Thursday, January 27, 2005

BREAKING THE CODE OF SILENCE...

May all beings be happy!!!

I am certainly happy because I have been granted the privilege of non-anonymously breaking the Cohen Silence Code on our What Enlightenment?! blog. And it feels real good. Don’t be shy and don’t be the last one on your block or on this blog to join in. Come on in, the water’s fine!

My name is Hal Blacker. As many readers here may recall, I was the editor in chief of What Is Enlightenment? magazine from 1994 until late 1996—the period during which Andrew Cohen’s periodical made the transition from being a small in-house newsletter to an international spiritual publication.

I left Andrew’s community in early 1997. Since that time I have experienced a gradual unfolding of understanding about what happened during my time there and what went wrong. My own personal story is not that important. In many ways, I think, I personally suffered less than many. I was one of the few who left with Andrew’s blessing (although against his wishes), and with the door (initially) left open should I wish to return.

In the past, I have not wanted to speak publicly in any way that might be seen as negative about Andrew, his community or his teachings. I was hesitant to do this at first because, despite misgivings, I felt some loyalty to Andrew. I was concerned that due to my renown as the former editor of and frequent contributor to his magazine, anything I said that might sound critical would receive undue attention, and possibly cause him harm. I was also not sure how to sort out events and their meaning. I felt that before I said anything critical, I wanted to be certain that I was not motivated by personal hurt or animosity. I wanted to wait before speaking out until I was no longer subject to anger that might skew my perspective. Finally, I felt it was more important for me to move on with my life, and continue my own spiritual path. I did not feel it was healthy to shovel energy into a bottomless hole of resentment or recrimination. So, except for personal conversations with friends who were also in the community and who had left, I remained largely silent.

But a few years ago I began to learn of things that caused me great concern. An old friend who I worked with on What Is Enlightenment? magazine called and told me she had left the community. I told her a little about my thoughts about it—how I had come to see how oppressive life in the community was, how wrong it was that there was no personal freedom or autonomy permitted, how abusive the confrontational methods used to enforce conformity now seemed, how frequently we lived in fear, and how criticism was always forcibly squelched. She interrupted me and said, “Hal, things have gotten a whole lot weirder since you left.” I asked her what she meant, and she told me stories involving the use of physical force and abuse against students. She spoke of being ordered by Andrew to deliver “messages” to fellow students consisting of slapping the student in the face as hard as she could. She told me she had been ordered by Andrew to paint messages in blood-red paint on the walls of a student’s room at Foxhollow. She described to me the conversion of the spa at Foxhollow into a kind of psychological torture chamber.

As the years passed I spoke to many other former students who confirmed these stories, elaborated upon them, and told me many more. I learned of students having large “contributions” psychologically extorted from them. I heard how a student was required to sign a “gag order” agreement prohibiting him from publicly criticizing Andrew as a condition of having his “contribution” returned. I was told the story of community women prostrating in a freezing cold lake in the winter, some suffering dangerous exposure, as a symbol of their devotion and repentance for “women’s conditioning.” I learned of a student being forced—against his will and his moral compunction—to engage in daily visits to prostitutes in Amsterdam for weeks on end as a kind of penance for past sexual indiscretions. I was told by a student how he was ordered to reveal to his estranged teenage daughter her mother’s infidelity that occurred many years in the past, in order to teach the daughter not to hold her mother, now a critical former student, in such high esteem. I heard these stories and many, many more. As the weight of the awful truth about what Andrew and his community had become accumulated, I began to feel that something must finally be said. People must be warned. At the very least, any prospective student should know what they are signing themselves up for when they join Andrew Cohen’s community.

As a result, I’ve decided to begin to write publicly about these things. I’m throwing off the cloak of anonymity. I hope to write as frankly and revealingly about what I’ve learned as I can. I plan to contribute my own opinions about Andrew’s methods and his teachings, but in the end, each of us must decide for ourselves what it all means. I hope that others will join in with their own stories, comments and contributions, anonymously or not.

