Dec 29, 2011

Estate fight continues between Yogi Bhajan's widow, female assistants

Tom Sharpe
New Mexican
December 29, 2011

More than seven years after his death, Yogi Bhajan's widow and his younger female assistants disagree over how to divide his multimillion-dollar estate — which now includes the trademark rights to Yogi Tea.

Less than a year before his death in 2004, Yogi Bhajan, founder of a religious community near Española, signed a codicil to his 1987 will that called for a portion of his estate to go to a living trust to support 15 of his assistants.

His widow, Inderjit Kaur Puri, also known as Bibiji, did not immediately move to open a probate on his estate or to challenge the codicil assigning at least $4 million to the trust.

But in October 2007, the three trustees of the living trust sued Puri, claiming she was delaying distribution of funds to the trust by claiming she knew nothing about it.

In a counterclaim, Puri asked that the trustees be removed because, as three of the 15 assistants benefiting from the trust, they are in breach of their fiduciary duties.

Noting that Yogi Bhajan was suffering from physical and mental ailments at the time the codicil was signed, the counterclaim says the "assistants to Yogi Bhajan signed his name to the documents."

In April 2009, state District Judge James Hall dismissed the trustees' complaint but left the counterclaim intact. Hall retired at the end of 2009, and the case was transferred to District Judge Sarah Singleton, who waited until Nov. 7 to hold her first meeting on the case. She set a trial date for March 19.

Neither the trustees' lawyer, J. Katherine Girard, nor the trustees themselves, Sopurkh Kaur Khalsa, Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa and Ek Ong Kar Kaur Khalsa, have been available for comment.

Puri's attorney, Surjit Soni of Pasadena, Calif., agreed that the former assistants are due income from the trust. But he said that because Yogi Bhajan had handled his family's financial affairs, "like most guys tend to do," Puri was unaware of his donations to the living trust.

Soni, who is also Puri's nephew, said he is asking the judge to apply community-property rules to the case, so that the "marital estate" is divided in half and payments to the 15 assistants come out of Yogi Bhajan's portion, not Puri's.

Not until 2009, five years after Yogi Bhajan's death, did Puri move to open Yogi Bhajan's will to probate proceedings in state District Court in Santa Fe. Judge Barbara Vigil assigned Christopher Cullen, a Santa Fe lawyer, as the personal representative of the estate, but "gave him very specific but very limited instructions about what he could investigate and how he could investigate," Soni said.

As a result, Cullen was unable to identify all of the assets of the estate, and Vigil ordered the probate closed, "saying no other assets have been discovered," Soni said. "We disagree with that because we don't think the investigation was complete." He said he is appealing that closure.

This year, the estate became significantly more valuable because of a federal trademark case over Yogi Tea — a blend of black tea, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and peppercorns that Yogi Bhajan used to serve at his kundalini yoga classes and went on to sell at his restaurants and health-food stores.

In 2004, a Eugene, Ore., company called Golden Temple of Oregon began marketing Yogi Tea, using Yogi Bhajan's name and likeness, under an agreement with him. This continued for four years after his death, with royalties split between Puri, the assistants' trust and a religious trust. In 2008, Golden Temple quit paying royalties and using Yogi Bhajan's name and likeness, but continued to use the name Yogi Tea to begin selling another tea called just Yogi.

Puri sued, and this fall an arbiter ordered Golden Temple to cease using the trademark by Jan. 1 and pay $822,302 to Yogi Bhajan's estate, based on sales in recent years. With Yogi Tea sales of $27 million in 2009 in the United States and Europe, the Eugene Register-Guard estimated the heirs might be owed another $485,905 by the end of 2012 — plus what they might gain from selling the trademark to others.

A separate but related case was brought in Oregon state court by the ministers of the religious trust, Unto Infinity, against Golden Temple. This month, a Portland, Ore., judge ruled that Golden Temple's CEO, Kartar Singh Khalsa, unjustly enriched himself and other company executives at the expense of Unto Infinity. Monetary damages have yet to be determined, but Unto Infinity is seeking $50 million. Several other trademarks used by Golden Temple, in addition to Yogi Tea, remain in contention.

