Friday, April 29, 2005

What Is The Purpose Of Enlightenment?

A Beginning Student's Story

I’ve been reading your blog regularly and would like to thank all those who contributed to its creation, as it has helped me tremendously to understand my own experience with Andrew’s community. I admire your courage, openess and honesty.

Although my experience was rather short lived and I never lived in Foxhollow nor was I involved personally with Andrew, I went to many long and short retreats with him, to simply find out what he has to offer. That was in 2000/01/02. Soon after the last long retreat I decided to move into his “orientation house” inspired by the retreat.

Although at first my great enthusiasm and joy kept me going, I only stayed about a month and moved out, as I could not stand it. Only in my first week staying there I was put into the famous “hot seat” where I did not know most of the people, people who never even talked to me, strangers, have told me all and everything what was wrong with me, with very angry outbursts.

I had to listen to all that and was not allowed to speak nor to question their opinions, where did they got them from? My feeling was so unreal, as if I was a part of a theatre play, where the script was pre-written, well in advance, nothing to do with me. Only later I understood that I witnessed the “scoring points” meeting. It happened every week and in between I was regularly verbally abused by senior female student member and called names, I rather do not repeat. It continued and it was enough for me to say NO MORE and leave. I could not tolerate abuse in any form. There were other newcomers who also left at the same time with the same experiences of disappointment, confusion, hurt and abuse.

We just could not understand what is wrong with the students, where was their “unbearable lightness of being”? their joy, their enthusiasm, their happiness ?
Most walked around like zombies, running on gallons of coffee a day just to keep going.

I often thought that by some terrible mistake I joined some fanatics following a military dictator and not a spiritual teacher. The atmosphere of constant spying on one another and being very careful what one says to others, reminded me very much of the Communist regime, and the emphases on the collective good and the total ignorance of the individual.

Perhaps my own little experience is really trivial and not important and yet even after such a short time of connection with the students and Andrew, I left very confused, sick and totally bewildered.

It has taken me a long time to make any sense of it and with the help of your blog I understood why all this was happening. I often compared his community to an army camp where most people slept only a few hours a night, then went to work and then worked at the centre or had their 10 meetings a day together.

I cannot claim that I really got to know Andrew’s students from anywhere else, but this one centre. Nor I have had any experiences with Andrew, apart from the retreats, as I was only the beginner student. I found his retreats relatively helpful to me, as he is very good and entertaining when it comes to the EGO, and he makes people understand why it is important to see it.

Yet I find his teaching lacking when it comes to some greater picture, apart from the ego-games. It seems to me such a waste of life to spend so much time focusing on the ego and nothing else.

The questions I asked myself during my stay in the community were: Do I want to be like those people, live this kind of life? “The proof is in the pudding”…I really did not like the taste!

The value of any Dharma Teaching is in the students living that teaching, yet what I saw and experienced was most of the time truly repulsive, so totally different then the atmosphere of the retreats and the promise afterwards of this “Heaven on Earth” to follow, if one commits oneself and joins the community. In my very short experience it was “Hell on Earth.” My answer was NO, I also found most of the senior students really dull and suppressed, who would only repeat over and over more or less the same mantras: “Isn’t Andrew great?” “Wasn’t it a great retreat?”, “Isn’t he wonderful?”, etc.etc.

But what really surprised me was the atmosphere of fear and luck of authentic, free self-expressions, lack of any original individual thoughts about any subject whatsoever. Most students would just use more or less the same kind of expressions about anything, as if some kind of scripts were handed to them earlier, so they did not have to use their own brains. And the most infuriating was the expression” I disagree” used by everyone in situations where it was totally inappropriate and illogical. Like after someone has expressed their own personal feelings and experience on a subject, someone would say “I disagree”, nothing else, no explanation, nor argument, nothing.

Probably I do not know any of you, ex-students, yet you all sound like very intelligent, bright, sincere individuals and I wish I met people like you in his community…and yet I wonder if you would have been the same open, honest, courageous beings you are now? As it seems that theoretically this kind of qualities were asked for from his students by Andrew but in practice they were discouraged very harshly.

Anyway, the last question I’m still asking myself is not What is Enlightenment? But WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ENLIGHTENMENT? I know that historically the purpose of Enlightment has been to alleviate human suffering. When one looks around this world the greatest suffering here is still poverty, hunger, disease, death and no hope for better life. Apart from the very small minority of the Western Developed World, the rest 70 % of the population suffers terribly.