Please join in. May this discussion be of benefit.

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness; be free from suffering and the root of suffering; and dwell in the great equanimity that is free from passion aggression and prejudice!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hal,

I read your comment about Andrew Cohen with interest. I’ve been on one of his retreats and have found him to be a compelling teacher. Reading about his former students’ bad experiences has left me confused and wondering what to do. I feel in my heart that I can learn a great deal from Andrew Cohen. But now I don’t know whether or not to trust him.

I just did a google search and found an article you wrote for WIE about gurus and the abuse of power and a conversation you had with the authors of “The Guru Papers.” I’m wondering how you feel about this topic now, especially the part about “oneness idealogies.” In the story, you wrote that, according to these authors, “oneness and selflessness are given precedence over separateness and individuality, and thereby authoritarianism is born.”

I can see for myself being lured into the authoritarianism of the guru (Andrew) since the goal of enlightenment is to forgo the separate self/ego and submit to the higher self. But since the higher self is elusive, and the guru represents the higher self, then it would seem prudent (if a person wants to evolve) to follow the authority of the guru.

I do get a real sense that Andrew is established in the enlightened state. So how is it that he can be so blind to the abuses he’s subjecting people to? I’m guessing he would say that he’s trying to “kill the ego.” But slapping people in the face and making someone visit prostitutes and so forth is overkill by anyone’s standards!

Also in your WIE story, the authors of “The Guru Papers” said that these philosophies of oneness draw conclusions about human nature and the nature of existence from the experience of oneness, and this is where the trouble begins.

Is that what’s going on... Andrew’s “perfect responses” are sometimes false conclusions?

Do you feel, in retrospect, that he has something to offer as a teacher, so long as a person doesn’t get involved in his community? Or would you recommend that a person look elsewhere altogether? The problem is, how many truly enlightened teachers are there who aren’t corrupt in some way?

I also wonder if you or someone else can explain Andrew and his community in terms of Spiral Dynamics. It seems that he’s at Coral or beyond, memes we don’t know much about. According to Don Beck, the higher level memes have similarities to the lower, but are up an octave. I’m guessing that Andrew is at whatever meme would correspond to Blue. But since it’s evolutionary, it can’t be perfect--still a work-in-progress that can fall into dysfunction. I don’t know enough about Andrew’s community to speculate too far...

An interested reader

Friday, 28 January, 2005  
Blogger Wombat The Great said...

G'day Hal, and all you other comment posters who have the misfortune of living on the wrong hemisphere of this wonderful, green Earth... just kidding, mates!

Reading your postings, who would have known that Andie Pandie was such a perverted little weasel. Well, I never! It was interesting that Anonymous (I've heard of that bloke before, he must get around!) has swallowed the idea that Andie Pandie is a coral meme thinker.

Hmmm... let me see now. In Spiral Dynamics, a coral thinker is very much leading edge. Coral is about exploring the spiritual use of the mind to transform reality in the world as a whole. Its major issue, they say, is spiritual and creative freedom on a global basis.

So let me see now, we have spiritual use of the mind and a global-sized version of spiritual freedom and creative freedom.

Now, abusive behaviour, no matter what the excuse, is not a spiritual use of the mind. Neither does spiritual freedom include the acceptance of abuse.

Let's cut to the chase and spell out the bottom line here. The old reality was all about fear, control and the exploitation of the weak by the strong.

In the new reality - that's us today, folks - inner awareness overrules outer authority. In the new reality, you use your intuition to know what's right and what's wrong, even if 'right' does dress itself up in a pretence of rightness.

External authority tries to tell you who you shall be and how you should live your life. External authority invents tools like Satan or ego issues to make you think that you may fail, should you stray from being tightly under its control.

Wake up and smell the roses! There is only one expert in this world on what you personally need to think, feel and experience in your life. That expert is your inner self. No-one takes as much interest in your life as does your inner self/higher self/soul. Not the Pope, and definitely not Andie Pandie.