Soni, Puri's attorney, said these rulings prove that not all the assets of the estate were identified — partly because the trustees for the assistants did not thoroughly investigate. "We demonstrated there are trademarks that the trustees did not appreciate, recognize, pursue, claim — that we, at great personal expense, have been able to secure," he said.

The litigation over Yogi Tea has been covered closely by the Sikh News Network ( A November article there pointed out that the assistants are "Caucasians" who converted to Sikhism and assumed their Sikh surnames, posting photographs of the former assistants who were not wearing the turbans or dress worn by traditional Sikhs.

"Peraim Kaur, one of his personal staff members, in her testimony for another lawsuit in Oregon, described how she worked long hours for little pay," says the article. "She told the court she had no vacations and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also is common knowledge that his personal staff was discouraged from having outside relationships."

The Sikh News Network's correspondent on those stories, Kamalia Kaur, described herself as a "survivor of the YB [Yogi Bhajan] cult." Kaur, now 58 and living in Bellingham, Wash., said she joined Yogi Bhajan's Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization, or 3HO, 40 years ago after taking a kundalini yoga class with her husband at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Years later, while living in the Bay Area of California, she began questioning the "organization's dysfunctional side," she wrote in an email. "Soon I was shunned — and former students started calling me and telling me their horrible stories. Then I got a threatening phone call."

Kaur eventually divorced her husband, who remained with Yogi Bhajan's organization. She gave up custody of her three children, turned over her money to her ex-husband, "and hit the streets. But I couldn't stop studying the story of my life," she wrote. "When you lose the years 18-37, your prime, to ... serving a sociopath, you might as well dedicate a few years to warning and educating others about authoritarian groups."

She now moderates an online forum called "The Wacko World of Yogi Bhajan" on which both Kaur and others have referred repeatedly to Yogi Bhajan's assistants as his harem. But that may be the least of the charges on the website, where Yogi Bhajan is accused of a variety of illegal activities, including fraudulent marketing schemes, drug dealing and corruption.

Recently, Kaur has pointed out that one of Yogi Bhajan's former assistants was an aide to former Gov. Bill Richardson. "Siri Trang Kaur is one of the younger women listed among the fifteen 'personal assistants' in Bhajan's trust," she wrote. "She's cut in for six percent of the distribution in the trust that's part of Bibiji's continuing legal dispute with the harem."

Siri Trang Kaur, who sometimes uses the last name Khalsa, is listed as an associate of Albuquerque political and public relations specialist Doug Turner in a firm called Policy and Positions. The company's website says she was the director of marketing for the firm that first brought Yogi Tea and other Golden Temple products to the market, worked as a foreign policy adviser in Richardson's 2008 presidential campaign, and that she is now "on assignment with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan." She did not return an email seeking comment on this story.

Soni dismissed Kamalia Kaur's allegations: "We have resisted getting involved in that kind of silly debate. If she's got an ax to grind, she's got an ax to grind. If her experience is less than optimal, that's fine. ...

"What exactly is a cult? Every born-again community, whether it's Baptist, Anglican, Buddhist, every one of them is a cult. Cult, unfortunately, has a negative suggestion and implication."

Kaur is hardly the only former Yogi Bhajan disciple to break with 3HO. Guru Sant Singh Khalsa, who in 1982 unsuccessfully challenged the U.S. Department of Defense's rule banning servicemembers from wearing traditional Sikh garb, said he became disillusioned after visiting India and realizing that real Sikh culture was different than Yogi Bhajan had led him to believe.

Now living in Yuba City, Calif., Gura Sant said Yogi Bhajan's devotion to tantric yoga, astrology and other "new age" practices would be forbidden by traditional Sikhs, who also would abhor the "cult of personality" that sprung up around him. He recalled that Yogi Bhajan collected art that traditional Sikhs would consider pornographic and regularly slept in his room with one of his "secretaries" while his wife slept in another room.

As early as 1977, Time magazine took notice of rumors about Yogi Bhajan's assistants. "Bhajan has repeatedly been accused of being a womanizer," it said in a story about 3HO. "Colleen Hoskins, who worked seven months at his New Mexico residence, reports that men are scarcely seen there. He is served, she says, by a coterie of as many as 14 women, some of whom attend his baths, give him group massages, and take turns spending the night in his room while his wife sleeps elsewhere."

