Following on from last month’s interview, Jessica Schab, co-founder of End of Fear Project, tells us about her intimate experience with the New Age movement and the challenges she faced in breaking away.
Angelos Sofocleous: In the previous decade, you got into the New Age movement, you experienced what it’s like being an active New Ager, and you finally decided to leave the movement. Could you describe how and why the whole process took place?
Jessica Schab: Whoa, this is a lot to summarise because it was a very long and painful process for me. I first got in the New Age movement after a tragedy, when my sister died, and right after that happened my dad started to talk to me about aliens and how my sister is not actually dead; how I have this important message to spread. I was very upset about my dad talking to me about these things because I did not feel it was helping or what we needed at the time, so I fought him and said some awful things to him.
I was a total sceptic in the beginning, and then my dad died, and I felt so bad about how I was to him when he was just trying to help, and I wondered what if his message was true – what if others were getting similar messages? What if he died because my words really were powerful enough to create reality, like my dad said? What if he was trying to prepare me for my work and that even me being mean to him was part of the plan to help motivate me so I could take his work to the next level, if I would only embrace it?
Also, I missed my dad and saw how taking on his message was a way to be close to him and to make up for all the things I said to him in the past. I thought I could make him proud of me on the other side. So I fully embraced his teachings and made videos about them, which ended up becoming popular. They led to me getting an interview that made me famous overnight, and the next thing I knew I was travelling to Europe to speak at conferences. I met people who were convinced I could heal and thus convinced me, in turn, that I could do so. Soon a large number of people were coming to me to help them with their problems and I did my best but I felt like I was developing an Saviour complex.
After several years of that life, I started to get burnt out, and I was starting to have problems that my beliefs were not able to help me with. I found out later they were making things worse, but I was not able to see nor admit that at the time. It was not until my personal life became a mess by getting involved in an abusive relationship that I felt like I had to do something drastic. I was starting to feel fake trying to put on a good face for my followers, helping them solve their problems while being unable to solve my own. So I decided to take a trip to Asia.
It was in Bali Indonesia where I met Diego Fontanive. He was the first person I spoke to in a long time that did not share the same beliefs as me – he asked me questions and got me thinking in ways I had not before. That is when I realised I was a drug dealer and I did not even know it. Diego used something akin to the Socratic Method to get me to understand that my beliefs were thinking for me, not the other way round. He also introduced me to critical thinking. But it was when he asked me if I was sure if what I was promoting was helping that [he]got through to me. That question created this crack of doubt that allowed me to see the harm that was coming from what I was promoting.
When I saw it I knew I could not go back to how I was before; I knew I had spoken about my realisations to my followers – I was sure they would understand and see it too. What ended up happening was that my followers turned on me – calling me a liar, traitor, and brainwashed by Diego who they thought was evil. It was very heartbreaking to lose the people who had seemed to care about me so much and support me in every possible way, but I did not stop. I kept on sharing, hoping to get through to someone. This is around the time that Diego and I decided to set up The EOF [End of Fear] Project, which is a combination of critical thinking, memetics, and metacognition, to help people take back their minds from irrational beliefs and fears in hopes to establish some means of preventing people falling for such mind traps.
In time people started to come to work with us, the project has since expanded to coaching and education, courses with the aim to be taught in schools, as well as documentary films. As fond as I am of the EOF Project, I have decided to move on from it and see what I can do on my own. However I still work and support the project it is just not my main focus now. This is important: when one has relied on something that has helped them significantly, to continue to rely on it creates dependence, when one needs to be able to stand on their own and see what one can do when to apply what has been learned so far.
Sofocleous: While you were a New Ager, you did a lot of interviews, videos, articles, and other things which established you among the broader community. In any particular group, members often establish themselves deeply into the group’s community and form strong connections with other members. How did you manage to leave the group?
Schab: Yes I did do a lot of interviews and established myself pretty firmly in that community. How I managed to leave the group was by only making videos questioning the things that used to be so dear to me, to challenge my followers and speak about the problems that come from not being critical towards such information. I also posted continuously on Facebook. Any interview I did I spoke in this challenging spiritual new age ideals, so I changed my approach from what my followers were familiar with.
I know now that my followers only liked me when I told them what they wanted to hear; when I told them what they needed to hear they did not like it at all. [In response to] any emails I got from people who saw my old videos, I would inform them that I have changed since then, as [they were made]over 10 years. I then shared with them what I am doing now the EOF Project. But the backlash I got told me that I am not allowed to change. Apparently, that’s not OK, to question our beliefs and share our concerns of the problems, gullibility and dangers that come from following such ideas. To do so meant that I had gone to the dark side and am brainwashed. That was what the New Agers were telling me.
I also made videos about other well-known spiritual leaders that I knew were purposely causing harm to their followers. This created a real stir and upset in [New Age] community about me but it also sent the message that I had really changed and I was not going to go back to how I was before. So it took years of constant persistence for them to get the message. However, I wonder how long it will take for them to realise that my change is not an evil or bad thing; that thinking and changing is not something to fear.
Sofocleous: Which are the greatest challenges you faced leaving the New Age movement and establishing yourself as a sceptic?
Schab: The greatest challenge I faced? Wow, a lot of things. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and it is still a challenge for me even today to not fall back into the old thinking. It is so easy and tempting to do that, but I will not let myself give in to that. Getting used to the changes that I had to make inside myself, to fully understand, to sit in the uncomfortable, awkward and depressing phase of losing my identity in which I did not even trust what I thought and felt. What could I do now, because the work I did in the New Age movement was my job, the only thing at which I was a success?
To start again is scary. Also, to admit publicly to your followers that you are wrong and to reconsider the path we are perusing – losing friends, family, and followers because of my change. It was also a challenge to try to get others to take the EOF Project and me seriously, trying to get people to understand, especially sceptics because it was something with which they were not familiar. What we were doing and how we were presenting our project was unique and it took a while for people to wrap their head around it.
Sofocleous: Tell us a few things about your new documentary “Memoirs of a Former Mystic”. What is it about and what should the viewers expect from it?
Schab: I am currently working on a documentary on my story with L’Esprit et la Matière productions. The film will be something of a reverse version of Alice in Wonderland – animation and other effects will be used. I want people to realise that this film is not just about me and my story but how others can relate, as we all tend to convince ourselves that we are not [vulnerable]to such mind traps – but we are. The film will also have a twist of the ‘Neverending Story’ approach as well.
I want this film to take the viewers into the mysteries of gullibility, magical thinking, and self- deception, and question why we give these things so much power over our thinking. Through my unusual story, I want viewers to discover how beliefs so often lead us to unsuspected and dramatic consequences in our own lives.
I will use self-irony and offbeat humour to show how important it is to be sceptical and to illuminate the numerous psychological pitfalls that we think we are not susceptible to. The name of my feature documentary film is – ‘Memoirs of a Former Mystic: Caution too much love and light will make you sick!’ Check out the production trailer on our website. We are currently in the process of getting support from sceptic and science-based organizations and looking to tour around the world holding conferences and events for the film. So far we are getting lots of interest.
Sofocleous: Lastly, where can people find out about your past and upcoming projects, more information about yourself, and EOF?
Thank you. People can find out more about me, the EOF Project, and my upcoming project via these links.
Angelos is a Philosophy (MA) student at the University of Durham, UK. He writes on philosophy, religion, politics, and science.