It is indeed strange to think back on how one person could have had such a huge effect on my life. How unrequited love had left me feeling so low and inept. I was in Hong Kong on my way to Australia – a land I imagined to be full of mystery and continuous sunshine, unlike the cold and damp climate of the west of Ireland where I grew up. I was only in my early twenties and should have had the world at my feet. It didn’t feel that way though. It seemed as if I was running away from my problems. But they wouldn’t let me escape, they just crept secretly into my suitcase.
Hong Kong was hot and balmy, yet full of life in the midst of its vast wealth and contradictory poverty, massive skyscrapers and legendary backstreet markets. It is strange how in moments of emotional turmoil, we stop and stare at people and places, as if we believe they will provide reprieve from what is going on in our heads. I looked with fascination at rows of children lining up in a school playground preparing to go back into class at the end of lunchtime. They all looked the same height, dressed in their immaculate blue uniforms and not a word emanating from their lips as they yielded to the teacher’s discipline. I thought about the notion that there is something safe and carefree about being a child that eludes adults. They don’t have our problems, nor do they have any realisation of the apathy and misery we create for ourselves. I desired to be free from my troubles and yearned for a philosophy that would lead me to a better understanding of human nature and relationships. And as I left Hong Kong on the last rung of my journey to Sydney, I was determined to find ways of filling the hole in my life.
It was ironic that my arrival in Sydney was met with rain; how Australia decided to greet me with weather reminiscent of my homeland. Maybe it wanted to be in tune with my deflated mood. I need not have worried about feeling melancholy for long though, because as soon as I set eyes upon Sydney Opera House and the spectacular Harbour Bridge, my spirits lifted. Something clicked within my brain that almost told me everything was going to be all right. In fact, I had only been in Sydney for a few days before I stumbled upon something that was going to change my life. I was invited by a man on the street, named Scott, to enter a nearby building and undertake a free personality evaluation. This consisted of a series of scientometric tests used to measure personality and aptitude. I cannot remember the exact results but they showed both positive and negative traits in my personality. I then discovered the good thing about the negatives – I could do something about them. Scott explained that I was a ‘thetan’ – a spirit, an immortal being that had lived many past lives.
Something in his words prompted me to wonder about how many places in the world I had been buried and what it would be like to be in a cemetery and pass one of my graves Scott also made me aware that I had capabilities beyond description, unbelievable mental strength and endurance trapped inside of me – in short, I had the potential to do just about anything I yearned to do. The creativity inside of me was bursting to get out, but would never see the light of day unless I set about freeing it. It wasn’t the mistakes I had made in life, nor was it the moments of regret, rejection or guilt I had experienced that were holding me back. It was me who was stopping my progress to a happy and successful life and I was the only person who was the master presiding over this decision.
Scott then suggested taking me on a tour of the building. My attention was drawn to an unusually shaped cross on the wall opposite us. It looked like a normal cross but had four additional diagonal rays between the usual horizontal and vertical arms.
‘Is this a church?’ I was prompted to enquire.
‘Yes, it is,’ replied Scott. ‘It’s the Church of Scientology.’I had never heard of Scientology or its founder L. Ron Hubbard (affectionately referred to as LRH) before. Scott told me that LRH was a famous American pulp fiction writer who had created a religion that was totally different to Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. It was a religion that matched no other religion known to mankind. It held the answers to every human and world problem and had a specially designed pathway that would lead to total spiritual enlightenment. I was in total awe of what Scott was telling me. My ears were doing overtime taking in this new information, my eyes bulging with wonderment as it slowly began to dawn on me that Scientology could lead me to the mental contentment I had yearned for during my soul-searching moments in Hong Kong.
