life. Many people may think I’m crazy, but having a Facebook widget in the lower right hand side of my computer screen streaming the background chatter of my “Friends” helps me work productively and fruitfully. Writing memoirs and posting them on Facebook makes me feel I am able to make a contribution to my many communities: EDL, bio-fam, college.
Reunited on Facebook, our friendships have become virtual, and I suppose I have to speak for myself, but I’m starting to feel whole again. The old grief of separation is finally healed, and I have found my way back home.