I stared out the window as the plane dipped into the greenish-yellow smog bank blanketing the city below. Five minutes earlier the captain had announced our descent into Los Angeles.
I was thinking about the adventure that lay waiting for me in the city that was beginning to materialize below as we cleared the smoggy haze. I was also thinking of Julie's last words to me as we parted at the airport in Ann Arbor. "Remember," she had said with a smile, "the true test of a thetan is to make things go right."
The past three days had been a blur of activity. I had to formally withdraw from school, leaving behind a slate of incomplete classes. My school record read simply "Withdrew for personal reasons."
I called my mother and asked if she could come and help me pack up my things.
"I'm going to California to study Scientology," I announced.
"What's Scientology?" I could hear the suspicion in her voice.
"It's a new science of the mind," I informed her. "It's the psychology of the future. I am going to train to become an auditor. A new kind of counselor. I'll be able to really help people."
She arrived the next day, pleading with me to at least finish the semester before beginning my odyssey west.
"What kind of school is this Scientology anyway," she wanted to know. "I've never heard of it and neither has your father. Are you sure it's accredited?"
"Mom," I remonstrated, slightly annoyed that she was not willing to share my enthusiasm, "what does it matter if it's not accredited? It's new. It's light years ahead of traditional psychotherapy" (I had heard that phrase at the center). "I'm going to be able to really help people. You know that's all I ever really cared about."
Unconvinced, but seeing that I was not to be dissuaded, she helped me load my meager belongings into the back of the station wagon. "We'll just keep everything for you in the basement until you come back."
As she drove off, I looked back into the empty apartment and thought, "Well, there's no turning back now. L.A., here I come."
The wheels of the plane made contact with the runway and I was abruptly jolted back into the present. I retrieved my one small suitcase and asked directions to a bus headed into Los Angeles. Inside my purse was a slip of paper with my destination, "820 South Burlington Street. Celebrity Center," and a name, "Antonio Ferraro."
I probably looked like any other student in the late sixties, in my Indian print dress, leather sandals, and appleseed necklace. An hour and a crowded bus ride later, I stood outside a low wooden building on the corner of Burlington and Eighth Streets in downtown Los Angeles, in the MacArthur Park district.
The large sign on the building said "Welcome to Celebrity Center." A smaller sign on the door read, "A Center for Artists. Church of Scientology." I had been told that the main Scientology center, the Los Angeles "Org" (or organization) was located a few blocks away on Ninth Street, but that Celebrity Center was a special center which catered to artists and to celebrities in the motion picture business. Because of my musical abilities it had been decided to refer me here.
The front door was open. I walked in and was immediately greeted by a short, older woman with clear blue eyes and an eager smile.
"Hello, dear," she greeted me, putting her hand on my arm in a friendly gesture. "Can I help you?"
"I'm supposed to ask for Antonio. I just came from Ann Arbor." I gave her Rita's name.
"Oh, yes. We've been expecting you. I'm so glad you're here. Come. Let's find Antonio and get you started." I followed her into a large room just behind the reception area.
The room was somewhat dark and it took me several seconds to adjust to the lighting. Then I saw several long rows of tables with about a dozen people sitting, obviously absorbed in study. Some of them seemed to be working in pairs and were quietly conversing.
I was immediately struck by how quiet the room was, like a library. The only sounds were the low murmur of voices and the sound of rustling papers. A woman in a white uniform was slowly circling the tables, observing the students. She held a clipboard in her hand. As I watched, she would occasionally write something on the clipboard, then wordlessly hand a pink sheet of paper to one of the students.
At the front of the room, an older man was seated at a desk piled with manilla folders. A sign on the desk read "Registrar." The older woman, who had introduced herself as Aileen, lead me to the desk.
"This is Antonio," she smiled. "Antonio, this is Margery. She's just come from Michigan to do some training with us. I know you'll be able to get her oriented." She took my hand. "We'll talk later. The most important thing is for you to get started on course." She averted her intense gaze, and looked at Antonio with a knowing smile. He nodded, then looked at me and pointed toward a chair next to his desk.
"Welcome," he looked at me, also smiling broadly. "Welcome to Scientology, the Road to Total Freedom." It was a phrase I would hear many times in the coming years.
Antonio gestured toward the classroom. "This is our courseroom. This is where we teach the Dianetics course, and where you'll learn to become an auditor." He paused, then looked at me as if he were wondering whether or not to let me in on a secret.
"Miracles happen here every day. Miracles. You'll see."
I looked back at the room. Over to the side of the long tables were other students, in pairs, seated in chairs facing each other and staringly wordlessly into each other's eyes.
"What are they doing?" I asked Antonio.
"They're doing `TR zero.' TR stands for Training Routine. It's one of the drills on the Dianetics Course. It's a drill to improve your eye contact, and your `confront' as an auditor."
