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How A Woman's Search For Enlightenment Led Straight To A Cult

October 29, 2018 1:30 p.m.

How A Woman's Search For Enlightenment Led Straight To A Cult


Renee Linnell, author, "The Burn Zone"

Related Story: How A Woman's Search For Enlightenment Led Straight To A Cult


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

At first it's like winning the lottery. That's what writer Renee Lindale says about her encounter with a woman who became her mentor her guru and ultimately her tormentor. She thought she'd found someone to guide her through life until she realized years and thousands of dollars later she was in a cult. Leonella former Pacific Beach resident tells the story of her attachment to the leaders of the University of mysticism and how she healed from the experience in a new book called The burn zone a memoir. Author Renee Lemelle joins me now. Renee welcome.

Hi. Thank you it's nice to be here. What were those first experiences with the group. Why were they like winning the lottery.

It was incredible for me because I had been searching my whole life for a place where I felt like I belonged. I felt very alone. Most of my family died when I was young and I was always a weird and strange and tiny and psychic.

And I hid those differences as we all do in childhood we hide what makes us different and then we're desperate to find somebody who sees us as unique which is so interesting and so when I sat in front of this teacher not only did I feel he's for the first time because I meditated but I found somebody who saw me and who appreciated me.

And I found a tribe to which I felt like I belonged of like minded people.

Now people wouldn't have known that you might be so open to an experience like this because you'd certainly done a lot before this first encounter you were a model. You traveled the world you were a professional dancer. So why after all those experiences do you think that you were so open to this new experience this meditation and this guru.

It's interesting you know you're seeing in the news right now a lot of celebrities that are in cold's and I think what happens is for those of us that quote have everything and still don't feel happy inside. We feel like we're the only ones you know when you think you're gonna be happy when you have a family are happy when you have the house or are happy when you have the car. You can always think when I get that I'll be happy but once you have all that stuff and you're still not happy there's a deep void inside.

And so usually connection to a spiritual group helps to fill that void. But people erroneously attribute it to the teacher versus just their own finally getting quiet enough to feel their source.

So the teacher was Lakshmi Yes. What was she like.

She was amazing at first. She was everything I wanted in a mentor. I didn't have a strong mother figure. My mother was an alcoholic an emotionally abusive and locks me walked onto the stage. I was expecting an older woman with long gray hair in a robe and she walked onto the stage in what looked like an Armani business suit or a black tailor fit business suit stiletto heels she held command of the room. She was incredibly powerful incredibly poised and then she went on to say that she was going to teach us how to sharpen our minds through meditation which was the hardest thing there was to do.

And then to use our career as our spiritual practice and every moment at our work would be an offering to the divine and tell us to explain some of the things that you did at her bidding or instigation.

Well in the beginning I just started helping to organize her events. And then I started to learn computer programming because she suggested it. And as a dancer that was amazing. But then my selfless service to the Guru went from running her events to running her company to cleaning her house and doing her errands and then taking care of her right hand man who also ran the company and eventually my selfless service became sleeping with him. And that was a really weird downward spiral. And as my life got consumed with everything I did for them I distance myself from friends and families and friends and family and activities that I loved.

Now this is the man called Vishnu who was Lakshmi's so-called bodyguard. You say you know you got involved in a sexual relationship with him. It was wasn't something that you would have chosen though.

Not really. Now he was 12 years older than I was and I at that time I was working with him all the time and I had no support structure left. I was no longer surfing no longer dancing no longer spending time with friends no longer in communication with my twin brother and he started coming on to me and I just saw him as so evolved and so enlightened and Lockes means right hand person. And the truth is I really wanted to get close to her and to become enlightened and so I knew that he was wanting a romantic relationship with me and I had a decision to make and I made the decision to go for it because I thought it would change me and I'd become enlightened you went deeper and deeper into this this cult.

If I may call it that for seven years how did you get out.

It was twofold when locks me found out that I was sleeping with Vishnu. I thought she knew about it and it turned out. Not only did she not know but she was furious. So she gave me an impossible task which was to get an MBA from one of the hardest business schools in the country and then make 10 million dollars profit after taxes in some company and then come back. So I was thrown out and ostracized. And thank God I got away enough to have some distance but realized I was very far from what was right for me.

Now it can't be easy to admit making this kind of choice in your life.

Why are you writing about it and talking about it now. It wasn't easy. In fact I had so much shame about it that I didn't tell anybody. And I wrote it as a catharsis. I was journaling. And once I got it out of me I started to slowly talk about it to very close friends and family. And it's so incredibly liberating to not only share those stories but to own them and to go from victim to warrior.

I have been speaking with author Rene Linell who will discuss and sign copies of her book The burn zone memoir tonight at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla. Rene thank you so much.

Thank you so much.