Nov 13, 2003

The Maharishi's Hotel of Emptiness Will the Beatles' former guru leave Hartford with a permanent blemish, or is there hope for the Clarion Hotel? 

Chris Harris
Hartford Advocate
November 13, 2003

To some, he's considered a spiritual guide. To others, a cult leader. But to Hartford city officials, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has been a supreme pain in the ass. In 1994, the 92-year-old bearded populizer of transcendental meditation's enigmatic and faceless Maharishi Vedic Development Corporation purchased the Clarion Hotel building on Constitution Plaza, and there, in full view of the bustle of I-91, the dilapidated edifice has sat -- a vacant, untouched, neglected eyesore, and a billboard advertising Hartford's urban ruin.

Even now, as Hartford's trying to reverse its tarnished image with tourists, via the mammoth Adriaen's Landing experiment, the future of this piece of real estate is up in the air, as it has been since the maharishi added it to his impressive reserve of American land holdings.

What most folks don't know about the maharishi is he's a big real estate investor. According to the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper, the maharishi's combined real-estate and business holdings total out at $3.6 billion. These days, the maharishi presides over a corporate empire Indian sources have estimated to be worth more than $5 billion -- a sort of Wal-Mart of the spirit, encompassing extensive land holdings in India, hotels in Europe, and publishing houses in the United States.

So what are the maharishi's plans for the asbestos-filled, mold-laden, water-damaged Clarion Hotel -- before that, known as the Summit Hotel, and before that, the Sonesta, and even before that, the regal American Hotel? Well, there's loads of speculation, but nothing definitive.

At first, when the maharishi, who was guru to the Beatles, paid $1.5 million for the vacated structure, the plan was to restore the 290-room hotel to its magnificence, and reopen it as the Constitution Plaza. There were even plans to utilize a portion of the building as a vegetarian restaurant.

Then, there were plans to convert the hotel into one of his Maharishi Vedic Universities, where students would be schooled in the ways of transcendental meditation. But again, no action, and now, in 2003, the hotel lies in wait -- its future, uncertain. But even back in 1995, when representatives for the maharishi presented Hartford's City Council with his intentions, it was a tough sell with former Mayor Mike Peters.

"We weren't pleased about it," Peters told the Advocate last week, about the maharishi's acquisition of the Clarion Hotel. "We weren't sure what the plans would be for the hotel, what he was going to do with it, which we knew then would be nothing, and we know is nothing."

Of course, Peters was right to doubt. The Clarion Hotel purchase was one phase in the maharishi's 40-year plan, according to news accounts, to open meditation centers in all 50 states. It's unknown just how many hotels the maharishi has procured over the years, but it's been reported that the Clarion is one of at least 25 distressed American hotels he owns -- 25 he has done nothing with.

Take the Berkeley Carteret in Asbury Park, N.J., the historic Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, the Holiday Inn on Milwaukee's west side, the Colony Hotel in downtown Dallas, and the former Days Inn in Detroit -- all prime examples and all of them abandoned hotels owned by the maharishi who, at one time, provided local officials with the promise of redevelopment and more visitor dollars, but in time, left them with yet another blighted piece of devalued real estate.

The Clarion Hotel closed in August of 1994, at what might have been downtown Hartford's economic rock bottom. City officials have hoped for years that the maharishi would sell the hotel to someone who could find a new use for the building, but satisfaction has yet to come. In 1998, things started looking up, as it seemed the maharishi was close to selling the Clarion -- the hotel went back on the market that spring, with a $14 million price tag, and yes, the real estate firm that had listed the hotel claimed numerous, "very serious" offers were coming in from around the world. But no deal.

Then, in 1999, more optimism came in the form of a Michigan-based developer, David Ong, who'd expressed interest in the edifice, and had plans to restore it to an operating, 270-room business hotel. At the time, though, Ong was seeking investments from local corporations and the city itself, to the tune of $40.5 million -- an amount that would've covered the maharishi's asking price as well as needed renovations at the site. But again, no deal.

At present, the Clarion hotel remains on the market, and is available to potential buyers, says Jeffrey M. Livingston, managing director for CB Richard Ellis' Hartford offices, the real estate brokerage firm with which the maharishi's listed the property. Livingston wouldn't discuss his client's asking price, but did confirm the hotel is "available."

The problem with attracting potential investors, says Dan Matos of New York-based Capital Properties Inc., which owns five buildings on Constitution Plaza, has always been the building itself. It's estimated that -- thanks to a total lack of maintenance -- it would take more than $15 million to bring the hotel up to modern building codes and standards.

"It would be an extensive renovation job," says Harry Freeman, Hartford's economic development director. "It's a total gut rehabilitation." There's a significant amount of asbestos in the hotel that would need to be expunged, he adds, and a rodent infestation problem that would need to be addressed.