I was wondering what is the purpose of that “Freedom for the sake of all” Andrew promises to his students and how it relates to the rest of the suffering world? I hope his organisation does support charities and not just his lavish lifestyle.

The “suffering” in the developed western countries is mostly on emotional/mental level, where in the rest 70% of the population it is basically about the survival on the physical level. And then there is the common suffering of old age, disease and unknown death. .

Is spending years masturbating with one’s ego individually and collectively, as in Andrew’s teaching, being cruel and abusive to his committed students, has anything to do with “alleviating suffering” in this world? I wonder. I know this is a huge topic and I’ll not going into it, yet I wonder if anybody else ever thought about it ?


My very best wishes to you all,

PS. writing in english is not my best ability, as it is not my first language, so sorry for the lack of any sofistication in my expression.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Of Cohen, Koresh And Authoritarianism--3 Views

At Saturday, 23 April, 2005, Anonymous said...

I have an idea...

Why don't we just condemn Cohen, as a David Koresh and Jim Jones type, poisoning and misguiding people, report him to the authorities, call the editors of the New York Times and whatever else we think is fit, take him to court, charged with abuse and be done with the whole thing. How about it Hally, Hal (haven't heard form you for awhile), or Helene (who are you, anyway)? Then, we can all get on with our petty lives and stop wasting so much valuable time debating whatever it is we are or aren't debating on these blogs (blobs, I say). Are you all so bored with your lives that you have to keep going on and on about all of this stuff.

At Saturday, 23 April, 2005, just another "blobber" said...

The previous "anonymous" wrote:

I have an idea...

Why don't we just condemn Cohen, as a David Koresh and Jim Jones type, poisoning and misguiding people, report him to the authorities, call the editors of the New York Times and whatever else we think is fit, take him to court, charged with abuse and be done with the whole thing

Nobody here has compared Cohen to Koresh or Jim Jones--although given the proof submitted on this blog from numerous named and reliable sources as to the physical abuse, financial and psychological manipulation, and the fear, guilt and shame tactics used by Cohen at his Foxhollow compound and elsewhere, a cogent argument could be made that he is certainly heading very rapidly and determinedly in that direction.

The virulent tone of some of the recent posts on this blog condemning it and its contributors appears to indicate a heightening of fear and paranoia in Cohen's circles. Definitely a recipe for disaster, if history tells us anything.

Maybe some of the previous poster's suggestions--going to the press, investigating the abuses shown here and more recent ones that are likely to be occurring, and taking legal action, where appropriate--should be seriously considered, both for the good of Foxhollow compound inmates and the innocent unwary public.

Maybe the previous defender of Cohen does have a good idea after all.

At Saturday, 23 April, 2005, Anonymous said...

Why don't we just condemn Cohen, as a David Koresh and Jim Jones type, poisoning and misguiding people, report him to the authorities, call the editors of the New York Times and whatever else we think is fit, take him to court, charged with abuse and be done with the whole thing.

Because the whole thing is not just about Andrew Cohen.

The Cohen issue is the micro level issue. The macro level issue is about a “political” conflict taking place along a continuum where at one pole we find spiritual authoritarianism, at the other spiritual deep democracy, with various shades in the middle.

What Cohen, Koresh, and Jones (both Jim and Franklin) have in common is that they are all closer to the spiritual authoritarianism pole of the continuum.

This is the model where the teacher implicitly or explicitly communicates the following message:

"There exists a hierarchy of consciousness. I am high on this hierarchy. I am higher than you. I'm enlightened and you're not. Only those at my level can appreciate my behavior and speech acts at the level from which they emanate, while those at lower levels may easily misunderstand my behaviors and speech acts to be rooted in egocentricity and neurosis rather that compassion and an absolute relationship to life. Therefore, my students must question only themselves and must turn all doubts about me, my behavior, my speech acts, and my teachings, back onto themselves. Students who doubt me are caugth in egoic resistance to the very process of transformation itself. Therefore, those who leave me have simply fled from the fire of living Truth. There is nothing I can say to them to disabuse them of their illusions, and so I say nothing to those who leave and then in Judas-like fashion, attack me."

