Radhia Gleis never meant to join a cult—in fact, she didn't even know she was part of one until decades after she had joined—and she's still picking up the pieces that her departure left behind.
Although it was Buddhafield, a movement that has been called a cult by a host of ex-followers, that brought Gleis to the Hill Country, the group's Austin presence has diminished to almost nothing. After over two decades in the group, Gleis revealed it all in her first-place PenCraft award-winning book, "The Followers, 'Holy Hell' and the Disciples of Narcissistic Leaders" in which she talks about the dangers of groupthink and the impact that spending years in the Buddhafield cult had on her.
Gleis now works as a clinical nutritionist and is working on healing through her art. (radiagleis.com)
From a "well-to-do" family in California, Gleis was learning how to make cocktails for wealthy dinner guests shortly after she learned how to walk. She grew up emotionally distant from her parents and only brother; Gleis vividly remembered being called "dopey" by her father, consistently forgotten by her mother and held at knifepoint by her brother.
Needless to say, Gleis grew up without secure connections. On top of that, she grew up in the 1960s and '70s during mass cultural upheaval, the free love movement and obsession with Eastern religions.
"There were these desires to expand your thinking, expand your consciousness as opposed to the 'Leave it to Beaver' kind of paradigm," Gleis told Austonia. "There was a rebellion, a schism in the culture."
She had become interested in the idea of nirvana when she was in high school, so when a friend told her about spirituality sessions with a beautiful woman named Malila who claimed to have experienced God directly, her interest was piqued.
Her experiences with Malila threw her into the spiritual realm. Gleis met Jaime Gomez, the would-be leader of the Buddhafield cult who went by many names, in the early 1980s through a friend of Malila's in California. Gomez, a native of Venezuela, was known to often wear only eyeliner and a speedo in his prime and when Gleis met him, he was clad only in a golden tan, skin-tight jeans and a small vest.
The Shakti scam
Gomez originally began guiding members through an independent spiritual journey but flags were raised when he began to see himself as a godlike figure. (WRA Productions LLC)
Her initiation was subtle—it started as just a group of friends who followed Gomez, a young yogi with a small but growing following, to learn techniques of "The Knowing" that he possessed. Members were initiated via "shakti," a godly transfer of power that opened your third eye. Members would "pranam," or deeply bow to show respect, to God during the first four years of Gleis' time with Gomez.
The initiation started as a relationship between the individual and their "divine birthright" through God.
"Generations were trying to get Shakti from him, they were trying to get his energy," Gleis said. "He was like, 'Whatever you experience in your initiation is between you and God, it has nothing to do with me.'"
Things started to change at the next initiation when Gomez had new members pranam to him and connect to his love, not the divine love they had come seeking.
"He would say, 'Well, Radhia, some people, not you, need a living person they can touch and see and talk to, I am just being that for them,'" Gleis said. "So he considered himself now a living deity like Jesus or Krishna or Buddha."
Although she did not support the pranam to Gomez, the shift was harrowing. While Gomez was a "skilled sociopath," Gleis said, he was also her friend and she was his close adviser; he knew all of her' hopes, dreams, fears and how to keep her around.
"If you go to Disneyland, it's a fantasy, but you're willing to forgo your disbelief for the fun, for the ride," Gleis said. "But what if you don't know it's fake? What if all your friends and all your family are in on it? And the one person that you revere the most is creating the illusion?"
It would take years for Gleis to learn Gomez was secretly taking advantage of members in the group.
The domino effect
Life inside Buddhafield's compound was well-documented by Will Allen, who made the documentary "Holy Hell" years after leaving. (WRA Productions LLC)
The Buddhafield waltzed into Austin from West Hollywood in the late '90s after accusations against Gomez came out, Gleis would later learn. She found out that later that multiple members alleged that Gomez sexually abused them, and it was a pattern of his to jump ship and change his name once people started speaking out.
There were a few reasons the group chose Austin: their new home had to be in a warm climate, near a body of water, full of rich culture and jobs.
Having been in the cult for over a decade, the Austin move had triggered a need to build a life outside Buddhafield for Gleis. The connections she made outside the "family" she had made for herself led her to visit the home of an injured member of Buddhafield, where she says she was greeted by two men who told her tales of Gomez's transgressions.