Dec 16, 2011

Alas poor Craniosacral. A SCAM of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

Mark Crislip
Science Based Medicine
December 16, 2011
It is hard to Sokalize alternative medicine. The closest has been buttock reflexology/acupuncture, but that is a tame example.  Given the propensity for projections of the human body to appear on the iris, hand, foot, tongue, and ear, postulating a similar pattern on the buttocks are simple variations on a common SCAM (Supplements, Complementary and Alternative Medicine) theme. The buttocks?  Not really different from any of the other focal acupunctures.  Most of SCAM does not concern itself with application of reality  and physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, etc can all be expected to be ignored with virtually all SCAM modalities.

Every time I think the heights (or depths) of absurdity has been reached, I discover a Braco the Starer or Himalayan Salt Inhalers. This blog is not affiliated with the British Medical Journal in any way, and although this is being published near Christmas, I want no one think that what follows is a hoax.  I am not, I repeat not,  making up what follows. It is not fiction. Well, it is fiction, but not written by me and believed and practiced by some who really should know better.

Craniosacral Therapy

Like many SCAM modalities, from Reiki to Chiropractic,  Craniosacral Therapy (CST) was invented? discovered? fabricated? pulled out of the a..,  well, er, Drs Novella and Gorski want this to be a professional blog *, so lets say, a three letter word that starts with ‘a’. Air. It was pulled out of the air by William Garner Sutherland.

While a student at the American School of Osteopathy in 1899, Dr. Sutherland pondered the fine details of a separated or “disarticulated” skull. He wondered about the function of this complex architecture. Dr. Still taught that every structure exists because it performs a particular function. While looking at a temporal bone, a flash of inspiration struck Dr. Sutherland: “Beveled like the gills of a fish, indicating respiratory motion for an articular mechanism.

I guess  drug use was more popular than I thought back in the day. Maybe I am not able to get the right photograph of gills to see the connection. You? Do you see the connection, or do you lack the “unique genius” of  Dr. Sutherland ? Because the temporal bones are beveled like fish gills (!), the bones of the head are supposed to move relative to each other (!) with respiration (!).  That is the insight that lead to CST. I wonder if the abstract announcing his discovery would have been accepted at the  International Conference on Integrative Medicine.  It makes gluteal reflexology appear reasonable in comparison.

Dr. Sutherlands’ insight did not stop there.  He synthesized his observations into “The Primary Respiratory Mechanism”:

This Primary Respiratory Mechanism has five basic components:

1) The inherent rhythmic motion of the brain and spinal cord.
2) The fluctuation of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that bathes and nourishes the brain and spina l cord.
3) The shifting tensions of the membranous envelope (dura mater) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This entire membranous structure acts as a unit and is called a “Reciprocal Tension Membrane.”
4) The inherent rhythmic motion of the cranial bones.
5) The involuntary motion of the sacrum (tailbone) between the ilia (hip bones).

I don’t know that means.  I read the words, I think about what I understand about anatomy and physiology, I reread the above and I got nothing. A word salad, it appears to be all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Repeat.  It is not meant to be fiction.

To make it more mysterious, or fanciful, the CSF has tides:

“1) the cranial rhythmic impulse; a more superficial rhythm expressed at an average rate of 8-12 cycles per minute,
2) the mid-tide; a tidal rhythm that carries ordering forces into the body expressed at a slower rate of approximately 2.5 cycles per minute and
3) the long tide; a deep and slow rhythmic impulse expressed about once every 100 seconds. The long tide is considered to be the first stirring of life and motion as the Breath of Life emerges from a deeper ground of stillness at the center of our being.”

I know topic was the death of MacBeth’s wife but Act 5, Scene 5, lines 26-28 keeps running in my head. It is an explanation of physiology that would be right at home on Dr. Oz’s site, but has no relationship to any known anatomy or physiology. Other explanations of the tides make no sense to me, containing nothing I can recognize as content amongst what appears to be a word salad.  Although I suspect CST would appeal to Bloodline aliens.