I embraced my new-found discovery with outstretched arms and delved straight into taking courses in the church’s academy. One of the first courses I studied in the academy was the Suppressive Person course. Here I learned much revealing information. Scientology believes that the world contains suppressive people (SP) and that a percentage of antisocial personalities form part of society to the detriment of mankind. History is sprinkled with iconic figures that everyone is familiar with; the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. I was surprised when I was asked if I knew any SP. Surely not, I thought to myself. But then I discovered that SPs are found in every domain of life, not just in personalities like tyrants and dictators. They can be your neighbour, employer or even a close relative. They come in all shapes and sizes and will not necessarily emit their venom with a surly face, but opt instead for a churning wry smile. Many times they will have surrounded you. They probably still do. And you will recognise the words, ‘I’m only doing what I think is best,’ when your gut instinct tells you that nothing is further from the truth. These nasty individuals will thrill in squashing, belittling and stopping the enhancement of those around them. People in their midst end up stressed, ill and will doubt their capabilities and potential. I made up my mind there and then on the course that I would avoid, challenge or disconnect from anyone who I perceived had SP traits in their character, and to this day have remained true to my pledge.
I particularly liked ‘auditing’ which was a form of spiritual rehabilitation counselling. The auditing procedure consisted of an e-meter, which a trained counsellor operated. The e-meter was not unlike a lie detector, but generally considered by the church to be much more accurate. It could detect the slightest murmur of mental charge through holding two metal cans, one in each hand. A core belief of Scientology is that humans have two parts to their mind – analytical and reactive. The latter is very dangerous and it is here where reminders of painful and traumatic events are stored. Auditing gets rid of the reactive mind, thus paving the way for the individuals to free themselves of these limiting effects. Every problem, every aberration, every phobia is tackled and blown to smithereens. Surrender is not an option in the process.
‘I repeat the auditing command,’ the auditor’s voice would instruct.You get audited and audited until all the mental charge related to the topic in the session has been dissolved. But the relief was immense every time the auditor delivered the magic words at the end of each session, ‘Declan, your needle is floating’; meaning all mental charge in this instance was dissolved. Auditing is ecstasy. It boosts the ego. It puts you on a high elevation. Imagine the happiness you would experience upon hearing that you had passed an interview for that ideal job you had always wanted. This joy would remain in your mind for a long time afterwards. Auditing was like that. Like a picture of a rainbow that begins to unfold on a mid-summer’s evening, but only better.
In addition to getting rid of abnormal thoughts in my head, I was also getting rid of toxins in my body through the purification rundown programme. This consisted of a strict regime of exercise and sauna sessions to remove and help eliminate these poisons from the body, coupled with a special diet and vitamins to feed the body with healthy nutrients, bringing about a state of optimum good health. The principle was simple, a healthy body leads to a healthy mind, and in turn this feeds into the enhancement of the soul. So with this I received a thorough spring clean in both mind and body. It was a great sense of relief to think those grubby little toxins that had squatted in my body had been evicted. As a result I felt good. I felt bright. I was more articulate than I had ever been before in my life.
I loved my time in the academy. It was like being back at school but a whole lot nicer. No bossy teachers, bullies or jam sandwiches for lunch. No pressure of feeling competitive towards other students. Everyone was developing as individuals with new knowledge and skills being unwrapped daily. It was here that I fell in love with a dictionary. Yes, you have read correctly. A dictionary. LRH believed that people constantly either bypass words they don’t understand whilst reading, or misinterpret their sometimes different meanings. This leads to confusion and disinterest, which in turn results in ignorance and disaffection. The only way to prevent this is to know the correct definition of each word. Take for instance the Oxford English Dictionary. It contains 59 million words. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone in it knew the meaning of every one of those words? It is hard to imagine a world of tyranny or war because education is the best power of all.
One of my favourite books in Scientology was called A New Slant on Life. Here in this book, LRH tells how we change as people throughout our lives but mistakenly think it is the physical world that changes and not us. I thought a lot about this concept in the academy and concluded that it made sense. My thoughts led me back to Ireland and my childhood. I grew up in Derrykinlough, a rural village in southern Ireland where good weather in summertime was rare, but when the sun shone nothing was more relished. Waking up in the warm breeze, I would observe from my bed the lace curtains of the large bay window billowing in the early morning air, and rising to look through the windowpane, I would be greeted by Mother’s lupins that graced the front garden in their yellow, pink and purple shades. The sycamore, palm and fir trees that my great-grandfather had planted across the pathway, stood tall and strong. They had been home to the early morning birds that sung the daily dawn chorus for a very long time. A magical sight to young eyes. Why did it have to change or why did I think it had changed? A New Slant on Life made me realise it was I who had changed.