Tales of Gomez attempting to hypnotize male members of the group into removing their clothes, which Gomez would deny, and his penchant for using the AIDS crisis to scare members into silence came to light. It was a feat in and of itself to tell a single soul about the things the victims had experienced, let alone make formal charges.
Among the victims was Will Allen, who released the documentary "Holy Hell," made from hours of his own original footage, in 2016 to detail his experiences.
The women in the group were untouched to Gleis' knowledge and some of the victims took years to gain the courage to speak out.
"Now it was like dominoes, it was like this was our #MeToo movement. When this guy came out, now all of a sudden, I'm getting phone calls because the rumors spread," Gleis said. "It was very heartbreaking—I started hearing all these stories of what (Gomez) had done and all the secrets that all of these men had been holding, these traumas that they had been holding in for years."
That was her line in the sand—so, at 55 years old, Gleis left Buddhafield, "alone and forsaken." And she has learned a good deal about herself since then—she works as a clinical nutritionist but left all of her friends behind, with no one to fall on but herself.
It has been 15 years since her departure—15 years to ponder how she was manipulated into that place. Gleis often compares those two decades of her life to Trumpism, where Gomez had tapped into her preconceived notions and led her to believe what she wanted to believe.
As someone who grew up not knowing love, it made sense to jump headfirst into the sense of community and protection that Buddhafield offered.
"We have to be careful when we use words like 'brainwashed.' We went willingly. Jaime didn't torture us. He didn't brainwash us," Gleis said. "All he did as a narcissist—he figured out what we were all thinking about and he became that for us. When you pranam to him, which we did, then he becomes bolder. That's what a sociopath does."
Gleis details her story of what led her in and out of Buddhafield in her book, "The Followers." Gomez and certain members who are still connected to Buddhafield have moved on to Hawai'i, but Gleis remains in Austin and is currently working on a children's novella.
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There is a fearless declaration of the obvious in “Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life,” a book that invites its readers to recall the power and panache of the late Texas Gov. Anne Richards, before getting schooled on no less than twenty types of taco.
Released this month, “Being Texan” is the first of several Texas Monthly titles to come in the build-up to the magazine's upcoming 50th anniversary in 2023. It is divided into four sections: Identity & Culture, Town & Country, Arts & Entertainment and Food & Drink.
In the introduction, titled “What Does it Mean to Be Texan?,” Texas Monthly editor Dan Goodgame addressed the eclectic aspirations of the book, writing: “Our modest goal was to craft a well-informed, thoughtful sampling of the best the state has to offer.” To this humble end, forty-two editors were utilized to cover fifty-five topics, which tackle everything from the various dress codes that make up “Texas chic” to Selena’s ongoing appeal.
The resulting richness is all over the map, running from Texas Monthly Senior Editor John Nova Lomax’s frustration over the frequent mispronunciations of Texas cities (“From Amarila to Wad-a-loop”) to Oscar Casares’s bittersweet essay on Dia de Los Muertos in the time of COVID (“Souls of the Departed”).
The book goes from silly to serious fast, and the pace might unseat some readers who would otherwise just enjoy the ride of pride that comes from being reminded that Texas gave the world Cheetos, Fritos, Doritos, Dr. Pepper, Liquid Paper and the microchip.
So, in a book that switches from the state’s early instance on remaining a slave republic to a piece about collecting San Antonio ghost stories, it perhaps goes without saying that the essays on brisket and beer are the easiest to digest.
“Being Texan” does, in truth, contain some delicious and downright literary food writing.
Joe Galvan’s “Ode to the Raspa,” treats the summertime shaved ice staple as nothing less than a kind of edible ambassador of U.S. cuisine. “They serve as an important and necessary reminder of the fluctuating, imprecise words that American food inhabits,” he writes like some semiotics professor, before waxing poetic on how raspas embody childhood innocence as well as “the humidity of a July evening that finds itself at the bottom of a Styrofoam cup.”
But readers who are tempted to skim the section on “Strong Texas Women” or “The Evolution of Juneteenth” to get to Paula Forbes’ warning not to skip the processed cheese when slow cooking queso, will have missed out on some deep insight into what it means to embrace all the appealing and uneasy aspects of the state.
