Under The Bloated Banyan
by Jelelle Awen
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What is it that makes a group a “cult” or a “high-demand group”? What degree or harm or abuse (if any) is acceptable in the name of emotional and spiritual awakening? Is it ever acceptable to ostracize someone from an entire intimate social community without allowing them to defend themselves and process their experience? How does someone reconcile the good that they experienced in such a group from the bad?
These are questions that author Jelelle Awen explores in Under The Bloated Banyan after being given a harsh ultimatum about either choosing to stay in the group she was part of or give up her budding relationship with her now current husband. The love for her husband and the Divine gave her the courage to leave Emotional Body Enlightenment (EBE) after close to five years of being deeply involved in the inner circle and being a facilitator of the paradigm working with others in paid session space. Offered mostly through journals and blog entries that Jelelle actually wrote during the time, this book covers a six-year period of her experiences with love, healing, intense pain, profound awakenings, and self discovery during and after EBE.
Under The Bloated Banyan offers a vulnerable and raw perspective that is stripped of much mental analysis and goes to the emotional core of why intense groups and their charismatic leaders are so alluring. Rather than play a victim, Jelelle accepts her experience as a necessary one and appreciates it for the gifts it offered, while also feeling a strong desire to expose and hold accountable the founder of EBE, Daniel Stace Barron, for perpetuating a years-long repetitive cycle of harm and post-traumatic suffering for so many of his followers.
This book is for anyone who has experienced such a group, is drawn to joining one, has a friend or relative in one, or is just curious about this sort of experience.
Published: March, 2018
Written December 2003-December 2009 (With updated prologue from 2018)
Under The Bloated Banyan
This is dedicated to my beloved soul mate Raphael (who goes by Marvin and then Wayne in this book). He continually inspires me by his response to my heart, my creativity, and our life together with strength, sensitivity, purity, humility and a matching intensity and dedication to deepening intimacy and collaboration for himself and together. He brings the love into this story.
This writing is also dedicated to those of us who are seeker souls. Those of us inspired and called to heal ourselves and to serve others in the healing process. Those of us who will always be students even when we are called on to be teachers. To us ‘misfits’ and those of us who have a difficult time absorbing the content of the world without a sense of context that holds the bigger meaning for being here.
And, especially, this is for those souls who have supported me during the phase of my life after leaving EBE, when the world felt more scary than safe, more unknown than known, and it seemed sometimes that only shadows lurked everywhere.
It Starts With Chocolate And A Contrary View
“If the moon smiled, she would resemble you. You leave the same impression
Of something beautiful, but annihilating.” Sylvia Plath
December, 2003 -
It starts with chocolate and a contrary view. I’m not trying to eavesdrop, but there aren’t any walls and the cubicle ones provide separation but no real sound proofing. I’m in between client calls, typing up notes and pretending to study the next module before I have to deliver it. Melissa’s desk is right across from mine and he comes over there to talk with her often, his voice is powerful, deep, filling the space, and it draws me in just like it does his clients.
“I really couldn’t believe it,” he says. “Such a powerful movement. And, in that moment, then I really got what a de-med really is about. Because I was feeling Sarah, you know, and then Elijah put chocolate in front of her and she just burst into tears. So much pain. And I held her and Elijah felt her and she didn’t want the chocolate anymore. She wanted us. She wanted me.”
I can’t hear Melissa’s response because she knows to talk more softly (being a manager). But Nathan doesn’t seem to know or care that everyone around them can hear him. He certainly doesn’t seem to mind that I can hear him.
I wonder who Sarah is. I find myself jealous of her, even though I’ve only exchanged a few sentences with Nathan over the six months that I’ve been a business coach.
“It’s just so powerful. This work. And it’s really changing how I feel about my relationship with Naomi. We both are getting so much from it but I think I’m feeling more drawn to it than she is and that’s a problem. I mean, that’s going to be a problem for our relationship, right?”