"It's never sold because the asking price has always been too high, and to be honest the building is, for all practical purposes, obsolete," says Matos. "So whoever buys it is going to have in front of them a significant renovation job, just to bring the value of the property to zero. That'll cost around $15 million, the renovation. So, that's pretty daunting to anyone. It's a real tough business deal for anyone.

"I think the maharishi could sell this building for $2 million, $3 million," Matos continues. "I think if the maharishi knew 10 years ago that he'd still be holding on to this hotel, still be paying taxes on it and not using it, he would've walked away from it."

What, if anything, has the city done to take over this concrete albatross? Well, Peters says that before his fourth term as mayor concluded two years ago, he, as well as then-City Manager Saundra Kee Borges, had instructed the city's corporation counsel to explore the legalities of taking ownership of the Clarion Hotel building under eminent domain.

The problem with that move, according to one source from the corporation counsel office who asked not to be identified, is that such an action would've ended up being a white elephant for Hartford. "The idea of us taking that on wouldn't make any sense," says the source. "We could go after it, but with the kind of budget shortfall we have, we tend to look at these things very cautiously ... . We're trying to get out of the property-ownership business, because we want to expand our tax base."

Plus, when it came down to identifying what public use the building could serve, city officials were at a complete loss, the source explains.

The city did come close to foreclosing on the property back in 1995, when the maharishi owed more than $870,000 in delinquent back taxes. But at the 11th hour, payment was made. Since then, claims Thomas Morrisson, the city's finance director, it's been the same exact situation every year -- the maharishi waits until the very last minute to settle his tax debts with Hartford, preventing the city from foreclosing.

In fact, two weeks ago, the maharishi settled his 2003 tax debts, paying Hartford more than $162,000 -- more than $9,000 of that figure, accrued interest.

Still Freeman says he's optimistic that the Clarion hotel will, in perhaps even the next few months, be sold to developers. He says he thinks it will, in time, prove to be an asset.

"The maharishi's expressed more interest in accepting reasonable offers," Freeman says. "As work has progressed at Adriaen's Landing, we knew that it would stimulate more interest in the Clarion. ... I think you're going to see some positive developments there within the next few months."

Calls to several of the maharishi's Connecticut contacts, seeking comment for this article, were fruitless.

Oct 23, 2003

Male transformer

Chris Barry
Montreal Mirror
October 23, 2003

Mankind Project uses mysterious rituals to help heal wounded men

Name: David Cordes
Age: 40

Bio: When this fast-talking yet sincere Fabreville resident isn't selling men's clothes at his retail store in St-Laurent, he's busy sporting the "new masculinity" he's attained through his involvement with the Mankind Project, "an international men's group that provides training, support groups and places where men can fully connect with themselves at all levels: physically, mentally, and spiritually." David says the Mankind Project "is not a cult by definition" but rather "appeals to men with a sense of adventure who want to challenge themselves." He first became involved with the organization three years ago after recognizing that "there were parts of me that were wounded and needed to be healed. And I knew that [the healing process] involved working with men." He drives a 1994 Saturn SL.

How one goes about attaining one's "new masculinity": By forking over between $550 and $750 to attend a New Warrior weekend where men go hang out in the woods with a bunch of other dudes for 48 hours. "Men are invited to participate in a variety of processes and highly experiential exercises that lead them to a place of safety. The weekend is, essentially, a male initiation ritual. All the noise of a man's life, like cell phones and radios, are removed so the man is separated from what he is comfortable with. The man is given the opportunity to take a deep, dark look into himself with the support of the group, and ultimately steps through his fears of going to that place."

Is an introductory 50-man circle-jerk an important part of the initiation process? It could be. "One of the principles of male initiation throughout the world, for thousands of years, is that what we do during the initiation process and ceremony is not discussed."

Is that because people are too ashamed of what happened to them to be able to talk about it? Probably not.

Is sleep deprivation a big part of New Warrior weekend training? "Look, over 30,000 men around the world have done this training and I judge not a single one of them have ever divulged what goes on during the weekend. But I do probably sleep more at home than when I'm on a weekend."

What David says happens to people after attending a New Warrior weekend: "Men experience something absolutely transformational. And when they return to their lives post-weekend, they have a deeper sense of themselves, an awareness of their own accountability and deeper levels of integrity and personal responsibility. For me, it's just wonderful to be part of the transformation of a man opening up and starting to connect with himself."

Is there a Reverend Moon/Grand Poobah kind of character lurking somewhere making zillions off of the "new masculinity"? Apparently not.

Oct 6, 2003

Dutch Central Bank allows new 'currency' issued by group founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

India Today
October 6, 2003

Raam notes gain currency
AMSTERDAM: A new "currency" issued by a group founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi can be used, the Dutch Central Bank has said.
The notes of one, five and 10 "raam" were issued last October. Since then, more than 100 Dutch shops in 30 villages and cities have accepted the notes.

