Huffpost Books
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carol Smaldino Headshot

On a Freedom to Think, as in "Freedom of Mind"

Posted: Updated:

Have you had the experience of becoming aware of something that starts shouting its evidence in spades once you start to focus? Even something that has been dormant for a good deal of time? I think - I am actually pretty sure - that we all have had this experience.

When I first began reading Steven Hassan's book Freedom of Mind, reviewed by Stewart Lawrence on the Huffington Post (January 28, 2013), it was a gesture of curiosity and engagement about one person in particular who I know from Italy. She is Annette Stephens, and I met her when her own memoir about her cult experience and more was getting ready to come out. I was interested, but really that was the tip of my iceberg. It was here, as I've mentioned before, that it seems that to really learn about something that requires real wakefulness and awareness, we often have to plumb through the deeper of our own emotional layers.

So my own reading experience was surprised, so to speak, by its triggering some of my own memories of past group memberships, moments even -- and moments uncomfortable to remember -- in my own parenting experiences as well. It's not new to me any more than the fact that the most inconvenient truths are the ones that hit us on personal levels, and yet when it happens, it's not necessarily so simple or easy. But that's what makes a book ring true and makes us want to know it more deeply. What's more, we add our own inner workings and imaginings, to collaborate with the learning process, to connect to a larger dialogue.

So to add to the conversation, I'd like to suggest we may need to look at the incredible effect that we see all over our present world of belief systems that exclude outsiders, and that exclude the possibility of disagreement or even questioning of the rules of a given ideology. As our taste and interest buds would have it, someone just send me a copy of Greg Jemsek's book Quiet Horizon (Trafford Publishing, 2011), a very moving book about the process of coming free of being taken over by ideologies so we can get to quieter places where we can start to process emotions and thoughts and get closer to our own identities. And so it goes that the more I read, the more I relate to our congestion as a culture, and to our tendencies to see what we believe instead of vice versa.

A rather small, little known earthquake that occurred some days ago in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany, was attributed by local residents to a "reaction of the earth" to the swift changes of climate, whereas we here in the States can't seem to get on the same page; we have fundamentalists saying scientists are exaggerating for their own gains. Which means that being inundated by propaganda with many people believing it, is not so far away. And which also means we have lots of work to do if we want to approach living the love of freedom that is so very liberating and also able to upset the apple carts we are wheeling at any given moment.

One thing often left out of any change, which has significant repercussions in so many arenas, is how much support we need in shifting views and ways of seeing to get more in sync with our real essence. One thing Hassan does exquisitely in Freedom of Mind, is to link change with support, therapy but not only: empathy for family and friends and people aligned with cult organizations. His ideas for helping people can be used by the rest of us who wrestle with torn feelings, addictions, codependencies juxtaposed with the thrill of change and growth. And he helps us see that even those heavily steeped in cult involvement have aspects of themselves that are part of their authentic identity. Hassan, in essence, can clearly help all of us see that for any huge dependency, in the continuum of smaller codependent involvements to heavy dosages of a very exclusive, strict or even extreme ideology, we need to be respectful of just how overcome any of us could be ourselves. When we learn about the stories of some of the people here, as with Annette's story in her own book The Good Little Girl (2012, Big Sky Publishers, Australia), we allow the strict borders to drop away, and we identify with the human vulnerabilities to violence and to fear, that we all have.

As it turns out, Freedom of Mind applies to us more than we might assume at first glance. Freedom is something many of us take for granted as either God given or as part of the legacy of being born American. We don't always help it stay alive or grow through real examination of our actions as a country or our thought processes as individuals. We often get trapped in what we and our smaller groups use as the jargon of today, or the fad we assume will come tomorrow.

I am at the same time aware that not using a concept is not solved by overusing it and that words can become numbing, moments after they shock or disturb us. There is no point to even try to achieve awareness by overusing one word -- the word "cult" being one example. We are better served by humanizing the language, and allowing ourselves to know how vulnerable we all are, and how much support we need to love freedom not only, but to live it as well.