Ex-Member of Alleged Twin Flame Cult Shares What Drew Her In – and Why She Left
When she first discovered the Twin Flames Universe, Rai was in the midst of a time-honored tradition: the post-breakup healing journey. “I was looking for help and tips on getting over someone,” she tells POPSUGAR. “I was having a lot of trouble.”
She wound up getting a lot more than she bargained for. Twin Flames Universe, an organization founded by self-proclaimed spiritual gurus Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, brands itself as a group that can help members find true love and spiritual transformation. Using Facebook groups, video courses, and coaching programs, Jeff and Shaleia promise that every Twin Flames Universe member will achieve what they themselves claim they have: a divinely ordained, transcendent love that spans lifetimes. However, former members say otherwise.
Twin Flames Universe is the subject of the Prime Video documentary “Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames Universe,” which explores the group’s origins as well as the allegedly manipulative tools it uses to coerce members into performing free labor, paying large sums for courses, undergoing gender transitions, and even crossing oceans in order to stalk ex-partners. Jeff and Shaleia did not respond to the documentary producers’ repeated requests for comment. They also did not respond to POPSUGAR’s request for comment.
Rai, who asked to be identified by a nickname in order to protect her privacy, had never even heard of the concept of twin flames before she joined the group. She would quickly learn that the concept of twin flames is based on the idea that everyone has another half of their soul walking the earth. According to generic twin flame dogma, connections with these other halves can often be volatile and painful; twin flames can act as mirrors, reflecting and amplifying one’s vulnerabilities and fears. In a typical twin flame union, there’s a “runner” and a “chaser,” and internet forums are full of posts about twin flames that sound more like rationalizations of toxic and one-sided relationships than love stories. Yet the concept has taken off in recent years, in part thanks to couples like Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, who have repeatedly spoken (and sung) about being twin flames – and, of course, the Twin Flames Universe.
Jeff and Shaleia, who say they’re twin flames, launched Twin Flames Universe in the mid-2010s and quickly scaled their business. Today, the still-active group charges as much as $8,888 for access to coaching, videos, and training programs that allow members to become coaches themselves. Rai didn’t join the Twin Flames Universe because she wanted to find the other half of her soul or even because she was looking for love, though. “They were talking about self-development, which is really what drew me in,” she recalls, saying she was particularly drawn to the group’s emphasis on self-love.
Rai’s first introduction to the group was a meeting with an “Ascension Coach,” who seemed “so happy, so peaceful” and gave her “examples of how Jeff and Lee’s program had really changed her life.” Self-love, personal growth, and big promises are often initial selling points for cults like NXIVM and Scientology, which often lure members in with generic rational concepts and only later reveal their more extreme teachings.
Rai was also drawn to the group because it offered access to a community. The moment she joined the Twin Flames Universe’s private Facebook group, Rai says she was flooded with hundreds of supportive and loving messages. She quickly began engaging in discussions and meet-ups, where members would mostly discuss their spiritual journeys. A spiritual seeker herself, Rai valued the opportunity to talk about god and philosophy with like-minded people. As for the whole twin flame aspect, “I didn’t think very deeply about it, I’ll be honest,” she says. “I was just curious.”
And yet even at that time, there were subtle red flags she only noticed in hindsight. “People would approach me every day, at every point, asking, ‘Have you thought about joining the Ascension Coaching program? Have you thought about doing this?'” Rai says. She would later realize that these people were apparently under pressure from Jeff and Shaleia to recruit new paying customers and coaches.
Rai eventually paid for a month of access to Twin Flames Ascension School. After her first month, she says she was asked to become an Ascension Coach to train other people in the art of working towards “harmonious twin flame union” – Jeff and Shaleia’s ultimate promise. Rai saw the job as just another form of life coaching, and she signed up for the group’s Ascension Coaching training program, which currently costs $4,999.
During trial sessions with potential clients, Rai began to understand the reality of the demographic that Twin Flames Universe was targeting. “They either lived alone, had no friends, or had gone through some sort of traumatic situation that meant that they either detached themselves or disassociated from whatever the reality of their life was at the time,” Rai says. Sometimes, she wanted to tell people that what they really needed to do was go outside and connect with others in the real world. But in the increasingly insular and all-consuming world of the Twin Flames Universe, there was no reason to venture off screen.
“If you invest your whole self into it, it becomes a world within itself,” she notes. “If you join the Ascension Coaching program, that’s your job, and that takes care of your life purpose. Your Twin Flames community becomes your friends, so that takes care of your social life.” And of course, there was the holy grail: finding one’s twin.
Early on in her involvement with the group, Rai, still recovering from her breakup, posted a photo of herself and her ex in the Twin Flames Universe Facebook group. Rai says Jeff, who had never engaged directly with her before at the time, told her that her ex was indeed her twin flame. Rai also claims that Jeff said she was “on the right track,” but had “a lot of blocks” and “a long way to go.” “I was very confused as to how he could make that judgment so quickly – that I was still spiritually blocked or whatever he called it,” Rai explains. “That created an immediate anxiety in me.”
Still, she reached out to her ex and told him about the Twin Flames Universe and what Jeff had said, and the pair reconnected. Still, “it got kind of weird for me when they started inserting themselves in my life like that,” Rai says. “I thought it was just an online course that you could switch on and off.”