A spokesman for the Dutch Central Bank says, "The raam can be used as long as the notes are not used as legal tender and it stays within a closed-off circuit of users."
The raam notes are accepted in Dutch shops at a fixed rate of 10 euros per raam.

Sep 1, 2003

Reflections on Reading the First Seventy Issues of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin

Fr. Philip, of St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC, is one of the newest members of the MID board. He recently read through all issues of the bulletin published during the past twenty-five years and offers these personal reflections drawn from his reading.
All organizations are urged to revise their mission statements from time to time. The members of the MID board did so at the turn to the new millennium and introduced their revised statement with the following words:

We have learned from happy experience since 1978 that this dialogue, while increasing our understanding and appreciation of other religious traditions, also helps us to come to a richer understanding and full appreciation of our own spiritual and theological heritage. So, as of October 2000 we state our mission as:

Monastic interreligious dialogue is made up of Christian monastics who, at the request of the Apostolic See, engage in interreligious dialogue as a way of giving expression to the monastic charisms of listening and hospitality. We foster dialogue on the level of spiritual practice and experience between North American monastics and contemplative practitioners from other religious traditions for the purpose of mutual spiritual benefit and communion.

All of the above and much, much more is the fruit of 25 years of joyful labor, sacrifice, prayer, and commitment on the part of countless men and women who have given themselves to the task of acceptance and understanding, that is, to genuine dedication to dialogue. In the little journey you are about to take through the last 25 years, be aware that every handshake and smile, greeting and goodbye, word and gesture, as brief and fleeting as each may have been, had at its source that Ground of Being, that Absolute, that nudges us to come together to express the inexpressible, to be Love and Compassion, to bring Justice and Hope.

The North American Board for East-West Dialogue, later renamed Monastic Interreligious Dialogue, came to life in a timely fashion, in 1978. Society had been experiencing growing pains from the early 60s in response to the overwhelming destruction of the Second World War. Over 50 million had died, and the survivors couldn’t once again put faith in authority and institutions as they had known them before the two World Wars. After all, look at what the world as we made it had brought! It was time to rethink ourselves and our institutions.

Part of this personal and societal analysis and transition came about through the churches, other parts came through popular culture and experimentation with newly emerging lifestyles, such as the “hippie” lifestyle with its drop-out, free-love, and drug orientation, and the New Age movements that embraced less traditional but not necessarily new ways of living, a turn to the self as the place to find God. As the Catholic Church began hammering out its future during the Second Vatican Council, the Beatles sang their way into our cultural heart with a new beat, Haight-Ashbury got its name on the map, and the Psychedelic Age was about to light-up and inhale with Timothy Leary. It was the Beatles’ visit to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India that brought the East and Eastern philosophy and religion into my life (I was 11 years old and living in Brooklyn) and into the average middle-class American living room.

Certainly, academics and specialized groups in the churches had long been aware of the East and its religions as something to be studied and evangelized; the Parliament of World Religions in 1893 attested to that interest. But now even “Joe” at the corner bar began to know something about meditation and the exotic Guru, and he began to meditate (after paying his $60 bucks to learn his mantra). Transcendental Meditation (TM) was here to stay, even after the Beatles denounced the Maharishi for less-than-transcendental behavior involving an accompanying devotee, and with him came a flood of gurus and Eastern forms of meditation and practice. Some were frauds who extorted money like Rajneesh, some were very esoteric, others used brainwashing techniques that put permanent smiles on their followers’ faces, but most, such as Muktananda and Paramahansa Yogananda, Prabhupad and Aurobindo, were and still are, through their devotees, honestly trying to forge bonds between East and West with the highest intentions and ideals. Everything began to reflect this interchange, this new interest in the Transcendent: our popular music, our clothing (remember the Nehru jacket?), our speech and religion, and our psychotherapy. Remember EST?

By 1978, the year the MID began and the year I graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia with a BA in Comparative Religion, everything about the East in America and Europe was coming into full flower. Things became far more esoteric. Astral travel, angelology, auras, Kabbala with Rabbi Zalman Schacter, Edgar Cayce, Seth Speaks, Children of God, the Moonies, Campus Crusade for Christ, Jews for Jesus . . . and many more. I was friends with them all, and the give-and-take was tremendously exciting. Five years after Thomas Merton had died at an intermonastic conference in Bangkok, a follow-up conference was held in Bangalore in 1973, followed by Cardinal Pignedoli’s request the next year that monks promote and develop this work of dialogue with non-Christians: “The existence of monasticism at the heart of the Catholic Church is, in itself, a bridge connecting all religions.” American and European monastics were about to dive into their own traditions and faith more deeply, to swim at depths of similarity and convergence with their brothers and sisters of all religions. By then our society had been swimming in the uncharted waters of various disciplines for about 20 years, with new discoveries about psychology and religion, Native American spirituality, science and medicine, evolution and the complexities of the human brain. With the technological revolution and secular life speeding along like a runaway train, it was the perfect time to contemplate and experience with monks, nuns, and laypersons of all religions the basis of all this newness, this movement of greater awareness of ourselves and the earth we call home. With the world shrinking and communication expanding, it became imperative to see Christ in our brothers and sisters of all faiths in order to help bring peace and stability to a world that for too long had known only strife and bloodshed, hardship, war, and division.