Let's say that John Doe embraces this model and he reads Susan Bridle's post here, titled, “A Legacy of Scorched Earth: Reflections of a former student”, (Wednesday, February 02, 2005) where she recalls her life as a Cohen student and shares that she presently studies with Danan Henry Roshi at the Zen Center of Denver.

She says, “It’s sooo different from Andrew’s community. Much more spacious, much more respectful of the individual, definitely not authoritarian. I’m finding my way with having a completely different, non-guru-like relationship with my spiritual guide.”

John Doe reads this and because his allegiance lies with spiritual authoritarianism, he automatically concludes that Susan has fled from the "fire" of the "Rude Boy" into the arms of a "comforting" and "consoling" teacher who probably has the "disease" Ken Wilber calls "boomeritis Buddhism."

But anyone who reads Susan's post can see that she has actually gone deeper into the fire of transformation, and has outgrown the parent-child teacher-student spiritual authoritarianism mode Cohen offers.

Those whose allegiance lies with the spiritual authoritarianism model are reactionaries. If this were the late 18th century in Colonialist America, they would be Tories, loyal to the King. They are loyal to the King and to the model of the guru as sovereign absolute monarch. They are stuck in the past and like professional reactionary Ann Coulter they defend their retrogresive values by attacking everyone who has exceeded these quaint values.

The alternative to the spiritual authoritarianism model is not "boomeritis" spirituality, but is deep democracy, where teachers do not isolate and insulate themselves from an open flow of feedback within their teaching systems as Cohen has done. Jack Kornfield, as one example, does not have "boomeritis" (though a reactionary bitch might say that), and no one can possibly suggest that sitting for a five-week meditation retreat with Kornfield is "comforting" or "consoling." If one wants to know where the money comes from and goes in the Spirit Rock Meditation Center which Kornfield founded, one can look at the annual report that always includes a pie chart that accounts for every cent of income and expenditure. If there is a problem with a teacher at Spirit Rock this is never ignored but always addressed openly and at the level of community. Only a reactionary would call this "boomeritis." No, this is deep democracy and it is a developmental advance over the antiquated spiritual authoritarianism model Cohen represents.

Because of the micro and macro issue here, there are some who remain aligned with the spiritual authoritarianism model and who see the problem only at the mirco level as being with Cohen, as if a more benign king would be just fine. Others, like myself, see the problem with Cohen but feel that the very model he represents is an anachronism, regardless of whether or not the king is benign or pathological. And reactionaries, such as Ken Wilber and Cohen, attempt to defend their attachment to the antiquated spiritual authoritarian model by accusing people like myself of being caught in "boomeritis" and of having some fear of hierarchy. This is ironic, because I very much believe in hierarchy and think the model Wilber and Cohen embrace is rather low on the hierarchy. In their terms it's not "second-tier," it's "blue."

Friday, April 22, 2005


By Anonymous

I think, therefore I am not. Just kidding. Actually, I don’t think, therefore I am. Just kidding. I think that much of this blog, as useful and perhaps even necessary as it is, is missing the point. It is undeniably true, though that never stops volumes of denial, that the pathological manifestations of Mr. Cohen and the deep suffering of many of his temporarily willing enablers, need to be addressed, processed, brought to some kind of balance, yes. It is also true, at least if one subscribes to the wisdom of Gurdjieff, that all issues of the well being of the individual, as vital to health and harmony as they may be, are secondary to the issues of the well being of the Work as a whole. So this means that, perhaps, the most damaging effects of this whole mess, of Mr. Cohen’s predictable fall from grace, is the complete disillusionment that his behavior creates in so many good, decent and serious practitioners, disillusionment relative to the path itself. Of course it is human tendency to assume all spiritual teachers are bad, are psychotic, just because of the prominence of so many public scandals. When one is disillusioned by his or her teacher, yes, often one must come to terms with both one’s grief and remorse and also with their own naiveté, confusion, false expectations and projections, transference and dependencies, but these things can be resolved with competent help and a healing and nurturing environment. But when one’s disillusionment severs them from the Path itself, from all true self-inquiry and transformational possibilities, that is the greater tragedy.

There is such a thing as true crazy wisdom, but that term has been so misused, both by those who totally trivialize it, assuming every circus clown and stand-up comic is practicing it (at least this is benign), and by those who excuse what should be inexcusable abuses toward others, cruelty, sadism, and related neuroses, by calling it crazy wisdom (decidedly not benign). The term has become almost meaningless due to its association with those confused and those lacking any degree of depth of real insight and understanding. Sort of like “Tantra.” What a travesty the current understanding of that word is.

