The Gnostic Movement was an organization focused around the teaching and practicing of spirituality and spiritual values. The techniques I learned, the friendships and relationships formed, and the long-lasting benefits, have filled my life with meaning and purpose. Some things struck me as amazing and remarkable right away, and other things have appeared so only in hindsight. In writing about some of my experiences below, I realized I could probably write a long book about all the great moments, insights, and times I had in The Gnostic Movement, but I’ll try to give enough to paint the character of The Gnostic Movement and those people who made it up.
Finding the Gnostic Movement
I found The Gnostic Movement in fall of 2004 through the Mysticweb website, and shortly thereafter through the courses on Gnosticweb.com. I was in my first year in college, and eager to explore my interests in a more concrete way. One of my main interests was spirituality, so I enrolled in meditation and tai chi classes offered by my college, and started searching online for any free resources, classes, and ebooks that I could find. I first discovered the free Astral Travel and Dreams course offered on Mysticweb, which I signed up for right away. I found I received a huge amount of support from teachers and from students alike. One thing that surprised me right away was the focus on experiential learning through spiritual practices. Unlike other sites I had found where people were very speculative about spiritual phenomena, citing books and experiences that they had no direct knowledge of, direct exploration was openly encouraged on Mysticweb. At the time, I didn’t really believe I could experience some of the things they talked about, such as astral projection, so I initially preferred to read about it. Nevertheless, I eagerly tried the practices and started to get results.
After having some of my first spiritual experiences including the experience of consciousness through mindfulness and meditation, and conscious out-of-body experiences, I quickly saw the value of this experiential approach. One single experience spoke volumes more than I could learn through book learning. Learning through spiritual experience had a very powerful impact on my life, as it was coming about through my own efforts and investigations and not through what someone else was telling me. I found this in stark contrast to college life where I was mostly required to learn, repeat, and use the theories of others, even if I disagreed with them.
Courses and Material
The cornerstone of The Gnostic Movement was spiritual practices such as meditation, mindfulness, mantras and astral projection. The teachings of Gnosis (or just “the teachings”) were used to supplement and explain spiritual experiences and phenomena that could result from the practices, and to help in setting goals to accomplish spiritual aims. One of my favorite chapters from the Astral Travel and Dreams book (now “The Astral Codex”), for example, was called “10 Tips for Astral Projection”, which went systematically through the top 10 things that can help someone astral project. Other topics explained what astral projection is, what kind of experiences are possible, and what astral projection can be used for. The book “The Peace of the Spirit Within” was a similarly practical book, oriented around practices and techniques to gain self-understanding and insight. Each chapter contained explanations on psychology, as well as a technique that would help to understand the topic more in depth.
The books were used in conjunction with courses, both online and in Gnostic Centers. The courses created a community of engaged learners, where we could each benefit from what the other learned. I often found myself both teaching and learning from others, in my role as a student, and later as a teacher. Even people who were coming for the first time had a lot to teach me. Everyone’s experiences were completely self-directed, and it was pretty much guaranteed that if someone put in efforts to learn, they would be rewarded by spiritual experience. The result of this is that those who became committed to spiritual practice were self-directed and driven people with a thirst for knowledge and understanding, both about themselves and the world.
The courses almost always involved a 10-30 minute guided spiritual practice. We would often get requests to publish a CD of guided spiritual practices because people enjoyed them so much. Some people came just for the practices, to experience stillness, rejuvenation, and relaxation.
The courses changed often. I wasn’t involved in planning the course material, but from my observation it seems that the courses were changed to keep the material fresh, and to experiment with different ways of teaching, learning, and practicing. When I first started attending lectures at the Berkeley Center in 2008, they consisted of a power-point presentation following the sequence of the books. Later, they were changed to more informal explanations, where the teachers would use their own words and understanding, and in other cases lectures were entirely omitted and the entire time was used to explain and run a practice session. On other occasions we ran courses on Christian Gnosticism, exploring the practical spiritual side of ancient Gnostic writings (primarily from the Nag Hammadi Library). Each change attracted different kinds of people with different backgrounds and life experiences.
People and Relationships
People of all religions and nationalities were welcomed to the center and the courses of The Gnostic Movement. Many students were involved in other spiritual groups and religious activities and were across a wide spectrum of values and ideas. So long as people were respectful and not disruptive to those who wanted to practice and learn, they were welcome. Among the teachers and members at the Berkeley center alone, I think we had representations from 6 or more countries, sometimes jokes were made about the group being like the United Nations. The students were likewise very diverse, spanning all different economic and age ranges.