In 1978, Fr. Armand Veilleux, with pioneers such as Sr. Pascaline Coff, Sr. Donald Corcoran, Abbot Jerome Hanus, Abbot Martin Burne and others on the first board, decided on an aim: to assist in the development of dialogue within North American monastic houses, alerting monks and monastic women to available resources and stimulating and sensitizing all to the need for and the value of East-West dialogue. These men and women would, in turn, help sensitize the East to Western spirituality and traditions, thereby awakening both East and West to various riches and possibilities.

The meeting held from June 4-13, 1977, at Petersham, Massachusetts, had gotten this ideal off to a good start. Sr. Denyse Lavigne, OSB, enthusiastically embraced the possibilities for dialogue to bring about real and needed structural change in monasteries, such as allowing for temporary lay vocations and re-thinking monastic life and structure in reflection on the East, the Desert Fathers, and other early sources of monasticism. It is important, as Merton had pointed out, that an authentic contact with the past of your own tradition and religious community be present if authentic contact is to be made with others. From the beginning, as through all of the last 25 years, it was understood that a long habit of meditation disciplined by silence is an essential starting point for fruitful dialogue. The early participants knew this well, and their conviction has been strengthened and developed through the years.

Three men who understood this from experience and who have been pillars of the dialogue tradition are Fr. Mayeul de Dreuille, Fr. Bede Griffiths, and Fr. Raimon Panikkar. Fr. Mayeul expressed an aspect of their life and work when he said that if you wish to commune with others you must first have a sincere wish to learn from others, with a strong belief that they have something to give. Secondly, you must have respect for categories of thought in the interlocutor, leaving the other to express his thoughts in his own way with all the time he needs to express himself. And thirdly, you must be ready to exchange something real. There is an urgent need for us to have a better knowledge of the Christian mystical tradition.

Fr. Bede—a man of prayer, a learned man steeped in the riches of the mystics and doctors of the Church, a man of adventure and risk—contributed to the dialogue by living it wholeheartedly and shaping it through his life and work at Shantivanam. Through lectures and workshops, writing and visiting, prayer and sacramental worship, he offered himself completely to the Christ who lives in each person he met. With Abhishiktananda and Abbé Jules Monchanin he helped bridge the gap between peoples, regardless of their real or imagined differences. Meditation and contemplation is the key: “Unless you meditate on and then realize the text and the doctrine in your life, there is no sense in listening to it.” The goal is union with the Divine. From that spring social justice, compassion and love, freedom and peace. The goal for dialogue is realization through experience and practice.

I see Raimon Panikkar as another giant. He has given so much over the years because he has so much to give. Not only has he helped bring the East and West together through his many fine books and lectures, but he is another living example of the “mysticism of integration” As he put it so well in 1980, “We live under the very sign of multiplicity… and through this the monk ‘sails through the stream’ in a simplicity that is holy because it reveres the real in a harmonious respect. The mysticism of transcendence (West) and immanence (East) is being supplanted by the mysticism of integration.” His book Blessed Simplicity beautifully expounds on the “monastic dimension as one constituent which every human being has, and must cultivate in one way or another.” This has shown itself to be a supremely important point as those involved in the dialogue have come to realize, over time, the necessity of including the larger population in dialogue for the sake of peace and justice. No one should be left out when such gross misunderstanding between nations and religions is gaining ground and threatening life and peace.

I will conclude this piece by reflecting back on the three points that Fr. Mayeul raises. First, he said we should ask the question: Have the monastic participants in the dialogue shown a sincere wish to learn from others, with a strong belief that they have something to give? In 1980, Abbot Simon Tonini of the European DIM strongly encouraged individual monastics from the West “to live for two or three months with non-Christian monks in their own Eastern milieu, for a time more at the level of experience than of study….This would be far more effective with more striking results for interreligious dialogue than any courses or congresses in one’s own milieu.” As his own experience in India taught him, “there are two things one has to admire [in the religious men and women of India]: their quest for the Absolute and their poverty, an almost heroic detachment.” There is no doubt that over the past 25 years participants have been eager to visit and learn from monastics of the East. The many exchanges show clearly that both sides in dialogue have something to give, especially through shared experience in prayer and meditation. The visits of the Tibetan Buddhists to Western monasteries since the early 1980s not only brought a knowledge of their plight as a people and their struggle to be free, but also provided many opportunities for dialogue with the Dalai Lama himself, culminating in the Gethsemani Encounter in 1996.