Back to the point: let us not forget that in the vast expanse of time in which the Work unfolds (not to deny the possibility of valid, full awakening in one lifetime, but hey, do the math), that in 100 years our personal discomforts and crises will pale compared to the potentially ongoing divorce between earnest, true-hearted seekers and the Path.

OK, mind-fuckers, bring on the hair-splitting philosophizing.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Through a Mirror Darkly—continuing to try to see clearly!

Further Reflections from Roberta Anderson

Dear Friends,

Trying to get clear about my time as a member of Andrew’s community has been and continues to be a challenging and extremely emotional process. In talking with an old friend from the community recently it occurred to me that it’s actually quite a bit like the grief process I went through when my mother died a number of years ago. I kept thinking it was “over” and that I had reached some kind of “resolution”, and then, lo and behold, yet another “wave” would hit me often when I least expected it. I want to say that I really appreciate this blog a lot, as it has provided a great forum for me and many of us to sift and resift through these incredibly intense years many of us shared together. Finally getting the courage to participage and throw in my two cents has been far more helpful than I’d expected. In beginning to shake up and examine and re-examine so much that I hadn’t seen clearly and probably still am not. I actually think that this, like the grief process, may well go on for a long time! Many experiences and incidents from this time with Andrew are continuing to burble up to the surface which I’d forgotten about or filed away “safely” because I really didn’t know what to make of them at the time.

For me the really hard part about all of this is to hold and acknowledge it ALL, in all of its craziness, ecstatic revelations, agonizing humiliation, intense joy, incredible fear, unbelievable ongoing pressure, etc. The mind continually insists on something very white or very black, and to try somehow to stay in that really uncomfortable middle place of discomfort and confusion where nothing is denied or left out and the whole actually wildly confusing thing is attempted to be seen all at once—well, I continue to find that this is really difficult!

I think that as Brook pointed out in her post, part of why it’s so challenging to see this all clearly is that undeniably so many of us had enormously powerful and ecstatic realizations of Self when we met Andrew that literally blew our minds. His charisma, confidence, brilliant grasp of the dharma, and willingness to be “on the edge” enchanted us all. Also, the fact that he was an “independent teacher” actually living and teaching from nothing but his OWN understanding instead of some “stodgy tradition” –the incredible aliveness and freshness of all of this really appealed to so many of us “dharma renegades”. Our teacher was a handsome New York Jew who wore Italian clothes and knew everything about jazz. He was hip! He had a great sense of humor, was an incredible mimic, had great timing, and everything he did and said seemed to delight us. He seemed to have an amazing gift for cutting through obscuration and making the dharma simple and accessible and clear. Everyone and everything seemed to “glow” when we were with him. The fact that everything really did seem terrifically new and “unknown” was incredibly exciting. We were explorers out there on the edge, investigating new and uncharted lands with our brave and beautiful teacher at the helm. We were definitely a special and chosen lot!

As things slowly began to change and become not only not very ecstatic, but actually quite scary, many of us including myself felt that finally we were really entering the “true spiritual life”. Although it became often painful and really uncomfortable more and more of the time, everything we’d read and studied from the traditions told us that this was The Way. Slowly and progressively things got harder and weirder. NOW we were definitely “doing it”! Throughout this time lots of new innovations came into play, many of which were in fact skillful and very useful for all of us. We had freqent “discussion groups” where we would go into and explicate subtle points of the teachings with each other, and all of us learned a great deal about how to actually listen to others, articulate our thoughts and ideas much more clearly, and try follow each other’s train of thought with some intelligence. I’ve already written a lot (some would say ad nauseum!) about how all of these years with Andrew really did have a powerfully transformative effect on me and on many of my friends.