In “A Tale of Two High Schools,” Dan Q. Dao, details how, as a Vietnamese kid growing up in Houston, he employed the tropes of Texas culture as a tool of survival. “Perhaps out of a sense of self-preservation, I became enamored with the gilded mythology of Texas, from the folklore of the Alamo to the twang of country music. I wore cowboy boots, showed up for Friday night football games, and rarely missed a rodeo,” writes Dao, observing that: “Part of me believed that if I proclaimed my Texanness loudly enough, I would be spared the label of outsider.”
The dilemma of the homegrown Texas outsider is artfully explored in Skip Hollandsworth’s “Why McMurtry Matter,'' a meditation on the ironic popularity of Larry McMurtry, a writer who wrestled with his relationship to Texas--particularly the Hollywood myths and misconceptions that surrounded the state. Speaking about (to his mind) the perplexing success of “Lonesome Dove,” McMurtry said: “All I had wanted to do was write a novel that demythologized the West. Instead, it became the chief source of western mythology. Some things you cannot explain.”
There is much about Texas itself that seems hard to explain.
But David Courtney, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, does a good job of speculating on this rare amalgam of conservative pride and fearless experimentation that tends to run through the state, when he writes “Texans believe they possess something deep within themselves that sets them apart, and therefore they kind of do.”
Despite the surface-level accessibility of a book that addresses the cultural significance of Neiman Marcus and the extreme brand loyalty to Whataburger, “Being Texan” offers rare input regarding Texas and its citizenry, as well as handy advice for breaking in a pair of cowboy boots.
'Not a band, an experience': Musician Pete Monfre pushes the boundaries of making it in the music industry
In a city where live music is heralded above all else, Pete Monfre was surprised to find local musicians working for free that he quit the industry for 10 years in 2006.
Local musicians tended to be underpaid before COVID-19 sent the music industry reeling, but the fallout from the pandemic exasperated the existing problems. Musician and marketer Monfre knows—he’s been behind that shaking tip jar, trying to turn a profit while doing what he loves. He’s tackling the problem with a unique brand of live shows, which go against the grain, mix business with pleasure and help bring home the bacon.
The shows, called Stories from the Road, are an informal storytelling jam session at The Saxon Pub that encourages interaction between the artist and audience.
After a brief hiatus due to ongoing woes of the pandemic Stories from the Road came back to The Saxon Pub on Saturday. It was the first of 23 consecutive shows that didn’t sell out, which Monfre attributes to the break of not having shows.
“We called it Stories from the Road—not a band, an experience,” Monfre said. “We're not going to rehearse, we're not going to have a list, we're not going to prepare, every show is a one-off and you will never see it again.”
His shows start early at 6 p.m., with a rotating group of musicians playing blues or Americana who need not rehearse. This time it featured Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff on saxophone and harmonica, bassist Mark Epstein, drummer Kevin Hall and Adam Pryor on Hammond Organ.
You’ll probably end up spending a bit more than the typical show at the Saxon Pub, around $30 per person, but each show goes directly to supporting the artists that made it.
“Part of the mission was to advocate for fair wages for musicians and to help musicians understand their economic value,” Monfre said. “Now I can afford to pay musicians a modest guarantee and we call that the Fair Play approach to live music.”
Monfre moved to Austin as a young adult with the intention of “conquering the music industry” in 1981, which he told Austonia he did not do but did meet “a lot of interesting people.” He left Austin to tour for a few years, then moved to Milwaukee, where he continued to play music.
After returning to Austin in 2006, Monfre discovered some musicians were playing shows for free.
“I'm playing in Chicago and Michigan and hardcore blues places, and we don't play for free,” Monfre said. “So I actually quit for 10 years. There is no reason to play for free whatsoever if you just get the model right.”
Having already tried to conquer the music industry once, Monfre took a business-forward approach the second time. The model also caters to what he believes is an underserved group: working professionals who want to meet like-minded individuals but also be home by 9 p.m.
Chief Technology Officer for Economic Transformation Technologies David Smith, who has been coming to other Monfre shows since they started in 2016, said he enjoys the improvisational nature of the shows because it reminds him of old Austin.
“The Stories from the Road get back to the root of what music is: the fact that you can sit and jam, make music with musicians because they understand music, and that's the soul of Austin,” Smith said. “It really is a celebration of music.”
Monfre said the informality is what makes his shows so popular—you’ll hear the musicians ask the key for a song, take a request from the crowd, make a lighthearted jab at one another or create a song from scratch.
“They want to see the sausage being made, it's really funny I would have never thought it,” Monfre said.
