Lee – Entering & Leaving ML

By the time I reached college in 1968 I’d had several experiences that can only be described as mystical knowings or perhaps out of body experiences. I had no real language for them, I only knew that were undeniably real and that they said something about the world that wasn’t talked about anywhere else that I could see. I hadn’t dwelt on this much through high school — in fact I was doing my best to fit in with everyone else, as seems to be the prime directive for teenagers everywhere — but when I got to college and began learning about world religions, philosophy, psychology, biology, and all the other fascinating subjects on offer, I began to recall some of my experiences and began to research what was known about them.

This journey eventually culminated in my being introduced to Donato Sperato who, along with his wife Patricia, had started a spiritual group in Long Beach, California called Morningland. Donato had been discovered by a friend of mine from college with whom I’d had many spirited discussions over the years and whose opinion I trusted fully. She said Donato was a bonafide spiritual teacher — a Master Teacher in fact — and that he and Morningland were exactly what we’d been searching for. So of course as soon as I could arrange it, I headed to California to check it out.

I arrived first in the fall of 1974, met Donato and was initially completely disappointed in his demeanor and appearance. I guess I was expecting someone in long flowing robes with blazing eyes, whereas Donato presented as a normal guy in casual western clothes with a New York accent and a cigarette in hand at all times. Hmmm. It didn’t take long however to realize that there was an immense amount of energy and intelligence hidden by that humble form, and within a couple of days I’d had an absolutely life-changing experience, similar to a Near Death Experience but with my body never being actually near death, that convinced me that he was the real deal. This is a story in itself and I’m skipping a lot of detail here, but suffice to say that I knew beyond doubt that this was my path and he was my teacher, so I determined to follow his instructions to the letter. At that point those instructions were basically, go back east and clean up your relationship with your mom and don’t come back until you do.

Okay. Ouch. But okay.

I went back east and just before Christmas of that year, 1974, my father died leaving my mother widowed and without too much in the way of resources. I stayed and helped as she got back on her feet, got employed, met a nice man who obviously cared for her, and by the spring of 1976 I was ready to make the big move to California.

April of 1976 found me back at Morningland and this time with all my belongings in tow. The seven months or so between when I moved to Long Beach and when Donato died were some of the best of my life. Morningland was an open, loving community that didn’t make too many demands on its followers; at least that was my perception at the time. To be fair though, I was completely committed, so I was ready to make any commitment and any sacrifice necessary, because the goal of spiritual enlightenment was paramount for me. So perhaps I was not in the best position to evaluate what demands were made of others.

Sadly Donato passed in November of 1976, and his wife Patricia took over. Patricia was, in appearance, the polar opposite of Donato. She was very attractive, extremely articulate and charismatic, with long blonde hair, huge dark eyes that seemed to gaze right into the depths of you, a penchant for long flowing gowns, inspirational sermons and obscure theosophical literature which she could discuss with great erudition. Unfortunately in retrospect it seems she also had a lot of psychological baggage that had never been dealt with. Of course that last is my own personal opinion, so take it for what it’s worth, but I can say with certainty that the good and innocent times of Morningland that were established by Donato were pretty much in the rear view mirror within a couple of years. Patricia gradually changed the group from a spiritual community of teachers and seekers, open to all and assisting each other, to a personality cult with devotion to the leader being the primary prerequisite for advancement.

It didn’t happen right away of course; changes were gradual and each seemed to be logical at the time. But by the time I left in early 1983 I would characterize Morningland as a full-on cult of personality, with fear of spiritual death and devolution the whip that drove full compliance. It took me at least a year to leave after I first realized what had happened, because of course there’s a lot of inertia involved when one’s entire life has been devoted to something. There’s a lot of psychological resistance to admitting that you’d made a huge mistake. But I finally came to realize that things had gone awfully wrong and that I needed to leave. February of 1983 found me more or less alone in Long Beach.