He sounds concerned but, again, I can’t hear Melissa’s response. I know that Naomi is his fiancée and that they both are involved in some healing group. I got an email at work about attending an introduction to the group meeting, but I deleted it quickly. I didn’t think that my current boyfriend, who I’ll call Rodin because of our fondness for the tragic story of French sculpture artists Rodin and Camille, would be interested and I didn’t feel, “emotionally wounded and deeply unhappy” as the email said I should to be able to get something out of the group.
Also, I am intimidated by the other people in the group and Nathan, to be honest, and I can’t imagine being in an intimate therapy group with them. But, I am becoming more drawn to
Nathan and find myself listening intently during his client calls. He likes to stand up and pace inside his little cubicle with his voice booming across the space; his one-sided advice and responses ringing in the air. Most days, he wears this wool hat over his closely shaven head, giving a rebel edge to his business suit. We are all required to wear business suits, even though we work with clients over the telephone. It is uncomfortable, unnecessary, and an outdated carry over from E-myth’s vision of an ultra-professional business environment being projected out at all times, even if our clients can’t see what we are wearing.
I can only afford to own two suits that I switch up over and over. I feel like a man in them and none of my personal style or femininity seems to come through, especially since I like to slick my hair back into a tight ponytail everyday as well to save time in my hectic mornings. But, I also like it because it feels like an armor around me that protects me when I am feeling overwhelmed by the steep learning curve and performance requirements of the job.
At first, I was just a newbie coach, part of a class of three. The two new guys and I clung to each other, did everything together, and I wasn’t much discernible from them. I had been a supervisor/assistant editor at my previous job at a small business newspaper. It was humbling to know so little and have so much to learn. The senior coaches seem so brilliant, referencing processes and systems that I worry I will never be able to track. As the training weeks continue, I became more terrified and excited for my first client call. The other coaches were supportive, but they also were very busy. We newbies didn’t register much for them, especially since there tended to be a fall out after “boot camp”, with two out of three coaches leaving.
Things started to change for me when I began to work with clients. At first, I was so nervous that I could barely engage; terrified they’d ask me how experienced I am and ask for another coach. I worried that I wouldn’t remember the process numbers or that the clients would know more about E-Myth than I did!
Then, I had a really powerful call with a client who was extremely vulnerable with me about the state of his business and his life. He felt hopeless and ready to give it all up. We talked tenderly together and I found myself intuitively asking the right questions to get him to see new possibilities and ways to keep going. It was a powerful call and as I hung up the phone, I noticed that Melissa had been listening. She came immediately over, gave me a big hug, and said, “Welcome to the breakthrough club.” It was a big moment for me and I finally felt like the weeks of training were coming to something. Nathan passed by my cubicle at that moment and said, “I heard some of your call. Good work. Powerful stuff.” He said it casually, sort of tossed over his shoulder, but it meant a lot to me that he had noticed.
After that day, I started to be bolder with my clients. I discovered that I could ask them almost anything as long as I was caring and it was connected to what they had previously said. I became a master at repeating their words back to them and guiding them in digging deeper based on their own responses. This was much more comfortable to me than being a teacher and teaching lessons or lecturing them, which many coaches fell into and struggled to, “ask, not tell.” After a few months, both of the guys in my beginning class quit the job and yet I took more and more deeply to being a coach.
After his client calls, Nathan liked to walk right past my cubicle on his way to the break room. There are other ways to go but he would glide past and look at me, smiling and making eye contact only if I am on the phone. His smile often suggested that we shared a secret with each other, one that the client doesn’t know.
And, today, I am listening to him talking about chocolate triggering “Sarah ” and all his tears and I’m interested to know what he means by that. Nathan is so different from the man I am living with. I am drawn to the difference; moth to flame intrigued by his confidence, his worldliness, his articulateness, and his brilliance in connecting the processes to his client’s issues. At first, the draw is a growing curiosity mixed with shyness that is content to eavesdrop into his world, be an audience to his show. At first. Yet, it doesn’t take long before he is noticing that I am noticing.