There was also the invaluable prayer of the Assisi event, when the Holy Father spoke of the Holy Spirit as operative in all religions. Visits of mostly European monastics to Zen monasteries in Japan, of North American Benedictines and Cistercians to Tibetan monasteries in India and Tibet, and of many from both Europe and North America to Christian ashrams in India, have been invaluable cultural experiences, helping to press the point the Dalai Lama made at Gethsemani: “The differences between religions are very good, for each religion serves the unique needs of a group of people, but at the same time it is important that people of different faiths recognize their common ground and from this place mutually serve humanity…. At times religion, instead of helping, is blamed for conflicts throughout the world. For this very reason it is imperative that religions have awareness of their differences and their common ground.” Let us take these words to heart. In the next 25 years, we should try to have more frequent chances to live in the East not only to better understand the rise of Hindu nationalism and the tensions with Islam but also to allow for more intensive study of the religions precisely as religions. The numerous meetings, seminars, and congresses have provided an invaluable exchange of ideas and practice here in the States, Europe and India, but they are no match for an actual immersion into a place, a people. Do we have enough interested monastics for such a future with our shrinking numbers?

Secondly, Fr. Mayeul points out, the person coming to dialogue must have respect for the categories of thought in the interlocutor, leaving the other to express her thoughts in her own way at whatever pace she needs. This, it seems, has been the most challenging part for the dialogue throughout its lifetime, not only for the monastics who are wholeheartedly seeking understanding between religions but also and especially for the Holy See and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Throughout the dialogue with all its transitions and changes, the N.A.B.E.W.D. and the contact persons working in the field have been diligently laboring to come to a greater understanding of their own tradition’s riches. This is well illustrated by the example of Abbot Thomas Keating’s development and exposition of Centering Prayer. Not only did he bring to the fore The Cloud of Unknowing and call for a re-examination of the apophatic tradition, but he also re-enkindled this prayer in light of our new contact with Eastern forms of prayer and meditation. Here we see a jumping-off point not only for practice but also for conceptual and verbal dialogue. Do we both share similar categories when it comes to articulating that which is beyond forms? To find categories in common, to re-interpret or rightly interpret doctrine and content in order to find similarities, sameness, and real differences is what Abbot Thomas’ work has done, enhancing in its detail some of the broader strokes of Bede Griffiths and Raimundo Pannikar.

In December 1989 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter on meditation to the bishops of the world. The Vatican, which had been encouraging dialogue with other religions for 25 years, was here showing concern about meditation. The issuing of the letter also showed that the Congregation was trying to learn more about and trying to understand, not dismiss, other religions as serious contributors to our growth as Christians. Up until this point in time, it was easy and comfortable enough for the Church to encourage dialogue focused on and justice issues, but now that dialogue was mingling practice and doctrine, the Congregation stood up and took notice. The responses to the “Instruction on Aspects of Christian Meditation” showed that more homework needed to be done on the part of all involved if greater misunderstanding was to be avoided. To learn whether that homework was done by the time of the release of the Congregation’s document Dominus Jesus we can only turn to the responses of those who we know did do their homework, such as Fr. Jacques Dupuis, Fr. Pierre de Béthune, Sr. Meg Funk, Sr. Pascaline Coff, and many others who have devoted their entire lives to this work. Fr. William Skudlarek spoke well for the MID in issue 66 of the bulletin when he discussed our monastic charisms of “listening and hospitality” as ones that “we especially wish to bring to the evangelizing mission of the Church.” If dialogue is to continue with respect, we as dialogue partners must show a continuous deepening of understanding through study, along with practice and experience, so as to avoid merely guessing at what things mean.

Fr. Mayeul’s third and last point is that we should exchange something real. After reading through all 70 issues of the MID-DIM Bulletin from 1978 to the present, I must say that if what has happened in dialogue wasn’t real, nothing is. It is outstanding and heartening to see how much good has come about through grace, and to know that I will have a small part in a giant endeavor. In reading about so many wonderful people and events—the congresses, the retreats, the meetings, the trips, the books, and the saints—you don’t have to worry that there isn’t something real here. After all, “Samsara is Nirvana.” Keep up the good work, all of you who dialogue!!! And congratulations on your 25th birthday.

May 25, 2003

Book Review: In the shadow of the new age: Decoding the Findhorn Foundation

Book Review Frank MacHovec
Center for the Study of Self
Flight. 2, no. 3, 2003
Cultic Studies Review

In the shadow of the new age: Decoding the Findhorn Foundation

Greenway, J. P. (2003) London, England: Finderne Publishing. 385 page paperback

John Greenaway is a British lawyer whose interest in New Age religion took him to Scotland’s Findhorn Foundation, considered by many to be Europe’s Esalen. This book details his spiritual journey that included “several short stays” at Findhorn, meditation with a Carmelite monk as “spiritual director,” and “supplementary direction from Tibetan Buddhist sources.”  It is also a detailed history of the New Age from pre-World War II.  Greenaway concludes that New Age religion is socially divisive, blocks understanding by those of differing spiritual paths, and undermines genuine spiritual renewal.”

