On the New Age & Self Help

It’s not just Christians who engage in wishful thinking, in belief in an afterlife and the soul and that the children from Newtown are all in heaven. It’s also the hordes of people who now define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” While Christians, especially evangelical Christians tend to drift right, those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” tend to drift left. While I resonate much more with this choice, it doesn’t mean that their thinking is any more rigorous.

For example, I have several friends who believe in a hodge-podge of guides and spirits and angels. They believe that there are angels all around. To achieve their intervention,one just has to make “direct requests” of them. There is the popular CD The Secret, which proposes the notion that all you have to do to get a particular thing is to want it bad enough. They believe in the “Akashic record” or the “Great White Brotherhood” (which is not as racist as it sounds). There was a book called the “Disappearance of the Universe,” in which author Gary Renard claims to have been in dialog through seventeen “appearances” by two ascended masters over the course of nine years. There were the readings with an astrologer. There were studies in the Enneagram. There was the “Course in Miracles,” and psychic readings, and consultations with the I Ching, and the throwing of Runic dices on New Year’s Eve, and weeklong excursions to the Omega Institute to see João de Deus (“John of God”), a Brazilian Faith Healer who has even caught Oprah Winfrey’s attention

While any of the beliefs that underlie these practices could be true — although that is frankly unlikely — what is absolutely certain is that they can’t all be true. The reincarnated doctors who do the secret work for João de Deus cannot exist in the same world with the Great White Brotherhood and the Akashic Record and they mystical forces which govern the alignment of the stars and a veritable menagerie of angles and guides. This represented wishful thinking. This wasn’t about what was true. This was about what was wished for.

Consider for example, the Universes represented in Game of Thrones on the one hand and that represented in the Lord of the Rings trilogy on the other. While these two places could, I suppose, exist in the same universe, they clearly cannot exist on the same planet. Or consider the universe’s represented in the Star Trek franchise and the Star Wars franchises (now the Skywalker Saga). At the outset it’s clear that these represent separate universes — Star Trek is supposed to represent the future of humanity, whereas Star Wars clearly takes place in a galaxy “far away” — but incorporating both franchises into the same universe would clearly be an awkward fit.1

I had the chance to accompany a former President of the British Society of Dowsers and an apprentice on an assignment to do “earth accupuncture.” The target was a Unitarian church up somewhere in the Northeast and the idea was to clear the space, to rid the church of bad spirits, to relieve some of the conflict in the congregation. What my friend and his apprentice did was to place two metal rods into the ground, keep them there for a period of time, and eventually dribble some fragrant essences over the rods, before removing them again. We were all offered the opportunity to place our hands on the rods, and encouraged to touch them as if they were animals. We were then asked to touch the rod and then touch it again after a period of time. What I found surprising was how much of a tremor or pulse that I felt. I imagine this was mostly a function of my blood pressure and that I was holding my hand down, so that blood was rushing into it. In any case, when I touched the rod a second time, after the “energy had shifted,” it felt exactly the same to me. The “pulse” that I felt was exactly the same and, as I suspected before, most probably caused by my blood pressure. I can imagine that if you touch the rods with the intention of feeling a difference that you will feel a difference.

Did this change anything at the church? I have no idea. There’s a good chance that it changed the belief of the minister, in that with her belief changed that she approached the people in her congregation differently. And if that did happen, then it would obviously be perceived as evidence that the space had, in fact, been cleared. Of course, drawing such a conclusion would most likely be the consequence of confusing correlation with causation. It is highly unlikely that anything was cleared in the process, other than the anxieties of our minister.

A lot of these kind of spiritual beliefs have been lumped together under the classification of “new age” beliefs. Googling the term “new age” quickly makes it clear that there is not a common definition of what sets of beliefs or practices actually count as being included in the new age. Still, there are certain common themes in new belief systems, and there is a certain common history we can deduce.

What is the New Age?