We move to a new building: a brand new building with Swedish design and modern architecture. I also move, from being a coach to being a coach manager. This happens fast for me, after less than a year, and surprises me at the pace of it. I feel like I am barely understanding the most basic business systems that we offer clients (there is about three years’ worth of curriculum). I am a major rookie compared to the other coaches, not to mention that I am younger than them all (except Nathan.) My managers feel that I’ll do a good job, that I’ll be able to encourage the coaches and hold them accountable at the same time. They seem to be more confident in my abilities than I am because, honestly, most of the time I still feel intimidated and out of my depth around them.
“Treat them like you do your clients,” Melissa advises and during my mentoring meetings with new and senior coaches this is what I do. I can’t match them in expertise about the coaching program, so I help “hold up a mirror” so they can see where they are struggling and why. I help them bust their ideas about certain clients and also support them when a client truly needs to be let go. This is never an easy decision because they are tracked by client retention and the monthly fee we collect from every client ($995 for three meetings) is essential for paying the salaries for themselves, everyone else, and the back-end operations. The coaching department is the workhorse of the company with most coaches holding four one-hour long meetings a day, in addition to telephone group trainings and senior coaches training new coaches.
Nathan has also been offered a management position, but turns it down because, as he explains to me when I ask why, his “process” is now about deconstructing his self-image around positions of authority and also his arrogance. He also is seriously thinking about quitting the company and moving to Oregon to be near the founder of the group, his teacher Daniel, and to start training to be a facilitator of the work.
He tells me this during lunch break. We’ve started having lunch together out on the company’s new patio area, by the sand-filled volleyball court. As shy and intimidated as I had been by him for months, it turns out that Nathan is easy to talk to, we laugh together easily, and notice the same things about our co-workers. He very much likes to talk. Especially about the process and also about Daniel, the founder and leader of the work called Emotive Subself Healing or ESH.
Nathan can be a bit of a lecturer, some coaches find him too arrogant and know-it-all to bear, but I find that I just like to hear him talk. The tone and timbre of his voice is soothing to me and our easy rapport together is in huge contrast to the constant arguing I am doing with Rodin. It started after I accepted the job at E-Myth, began to expand my perspective, my income, and my confidence after recovery from my divorce a couple of years earlier. Rodin is also threatened by Nathan’s presence in my life and, turns out, he has reason to be.
I’d met my boyfriend Rodin through an online writing community: drawn to his writing ‘persona’, his wit, his way with words, his cynicism, his lack of worldly experience and devotion to his home state on the East Coast. He was an enticing challenge to me and he became a conquest for me for a year after I was separated/divorced from Chris, my ex-husband, living with a roommate in Sebastopol, smoking too much, and so, so lonely. He became an idealized projection of devotion; somehow his lack of experience would mean that he would never leave me. He resisted me for a long time, using his cynicism and unrequited crush on another member of the online community to keep me as a friend for much longer than I wanted. Oh, we were united in our suffering and feelings of general darkness about the world. I was more optimistic than he was, more romantic, yet I fancied the Edgar Allen Poe in him, the edge and the wit.
I persisted and used all my seductive, creative, and insightful gifts to overcome all of his doubts one by one. Over the phone and over instant message. He was concerned that we’d never met, that he had never left his home state.....and it turns out also: never been sexually intimate with a woman, never lived with anyone besides his mother, never held down a steady job, lied about his age. As would become a pattern with me, my need (obsession) to be with him lost me friendships with people who didn’t approve of the relationship and, yet, I dropped them easily to move on to something new.
I finally convinced him to visit me and after a week of sex (he got better with practice and I enjoyed being his teacher), talking, and showing him around Northern California, he moved out from his home state to be with me and my daughter, who I had custody of half the time. This was big for him, really huge on so many levels and I didn’t want to process or feel that much. I just wanted what I wanted and I was convinced that his presence in my daily life would ease my suffering, help with my overwhelmed feelings around raising an eight-year-old girl half the time, and inspire me to write great works of fiction. Also, I was with Chris, my ex-husband, for eleven years and I was used to being in a long-term monogamous relationship.
