Review by Adrina Palmer
After seven years of faithfully following her spiritual teacher, Renee Linnell finally realized she was in a cult and had been severely brainwashed. But how did that happen to someone like her? She had graduated magna cum laude with a double degree. She had traveled to nearly fifty countries alone before she turned thirty-five. She was a surf model and a professional Argentine tango dancer. She had started five different companies and had an MBA from NYU. How could someone like her end up brainwashed and in a cult?
Former dancer and model Renee Linnell shared her life story with the world to prevent other people from giving their power to a cult. Her distressing memoir forces the world to understand the mindset and psyche that leads someone to give their power over to another person. How strong Renee must be now to tell a story with so much potential for judgment, yet sharing her journey, helps readers to empathize and find pieces of themselves in her decisions.
Renee’s story began on a boat when she was a teenager. Her past weaved into the pages for an understanding of the choices leading to her full-blown entrance into a cult. When her father died, Renee and her twin brother Gary were left behind with a narcissistic mother, determined to drink away her husband’s death. Gary was the golden child and Renee the scapegoat, leading to a life trying to find the love she never received from her mother and no longer could receive from her father. From there she became a wild child escaping pain by traveling the world in a search for love. One day she found the love she had been searching for at a seminar with guru Lakshmi and her assistant Vishnu (probably not their real names, I Googled).
From the first introduction to Lakshmi’s “enlightenment” and powerful presence, Renee was hooked. She began meditating, emptying her life of everything and everyone Lakshmi claimed stole her energy. Renee stopped sharing her energy with other people as her guru told her it drained her energy. All of this mystic talk and terminology sounded legitimate because it was what Renee, anyone who falls for a cult, wanted to hear, a reason her life had failed so far and how to fix it. Renee gave away her power though, to her guru.
Lakshmi added Renee to her entourage when Renee financed a $15,000 dollar trip and guru fee without batting an eyelash. This is the power love has over a persons life. It’s a necessity and many people turn a blind eye when they have to pay a high price for affection. Renee had an inheritance from her father (and later her mother), apartments across the country and unlimited funds for flights all over the globe. This was an aspect of the book I found unbelievable. The student fees for the guru’s cult began as two hundred bucks… a month. The fees spread to $1,200 a month in five years. Sure, a trust fund could fund exorbitant travel but couple the fees with no job or income how was this possible? The math does not work. The book does not give exact numbers only insinuations of her wealth, but a person who claimed her father tried to downplay their wealth and gave away most their extra funds to charity and then spends the money around traveling instead of doing what she wanted (spread light and happiness around the world) makes little sense.
Renee gave up her jobs as a dance teacher and her hobbies of surfing to babysit Lakshmi. She gave up her life, pushed away her friends, quit working, quit drinking, quit dancing, quit surfing. You get the picture. To find enlightenment, Renee had to be more than accessible to Lakshmi and Vishnu twenty-four hours a day. She set up their classes, did all the paperwork, cooked their meals, cleaned their homes, arranged their travel, became their paid slave, and consort. Despite no physical attraction to her karate teacher, Vishnu, Renee became his lover in her desperate need for love and affection. He became a control freak, confining her world to a small box containing Lakshmi and himself, bullying Renee with threats of losing her karma and never attaining enlightenment.
Over the course of seven years, thoughts of hatred swarmed into Renee’s head as her subconscious fought the controlling and manipulative behaviors only to be told her thoughts were the unseeable “occult” trying to steer her away from the sought-after self-awareness. They duped Renee every way possible, even ruining her relationship with her while stealing her money and forcing her to be their slave. When she stood up for herself and refused to sleep with the detestable Vishnu, her guru kicked her out of the cult. Renee was devastated but the last instructions Lakshmi left for her stole every minute of her life. Even when Renee was no longer in the group, she was blindly following the instructions of her guru to attend business school at a prestigious university to help her open a ten million dollar business, of course, this money would go to the cult to support the demanding needs of the gurus and their lifestyles.
Renee had lost her friends, her family, and now her life teachers. She was alone again. Despite a heavy school load and two hours of meditation, Renee found time to find a new dojo and continue practicing karate, another instruction from the gurus. Before long, Renee was in love with her karate instructor and then in business with him. He stole her heart and then her money spiraling her into a deep depression. Somehow she found the strength to move on with her life.
Beyond the math not quite adding up, the book was an insightful glimpse into the mindset that allows a person to hand over their soul to a cult. Parts of the book were repetitious, life often is, but otherwise, Renee expressed her thoughts with eloquence and humbleness. I hope the world takes the time to see her life without judgment, or math skills. Every human on the planet has made one small wrong choice that spiraled out of control. Renee’s choices seem remarkable to those who have never experienced the controlling and convincing mind tricks people are capable of enacting. Leave space in your weekend because once you pick this book up, the world better leave you alone to finish reading.
Available in bookstores Tuesday, October 9th