I do not think there is a SCAM where the practitioners deny the evidence in their hands.  There are videos of CST therapists saying that, unlike what is taught in medical school, the bones of the skull are not fused and articulate.  They say this with Yorick in their hands, a skull evidently never contemplated.  If you have ever held a skull in your hands, or been in a neurosurgical case,  it is evident that the cranium is notable for the rock solid joinings of bones.  The metaphor is thick skulled, is it not?  It is not fish-gilled skulled.

Acupuncturists may blather about meridians and homeopathists drivel on about the memory of water, but at least they do not hold the dis-confirming evidence in their hands, denying its existence.  I have seen patients deny an obvious tumor or the symptoms of advanced AIDS.  Look at that skull in your hands.  The bones do not move. To have a whole field of SCAM based on the denial of palpable reality is most curious.  As Marx said, sort of,  “Who are you going to believe, Sutherland or your lying eyes?”

What does a practitioner do with the insight that the CSF flows incorrectly and the cranial bones are out of wack? CST

“involves the practitioner “listening through the hands” to the body’s subtle rhythms and any patterns of inertia or congestion. Through the development of subtle palpatory skills the practitioner can read the story of the body, identify places where issues are held and then follow the natural priorities for healing as directed by the patient’s own physiology.”

As I gather from the gibberish of the YouTubes and CST sites, they push the bones of your skull back into place, alter and optimize the flow of CSF and make you better. I think.  Because nothing they say really makes any anatomic or physiologic sense:

The trained practitioner palpates for the sensation of resistance on the skin surface overlying the spine and cranium. Resistance is thought to be indicative of underlying CSF stasis, and following treatment, the absence of drag may indicate that the CSF stasis has been reduced.”

as one of a tedious series of examples.  They can feel the tides and CSF rhythms and alter them. They can change the tides, at least the CSF tides.  I am old school when it comes to altering tides: And te tide and te time þat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet.  But that is obvious, which is why it is an aphorism.

The cranial rhythmic impulse is an oscillation recognized by many bodywork practitioners, but the functional origin of this impulse remains uncertain. We propose that the cranial rhythmic impulse is the palpable perception of entrainment, a harmonic frequency that incorporates the rhythms of multiple biological oscillators. It is derived primarily from signals between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Entrainment also arises between organisms. The harmonizing of coupled oscillators into a single, dominant frequency is called frequency-selective entrainment. We propose that this phenomenon is the modus operandi of practitioners who use the cranial rhythmic impulse in craniosacral treatment.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously indeed.   Take an anatomy and physiology that does not exist, then postualte a mechanism of action.  At least in that respect there is not a difference between CST and acupuncture or homeopathy. Except quantum. Where is the quantum. We need quantum.

Practical Uses of Quantum Physics Concepts in CranioSacral Therapy

Adding a few new intentions to your hands-on work is quite simple. All you need to do is incorporate a few principles of quantum physics.
First, we direct our energy into hard, stiff or restricted areas of the client’s body.

Of course, I giggle like the immature person I am. I know. What an infant.  But I giggled a lot writing this entry; truly a field of infinite jest.  Of course, the only real parallel between CST and quantum of any kind are N-Rays, sharing identical reality.

Similar to other SCAMs, there is zero consistency in the ability of CST practitioners to feel the same tides in the same patients.

Two registered osteopaths, both with postgraduate training in diagnosis and treatment, using cranial techniques, palpated 11 normal healthy subjects.
Examiners simultaneously palpated for the CRI at the head and the sacrum of each subject. Examiners indicated the “full flexion” phase of the CRI by activating silent foot switches that were interfaced with a computer. Subject arousal was monitored using heart rate. Examiners were blind to each other’s results and could not communicate during data collection.
Reliability was estimated from calculation of intraclass correlation coefficients (2,1). Intrarater reliability for examiners at either the head or the sacrum was fair to good, significant intraclass correlation coefficients ranging from +0.52 to +0.73. Interexaminer reliability for simultaneous palpation at the head and the sacrum was poor to nonexistent, ICCs ranging from -0.09 to +0.31. There were significant differences between rates of CRI palpated simultaneously at the head and the sacrum.
The results fail to support the construct validity of the “core-link” hypothesis as it is traditionally held by proponents of craniosacral therapy and osteopathy in the cranial field.