There is a lengthy 12-page Preface that could have been Chapter 1.  There are 22 chapters of varying lengths from Chapter 8 at three pages and Chapter 15 at 70 pages. The bibliography uses an unusual 4-column format, and there is a detailed 13-page two-column index.  Greenaway considers the Findhorn Foundation “a highly distorted and commercialized version of the Ancient Wisdom” (p. 19).  He describes a major weakness in many cults and sects, absolute certainty they have spiritual truth though it is based on very little or highly speculative data. “Human potential practitioners make their own methods sound more unique than they actually are” (67).  Most are actually spin-offs of historical movements such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam but hybrid versions with very little originality or authentic historical concepts. Greenaway comments that the Findhorn Foundation was “never any good at historical scholarship” (21) but followed the dictum “we create our own reality,” a “megalomaniac doctrine” of “New Age psychospirituality, excited hyper-theosophy” and a “wacky package” of “California occultism” (21-25).

Chapter 1 traces Findhorn’s roots to Peter Caddy; this is useful information, but six pages are devoted to commenting on a 70-pound cabbage claimed to have grown “by spirit force.” There are misleading examples or errors when the book wanders off its focus on New Age movements.  Empedocles is linked to acupuncture, more Chinese than Greek, and Pythagoras to prana, shakti, and chi mixing Hindu and Chinese origins (13).  Greek culture is said to have centered in Alexandria, Egypt not Athens, Greece (12). Chapter 2 is a historical overview of the New Age movement in four phases, from Blavatsky’s theosophy to humanistic psychology then to the human potential movement in the 1960s and prosperity consciousness since the 1980s.  Chapter 3 updates the Findhorn Foundation from the 3-year visit by David Spangler of California after Peter Caddy dropped out in 1979.  Spangler introduced channeling and group consciousness.  Greenaway feels Spangler’s work resulted in disenchantment for many members who left the program.

In Chapter 4 history is again reported but this time in waves.  The first wave began 1914-1919 with Aleister Crowley and peaked in the 1950s.  The second wave was in the 1960s energized by the “third force” of humanistic psychology.  The third wave began with Esalen’s Big Sur program and continued in the 1980s prosperity consciousness.  This material belongs in Chapter 2.  There is more history in Chapter 5 but with some subjective bias.  Maslow and Rogers are referred to as “the seminal influences” of the human potential movement. Timothy Leary and others like him would have been better examples.  He credits Rogers with developing group therapy (68), but he was but one of many who used group methods.  He charges “Rogerian attitudes hinder maturation and development ‘growth’ workshops are supposed to be about” (68),but Rogers’ major emphasis was on self-awareness and personal growth.  Rogers takes another hit for espousing empathy and unconditional positive regard “teetering on the edge of the manic” (72).  Does this mean the Good Samaritan was just manic?  “We create our own reality” is misattributed to Maslow.  It is a basic tenet of existentialism that preceded Maslow.

Humanistic psychology and the human potential movement are criticized for “a curious lack of foundation, a relative absence of historical sense and historically guided coordination despite much pre-occupation with groundedness” (71). Not true.  They were “the third force” against the first two, psychoanalysis and behaviorism, which denied or minimized free will and the potential to overcome instinctive drives and conditioning.  Modern historical roots are Rousseau’s “noble savage” against Locke’s mind as a blank slate and the Darwinian idea that we are monkeys' uncles.  Ancient roots can be seen in Socrates’ admonition “know thyself.”  It is charged they are anti-intellectual but “the anti-intellectualism of these people, nearly always intellectual themselves though prone to deny it, is by no means confined to the New Age,and paradoxically has intellectual roots” (72). Translation, please?

Chapter 15 is 69 pages and the book’s longest.  Eight pages describe the relationship of Freemasons to Findhorn Foundation and how its “structure and modus operandi imitates Masonry” (178). The author states that he is not a Mason and the only substantiating data offered is that some of Findhorn leaders were or are Masons. The chapter wanders through “mystery traditions” such as the “aeons” of Osiris and Horus, Ordo Templi Orientis, star Sirius, the Order of Melchizedek, and the Great White Lodge. Caddy, Crowley, Blavatsky, and Bailey are revisited adding little substance, though Alice Bailey’s husband (Ahah!) was “a respected Freemason” (195).  More than half the chapter details Blavatsky’s theosophy, which “has been a central influence in Foundation spirituality” (217) and “what C. G. Jung calls ‘the shadow,’ i.e.,archetypal material pushing up from the unconscious” (218).  The New Age is seen as “a new paradigm” for “an emerging global religion” and “new root race” (189), a worldwide movement using “paranormal techniques preserved from ancient times, including hypnosis, laws of forms, ritual, and behavior control” (190). Its aim is “to restore the inner or esoteric dynamic” that Christianity has “largely lost” (202).