But now slowly, because I continue to stare into all of this and reflect and re-reflect from as many angles as I can find, I have to say that I am starting to fall off my high horse and to see that there was indeed a great deal that was just plain old weird, cruel, and abusive, and way over the top. It’s helped me to think about what “went wrong” in terms of looking at the fact that Andrew didn’t really have a real model of “how to teach”. He hadn’t really worked closely with a deeply realized teacher who was steeped in a time-tested tradition where many of the kinks had a chance to get ironed out through centuries of learning from lots of mistakes. He was actually making it all up as he went along, and while we first thought that this was great because he was only teaching purely from his own understanding (which was undeniably profound)--and this was indeed probably why the teachings had a truly "alive" quality, his main and really only strategy became to simply continue to “up the ante”, no matter what. The force and domination and control indeed became quite nazi like. No situation was tailored for individual students at particular times (although I still believe that “intensity” at the proper time and with a great deal of sensitivity and finesse can actually be helpful on occasion). Every month and every year the intensity and “abuses” (already fully documented here on this blog) appeared to escalate to a degree that was beyond extreme. I never really participated myself in being aggressive with others (I was in fact considered rather weak and “wimpy” in that I was always pretty bad at giving “strong feedback” –this seemed to be a sign that I really didn’t care about the freedom of others!)

Truly weird as it was, I think that Andrew thought and probably still thinks that this extreme force was necessary for the “liberation” of his students. I really don’t think he knows any other way to teach, and will probably justify his “methods” to the end. A big part of the underlying setup, as many have described, was that once you accepted Andrew as your teacher that was it. He knew best (as he often said, “why would you come to a teacher if you already know better?”) and because of his rather incredible confidence, managed to set himself up as the unquestioned Authority on Everything! Because of this I think there must be some kind of underlying fear that the whole thing would fall apart if Andrew ever admitted to having made a mistake. This in itself is symptomatic perhaps of how and why it all got so crazy.

So I am finding it really helpful to just keep looking at all of this, trying to keep seeing the holes and blockages in my own understanding, my areas of denial, where I may be still protecting anything for whatever reasons, etc. As I’ve said before I am not bitter about all of the quite long time I spent in this situation, crazy as a lot of it was. For whatever reasons, mostly because I really wanted so much to believe in Andrew’s “vision”, I chose to stay and tough it out through a great deal of wild and crazy and quite painful stuff. I definitely learned a lot and changed deeply in ways I needed to. It was an unbelievably wild ride, and I must say that I both don’t regret it and I am also really glad I’m no longer in that situation! I know that there is still probably a great deal more for me to see about all of this, really appreciate the posts from everyone, and want to thank Hal for providing this much-needed forum.

With love and thanks to all,

P.S. Something I’m finding kind of interesting to think about is that early on with Andrew he had all us us ex-Da Free John students (there were six or seven of us) get together to get “de-programmed” and see and face clearly what a mad teacher he actually was. We all sat together for a number of hours going over and over our experiences. I remember actually feeling a bit “seasick” from just being forced to see and tell the truth. It’s just rather ironic and weird that now I am going through this again with Andrew! Wow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Real Teachers Are As Scarce As Hens' Teeth

A Letter Of Appreciation For Andrew Cohen
By Roberta Anderson

Dear Friends,

I’ve been following this blog with a lot of interest—often fascinated, often confused, often feeling a little sick, and often alternating between wanting to defend Andrew, damn him, and then again defend him.

I stayed in the community for nearly twelve years and participated in everything that’s been written about. Even though much of it was intense beyond belief and often even “brutal”, I stayed because early on in this life I knew that I wanted to find something that few on this planet, apparently, have discovered. I had a strong sense that my particular destiny was to give my damndest to attempt to awaken in this very life. I familiarized myself with all the masses of available literature from all the traditions, and I knew that of all the endeavors one can aspire to, this particular matter was apparently difficult beyond anything I could begin to imagine, and that slaying the ego was definitely not for wimps or naïve new-agers. Reading everything from all the warnings in the Tibetan literature about why it’s so very difficult to even get past the “lions at the gate” to Irina Tweedie’s “Chasm of Fire” gave me at least an intellectual understanding that the ego will never simply roll over and die of its own accord, and that it will very probably have to endure massive, intense, and ongoing humiliation to finally be willing to even begin to loose its hold.

I came to Andrew after already having done a fair amount of “spiritual work” because I somehow knew immediately when I met him that he was one of the few true teachers who was actually willing to do battle with the ego down in the muck of the trenches, and that he was indeed the man for the job. He did not disappoint me in his willingness to keep his part of the bargain. Little did I know what I was actually in for, how immensely stubborn and recalcitrant the human ego actually is, the massive and ongoing onslaught against it that is actually required to begin to even make a dent in this fortress, and the intensity of the suffering one must be actively willing to bear in order for real transformation to occur.