Reproductively and the ability to consistently feel the tides has been refuted in more than one trial. King Canute they aren’t.

In reality what do CST practitioners do?  They lightly massage your head.  To treat everything from Downs to headache to PMS.  It is an all purpose diagnostic and therapeutic intervention, like all SCAMs.

There are no shortage of videos demonstrating the techniques of CST, one practitioner states she pushes the bones back into alignment with a 5 gram pressure, the weight of a nickel.  I do not think a nickles worth of pressure would move a skull bone a quantum amount,  not even if dropped off the Empire State Building.

Once I had a colleague (really, a colleague. Not me) who commented he liked to have hair cuts because the scalp massage with the wash and condition was very relaxing, and I will admit that lying on ones back while you head is massaged looks very pleasant, especially if it occurred in the middle of a busy work day and was paid for by Blue Cross.  If you had a process that was due, in part, from stress, I can see where a CST session would be most beneficial. I always return to the example of the relaxing effect of apes mutual grooming, although “in deference to one million years of human evolution, the therapist won’t try to pick fleas off his patient.” Or so one hopes.

I wrote the last paragraph before I did a Pubmed search on the topic.  Lets see if CST helps headaches independent of the incomprehensible blather that underpins the field.  I bet it will be helpful  for anything with a subjective endpoint and I bet that for hard endpoints, CST will do nothing.

There are 56 hits on the Pubmeds using Craniosacral therapy, and there are no even remotely well done studies using CST.  The most interesting predates the NEJM asthma article discussed at length at SBM.

In it:

Subjects were randomly assignment to one of five groups: acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture and craniosacral, attention control, and waiting list control.

Subjects received 12 sessions of equal length with pretreatment and posttreatment assessment of pulmonary function, asthma quality of life, depression, and anxiety. Medication use was also assessed.

Can you predict the results?  Yep.  Patients were subjectively improved, but their objective asthma was not better.

When treatment was compared with the control group, statistically treatment was significantly better than the control group in improving asthma quality of life, whereas reducing medication use with pulmonary function test results remained the same.

As one would expect from a relaxing head massage. Others are also less than enthusiastic about CST

Despite the structural integrity of the skull, CRT proponents insist “Eppur si muove“. And there is one time where the bones of the skull are moveable: after head trauma.  Then, perhaps, pushing on the skull, even 5 grams worth, may not he such a good idea.  I have seen enough trauma over the years to be cautious around breaks in human structural integrity.  Not so much with CST:

Although craniosacral manipulation has been found empirically useful in patients with traumatic brain injury, three cases of iatrogenesis occurred. The incidence rate is low (5%), but the practitioner must be prepared to deal with the possibility of adverse reactions.

Why do I think of the word “squelch” when I read the abstract; too much Joe Aberrcombie of late?  It turns out that the adverse reactions from CST are every bit as fanciful as beneficial effects:

These three cases represent a diversity of adverse reactions following craniosacral manipulation. The first patient had exacerbation of vertiginous symptoms during diagnostic evaluation alone. After sphenobasilar decompression, visceral symptoms involving cardiac, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems arose. This feature suggests either brain stem or vagal effects as a possible source of the symptom complex. The second patient had exacerbation of headache complaint, but, more important, a disturbing psychologic/psychiatric problem, necessitating psychiatric institutional care. The severe total body spastic reaction seen in the third patient continues to defy explanation. The possibility of a brain stem seizure triggered by stimulation of the upper cervical spine and cranial base or posttraumatic cervical dystonian remains plausible. Extensive evaluation failed to demonstrate a specific cause.

It is a tough economy, and jobs are scarce.  For 5 to 12 thousand dollars and 700 hours (150 if you are already a licensed massage therapist) you can be a CST provider.  That’s 88 days of education, about a semesters worth.  And then maybe you can practice at a University Medical Center. Like Ohio. Or Duke. And of course, Dr Oz  has offered CST, so you know it must be nonsense.

There are probably other institutions that offer the raging nonsense that is CRT, but I grow weary of the searching. But it should not be part of any University, since

…we believe that craniosacral therapy bears approximately the same relationship to real medicine that astrology bears to astronomy. That is, this approach to “health care” is medical fiction, and it is not appropriate to teach fiction as part of medical or allied health curricula.