I’ve never been a casual dater, preferring to fall in (and out) of love. A steady relationship made me feel safe and yet also, eventually and inevitably, the very safety that I craved would become a noose, tightening on the neck of my liberation, creativity, and risk. So far, I was only able to be truly creative when I was in crisis. During the time of my separation and eventual divorce, I was writing a poem a day, many short stories, in addition to articles for the newspaper I worked for.
I imagined that Rodin and I would create works of masterful fiction together, that the three to four hour long conversations we were having on the phone would happen in person so easily, that I would cook for him and expose him to all of the mind and soul-altering aspects of California. I imagined that he really was the Rodin to my Camille, only hopefully without the tragic outcome.
It didn’t really work out that way, as the realities of finances required that he get a night shift job at a local pizza place right away, while going full-time to bookkeeping school during the day. After the first month or so of glow and goodness, we fell into a pattern of hardly seeing each other. We’d go all week with different work schedules and then try to connect again on Sundays, finding that there were few common interests that we shared. He wanted to watch basketball while I enjoyed strange Indie and foreign films. The most concerning thing (that we didn’t directly talk about) was that we both stopped writing once we were living together. We’d both been leadership figures in the online writing community but we both dropped it and with it, the audience for our writing. The creative fuel that flowed into our words when we were apart, all that long distance longing, courtship, and foreplay expressed through cleverly arranged syllables, seemed to dry up when the source was readily available any time we wanted it. Truth was that we were both too tired to write most days and it didn’t help that we slept in separate bedrooms due to his very loud snoring.
I moved away from writing and easily on, with growing devotion and dedication, to E- Myth, but Rodin was more frustrated than I realized. I didn’t want to feel how much he missed his home state, his mother, his collection of rare old books, and also his writing. How much he missed me. I didn’t want to feel how little we had in common and how my growing drive and passion for transformation and change wasn’t one that he shared. He had changed greatly during the year and a half in California (including losing more than 30 pounds) but he didn’t want to talk about it, understand it, or put it into a bigger context.
After I become a manager and get a raise (putting the differences between our incomes even more in disparity), he starts accusing me of “coaching and trying to manage” him, which is true to a certain extent, and a difficult energy for me to let go of when I am doing it every day with people whom I spend much more time with than him. His stubbornness, which I once saw as a hearty challenge that possessed much of my waking hours, is now frustrating and distracting to me. He tells me that I have changed, that I have “drunk the E-Myth Kool-Aid” and that I am not a person that he knows any longer.
He is hurting; he is more sensitive to the end coming than I am; he is more invested and has left everything in his known world for us to be together, which I never fully appreciate. I am his world in that way, my daughter, and me, and yet there are many people that occupy me, including Nathan and my ex-husband Chris, who I still talk with often.
Rodin hurts and lashes out at me to try to save our relationship, which seems to be the one sure way to lose my interest. I grew up with an angry, controlling, and often cruel stepfather (and at times mother) who personally insulted me at every opportunity, and was highly critical of me. This is the last thing I want in a mate, so I fiercely defend myself against his verbal attacks, not daring to be vulnerable with him or putting in effort to save the relationship. I’m not mature enough to own when he is right about something or to feel how it feels for him to be with a woman who he doesn’t feel close to any more.
I ask Nathan if he believes in past lives. He says to me that, according to his teacher, Daniel, you don’t believe in past lives; you feel them. So, if you feel them to be true, he says, then they are true. Belief has nothing to do with it.
I still don’t understand what the difference is between believing something and feeling something. I still think that my feelings are less important than my mind. That they are a sign that I am too sensitive or that it is just “that time of the month” or that I am in a “bad/depressed/irritated mood”. I judge my emotional mood swings and try hard to suppress them most of the time, especially at my job. Nathan says this is because our modern, Western culture has made feelings wrong and put more emphasis and importance on our mental capacities. He says that one of Daniel’s key premises is that the human architecture is actually comprised of our emotional body first, mental body second, and physical body last in terms of how we actually process reality.