Andrew Cohen is a fake and always was. He spends his time diverting you from his one terrible secret - that he knows nothing, and so he never had anything worth teaching.

"Criticise me? You worthless speck of dust! How dare you show your ego problems around here! Shame on you! All together, now, everybody chant 'Shame On You' together until this critic shuts up." Sound familiar?

If you want to quote Spiral Dynamics, you may as well get the meme right. Tribal clannishness and shame both belong to the purple meme. Purple is the one just above the lowest meme of all - the beige, basic survival one. So, when you get banished from the clan, you are merely experiencing a case of Chief Andie Pandie's purple paranoia.

The best part of being banished from the clan is that, right there, you start a whole new life. One where you can become who you are, and that, by the way, is not an ego problem. I rather like the snowflake analogy portrayed on InfiniteBeing.com’s web site.

It says, basically quoting the way things are in Nature, “Infinite Being is the all-encompassing consciousness from which the universe was created. Just as each snowflake is unique, so is each person. Your primary purpose in life is to experience life from one individual, unique point of view. You are an expression of Infinite Being as it experiences itself from all possible viewpoints.”

So there, your job is to be unique. Nature designed it that way!

Friday, 28 January, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Hal

Thank you for posting to this blog. I hope many people will read it and understand the dangers of getting involved with Andrew Cohen.

I myself was in Cohen's community for 15 years or so, and have witnessed all of the things you described in you post, and then some. Some of the stories you relate to have been told to me by Andrew himself, usually with an extraordinary amount of glee and pleasure in how "creative" he was with coming up with that particular "sadhana".

Thinking of all that makes me cringe now, as I was one of the yes-men around Andrew, who did accept his weirdness for the longest time in order to be able to be in his circle of power, which was a very compelling place to be, to say the least.

I do appreciate how you say you have held back for so long to write openly about these things, as I myself have tried for years now to keep a positive attitude towards what Andrew has been trying to do in terms of trying to bring change to the world. I do feel there is a lot to that, especially because of the powerful enlightenment experiences I have personally had, and all the understanding that did flow out of those and out of the association with Andrew and the people around him. So I haven't been able to dismiss that.

But lately, reading this blog, and talking with some of the other people that have left, some before me and some after me, I started to see things differently, and have not longer been able to see the things Andrew is doing to, as he puts it "crush the ego", as a wholesome way of instructing people on the spiritual path. In the name of love and evolution too many people have been disillusioned by him.

I could describe other things he did, in his ever increasing practice of holy madness, also things he did to me personally, but I think the one thing that sticks out to me at the moment is connected to what has been posted about his narcisism and persecution complex.

As you said in your post, there were a men's and a women's sauna in Foxhollow, where Cohen started to post numerous big, and sometimes gross, cartoons about individuals, exposing their weaknesses (read ego-tendencies) and posting letters we had written to him. And if he didnt like those letters, they were posted upside down to signify the ego had written those. Fake blood was sprayed on the walls, being a metaphor for his blood because we were attacking him with our ego's. Some letters were blown up to life size, with parts highlited that were particularly intense, etc.
We all had to spend at least an hour a day in there, as part of our regular daily practice, and sometimes we had to stay for a whole night. You would never know what the next "item" would be that Andrew had put up, it could be your letter upside down, or God forbid a cartoon of yourself whipping others in Dominatrix outfit, or flying in a Kamikaze airplane or stabbing Andrew to death, and on and on....

One big "post" to this brainwash chamber was a quote about the holocaust by Elie Wiesel: it read something to the effect that anything was better than indifference. The indifference here, referred to how 6 million jews were slaughtered with indifference. (I'm missing the subtlety here of the quote, but for this purpose it should give a good sense what this is about). The point was Andrew likened his own students, who dedicated their lives to him and his and indeed our common ideals, to Nazi's!!
Well, i do agree the ego is a bitch, but that is just too much.

