Marlowe Sand recollects 15 years of relentless pursuit of liberation as a student of guru, Andrew Cohen. For a woman from the remote English countryside destined to be a wife, mother and ordinary professional, the meeting with a modern-day, radical Buddha bore extreme consequences for her and her children. She develops her story in intriguingly deft strokes, capturing the interior experiences of a person being drawn ever deeper into the cult setting of a charismatic and despotic guru. She invites the reader to share her experiences of love and liberation, pain and agony and excruciating disillusionment. Marlowe Sand doesn’t blame, instead she paints a picture of a complex, dangerous phenomena. While she is unambiguous about the destructive nature of this communal setting and each participants’ responsibility for its co-creation, Marlowe’s reckoning is with herself. Paradise and Promises is a spiritual memoir by coincidence but more importantly it is an audacious self-reflection on choices, consequences and reconciliation. Almost anyone will find this stark “coming of age” narrative compelling.
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This powerful narrative about being a student of Andrew Cohen for 15 years takes the reader on a poignant, sometimes ecstatic and often painful journey ‘from love and liberation to painful alienation and, finally disillusionment.’ The opening scene is indicative: three women are up to their waist in freezing water where they are expected to remain – as a punishment – for an hour. It is an incredible scene for our time, especially as the women intone one of Cohen’s mantras, face everything and avoid nothing. He promised freedom, enlightenment and the destruction of the ego, emphasising impersonality. There is no doubt about his charisma and the heightened states experienced by the author and others, but it drew them into a mesh of manipulative hierarchy and subservient dependence where people give away their power and lose their internal locus of control. They experience feelings of guilt, doubt and inadequacy and become afraid of rejection. All this makes it hard to leave, especially as they are cut off from their families, who think they have been brainwashed. In Marlowe’s case, this involved breaking up with her husband (seen then as liberation) and taking her children on the journey. As you can imagine, this has a profound effect on them, which Marlowe only fully realises at a later stage. At the end of the book she fully understands how exactly the Cohen movement exhibits the standard characteristics of cults – the power structure, unquestioning commitment to the leader, mind-altering practices, elitism, us vs them, shame and guilt used to manipulate members, socialising only with group members. In 2013 the group was effectively disbanded and Cohen is still on sabbatical from teaching. If I compare Marlowe’s story with my own, I can recognise some features – my parents thought me brainwashed when I took up meditation with the Brahma Kumaris, and likewise my association with Aivanhov and Peter Deunov. Group members are encouraged to think of themselves as special and families do not take kindly to being put in second place. However, what seemed missing from Cohen was the love that should be at the centre of any spiritual group worthy of the name. They did have a good outward-facing programme in London and I liked and respected the people I met there. Although this is the narrative of one person, it can still serve as an important cautionary tale as we try to navigate between social conformity in a materialistic culture and the draw of a fulfilling spiritual path of service and growth. ~ David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer
A former fifteen-year devotee of Andrew Cohen offers a well- written memoir!
This is a well-written book, thoughtful and honest, about her experiences with the cult guru Andrew Cohen. It is remarkably insightful and shows she has done quite a lot of honest soul-searching and personal work. The book deserves a wide audience of not only former members but also anyone who is interested in embarking on their own spiritual journey which involves a teacher. ~ Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind
Paradise and Promises is riveting, eye-opening, deeply honest, and really shows the intricacies and complexities of the entire guru/cult phenomenon which are clearly never black and white, and only succeed BECAUSE there is often enough powerfully positive events to draw people in and keep people in to balance the negative. ~ Eliezer Sobel
Beware False Prophets!
Everything is fine. You were raised by caring parents, well-educated with a promising professional career ahead. You live comfortably with your devoted husband and two adorable young girls, then you give it all up and go chasing a false spiritual dream across three continents for fifteen years. Why? Foolish naivety maybe? I don’t know. It's not that simple; but as this well-written, utterly heart-breaking book makes clear, there was no turning back. Reading it, you might even start feeling sorry for the heartless, cruel, greedy bully Marlowe Sand fell for, Andrew Cohen, the self-styled ‘guru’ caught in his own toxic tangled web, surrounded by countless slave-like dependents, locked into a fantasy that has slowly turned into a nightmare. You will certainly feel sympathy for everybody else. But this is principally a willing victim’s story, one of deep trauma and eventual survival. You feel for her, and especially for her daughters. It forms a remarkable testament to the unquenchable resilience of the human spirit and as such deserves to be read. ~ Larry Culliford, Author of ‘Love, Healing & Happiness’, ‘The Psychology of Spirituality’ and ‘Much Ado about Something.
I found Paradise and Promises intense, gripping, and at times like being inside a car headed towards a crash, everything moving in slow motion. I felt a lurch in my stomach, but at that same time a fascination and beauty, witnessing the inevitable destruction. The book bought me deep into a spiritual community indistinguishable from a cult in which the highest spiritual motives of the people involved lead them collectively to psychological cruelty, torment and abuse. All in the name of freedom. Chilling, bracing, edifying, not for the faint of heart, it's a amazing book for anyone who is curious about what it might be like to belong to a cult that with the best of intentions produced the worst of results. ~ Tim Ward, Author of Indestructible You
“Sand draws you into her experience from the first page. She deftly relays her journey, from the initial seduction by Cohen. Her frank self-reflections reveal the ecstasy and joy, coupled with inevitable doubts and disillusionment. This is a book not to be missed.” Janja Lalich, Ph.D., author of Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults ~ Janja Lalich, Ph.D., author of Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults
““Paradise and Promises” is the compelling account of Marlow Sand’s time in EnlightenNext, Andrew Cohen’s spiritual community. Even though three former students previously published memoirs, including myself, the subtlety and descriptiveness of Sand’s account surpasses the other contributions.” William Yenner, lead author of American Guru ~ William Yenner, lead author of American Guru
“It is a beautiful book! You managed to convey your experience, the flow and choices of your life, the often so hard to explain experience around Andrew, and make it understandable for the reader. You describe the evolution of your inner workings clearly, honestly, courageously. I am very touched by your book, reading your story, re-entering with you that arena of mad/impossible/so hard to figure out contradiction that was our life with Andrew.” Harry Dijkshoorn, former student of Andrew Cohen ~ Harry Dijkshoorn, former student of Andrew Cohen