"Confront?" I was puzzled, not remembering ever having heard the word used as a noun before.
"That means the ability of the auditor to accept whatever the preclear says or does in the auditing session without any reaction from his own case," Antonio explained.
"Case?" Another new word.
"Case, yes. Case is a word we use for the preclear's reactive mind. It is also called a `bank.' When the person's reactive mind or bank is restimulated it means that he is `keyed in' or `banky.'"
I looked at him and laughed. "Did I just land on a different planet? I feel like I'm learning a whole new language."
"That's because Scientology is different from any other subject. We use new words so that people studying our courses don't get Scientology ideas confused with ideas in other subjects, like psychology."
"What are those people doing?" I asked, pointing to a smaller table at which two people seemed to be making small figures out of clay.
"That is the clay table. In all of your courses here, you will be asked to demonstrate the concepts that you are learning in clay. You have to actually show the ideas in clay. That is to add `mass' to the `significance' of the written words. Hubbard found that people get sleepy when they read for long periods of time. When you add mass to their learning, by having them do practical drills or demonstrate things in clay, they are more alert, and can study for longer periods of time."
At another table, I noticed another student with headphones listening to a tape recording. Occasionally, the student would chuckle out loud at something he heard on the tape.
I looked back at Antonio. "This is different from any classroom I've ever seen before. It's not like school at all."
"You are in for many surprises in Scientology," Antonio beamed. "Your life will never be the same again."
"Yeah, everyone keeps saying that." I looked out again at the strange classroom. "So, Antonio, what do I have to do to get started?"
Antonio pulled out a long piece of paper printed with green ink. "This is a routing form," he said as he started to fill out the form. "We'll just get you routed onto course."
After several routine questions, he asked me how much money I had brought with me. "Five hundred dollars," I told him honestly. "Maybe a few dollars more."
"Well, that's great, because that's exactly the cost of the Dianetics Course," he looked at me happily. "You'll be able to get started right away."
"I thought the first course was the Communication Course?" (In Ann Arbor I had been told that my first course would only cost fifty dollars.)
"Yes, many people start with the Communication Course, but in your case, you can go directly onto the Dianetics Course. That will save you some money. And all of the materials from the Communication Course are included on the Dianetics Course, so you won't lose anything. And I can see that you have too much awareness to need the Communication Course. You are ready for Dianetics."
I accepted his explanation, but there was an obvious problem. "But what will I do about a place to stay and a job. This is all the money I have."
"That's no problem," Antonio assured me. "We will find a place next door for you to stay. Right now all you have to worry about is just being on course. Everything will be taken care of."
So I dug into my purse and handed Antonio my total savings. After I had signed the routing form in several places, Antonio led me over to the woman in the white uniform.
"This is the Course Supervisor," he informed me as he introduced me. "She will give you your course pack. And if you have any questions, she's the person to ask. We'll have time to talk again later."
With none of the smiling warmth of Antonio and Aileen, the Course Supervisor stared at me with an expressionless face. "Sit over there," she motioned me to an empty seat. "I'll get you your pack."
A minute later she handed me an two-inch thick legal sized packet which was bound and printed in red ink. "DIANETICS", with small letters at the bottom. "Copyright, L. Ron Hubbard."
The first few pages of the pack were marked "CHECKSHEET." Each item of the checksheet was numbered, and there were spaces after each item which were obviously to be initialed after each item was read. Some of the lines had a star before them, with the explanation that all starred items were to be "starrated" by another student. I would be quizzed on these items by another student who then had to initial my sheet.
As I looked through the pack, I noticed that some of the pages of the pack were printed in green ink. At the top they were marked "HCO POLICY LETTER." Further on in the pack were other sheets printed in red and marked "HCO BULLETIN." At the top of all the pages were the words "HUBBARD COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE, Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex."
I turned to the first page after the checksheet. It was a green page with the title "The Aims of Scientology."
"A civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war," the essay began,
where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights, and where Man is free to rise to greater heights, are the aims of Scientology.And at the bottom was the signature of L. Ron Hubbard.
First announced to an enturbulated world fifteen years ago, these aims are well within the grasp of our technology.
Non-political in nature, Scientology welcomes any individual of any creed, race or nation.
We seek no revolution. We seek only evolution to higher states of being for the individual and for Society.
We are achieving our aims.
After endless millenia of ignorance about himself, his mind and the Universe, a breakthrough has been made for Man.
Other efforts Man has made have been surpassed.
The combined truths of Fifty Thousand years of thinking men, distilled and amplified by new discoveries about Man, have made for this success.
We welcome you to Scientology. We only expect of you your help in achieving our aims and helping others. We expect you to be helped.
Scientology is the most vital movement on Earth today.
In a turbulent world, the job is not easy. But then, if it were, we wouldn't have to be doing it.