The scene through the large bay window of my family home remained the same. It was I who lost the sense of wonderment from appreciating this delightful scene. I had grown up and my perspective on life became such that I thought the environment around me had changed. Reflecting on this deeper meaning of life made me aware that people change faster and far greater than the physical environment ever does.
The world becomes a marvellous place when you are happy. The sun seems brighter, people appear friendlier and every problem fades away. I had become a magnet that attracted nice friends, had an interesting social life, spent spare time holidaying across Australia and had a lifestyle that entailed dining in good restaurants and drinking my other new-found delight – champagne. This was mainly due to Diana, a fellow Scientologist. She was slightly younger than me and lived with her wealthy parents. I became a regular visitor to their mountain cliff home overlooking Cronulla Harbour. One evening Diana baked pecan pie for dessert but miss-set the timer. Eating it was like eating spoonfuls of glue. It stuck everywhere and refused to move. We usually sat and watched the sun set by the large swimming pool whilst drinking Dom Perignon or fine claret from the extensive wine cellar. But on this evening we just rocked with laughter at Diana’s thwarted attempts of being a master chef. The fact that my days were often long, studying during the daytime in the church academy, and weekends spent working in a hotel, did not deter me in the slightest. I was living a dream. I was learning new skills and strategies every day and was earnest in my determination to work towards reaching total spiritual enlightenment. But perhaps most important of all, I had found happiness.
Did anyone see Halley’s Comet when it paid a visit to planet earth in 1986? I was excited as I set off to Bondi Beach to join hundreds of others in a pursuit to see this rare visitor. Apparently it is the only comet that is visible to the naked eye and it only crosses earth every 75 years. I was twenty-three years old and correctly calculated that I would be ninety-eight by the time of its next visit! I’d be an old man then, probably humped and walking with the aid of a stick. But I wouldn’t be any ordinary old man. I’d be a very wise one – satisfied of a lifetime well spent, abundant in knowledge and grace. This would be an old man who would be holding his own personal key to eternal freedom. I would be a free spirit capable of choosing whatever pathway into mortality that I desired. I’d also be free from the pain and misery that often blights old age. I didn’t see Halley’s Comet that night, but as I sat and observed the powerful waves of the sea on that moonlit April night, it did not matter. I reckoned I had probably seen it many times before in previous lives and if I hadn’t, well, then I would book a private sighting at some time in the future; such was the power I’d hold when I had worked my way up to the higher echelons of Scientology.
My time in Sydney was drawing to a close with my twelve-month holiday visa due to expire. It was time to return to Ireland and leave behind what, in many ways, had been a surreal year. Just before I left Sydney I remember Diana and I going to the cinema to see Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox. In many ways the name of this film summarised what was happening in my life. I was returning to my future. Of course I promised to return to Australia. I’ve holidayed there a few times since, but not to resume my studies in Scientology. It was lovely being back in Ireland. I had missed my parents and our beautiful black and white collie dog. We had some lovely weather that summer. I filled my time on the farm, sleeping, eating and cycling on the quiet lanes around the neighbourhood and became engrossed in the national debate of divorce as the country went to vote in the referendum.
How futile this all seemed in face of the massive pool of knowledge I had learned whilst in Scientology. How lucky I was to have discovered it, felt its power, relished its truth and perhaps met some of the most sincere and nicest people that I am ever likely to meet. I will never forget my journey to Australia; how that lonely, unhappy young man within me walked around Hong Kong, wishing for a better life, not realising then that what you wish for in life sometimes comes true. I went to live in London shortly afterwards and have, in the main, lived happily ever since.