Chapter 16 explores “the United Nations connection” in the Lucis Trust, originally The Lucifer Trust, but omits the etymology that Lucifer first meant light and in Britain, a match.  Lucis “appears to have a long term advisory connection with the U.N.” (238) and “a sympathetic parallelism” with the Findhorn Foundation “and its leading affiliates and writers” (239).  Findhorn “achieved three U.N. affiliations.” This may be evidence of a “ramp, something between a paradigm and a conspiracy … a kind of group consciousness that is charged and selfish in nature” (240). This ramp is “a mingling of Alice Bailey’s theosophy with eccentric Freemasonry and an extreme development of Star Sirius lore” (247)."  The “U.N. bureaucrats do not appear to know what is going on in the engine room” (242).  “We are looking at an international network which has already acquired enormous power without revealing much of what it is about …” (248).

Chapter 17 focuses on “language games” such as the “classic mind-trap” of Findhorn’s “we create our own reality’” and “democratic sounding terms such as ‘eco, group, community, village’” (250). There is a change in direction that describes various Findhorn operations. Chapter 18 details ways Findhorn creates its own reality but its “eco-village is but the ‘planetary village’ of ‘Limitless Love and Truth’ under a toned down title and expensive workshop spirituality … derived from New Age California and its distorted Theosophy” (263). The work of Singer, Lifton, Clark, and Langone on mind control are described and compared to Findhorn practices. Chapters 19, 20, and 21 describe various foundation activities over time.

Chapter 22 summarizes the book and concludes “Findhorn Foundation is not the exploration of Eastern religions or the Western mystery tradition” but “a type of commercial spirituality” (356).  It is “genuine up to a point when seeking public recognition or applying for public money.”  It is “trying to re-invent itself as an international eco-center,” though it remains “a hybridization” of New Age elements (356). The prefix “eco” is “a gift to word-spinners,” a “chameleon word” for Findhorn “a magical compression of its totalist mission” (356). Without data he again charges, “Freemasonry allied to the New Age is a volatile and flaky departure from historical Masonry” and “Christian churches have been almost mown down by the New Age phenomenon" (357).  He describes New Age religion as a “distorting prism” to “first dive into our Self” to find “pristine innocence ignoring Man’s Fall” then to realize “we are God.” In contrast, Christianity “stands ready with natural powers at rest before a higher Power which lifts us up” but critical of it because its “narrow doctrinal rationalism and legalism drives people out of existing churches by the million” (359). He offers “two ways back to sanity,” recognizing “a significant proportion” of New Age religions are “exploitive,” and “churches need to recover their history” including the “healing traditions” and “energy flow” of earlier Christian and Eastern ideas (358).  He recommends “a Western Christian ashram” such as Bede Griffith’s in India and “meditative prayer” to “discourage crazes” (360).  He considers the New Age not new at all but can be traced back to Virgil and 12th century papal approval of meditative prayer “nurturing the space before words” (361).  He sees traditional religion as too restrictive of individual spiritual growth and New Age versions as too unrestricted and shallow.

Despite some rambling, repetition, needless tangents, and a focus on relatively trivial facts this book contains much wisdom and insight.  It would have benefited greatly from better organization and editing. Reading it is work but it is worth reading, a labor of love for the rich material to be mined.  The author’s search for truth is clear, his observations are objective despite some factual errors, and his judgment sound, making it a useful model for others and a detailed account of Findhorn’s history and program.

Feb 16, 2003

That loathing feeling

If you feel bad about yourself all the time, it could be that you suffer from shame-proneness. Jane Feinmann explains how over-critical parenting can lead to a lifetime of depression

Jane Feinmann
The Guardian
February 16, 2003

If you're looking after a small child today, the chances are that you'll stop it in its tracks by delivering a sharp rebuke or look of displeasure. As a parent, you know instinctively the value of this simple but effective technique. But according to new research, you should think twice before underlining any reproach with a muttered, 'You should be ashamed of yourself.'

Shame, as we all know, is an unpleasant emotion, literally paralysing the body and provoking a desire to sink into the ground. From childhood on, we're super-sensitive to any threat to our basic need for approval, which is why instilling a sense of shame is such an effective socialising agent.

But scientists have started to realise that there is a far more sinister aspect to this everyday emotion; something that, because of its uniquely destructive nature, remained hidden to mental-health practitioners, from Freud onwards, for most of the 20th century.

Toxic shame is the name psychologists have given to a syndrome that they believe underpins large swathes of mental-health problems, from depression and anorexia to violence and bullying. 'There's a big difference,' says Paul Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at the University of Derby, 'between what psychologists call external shame, which is an unpleasant but just about tolerable feeling that other people look down on you and make bad judgements about you, and internal shame, which is toxic and which is about feeling undesirable and unlovable.

