The original version of this website was posted in 1997. I came to Morningland a few years later, shortly before Patricia / Sri Donato passed away. I left more than a decade later. When I met with those who left Morningland in the 70s or 80s, I was asked, “Did you read the website and our stories about Morningland? How could you have stayed there?” What a good question. Answering “I was indoctrinated” would say it all, but to understand the layers of thoughts that contributed to my decisions, I needed to reflect more. In a nutshell:
INFORMATION HAD NO PLACE TO LAND
I think the first time I heard of the ex-morninglanders website it was from the Gopis (Chokru, Saravati, and Ona-Ali). They discouraged reading it, saying it was a mixture of truth and lies of disgruntled former members, hearsay, gossip, and therefore unworthy of our attention. They did not explicitly forbid reading it, and I am certain that most disciples read at least some of it.
I did not take the Gopis’ words at face value and chose to make my own conclusions. However, I was never told Morningland’s full history and never read the entire website. I read a few random pages which did not convey the larger context. The information had nowhere to go in my mind. The stories felt foreign and distant, as if they were writing about a different place and had nothing to do with my Morningland experience.
THE FANTASY OF SRI DONATO
From day one, I was taught by the Gopis (Chokru, Saravati, Ona-Ali) and Kamazi X5 (Terry). The stories on the website were about people I did not know – I did not know Sri Donato, any of the Gopis mentioned in the stories from the 70s and 80s, events they talked about, or people who wrote the stories. For me, it was their word against the current Gopis’ who I thought I already kind of knew (that later proved to be incorrect). They also told us to trust our own experience and not someone else’s or hearsay, which I did (again, mistake).
My initial experience in Morningland was very positive – beautiful meditations, ceremonies, eclectic ideology, etc. The Gopis and Kamazi X5 portrayed Sri Donato as a mystical enlightened teacher. She was not a person I knew, saw, talked to, or observed. She was an idea, a projected spiritual ideal we praised. We (my peers and I) were taught to internalize this idea pretty quickly, which became our religion – she became our perceived connection to God and the reason for all the good things that were happening to us. Hearing about her as a deeply flawed human did not go in – Sri Donato as a person was not the same as Sri Donato as an idea in our minds.
“DON’T TALK TO OTHERS, GO WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE ONLY”
So, I put the impossible-to-digest website aside. I took the Gopis’ advice to build my truth based on my own experience with them. It sounded wise, but in reality, it was a huge mistake that cost me something I could never get back – the most productive years of my life! Today I know that I should have investigated it for myself – I should have met with the ex-members in person. I should have asked the Gopis and disciples direct questions about their past & present and left if I got vague, secretive half-answers. But I did not do any of that. I was already hooked and had already decided what I wanted my truth to be. I have already built an inner life based on their ideology, which I grew to love. I thought I had found my Guru and my spiritual purpose in life. My path seemed sealed by my deep-seated desire to know enlightenment and God and that the Gopis were my link. I bought what they were selling and “drank the Kool-Aid.” I believed their warning that doubt comes from the outside of the guru’s circles and can prevent us from knowing God. Scrutinizing my spiritual path and testing it from all angles required the objectivity, courage, and detachment I no longer had. The moment I chose not to do that and allowed the only influence to come from Morningland leaders and their people, I cut myself off from free will.
AND THEN ….
I did not look at the website again for more than a decade until things changed (surprise, surprise). What I experienced did not differ much from what some of the ex-members wrote on the website. Underneath the facade, the early Morningland and “my” Morningland were very similar.
My journey in Morningland, as I see it now, went from being love-bombed to devalued, from being a trusted disciple to a scapegoat, from being in a sacred (as they called it) marriage with my husband to Saravati’s alleged attempts to break up my marriage (similar to what Sri did to Lee except that she failed); from telling me that having a tight community is the only way to survive, to interfering with relationships behind my back and isolating me within the community.
I believe that those in charge of their organization should communicate with their members honestly, directly, and respectfully. They should be transparent from the get-go, with both parties clearly understanding the situation at hand and future plans and goals. Leaders have no right to deceive, manipulate, and work behind people’s backs to achieve their goals at the expense of the individuals who are left in the dark about the situation affecting their lives.
When my husband and I left, we were shunned by our former friends. I realized how dangerous it was to invest years of my life in one very closed social group whose members were tightly influenced by the top leaders – the Gopis.
HOW THE WEBSITE BECAME RELATABLE
I did not know this was a cultic group until after I read articles, books and watched documentaries about other groups. The more I processed the painful betrayal of my trust and spoke with other former members, the more the website content became relatable! Their stories were no longer echoes of a different time and place but experiences that reflected shared pain, and shock at how we were treated. The circumstances and people differed, but some of the behaviors (fortunately not all) and the end result did not.
I feel horrified realizing that Sri Donato, the person I was taught to pray to on a daily basis, whose face got engraved deeply into my subconscious mind as my connection to God, was (in my opinion) such a toxic and deeply damaging individual. And to think she created others in her image. . .
Sri Donato trained these Gopis for decades since they were young adults. The Gopis Chokru and Saravati said they embody Sri’s spirit, and I agree, but not in a spiritual way – I believe they have internalized her thoughts, attitudes, belief system, and leadership style without questioning.
The Gopis’ actions toward me, my partner, and a few other people tore the veil of my illusion of them. I believe that in their eyes, I failed their “spiritual” training of “compassionate” acts of ego destruction for my spiritual growth (reality: humiliation and gaslighting). In my eyes, I regained and saved my life! I only wish I had done it sooner, much sooner!