Relationships in The Gnostic Movement were seen as something very useful for understanding oneself. It was taught that faults that you might see in others could be faults that you yourself had, and that through interactions with others you could learn a great deal about your own inconsistencies and faults. Looking at relationships in this way encouraged people to take responsibility for their own emotions and problems, and to look within for answers as well. In my own life, this led to a dramatic shift in my relationship with my sister. As a result of applying the techniques from the self-knowledge course, I saw that for most of my sister’s life I had been a very cruel brother: we would play together and have fun, but I would often tease her, say demeaning things to her, or manipulate her to get my way (she was no angel either, by the way). I immediately changed my behavior and decided to overcome the ‘egos’ that would become annoyed or frustrated, and the result was dramatic! Overnight we stopped fighting, and although she initially resented me for becoming ‘less fun’, today we have a much closer and trusting relationship because of it, and she both acknowledges and appreciates the way I changed.
The relationship between a husband and wife was seen as the most sacred kind of relationship, and the most useful for spiritual development. It was very seriously emphasized that people’s choice of a partner and decisions within a relationship were to be absolutely respected. In fact, even giving relationship advice was pretty much frowned upon, so as to not interfere with free will and the sacredness of relationships. General advice could be freely given, but not specific advice. I recall Belzebuub leading by example in this way during his talks, being very careful to not give specific advice to people about their relationships so as to not interfere.
Because of the techniques taught by The Gnostic Movement, my relationship with my wife has continuously improved over the 4+ years we’ve been together, becoming more loving and understanding, with great improvements in communication as well. By understanding myself and the internal causes of suffering, I’ve also grown to care more for others, including family and even strangers. By doing practices, gaining spiritual experience, and reading diverse spiritual texts from varying tradition, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation (and even reverence) for the world’s diverse religions and beliefs.
In February 2008 I had the opportunity to meet Mark, who writes under his spiritual name as Belzebuub, in person for the first time. He was well-dressed, in a button-up shirt, and soft-spoken. He didn’t attract much attention to himself, and didn’t seem interested in having a flock of followers (something he’s stated specifically on a number of occasions). His demeanor was very calm, and at times he had a subtle, almost mischievous, sense of humor. When asked questions, he was very deliberate and precise in answering them, and never belittled people for what seemed to me to be stupid questions. The day I met him he had just gotten a new DSLR camera, and asked me to take some pictures with it. I was surprised he asked me, surprised that he trusted me with it, and surprised that he figured I would know how to use it. I was very new to photography. Although he was set to lecture, he gave me a few photography tips. Later, the incident prompted me to learn more about photographic technique, something that has become very useful for me in my design work and life in general (I’ve photographed 4 weddings since then).
Mark defied my concepts of him a couple of times. I had this particular way of thinking about spirituality that involved giving up everything else, anything that wasn’t ‘spiritual’, and becoming something of a hermit. However, I found him encouraging of people’s talents and aspirations, whether it be singing, getting a college degree, or learning new design techniques. I also thought that he would be too busy to really bother much with people, but he took the time to speak with people that had questions without a hint of irritation. I had thought Mark would expect a lot from people and take their work as a matter of course, but I witnessed Mark being very appreciative of help, whether it be a new idea or innovation, prayers, or general hard work and maintenance of the center. In fact, I do believe any time something was done well or with care, he made a point to appreciate it and was very vocal about his appreciation.
Mark had a high standard of quality, and asked for things to be done well and with care. Practically, this meant that attention and care was put into every detail of the center, websites, and advertisements, whether it was the design of the sign in forms, the finesse of a paint-job, or the general tidiness of the center. In the case of The Gnostic Movement, quality was seen as very important, as it showed professionalism and put us on an even-playing field with commercially run spiritual groups, groups with large budgets and cash-flow that could afford the best decorators, designers, and marketers. Exercising this level of care later became useful in my professional life, as I accustomed myself to a higher standard of working.
In every interaction I’ve had with Mark he has been friendly, approachable, respectful, and generous with his time. I’ve only met him in-person about a half-dozen times, but based on what I have seen, I would say he is a first-class gentlemen.
