Inform has evidence to suggest that seekers sometimes commit themselves too quickly to a religious group or a meditation course which they initially experience as a ‘good fit’, without being fully aware of the particular worldview being offered, or the wide variety of approaches and techniques to religion and spirituality available. We always recommend people get information from a variety of sources before joining anything.
It may be prudent for seekers to familiarise themselves thoroughly with the group they are interested in joining, including with controversies and complaints made against the group, and to consider the information and any allegations against their own experiences and ethical framework. If a member is aware of allegations beforehand, it is more likely that the individual will make decisions which he or she will be happy with in the long-term, should the controversial behaviour be personally experienced.
Seekers may be well advised to increase their level of involvement with any religious organisation gradually, and to get to know the organisation over a period of time before making significant financial donations, long-term commitments or life-altering decisions such as residential living or monastic ordination.
Additionally, each individual needs to think about the level of volunteering commitments with which they feel comfortable and make conscious decisions accordingly.
When considering meditation, for instance, some teachers have a great deal of personal experience, while others have much less. It may be helpful for seekers to feel confident with their teacher and their teacher’s response to questions they might have. Meditation techniques are not suitable for everyone at all times in their lives. In particular, research indicates that meditation is unlikely to help those suffering from acute depression or those who have a propensity for psychosis. However, the vast majority of practitioners describe meditation practice as improving their quality of life. See the Inform leaflet on meditation practices for more information.
Maintaining contact with friends and family while exploring a religious group can be beneficial. It is Inform’s experience that converts who maintain regular contact with friends and family outside a religious movement are less likely to make decisions that might cause harm to themselves or others.
New religious movements can undergo rapid changes, and local centres might be significantly different to what has been described elsewhere in the movement. This can mean that problems reported in the past may no longer be relevant, but it is also possible that new concerns can emerge.
It is also helpful to periodically reflect upon the benefits of involvement with any organisation and to what extent this involvement supports other aspects of an individual’s life and personal values.