Andrew’s students quickly get to know a lot about what Gurdjieff called “conscious suffering”. When one is deep into this process the meaning of Jesus’ words about how “many are called but few are chosen”, “straight is the way and narrow is the gate” etc. becomes quite clear indeed. The first of the countless undesirable aspects of my ego that was exposed in spades was the indomitable strength of my own “spiritual ego”, and my lifelong strategy to do everything imaginable to try to make myself superior to all other human beings so that I would be able to always feel separate, safe, and protected from “them” at all times, places, and spaces. All of my attempts to perpetuate this familiar strategy were dashed and hatcheted, time and time again. Never once did I get to “look good”. From a traditional psychological perspective this sounds pretty horrible, since the whole idea of this approach is to learn more about “honoring and loving yourself” etc. But this is a different game, and always will be.

I think that I have hesitated to throw my voice into this mix until now because I somehow felt that I should be expected to be some kind of grand “enlightened one” to even try to explain my own experience, and to try to shed some light on why I think Andrew is the kind of teacher he is. Instead I’m just a really ordinary human being. But coming from where I started with all of my grandiose notions about myself this is actually rather radical! I do know that with no doubt I am profoundly different from that person that came to Andrew in 1989. I had my butt kicked to kingdom come, was “drawn and quartered”, often felt like I was being boiled in oil, and weirdly enough (and I know that nearly everyone will find this to be pretty crazy), when it comes down to the most fundamental truth of it all, I feel basically nothing but deep gratitude to Andrew for having the guts and integrity and passion for awakening to be willing to do battle with me for so many years.

This is messy, nasty work, and very few understandably will even have any interest in it—both teachers and students. I knew I needed a very tough teacher and I got one. Andrew showed me how to plunge into life and to live it fully with zest, passion, and deep love—the real kind of love that comes from knowing with no doubt that you are not even an iota separate from any other soul on the planet, and because of this we all have a deep imperative to really love each other like crazy, no matter what. He showed me the importance of how precious this human life actually is, and how all of us despite whatever our many perceived weaknesses may be, have a sacred responsibility to be agents for evolution wherever we are and whoever we are with no matter what we feel like doing. He also taught me that I don’t actually have a clue what’s really going on and that I don’t have to be afraid or insecure because of this—that this is in fact what makes life such an ongoingly rich, mysterious, and thrilling adventure.

By no means do I feel that Andrew is “perfect”. As has been more than adequately pointed out on this blog, he has and will no doubt continue to make numerous mistakes. Like all of us, he is a mere human being despite his quite deep realization. There are parts of him like those parts in all us that clearly need ripening. The zen teachers often carry on about how this process actually never ends. There are numerous areas that I question or disagree with him. The work that he has committed his life to is the most vicious insult to the ego that one can ever begin to conceive of, and it is most understandable that such a huge number of ex-students are affronted, “wounded”, pissed off, vengeful, etc. etc. I have also felt all of this quite a lot and pretty consistently myself over the years. But ultimately (and apparently I am in the extreme minority in this respect!) I can only say that I got what I asked for, and way, way, way more than I could ever imagine. And I am frankly amazed that such a teacher as Andrew actually exists on this planet. The real deal is rare and the real teachers are scarce as hens’ teeth. They will probably always be vilified because of the extreme and excruciatingly painful nature of the real spiritual process.

Sending much love to any and all of my old friends who may read this—

Roberta Anderson

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Reflections Of An Early Student

A Letter From Brook Stone

Dear What Enlightenment Blog,

I’d like to begin by saying how grateful and appreciative I am that this blog has come into being. My story is an old one so I will keep this relatively brief. So much has been said so well and my experience and thoughts match most of what has been written here.

I was a very involved student of Andrew's for 5 years from 1988-1993. Many people have understandably asked in their comments why people didn’t speak up, or why it has taken so long for people to be able to get over their experience. I’ve asked myself that question as well. Reading this blog in detail has revived many memories and thoughts about my experience. Though I feel that Andrew is a tainted teacher and I feel highly motivated to speak up in this forum, I nonetheless had one of the most profound experiences of my life during my time with him. It took me, and I think many people, quite a lot of time and courage to sort out the depths of love and idealism that Andrew inspires from the very twisted and dysfunctional use he makes of them.