We respect Man and believe he is worthy of help. We respect you and believe you, too, can help.
Scientology does not owe its help. We have done nothing to cause us to propitiate. Had we done so, we would not now be bright enough to do what we are doing.
Man suspects all offers of help. He has often been betrayed, his confidence shattered. Too frequently he has given his trust and been betrayed. We may err, for we build a world with broken straws. But we will never betray your faith in us so long as you are one of us.
The sun never sets on Scientology.
And may a new day dawn for you, for those you love and for Man.
Our aims are simple, if great.
And we will succeed, and are succeeding at each new revolution of the Earth.
Your help is acceptable to us.
Our help is yours.
That sounds really great, I thought. I initialled my checksheet and turned the page.
Next I started to read a biography of Hubbard.
Hubbard, I read, was born in Nebraska in 1911 and was raised on his grandfather's cattle ranch in Montana. He could ride before he could walk. As a teenager he spent several years traveling in Asia, studying with Lama Priests and "other warlike people."
Later he enrolled at George Washington University, and was a member of the first course in nuclear physics. He later led an expedition into Central America to study savage cultures.
He was crippled and blinded at the end of World War II but cured himself by applying to himself his discoveries about the mind. He was twice pronounced dead, but later given a perfect bill of health.
With the publication of Dianetics, the "Modern Science of Mental Health" was established as a worldwide organization. "Scientology is the most vital movement on Earth today.... Every week thousands of new people are introduced to its great benefits."
The biography concluded, "The long sought bridge to total freedom for Mankind was complete."
Next, I read an essay in green ink titled, "My Philosophy," by L. Ron Hubbard.
"I like to help others," I read,
and count it as my greatest pleasure in life to see a person free himself of the shadows which darken his days....Again, on the bottom, was the signature of L. Ron Hubbard.
I have lived no cloistered life and hold in contempt the wise man who has not lived and the scholar who will not share....
There have been many wiser men than I, but few have traveled as much road....
I have seen life from the top down and the bottom up. I know how it looks both ways. And I know that there is wisdom and that there is hope....
No man has any monopoly upon the wisdom of this universe. It belongs to those who can use it to help themselves and others.
If things were a little better known and understood, we would all lead happier lives.
And there is a way to know them and there is a way to freedom.
The old must give way to the new, falsehood must be exposed by truth, and truth, though fought, always in the end prevails.
The next essay was called "Safeguarding Technology." In it, Hubbard stated that,
In fifty thousand years of history on this planet alone, Man never evolved a workable system. It is doubtful if, in foreseeable history, he will ever evolve another.
Man is caught in a huge and complex labyrinth. To get out of it requires that he follow the closely taped path of Scientology.
It has taken me a third of a century in this lifetime to tape this route out....
Scientology is the only workable system Man has. It has already taken people toward higher IQ, better lives and all that. No other system has. So realize it has no competitor....
Don't let your party down. By whatever means, keep them on the route. And they'll be free. If you don't, they won't.
In my mind, I could almost hear a band playing. Patriotism I never knew I possessed was stirring inside me. At last, I thought, after eighteen depressing years of frustration and failure, maybe I have finally found the winning team.
The next essay was even more intense. It hinted of danger.
When somebody enrolls, consider he or she has joined up for the duration of the universenever permit an open-minded approach. If they're going to quit let them quit fast. If they enrolled, they're aboard, and if they're aboard, they're here on the same terms as the rest of uswin or die in the attempt.
As I read on to the end of this policy letter, I came to a paragraph that I had to read twice. Did it say what I think it said?
We're not playing some minor game in Scientology. It isn't cute or something to do for lack of something better.... The whole agonized future of this planet, every Man, Woman and Child on it, and your own destiny for the next endless trillions of years depends on what you do here and now with and in Scientology.
"Wow," I thought. "Heavy." This was more than I had expected. But then, really, what had I expected?
I looked around the room at the other students who were quietly studying. I suddenly had the feeling that I had not only arrived in a different city, but in a different world.
Whatever had been important to me before, now paled in comparison with what I was discovering on these pages. I was being led into a new world, with new ideas, new words, new people, and new priorities.
In one day my priorities had shifted from the mundane unimportances of my barren life as a college student to the profound ideals I was discovering in these pages. It was almost scary. In reading Hubbard's words, I felt a challenge. Challenge to go beyond anything I had ever expected of myself, or imagined myself capable of. Here was a chance to be and do something heroic. How often, I wondered, does a person have a chance like this? A chance to make a universal difference in life.
Goodbye, old life, I thought. Somehow, after reading just these few pages, I knew I would not be returning to college any time soon.
Instead, I walked eagerly and trustingly into the world of Scientology, without so much as a backwards look. If this was the ship called Scientology, I was aboard.