I could go on and on I guess, but I think I'm going to leave it at this for now.
I am going to post this anonymously because I don't want the hassle of "repercussions". But if Don Beck or anyone else wants to know my name I will give it to them in confidence... ; - )

Sunday, 30 January, 2005  
Blogger Craig Hamilton said...

Breaking the Code of Victimization

I nearly laughed out loud when I read Hal Blacker’s preamble to his “Breaking the Code of Silence” entry on this blog. How noble of you, Hal. You’re finally going to enlighten us all to what’s really going on around Andrew? What “code of silence” exactly are you referring to? As far as I can tell, so far the only code on this blog seems to be a code of kvetching. Let me try a new approach. I’ll call this entry “Breaking the Code of Victimization.”

My name is Craig Hamilton. I’m the managing editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, where I’ve worked full time since 1997. I’ve been a student of Andrew’s for nearly thirteen years, and have been a close friend and colleague for the past eight of those years. I’ve been watching this latest incarnation of the anti-Cohen cult with mild curiosity since its small handful of founders started repeatedly emailing announcements about it to all of the magazine’s advertisers and contributors. I never planned to respond, but at a certain point, the rhetoric of mischaracterization got to be too much to listen to.

So, for anyone who, upon reading the entries on this blog, finds themselves scratching their head at the bizarre, two-dimensional, and often surreal picture it paints; for anyone who finds it nearly impossible to reconcile the diabolical PowerLord depicted here with their own experience of Andrew Cohen (either through his writings, his magazine, his video dialogues on the web, or his public talks and retreats), I thought it would be worth offering a few words of explanation to help set the record straight.

First, a couple of questions:

(1) if the community around Cohen even remotely resembled the sort of life-destroying police-state this blog depicts, why would most of those writing on this blog have stayed with Cohen of their own free will for ten or more years? And why would so many others report it to be the most enriching, life-affirming, and genuinely evolutionary environment they have ever experienced?

(2) if Andrew Cohen really were the menace to society this blog describes, why would so many of today’s wisest and most respected spiritual and cultural authorities have expressed such strong support for his work? (A small sample of these can be found at: http://www.andrewcohen.org/pressroom/comments.asp)

For starters, just to be clear, yes Andrew Cohen is a demanding teacher. And if he accepts you as a student and you get close enough to him, he’ll likely challenge you in ways you have never been challenged. Sometimes warmly. Sometimes affectionately. Sometimes fiercely. But if you’ve been even a few steps down the path of transformation, and have begun to glimpse the usually obscured face of that dubious cluster of self-serving motivations traditionally known as ego, you’ve probably realized that, frankly, sometimes you need to be challenged. I know I had. In fact, a big part of the reason I came to Andrew for help was that, after years of meditation and therapy, I had managed to see myself just clearly enough that I was starting to become faintly disgusted by the self-aggrandizement, narcissism, and deep-rooted selfishness that was playing itself out in all my relationships. And it was clear that, despite my growing concern about it, I wasn’t in a hurry to give it up on my own. Andrew made it clear from the word go that he was in a hurry for me to give it up, and that it wouldn’t be easy, that I would at times resent him or worse for forcing me to confront and leave behind the self-image I had grown so fond of. But I was pretty convinced that without the kind of “evolutionary tension” a relationship with a teacher like Andrew promised, I would likely spend the better part of a lifetime in spiritual self-delusion, in love with my own image as a seeker.

In case there was any doubt, Andrew delivered. And then some. And he was right. There have been many times when I have resented him and worse for the sometimes stark or even severe reflection he has unfailingly provided. (I was the one mentioned in Hal Blacker’s letter who got slapped in the face and also had fake blood smeared on his wall—which, incidentally, we already wrote about in the magazine three years ago—so much for the “code of silence”). And if I had, at any one of those times, followed my bruised ego out the door, as a number of others have, I might well be joining the feeding frenzy along with them. The spiritual path has always been a high-stakes game. The mystical literature isn’t filled with metaphors like “Razor’s Edge” and “Chasm of Fire” simply for poetic effect. Indeed, before I met Andrew, I always wondered why the traditional stories were so replete with images of demons trying, and often succeeding, at tempting people from their own highest aspirations. For all of my meditation and therapy, I had encountered nothing in my own experience that could help explain their existence—metaphorical or otherwise. But in my thirteen years with Andrew, where the fires of transformation burn bright, I have seen in often painful living color just why the traditions made such a strong, if metaphorical, point of this. The sad and at times devastating truth is, not everybody makes it. And some barely make it to the starting line.