For people that had gone through the introductory classes on astral projection and self knowledge, advanced classes were made available. The first of these was the “Journey to Enlightenment” course (known by other names later on). In the advanced courses, new practices were introduced that required more explanation, such as alchemy/tantrism and the elimination of the psychological defects. Other topics were also covered that, while common in religious teachings, were unpopular in new age circles, topics such as the existence of hell or the harm that hallucinogenic drugs can cause to one’s spiritual journey. Some of the topics covered were beyond what someone could expect to experience in a 9-week course, and instead showed the potential of the information to create a real spiritual transformation that would take many years of study to accomplish. During this course, it was always encouraged to take the information with a grain of salt, and not to turn the information into a belief, but to investigate it for oneself and see what was true. The first chapter of the book “Secret Knowledge, Hidden Wisdom” spoke at length about how to approach the information in a practical way and not fall into a trap of blind belief.
Even though the information was more theoretical and painted a ‘bigger picture’ of spirituality overall, it still followed the form of the other courses in offering a weekly practice, but this time with practices that built on those taught in earlier courses, for example the technique to disintegrate the egos, which required practical experience with self-observation, and meditation techniques that built on exercises taught in the Astral Travel and Dreams course.
Providing the advanced course after the first two allowed students to form a base of experience, so that when they learned the new course material, they had context for the new concepts and practices.
After the Journey to Enlightenment course, there was usually an advanced practice group in which people would meet and focus exclusively on exploring the practices they had learned, and applying them in everyday life. One time we used a meditation technique called “the duality” to understand ourselves better throughout the day. Another time, the focus was on experiencing and learning about the quality of love, and using the various practices at our disposal to do so. Having understood the whole framework of the teachings of gnosis in the previous course, the advanced practice group brought the focus back to practice and experience.
After joining the teacher’s course, more advanced practices were made available, such as all-night practices at the center and mini-retreats. On weekends we would have mini-retreats at local parks, focusing on being in the present moment in a beautiful outdoor setting for most of the day. It was a healthy and rejuvenating time, and a good time among friends, as well. At night we would have an all-night practice, which involved waking up two or three times during the night to practice mindfulness for a few minutes, and make another attempt at astral projection. I rarely had success with astral projection, but I would put in an effort and would often have profound and significant dreams, some of which had a deep emotional impact on me that I carry to this day. After the night, we would discuss our experiences from the night, and some of us would stay around and have a pancake breakfast.
Becoming a teacher
One concept covered in the Journey to Enlightenment course is helping others, specifically helping people spiritually. One way to do that was to become a teacher. People who decided to become teachers had gained a lot from the practices and wanted to take their learning to the next level.
After graduation from college in 2008, I decided that I wanted to become a teacher for The Gnostic Movement. I drove out to Vancouver, where a small group had just started, and began the teacher training. I was required to adhere to a higher standard of behavior, as my actions would now reflect on The Gnostic Movement, for better or for worse. These standards included being loyal to The Gnostic Movement, not getting drunk or using mind-altering substances, and if in a relationship, being serious and committed to it. In short, the requirements were similar to what would be expected by a respectable employer. Beyond a basic set of standards, individuals were encouraged to be upright individuals in every way, as that is part of the “Gnostic Work”.
Lessons Learned as a Teacher
One of the first things I became involved in when training to become a teacher was web development. I was tasked with making sure a newsletter design displayed consistently across different email clients. It was frustrating and finicky, but it was my first introduction to web development in a professional setting. A couple years later, I became involved in another web development project, shortly after which I became a full-time freelance web developer, a profession I still practice and enjoy. After some time, I moved to Berkeley and took over running the blog for the Gnostic Center there. I was given a lot of autonomy, and experimentation was encouraged. I improved the blog over time, learning design, photography and development skills that I still use today. The most important thing I learned in running the center blog, however, was the value of taking ownership for a project, improving it, and paying attention to the details that make it great.