I ask him the question about past lives as he is sharing one with me one day while we are taking a break at work. On the surface, it sounds like a kid’s story - a story that one kid would boast to another on the playground, “Guess what? I used to be a pirate in another life. I killed all kinds of people and I had a big ship and a big sword. That’s why I love water so much in this life. And, that’s why I like collecting knives.” What Nathan is telling me sounds like a kid’s story, on the surface anyway.
And then, we are lying down in the conference room. I’m lying down flat on the conference room table and he is lying down on the carpet. There is no one else there, even though it is the middle of the workday, and the door is closed. We are staring at each other in that way he likes to do, the way he says that Daniel does, the way that seems to see right through me and out the other side. His face starts to change while I am staring at it. His nose gets broader, expanding at the bridge to the right and to the left. His eyebrows grow more hair, become bushier, and his sprinkle of stubble melts into a long beard.
So, then, his story about this life starts showing on his face and I can see this life emerge from his face. I feel crazy and I don’t like seeing this face come out. Most of all, I don’t like the feeling that I have inside as I watch it emerge. How I am sure that he’s been this person, that I had known him, that what he is telling me istrue.
The feeling is like the urge to jump feeling that I have when I am up in a tall place and look over the railing. Or the feeling to jump I got when I rode ski lifts in Colorado growing up...nothing stopping me from plunging to my death other than my own will, my own desire to keep on going.
Seeing his past life face emerge is like that...guess it is the knowing that things won’t be the same and that I will eventually choose to jump, that (in some ways) I already am jumping. And that everything is going to be different, as much I am scared of it to change, it is going to anyway; it is inevitable.
I am going to jump.
I already am.
My feelings for Nathan are changing from curiosity to more, growing into something beyond friendship. I recognize the symptoms as I’ve been prone all my life to crushes on men. I catch them like colds and can’t and don’t want to shake them off, preferring to go all in, getting deathly sick if need be, ill with the possibilities and the idealized pictures of romance. This impulse, this desire and need for someone else, contributed to the end of my marriage as I contracted a nasty case of co-worker infatuation flu. I recovered eventually, but my marriage didn’t.
I’m recognizing the symptoms related to Nathan. I’m starting to look forward to seeing him at work, eager for our lunchtime talks, hoping (secretly) that he and Naomi will just break up already. I start to share about my relationship with Rodin and Nathan frames it related to Daniel’s picture of romance, which is that all relationships are based in co-dependence unless both partners have greatly healed their subconscious wounding through working with parts of themselves. Nathan offers that perhaps my ‘leading edge’ of being (my highest, biggest self) has outgrown Rodin’s leading edge and that where we previously connected in some co-dependent places, some ‘trailing edges’ (our most wounded selves) that we no longer are. He also offers that Rodin is more dense than I am; not intellectually, but spiritually and emotionally. He says that I am a more porous soul than I realize and own, also much more psychically gifted than I have embodied and expressed.
Some of these words are new to me; some of these offerings make me uncomfortable because they feel true and yet painful somehow to remember, like when blood rushes back to a sleeping limb.
Psychology was my major in college and I had planned for years to be a psychiatrist. I wanted to work with the hardest cases, manic depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, finding some way to reach them beyond drugs and mental institutions. But even two years of college proved to be too much for my party-prone, socially-obsessed version of me and, instead, I dropped out, chose marriage and a baby by the age of twenty-two. By that point, going back to college for years was unrealistic, impossible really, so I played it practical and got my medical assistant certification instead. I worked in the medical field for a few years, which eventually led to being a reporter and then to my current job at E-Myth.
I have retained my interest in psychology though, have been to a few therapists in my time, and am eager to analyze any situation (when I’m ready to feel it, that is.) This is what draws me to coaching. I’ve also engaged with psychic and esoteric offerings before, even joining a psychic training program before abandoning it due to my pregnancy.
I listen carefully to Nathan, not only because I’m feeling the beginning flushes of crushitis, but also because what he is saying makes sense. It just feels right.
My relationship with Rodin is in a highly tender and tentative place as I finally sign up for my first group weekend with my new facilitators, Elijah and his wife Luna, which Nathan will be hosting at his home with Naomi.