But for those who have remained steadfast through the struggles that come with the territory, something miraculous is unfolding. On an individual level, it manifests as a deep authenticity and vulnerability, a profound freedom of being, whose human face is care for others and for all of life. But the greater fruits of this sacred labor are revealing themselves on a collective level. Coming together beyond the fears and desires of ego, we are discovering a new way of being together, in which the autonomy of each individual is fueled and animated by the power and love of communion beyond difference. If you want to get a glimpse of what heaven on earth might look like, I strongly encourage you to pay us a visit. Our doors are always open, and many who have come through have commented that they’ve never experienced anything like what they tasted here.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Hal Blacker or any of the other writers on this blog shouldn’t have left. Nor am I suggesting that everyone who leaves this path does so because they have an ego tantrum. No path is for everyone, and least of all this one. But having known Hal for many years, I have no doubt that the reasons for his departure were as I described above. And that in light of that, we would do well to question his motives for writing what he has, and the accuracy of the picture he paints. (For the record, Hal served very briefly as the lead editor of What is Enlightenment? while it was making the transition from a two-color in-house newsletter to its first issue or two as a small, four-color magazine. Those of us who worked with him remember him as an emotionally unstable and often aggressive colleague. Indeed, it was his unwillingness to make any effort to control his fitful aggression that eventually compelled Andrew to give him the nickname “Raging Bull,” and which also ultimately led to his departure).

Finally, I think it needs to be said that this blog’s portrayal of Andrew as a self-proclaimed infallible authority who answers to no one is little more than a cheap shot. It ignores the fact that since he began teaching, Andrew has gone out of his way to seek out meetings with other teachers, traditional and non-traditional, with whom he shares not only his insights but his struggles and questions. It also leaves out the fact that Andrew regularly speaks about his own continued evolution as a teacher.

I was hesitant to write this letter. I recognize that, given the level of aggression we are confronting here, this small effort at explanation may well backfire, generating a yet greater wave of animosity, even if again only from that small minority whose axe will not be sufficiently ground until it is but a stub of a handle. But at some point, silence on such matters starts to look like consent. And if nothing else, perhaps this small statement will at least raise a question for anyone who might have been fooled by Hal and his gang. I guarantee that if you dig deep enough to find out for yourself, you’ll discover that the picture of Andrew Cohen portrayed on this blog is nothing more than a small-hearted rendition of loosely assembled half-truths, a coward’s caricature. Yes, there is another side to the story. It’s a side whose glory cannot be contained in the space of this letter. But one well worth investigating for anyone in whom the heart’s cry for freedom cannot be drowned in the clamor of cynicism.

Sincerely,

Craig Hamilton

P.S. If you would like to contact me personally, feel free to do so at chamilton@wie.org.

Thursday, 03 February, 2005  
Blogger Edwin Headwind said...

It is the disease of leaders.

Today's leaders and decision-makers become what they are because of an unearned confidence, a confidence in themselves and in their decisions that fMRI and psychologists are showing to be the result of a "lack of connectivity" in certain parts of the brain.

The "salience network" allows most people to see if one decision is better than another... and so without that, a person only has ONE decision, THEIR decision, and they are supremely confident about it because they see no other choice.

And THAT is why the human race is in a whole lot of trouble, even greater trouble than Cohen causes.

Well, it is a theory anyhow... there may be other explanations :)

Monday, 14 October, 2013  

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