As some of you will know when I was 19 I spent three tumultuous weeks hanging out with the Unification Church (aka the ‘Moonies) near Leicester Square. That doesn’t sound long and it wasn’t but its impact was enough to make me drop out of university for 9 months and return to Durham to study Theology, instead of Philosophy.
Of course, my experience was not that dramatic compared to some people's which can range over a number of years or become permanent. In addition, although I definitely feel I’d lost control of my thoughts to a great extent, I was never 100% sold and there were always doubts. I wasn’t forcibly coerced by my family to see the exit counsellor I met in Scotland and after speaking with him, I shed all attachments pretty quickly and had no doubt that that was the right thing to do.
The experience, however, did signal a quite radical departure in my life. I became, after I left, much more interested in spirituality and even more withdrawn and other-worldly and to be honest felt that the entire texture of my consciousness had changed, pretentious as that might sound. I lost all interest in the question of what career I should pursue or in my life direction as such, thinking the present tense the only moment of eschatological significance (yes, I really did think like that). I dropped any former interest I'd held in extra-curricular activities such as acting, rowing, student journalism (and drinking!) and instead spent much of my time wandering between cafes reading and reflecting on the beauty of God and the universe – without, I’m glad to report, trying to recruit or convert anyone to anything, though my experiences were definitely Christ-inflected. I entered what felt like a permanent high that lasted for the next 4 years. A friend at uni wondered if I’d dropped a tab of acid and had never come down. Sadly this elevated state of mind was not to last, and I trace the first of my occasional but long-lasting cycles of mania and depression to this original descent in the autumn of 1994. I don’t know and maybe I never will whether I would still have developed my 'alleged' ‘bi-polarity’ if I hadn’t visited the ‘Principle Life Study Center’ in December 1990. Oddly enough, however, it has only very recently occurred to me that there might have been a connection.
Anyway enough about me. That said, this book, of the many written about cult experiences, is of particular interest because it is the only resource I can find online that even mentions the existence of the Principle Life Study Centre which was located near The Ivy restaurant and St.Martin’s Theatre on West Street (where Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is still being shown). The author, Yolande Brener, was also by her own account a visitor at the same time, though I don’t remember her. She may have been out fundraising at the time, I guess, since she’d joined a few months earlier and this is what I would have been shortly destined to if I’d stuck around. I’m pretty sure that the German guy she mentions, Andreas, and the Australian with the chin and the ‘meteor chest’ were the two guys I spent most of my time with. Her descriptions seem accurate and are similar to my own experiences. Anyway, not that I am an advert or anything, or presume that I am interesting, blah blah (though cult experiences as such might be), but the Kindle book is only 3.39 sterling if you want to take a look. The section about the Centre as such are from page 39 to 56.
Btw, if you happen to know what became of the Principle Life Study Center and when it closed down (last time I checked it was an Arabic café), I’d be interested to know.
Have a Happy Thursday.