I wonder if Duke or Ohio are going to offer astrological readings or have John Edwards as a Visiting Lecturer.  It would only be a lateral step, not a step backwards.  Seriously.  If your local Hospital or University offers CST, go elsewhere.  They have a demonstrated commitment to the irreparably goofy.

To sum up: CST now beats Braco the starer.  I don’t think The Onion could do better.


*I remain uncertain as to why the editors let these posts through.

Dec 4, 2011

The money I poured into a religious sect

Heather Siegel
December 4, 2011

My sister said Kabbalah helped her cope with our mother's death. Would it work for me?

Twelve years ago, in staccato breaths, my sister came home to our bachelorette apartment and told me she'd had a breakthrough at a Kabbalah establishment in Manhattan over the loss of our mother. She'd been taking courses for a few months and, in a private meeting with the rabbi, at his suggestion, Jas simultaneously screamed and tapped her heart chakra when she heard a crack and felt a gush of pain. In that instant all her buried emotions erupted forth  things she'd never allowed herself to feel. Then she felt forgiveness, acceptance and finally peace.

It all sounded so hokey, and yet I couldn't help feeling envious. I wanted to experience that gush of emotions. I signed up for the course, along with my brother, Greg and his soon to be wife, Lauren. Tuesday nights, we carpooled into Manhattan together, and scribbled furiously in our notebooks as Rabbi Jehudi, with his thick beard and tailored suit, explained to us  and the 60 other emotionally stunted people who'd paid a few hundred dollars for the class  that we couldn't play the game of life well until we'd learned the rules.

Rabbi Jehudi instructed us to 'scan' the 72 Names of God by running our finger from right to left over a photocopied chart of Hebrew letters. These letters, we were told, included all the 'sequences of DNA consciousness' that provide healing, success, protection and fulfillment in every aspect of our lives.

It took yogic concentration to keep a straight face, but I somehow managed, even with Greg's elbow jabbing at my side. With the rest of the class I ran my finger over the laminated page from right to left, blocking from my mind that I did not read Hebrew, and focusing on the idea that the physical connection was enough. Whether it was because Id skipped dinner, or because I was less cynical than I'd thought, I cant say, but in that instant what I can only describe as a zap of electricity coursed through me, and I was all but sold.

After a few months of taking courses, I started going to Shabbat at the rabbis house in Queens. The room was split in half with folding partitions. Thirty women sat on one side, 40 men on the other. The men wore all white. The women wore wigs and skirts. I was told that the separation wasnt anti-feminist; if anything, women were thought to be on a higher spiritual plane, and men were the lowly beings who sorely needed to hear the prayers  without the distraction of looking at women.

My 28th birthday I spent dipping myself into a Mikveh tub at the Manhattan complex. The room was a sort of spa, with lockers, showers and a small round pool. Jas stood at the edge with me, and scanned the prayer that was taped to the wall. We dropped our towels and immersed ourselves in the magical water, dunking our heads 20-something times, and letting the water absorb all of our negative energy. Afterward, I felt lighter, and lightheaded. I also couldnt stop laughing. What the hell were we doing?

And yet, except for the occasional head-rearing of self-awareness, I had grown as superstitious as my fellow practitioners. The basic premises of the classes  that I needed to take responsibility for my life, and that everything is cause and effect  weighed heavily on me. What had I done to warrant locking my keys in my car during a snowstorm? What did it mean that Id cut my finger while chopping onions? Was this rash on my arm really due to gossiping (apparently all skin conditions were)? What could I do to rid my life of chaos?

I wanted to balance my tikkun, or souls correction that Id inherited from my parents and from my past lives.

For $2,000, I booked a room and meal package at the Marriot Marquis for Rosh Hashanah Event 2000. Thousands of people from all over the world attended, including, of course, Madonna (as well as Marla Maples, and Monica Lewinsky). As the Shofar mooed, I leaned my head back and saw a speck of blue light. It grew to the size of a nickel and began to pulse like a very large heart. Later, the Hevrahs, full-time Kabbalah volunteers, congratulated me. Blue was healing light, and I must be on a high spiritual plane to see such light.