'It's the latter, of course, the deep hatred of yourself, that you don't want to be the person you are, that causes the real mental-health problems. As yet there's been no study of its prevalence but there is little doubt that it affects very large numbers of people, responsible for deep unhappiness in the general population as well as contributing to a substantial proportion of clinical mental illness,' he says.

At its most extreme, toxic shame develops as a result of sexual or physical abuse of young children, which, because it occurs at a time when the brain is being physically sculpted by experience, may irreversibly alter neural development, researchers from the Department of Biopsychiatry at Harvard Medical School reported last year.

More commonly, childhood experience of being repeatedly or traumatically shamed, where care is 'harsh and austere, when parental responses are stern and critical more often than affectionate and loving', leads to the development of 'shame-proneness' - a vulnerability to experiencing shame, to interpreting events as proof of your personal unattractiveness. 'Life provides constant opportunities to feel shame because you are poor or you aren't wearing the right trainers,' says Gilbert. 'How we cope depends on how well our brains are equipped to deal with them.'

Since the mid-90s, researchers have been building up a picture of how shame-prone people behave. 'They're people for whom life is a battle, who feel they have to earn their love and defend their place in the world,' says Gilbert. 'There's evidence that a high proportion of people who are vulnerable to depression suffer from internal shame, not least because feeling alone and empty is part of the syndrome.

Body Shame (Routledge) co-edited by Gilbert, also provides evidence that early 'toxic' shaming affects the way people feel they look, leading to eating disorders and body- dysmorphic disorder. 'The debate about the effect on women of constantly seeing and reading about super-slim models fails to take account of the impact on those who are shame-prone,' he says. 'For them, these images put a harsh spotlight on what's wrong with their bodies, that supermodels are winners and they are losers.'

But the most recent findings on the quality of shame are perhaps the greatest cause for concern. For researchers now believe that what differentiates shame from other unpleasant emotions is that the experience of shame is itself deeply shaming. People can feel guilty without it becoming internalised, largely because this emotion is focused on other people. 'Toxic shame is entirely about how you see yourself,' Gilbert claims. 'People spend a good deal of their lives trying to conceal it, and talking about it is instinctively avoided because it reactivates the intensity of the emotion. Sexual abuse was largely ignored in psychotherapy until the early 90s, because victims never willingly revealed their experiences.'

A series of lectures on shame for therapists at the end of last year proved to be an eye-opener, says psychoanalyst Phil Mollon. 'What surprised many practitioners was not just the "always hidden" nature of shame but also the possibilities for misunderstandings, failures of communication and inadequacies of empathy. Astonishingly, this aspect of the psychotherapeutic setting is rarely addressed.'

Gilbert says that mental-health services are searching for better ways of treating toxic shame. 'The aim must be to help people acknowledge what they feel ashamed of and learn how to give it up. We're finding people respond well to encouragement to meditate or fantasise about what it feels like to be loved unconditionally, to be seen as worthy and desirable,' he says. The next step, he says, is to help them learn compassion for themselves as well as others, thereby finding ways to tolerate normal feelings of shame.

Once people allow their emotional lives to come out of hiding, they'll need support to find better ways of relating to others or to deal with issues around the event that has caused the shame. 'It's not easy because aroused shame in these people is a fast-track, involuntary process that is difficult to control.'

For the purposes of the nursery, however, it is worth bearing in mind that the healthy emotion relates to a specific event of behaving badly. Telling a child to be ashamed of him/herself is asking for truly toxic trouble.

Jan 9, 2003

No business like Kabbalah business

Jeanette Walls
January 9, 2003

Kabbalah is all the rage among celebs these days, but some critics are raising serious questions about the new vogue for the ancient branch of Jewish mysticism. Madonna, Liz Taylor, Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Love, Sandra Bernhard and Barbra Streisand are among the stars who have been linked to Kabbalah, but some experts are saying that some Kabbalah centers are interested in more than people's spirituality.

"It is not a traditional expression of either Judaism or the historic Kabbalah," says cult critic Rick Ross. "The Kabbalah Center is a highly organized, highly profitable group which I consider to be the Berg family business." Phillip Berg, a former insurance salesman, heads up the Kabbalah Center in the United States, which in addition to giving pricey courses, sells books, tapes, scents and expensive skincare products both at its centers and at

The group also sells bottled Kabbalah water - which Madonna swears by. The water, according to the group's site, is "dynamic 'living' water" with "a highly organized structure, crystalline formations and a fractal design." Kabbalah water, the Center's Yehuda Berg insists, is a tradition dating back centuries. "We charge the water with positive energy," he tells the Scoop. "So that it has healing powers," he says.

But Rabbi Immanuel Shochet, an ultra-Orthodox expert on Kabbalah who has clashed with the Kabbalah center in the past, has told the Jerusalem Post, "There's no such thing as Kabbalah water."

A spokeswoman from the Center dismisses Ross' charges, pointing out that the group is a not-for-profit organization. "We have 50 centers and our objective is to reach as many people as possible," she says, "So being organized is a good thing."