But the Twin Flames Universe was never intended to just be an online course. In addition to her training program, Rai began running some of the Twin Flames Universe social media accounts – for free, of course. She was also working with an Ascension Coach of her own, and every day, her coach would message her asking if she’d texted her designated twin flame or otherwise worked towards their union. The pressure to pursue her twin flame was becoming aggressive, but since it was all shrouded in so much love and light, it was hard to see. “It was subtle. . . . They wrapped it up in a lot of love and care,” Rai says of the group’s tactics. “They just love-bombed me into accepting these things by telling me how talented I was and that I should be doing this, and that this is my calling.”
Questioning Jeff’s initial judgment call about her ex, in her view, was never an option. “If I rejected it, it would become my fault,” she says. Doubt led to catch-22 questions like, “Why are you not experiencing your good?” and “Do you not think you deserve to be loved?” Because Rai’s main goal in joining the Twin Flames Universe had always been to work on her self-love, being told that she wasn’t loving herself enough because she was rejecting her twin flame was particularly painful. There was, she claims, “a lot of mental manipulation.”
During her time in Twin Flames Universe, Rai also happened to meet someone new. She says Twin Flames Universe discouraged her from pursuing that relationship, though, saying she needed to be with her twin flame no matter what. Still, Rai’s doubts were growing. “‘I know Jeff confirmed it, but I don’t think this is the guy,'” Rai recalls thinking. She wanted to end things once and for all with her ex and focus on herself and her life. But in Twin Flames Universe, she says that wasn’t an option.
“I found it really uncomfortable that he was preaching that he was this spiritual, loving person. There were just too many weird signs and weird advice that he was giving.”
Fortunately, unlike so many of the group’s deeply isolated members, Rai wasn’t alone. Friends and family were starting to tell her that it seemed like she might be in a cult. Once she began investigating Twin Flames Universe from a more skeptical perspective, she started noticing warning signs. Jeff, in particular, was starting to unnerve her. He seemed like “a very angry person” who would take out his anger on others, she said. He also seemed fixated on money, often showing off his car and house and citing them as evidence that he had spiritually ascended in some way. “I found it really uncomfortable that he was preaching that he was this spiritual, loving person,” Rai says. “There were just too many weird signs and weird advice that he was giving.” Shaleia was also unnervingly quiet and seemed subservient to Jeff, though she reportedly was the one who developed most of Twin Flames Universe’s spiritual teachings in the first place, according to a 2020 Vanity Fair exposé.
According to Rai, she was often instructed to use a practice called the “mirror exercise,” which involved looking in the mirror and directing any angry or negative sentiments you were feeling towards someone else at yourself. If you were angry at someone else, you were supposed to realize that your anger was actually towards yourself. Jeff and Shaleia claimed that the exercise would make members aware that they were the source of their own problems and issues, but it’s easy to imagine how quickly that reframe could wear down any semblance of genuine anger or doubt. “Morally, that felt wrong,” Rai says. “At that point, that’s when I just felt like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.'”
A breaking point came when Jeff asked her to attend an in-person event in Canada along with her designated twin flame. She almost ended up going until her ex pointed out just how absurd the whole thing was. Rai began reflecting on just how deep she’d been sucked into the group and ultimately decided it was time to leave Twin Flames Universe. “As soon as I left the group and asked for my money back, Jeff was very aggressive towards me in texts,” Rai alleges, saying he repeatedly asked her why she was running away from love and god, especially when she was so close to achieving harmonious twin flame union. Still, she never went back.
Rai’s story is one of the less shocking tales to come out of Twin Flames Universe. Journalist Alice Hines, who wrote an exposé of the alleged cult for Vanity Fair in 2020 and is also centrally featured in “Desperately Seeking Soulmate,” interviewed a member who had spent a month in jail after being encouraged to stalk a twin flame who had filed a restraining order. Other members say Jeff and Shaleia encouraged them to pursue their exes no matter the cost. Additionally, numerous queer couples – many of them set up in the first place by Jeff and Shaleia – have said that they were pressured to undergo gender transitions while in Twin Flames Universe. According to Jeff and Shaleia, all twin flame unions have a divine masculine and a divine feminine aspect, and “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” explores several cases where Jeff seemingly tried to coerce female members into transitioning in order to fit into their divine masculine roles. Jeff and Shaleia denied all of the above allegations in the 2020 Vanity Fair article.
Today, over three years after the Vanity Fair exposé, Twin Flames Universe is very much still active. Rai says that in spite of everything, she still thinks the larger Twin Flames Universe community is a positive and loving place, and she really feels for the people who’ve been sucked in deep while seeking community, meaning, and love in an often lonely world. She also understands that people are attracted to Twin Flames Universe for the same reasons they’re often attracted to any religion or group that promises answers and salvation or redemption of any kind.
But she worries, she says, that Jeff and Shaleia are causing lasting damage to “people that are obviously very vulnerable and want validation that the world is a loving place.” Twin Flames Universe attracts people “that are looking for some kind of happiness somewhere in the world, and they’re offered that,” she says. But at the end of the day, “they’re still told they’re not good enough because they don’t have a boyfriend.”