Giving oneself so fully and feeling the power of that kind of surrender and commitment makes it very hard to untwist. If one hasn’t been involved, I think it’s difficult to imagine the depths of the pull that this kind of spiritual opening and connection exerts. One then feels a powerful need to protect the beauty of one’s experience and deny the trouble. And the experience gets so deeply entwined with the teacher who helps make this possible. This too makes it harder to untangle. This is a central part of the seduction. Though I have remained deeply involved in spiritual life, sit regular retreats and work with different non-dual teachers, I am still clarifying where my authentic spiritual yearning and direction lies.

I finally left when I felt I could no longer support what seemed to me the very personal needs of the leader in the name of the Truth. In my case, it was deciding to listen to my doubts rather than rationalize them away, that was the turning point. For a long while, I believed that my doubts were my ego speaking. And certainly to some extent they were. But by the end, the doubts I had overwhelmed the benefits and insight that had been worth the journey up until that point. Leaving was terribly difficult. It meant giving up everything I had devoted my life to. Perhaps what’s hardest for those not involved to understand is how one feels one has given oneself to the highest purpose possible. To see that purpose contaminated and then crumble is a profound disillusionment. Hopefully, for many of us, this marks the beginning of a more mature and honest spirituality.

Andrew is living example of how a mind no doubt transformed by profound experience can nonetheless carry a personality that is deeply flawed. Andrew is not able or willing to apply his deep insights to himself. It was one of the things that kept his community so compellingly confusing. He seemed to name the dynamics in other groups and teachers that were going on in his own. How could he be doing the very thing he named as dysfunctional in other groups? He'd joke and tell us to call the group a cult “and be done with it.” It was a truly clever diversion that served to hide some very twisted motives.

Now that Andrew has made it into communities of repute, I feel especially compelled to speak out. One needs a very critical eye to understand that what you see is not what you get. He's a master of sorts, no doubt. But he is not benign nor is his community.

Andrew’s community is shame-based. When I left, it was small potatoes compared to what’s happening now, though the seeds were all there. I was shunned when I left, shamed and told to my face that though I may think that leaving was took courage, I was weak and a coward. End of five years of commitment. But I was not physically attacked and pursuit ended quickly when I returned hostile letters to the sender unopened. Now he hits people, or has them hit, and condones other practices that by any measure constitute abuse. His need for power and recognition trump all else.

I want to say to those of you in the academic community, to Ken Wilber and the others, please, do not be fooled or seduced. In the current cultural context, where truth is constructed to suit the image desired, it seems especially important that in progressive communities, we have open dialogue, the ability to think critically and the freedom to question leaders. Idealism should not lead to blindness. We humans are a very mixed bunch, capable of the highest ideals yet all carrying some kind of shadow. Andrew is no exception to that. If he could own his shadow as others in these pages have suggested, maybe a true transformation could take place. Then we’d have not a perfect person, but a complex and compelling human being with something to offer for those who are drawn. But for now, to sanction abuse, to rationalize it away or trivialize what is happening, is inexcusable. It perpetuates a stance of denial. This does not, nor can it ever, set us free.

Brook M. Stone, MSW, LCSW

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Shame-based Spiritual Striving

A Letter From A Reader

Hello there:

I just want to say that I really appreciate what you are doing here. I think shame-based spiritual striving is a big part of the problem here. When we have wounds of shame, we can get caught into these patterns of dysfunctional teacher/student relationships. I grew up in a spiritual community that my parents belonged to. When the "shit hit the fan", many people including myself at age 23, went through a painful process of re-orientation to life that involved, among other things, healing deep feelings of shame. This task continues.

I nearly went to a Cohen retreat a year or two ago, but fortunately my "antenna" from overcoming my earlier years kicked in enough to stop me. Then, I attended a local Cohen/Integral group for meetings, but became aware of interpersonal/group process problems rather quickly. This group subsequently folded.

There is such a thing as healthy shame: "red" acts should bring shame upon our heads, to keep that energy in control. If even half the events described by contributors to your blog are true, then Cohen really ought to be ashamed of himself. Shame on you, Andrew!

Warmest regards,
Durwin Foster, M.A.
Doctoral Student (Counselling Psychology)
Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education
University of British Columbia