Price (right) said he was happy the show ended early so he could make it home to Lampasas. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
“I am knocked out. It just really didn't get any better than what we just had—this band was so good, the crowd was so good,” Price said. “That's what Austin in the ‘60s and ‘70s was all about, just everybody throwing it together.”
Stories from the Road is returning to The Saxon Pub stage on Dec. 18, with a completely new group of musicians. The show, like always, will start at 6 p.m.
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The holiday season is upon us, so get ready to celebrate with carols, snacks and light shows galore. Austin is full of holiday festivities spanning throughout all of December so get out and enjoy the cool weather while it lasts.
Don't miss these nine holiday-themed light shows.
Austin's most famous annual light show and a Readers Choice of USA Today's 10 Best Public Displays of Holiday Lights, the Trail of Lights will be drive-thru again this year Nov. 27-Dec. 31. For 57 years in a row, the Trail of Lights has lit up Zilker Park with games, food, local vendors and more than two million lights gleaming for the holidays. The event, as always, is free to the public and you can reserve slots here. The Zilker Tree is already up, so you can already see it if the holiday cheer is too much to bear.
Coming back for the second year in a row, Peppermint Parkway will transport you to COTALAND, where six million lights gleam and Christmas is just a one-mile drive away. The hybrid event will have you drive through the display of lights, dancing elves and unique little villages before you hit the walking plaza, where you can grab a bite to eat and meet Santa. Tickets range from $40-$95, some including a lap around the COTA track, running from Nov. 26-Dec. 26.
Dreamland Dripping Springs has been transformed into a winter wonderland—running throughout the month of December, the venue's first-ever holiday display is taking over with activities for the whole family. Plus, running from Nov. 20-Jan. 4, a pop-up ice skating rink will really bring the holiday cheer for $10 or $5 Monday specials. The lights display will feature half a million lights and warm, festive sips from the taproom.
With events galore for the holiday season, winter is really when the Hill Country Galleria thrives. Starting with its Light Up The Plaza event on Saturday from 6-8 p.m., where visitors can see Santa, gaze at the official lighting of the holiday tree and hear some live tunes from rock band American Authors. The Galleria will also hold a holiday market every Thursday, Friday and Saturday leading up to Christmas Eve and periodic photos with Santa at Buenos Aires Cafe.
Deck the Halls at the Driskill Hotel
(Courtesy of the Driskill Hotel)
This holiday season, the Driskill will deck out every nook and cranny of the historic hotel from the grand staircase to the 16-foot Christmas tree in the lobby to be lit on a Dec. 1 ceremony that will be open to the public. Touches of Driskill festivities can also be seen at Dell Children's Hospital with a gingerbread village for its annual "Cookies for Caring" event.
Kicking off the lighting of the tree on Saturday, Dec. 4, Austinites will gather on the steps of the Texas Capitol at 6 p.m. to sing the 45-foot tree to life. Afterward, local band Los Coast will close out the night with a free concert. The fun doesn't stop there though as the Downtown Austin Alliance will host the Downtown Holiday Stroll, with "holiday passports" and stamps to collect for local restaurants and stores, and a Frida Friday Holiday Market at Republic Square.
Combining festive holiday lights and the beautiful native plants of Central Texas, Luminations at the Wildflower Center is back with thousands of lights, luminarias and a lit-up look at Fortlandia. This year will also feature an interactive light maze called "silvana" by Ben Busche of architecture firm Brut Deluxe, which will be the maze's first appearance in North America. The event will run Thursdays-Sundays from Dec. 2-Jan. 30 for $10-$25 per person.
Reserved tables are back for Mozart's Coffee Roasters annual Christmas Lights Show for $20 four-person tables and $30 six-person tables—so get your tickets early because these tables are likely to sell out. The light show will also feature a festival-style Bavarian marketplace for those last-minute gifts. If you're too late to reserve a table, don't worry, there will be standing room available for free so come one, come all, and come early for parking.
From Dec. 2-4, Old Settlers Park will light up with holiday displays, family activities, festive refreshments and live music. Watch the balloons hover above the lake as you sip on a hot chocolate or give to those in need, with stands for Round Rock Operation Blue Santa, which is taking toys for kids in need, the Play For All Foundation, which is accepting cash donations for disabled children, and the People & Parks Foundation, accepting cash donations for green space in the community. Admission to the event is free, along with most of the activities in the park.
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