During my time as a teacher trainee and as a teacher, I learned a huge variety of skills and came to relish learning new things and using my creative strengths to find new solutions. A non-exhaustive list of skills learned includes:
– Public speaking
– Curriculum development skills
– The value and practice of group collaboration
– Basic electrical work (installing lights)
– Drywall repair
– Carpet installation
– Painting techniques
– Cooking & baking
– Materials acquisition (especially on a tight budget)
– Online advertising and marketing strategies
– Offline advertising strategies (posters, expos, events, etc…)
– Design skills
– Web development skills
– Research techniques
– Real-estate research
– Zoning and building codes
– Crafting skills (bookbinding & candle-making)
– Basic video work (recording, editing)
– Basic audio work
– Event planning
The thing I appreciated most about being a teacher, however, was the wonderful connections I formed with people. I appreciated meeting a new and diverse group of students, learning from and with them, and the friendships formed with other teachers and members continue to this day. I feel a deep camaraderie with them even though many of us are separated by long distances. Some of my favorite times spent were on retreats in the parks around the Bay Area, or simply sitting at cafés, discussing life.
Attacks on The Gnostic Movement and Belzebuub
When the attacks against The Gnostic Movement started in 2010, I couldn’t understand why someone would say such horrible things against Mark or The Gnostic Movement, since my experience had been so positive.
Confused by accusations whose motivations I couldn’t understand, I found myself praying to my internal father for help and understanding. I saw in that instant that what Belzebuub and The Gnostic Movement had taught me to do was to seek my answers within myself, and to find the truth through my own experience and relationship with the divine. I thought of Jesus’ saying “You will know them by their fruits” and saw how TGM and Belzebuub had enabled me to be more free and independent, while the accusers were inciting fear, discord, chaos, and in some cases causing real damage to people’s personal relationships.
As a result of the lies and accusations, a horrible stigma was cast over me, this fear that if I spoke of anything spiritual or made decisions in a way that I considered spiritual, I could be labeled a ‘brain-washed cult member’, and that it would reflect poorly on me, Belzebuub, and The Gnostic Movement. In our modern culture, there seems to be no worse insult than to be called a cult member, a label which implicitly strips one of free choice and personal responsibility, making them a ‘victim’ and any free speech ‘coerced’, even if it’s authentically what they believe. It was about that time that I stopped openly talking about spiritual things, because of the horrible, indefensible stigma that the ‘cult-member’ label carried with it.
Other Lessons Learned
I continue to practice the techniques from The Gnostic Movement and continue to learn incredible things. These are some of the main takeaways, after years of practice, that I value most:
- Being able to understand and use dreams to guide my direction in life. This has been probably the most wonderful, as I find following guidance from dreams leads me to life experiences where I learn a lot. The other part of this is that dreams have often shown me aspects of myself which I need to change, which has given me a tremendous amount of perspective on myself.
- Handling stressful situations. I have at times been emotional and irrational, but the techniques for self-knowledge have allowed me to reflect on my own stress-causing reactions and to choose different paths.
- Improving personal relationships. With the techniques offered by TGM, I have been able to forgive much more easily and completely, repairing relationships quickly and forming deeper connections, especially with my wife, where our relationship has consistently improved in every way since we got together.
- Understanding my strengths and weaknesses. I’m not perfect, but by knowing myself more I have been able to play more to my strengths, such as problem solving and intelligence, and work around, identify, and deal with my weaknesses, such as poor communication and judgement.
- Being comfortable in my own skin. Before joining the Gnostic Movement I was pretty insecure about myself, and often felt awkward in social situations. I’ve come to understand much more who I am, and become more comfortable with myself, which then manifests as self-confidence and calm, where anxiety and insecurity used to be.
- Adapting to change. Because of the way I live my life, I have moved often and been in uncomfortable situations that have stretched my limits. Being able to find peace in those situations has caused me to grow as a person, and to welcome change more readily.
- Understanding the value of things. I’ve become much less attached to my possessions, and yet also grown to understand the true value of things more, so I acquire the things I need, and less of the things I don’t.
- Becoming more compassionate. This is subtle, because in general I have an analytical and somewhat cold personality, but I’ve noticed I have a lot more care for people going through difficult times.
Hopes for the Future
I wish The Gnostic Movement were around today, and I wish I had done more to protect it so that it could be. In my opinion, there’s no way for someone to get the same balance of information and experiential spiritual learning as there was with the courses and events run by The Gnostic Movement, especially for someone just starting to try things out. The depth of experience possible is something I have not seen elsewhere. I continue to put into practice what I learned through The Gnostic Movement, and it continues to enrich my life. I can only hope that more people will wish to learn about themselves, and will learn to seek spiritual answers through personal experience, as I have learned to do through The Gnostic Movement’s courses and structure. It’s a very sad thing to have seen such a great resource thrive and then die, and I hope to have the opportunity to be a part of something of its nature again some day.