But was I actually feeling better? To be honest, I wasnt sure. To know if Kabbalah was working, the rabbi had told us, just take stock of your life. Have you changed your movie? My movie was pretty much the same since Id started Kabbalah. I was still far too susceptible to outside influences, although I fancied myself wiser. And that unpredictable sadness still crept in from time to time, and left me stunned. At the beach, watching a mother and daughter walk along the shore together  seeing the way their hips and calves were shaped the same, the younger and the older versions of the same woman  I lost it.

Driving to the cafe I owned one afternoon, I decided to give it my best shot. I rolled up my windows, screamed and tapped my chest. Nothing happened. Nothing cracked open. Deciding that my technique was lacking, I called the establishment and arranged a private meeting with the rabbi; he wasnt available but his wife, Rebecca, also a teacher there, offered to see me later in the week.

Sitting at her desk, littered with picture frames of her five children, Rebecca played with a strand of her brown wig, and listened to my complaints about my mild depression with a scowl on her face. When I mentioned how I was struggling to come to terms with my mothers death, she asked why I chose to come down to a mother who would die. She also told me I needed to stop worrying so much about myself, and start thinking about other people.

I began tithing. I offered my cafe as an additional place to hold classes. The place was primarily a night spot, and so in the mornings, Rebecca ran a womens group on Tuesdays, and Rabbi Jehudi used the place for an office on the other days. I gave him the key, and the alarm code, and when he told me he really needed a laptop, I gave him my computer. A few weeks later, when he told me that the PC didnt really have the functionality he needed, I gave him $1,100 towards a Mac.

At the establishment, I took more classes: the study of irises, auras, palms and faces. The rabbi showed photocopied faces of strangers. Could we tell which faces were humanitarians, and which were SS officers? The humanitarians had perfect symmetry to their faces. The SS officers had asymmetrical faces, and too much sclarel show  too much white showing in the eyes  a telltale sign of a murderer.

From there, I squinted and stared at unsuspecting people, at the bank  the movies, the diner  and tried to get a glimpse of their auras. (The most effective way to do this was to stare at a person as he stood against a white wall, since auras have many colors.) On dates, I studied lines on mens faces  as well as my own (my forehead lines showed sexual issues)  and tried to discern who would be a spiritual mate, even though Rebecca had told me that women were the spiritual pioneers in the relationship, the vessels to receive the channels.

I volunteered for Meal on Wheels, Big Brother Big Sisters and Fish, a senior citizen driving program. I mailed money orders to people anonymously, planted trees, mailed checks to any organization that asked for a donation  it was, after all an opportunity to give  and never walked through Manhattan without spare change and singles in my coat pockets.

One afternoon, Jas called to apologize for forgetting to leave her half of the mortgage, and told me to write the check myself from her checkbook. It was then that I realized how many, many thousands and thousands of dollars she had been giving. Seeing all those numbers back to back did not sit right with me. I called Greg and told him that I was starting to suspect that the three of us might be brainwashed.

Starting to suspect? He laughed, and mimicked a robot, I Am Not Brainwashed. Must Give More Money Or My Soul Will Melt.

The first of the three of us, he had no choice but to disentangle himself; as a struggling musician back then, he simply couldnt afford to keep up.

I went next. The money issue was certainly a huge part of my reluctance to continue, though I have since learned that not all Kabbalah institutions charge; in fact, there are many ways to study Kabbalah for free. I just so happened to pick a place that put a great deal of emphasis on money. The bigger problem was that I had somehow lost my own voice in the process.

Sept. 11 would shake me loose. On that morning as I was waiting for the Tuesday womens group to start, Rose, one of the group members, walked in and told me to turn on the radio. I did. Then I rushed to Gregs apartment, the nearest place, to turn on the television. Dumbfounded, we sat together watching the news that afternoon, like the rest of the country.

The following week, Rebecca showed up at the cafe, and gave the womens group her take on 9/11. She told us that for some time now, New York City had been a vortex of selfishness, self-absorption and intolerance, and that everyone who died called their death into their lives. I looked around the room, and saw faces that were having a hard time accepting that interpretation. I definitely was. While I still had respect for the core principles of the study, it was time to stop deifying others and trust my own thoughts  however selfish they may be.