The term “New Age” derives from the Astrological Age of Aquarius, which arrived, depending on your point of view, either in 1844 or at some other time, or hasn’t yet arrived. The term “new age” was first used in 1875 connection with German philosophical movement of theosophy. But most people have it connected with the late 1960s and early 1970s, the time of the hippie movement, when many of the new age practices were really popularized. Despite being a Western spiritual movement, the new age movement draws a great deal from various Eastern spiritual traditions, and also from other more ancient spiritual traditions such as astrology; it has infused these traditions with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, alternative health practices, parapsychology, consciousness research and even quantum physics; it incorporates Gaia philosophies and eco-friendly politics; and the movement is “holistic” in the sense of trying to synthesize all of these disparate elements.

New age thought is also characterized by both the philosophical concepts “vitalism” and “dualism,” although these philosophies tend not to be explicitly articulated; they form more of a background belief. In any case, “vitalism” is the philosophical doctrine that life has a quality independent of physical and chemical laws, such an immaterial soul; it is also the basis for the modern spiritual belief in a “life force” or energy. “Dualism” (in the “philosophy of mind” sense) is the related belief that the mind and the brain are separate, and that the mind has an independent existence.

Despite its eclecticism, there are certain themes that run through New Age culture that are readily identifiable.

  • There is a strong belief in health and healing, especially through alternative medicine.
  • There is a strong belief in a holistic form of divinity, and the notion that all religions are really about the same thing.
  • There is a frequent belief in angels and masters and “ascended” beings, as well as reincarnation.
  • There is an emphasis on mythology, iconography, and the use of ancient symbols.
  • There is a great deal of reverence for ancient (or non-Western) systems of thought.
  • There is a generally positive outlook of humanity and the belief that we are capable of anything we choose to do.

There is no definitive list of new age practices, and searching the topic indicates that there are many different ways to slice this pie. One way to slice it is to break new age practices down into four general categories — those related to (1) the mind, (2) the body, (3) prophecy and (4) the sacred. New Age practices and beliefs include, among others:

Alien Abduction
Alternative Medicine
Extrasensory Perception
Feng Shui
Fire Walking
Goddess movement
Lucid Dreaming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Shadow Work
Tarot Reading
The Course in Miracles
The Enneagram
Veganism and Organic Food

New age practices can also include mainstream religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, so long as they are far eastern and not Abrahamic. Both the Buddhist and Hindu tradition are unusual by Western standards in one particular regard, and that is belief in one of these religions does not necessarily prevent belief in another religion. There are in the United States, for example, many people who are both culturally Jewish but who practice Buddhism.2 Buddhism is, of course, not a theistic religion in that there is no “God” in Buddhism, and Buddhism does not involve explanations about the creation of the world; it is much more concerned with overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. And Hinduism, while it has Gods, these Gods are more symbolic or aspects of divinity than a sentient being in the Abrahamic sense. Hinduism also has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophets, and no one holy book (although there are a number of sacred texts often of mysterious origin).3

Esalen, Omega and Kripalu.

To get a good idea of the concerns of the current New Age movement, one might look to the offerings of the Esalen Institute, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, and the Kripalu Center.

The Esalen Institute is located in Big Sur, California, and dates it’s founding to 1962, when Dick Price and Michael Murphy — both Stanford University graduates with a keen interest in the human potential movement — wanted to ” create a venue where non-traditional workshops and lecturers could present their ideas free of the dogma associated with traditional education.” The current course offerings at Esalen are divided into the categories of (1) arts & creativity, (2) body & movement, (3) leadership & society, (4) meditation & spirituality, (5) mind & psychology, (6) nature & sustainability, and (7) relationship & self. A sample of these courses includes the following:

  • Abandonment to Healing: Overcoming Your Self-Defeating Patterns
  • Aligning with Nature: A Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat
  • An Embodied Response to the Challenges and Opportunities of Our Lives through Sensory Awareness
  • Awake in the New Year: Setting Conscious Intentions for Our Lives in 2020
  • Being Present in the Body: Using Mindfulness to Work with Trauma
  • Bouncing Back: The Neuroscience of Resilience and Well-Being
  • Dancing with the Dharma: 5Rhythms and Insight Meditation
  • Embodying Presence: Relaxing the Body into Being
  • Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief
  • How We Change and Why We Don’t: The Art and Science of Transformation
  • I Am the Word: The Energetics of Consciousness
  • Insight Yoga Teacher Training Intensive Secondary Level
  • Keeping the Love You Find
  • New Year Meditation Retreat: Self-Love and Kindness that Benefits All
  • Radical Intimacy and Heart-full Attraction
  • Relational Gestalt Practice: The Transformative Power of Emotion
  • Sacred Evolution: Yoga and Meditation
  • Songwriting from the Heart—Progressing on the Journey
  • Soul Motion: Tenderness at the Heart of the Dance
  • The Archetypal Journey: Awakening the Creative Forces Within
  • The Buddha, the Brain, and Bach
  • The Ecology Within: The Healing Synthesis of Nature and Psyche
  • The Healing Art of Deep Bodywork: The Psoas, Deep Visceral Work™ and Healing Knees
  • The Rhythms and Stories of Our Lives: 5Rhythms and Motion Theater
  • The Self-Care Vow: Embodying Resilience and Renewal Every Day
  • Thriving in Uncertainty: A Workshop in Sensory Awareness
  • Yoga, Meditation and Addiction Recovery Retreat: A Celebration of Healing
  • Your Life Cannot Be Any Easier Than Your Movements: Healing with Cortical Field Reeducation, Feldenkrais and Brain Plasticity

The Omega Institute for Holistic Health, founded in 1977 in Rhinebeck, New York by Elizabeth Lesser and Stephan Rechtschaffen, offers classes to over 25,000 people a year at its 190-acre campus, formerly a Yiddish camp for kids. Omega Institute now holds more than 300 workshops, mostly on their Rhinebeck campus, but also in New York City, Costa Rica, and California.4 The programs at Omega are also divided into six categories, including (1) body, mind, and spirit; (2) health and healing; (3) creative expression; (4) relationships and family; (5) leadership and work; and (6) sustainable living. The program offers a smorgasbord of courses including “Coaching for Transformation: A Women’s Cohort,” “Boundless Liberation” (taught by the Buddhist teacher Adyashanti), “Divine Light Healing.” “The Future of Feminine,” “Meet Your Better Half,” “Portraiture & Still Life Photography,” “Healing Through Transformation,” and so forth.

The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health was founded in 1983 by Indian Yoga master Amrit Desai on the campus of a former Jesuit seminary on a property called Shadowbrook in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.5 Kripalu’s status as a former ashram tends to make its course offerings lead heavily to the yogic side of the ledger, including courses entitled “Spiritual Practice and Meditation,” “Yoga for Arthritis,” “Speaking Your Truth,” “Channeling the Psychic Within,” “Nutrition Intensive for Health Professionals,” “Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga Teacher Training,” “The CoreWalking Program,” “Yoga Tune Up Core Integration Immersion,” “Writing the Mind Alive,” “Change Your Posture,” “Change Your Life (with YogAlign),” “The Body Keeps the Score,” “Mastering the Art of Yoga Photography,” and so forth.6

These kind of institutions like Esalen, Omega and Kripalu are rather successful then, and really do offer a wide variety of courses checking off many of the boxes for what qualifies as “New Age” pursuits. There are many people throughout the United States and Canada, Australia and continental Europe, who take these kind of courses.7

The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

Part of the problem with New Age practices is what was alluded to at the beginning of this page, which is that there is no discrimination between concepts. If it’s spiritual, if it’s mystical, if it’s mysterious, if it involves healing or emotions, if it involves creativity, it’s a practice that those who are attracted to the New Age will want to try. but not all of these practices are compatible.

  • If you’re an adherent of sun-sign astrology, that’s a system of thought that is not necessarily compatible with the Enneagram or the Akashic record.
  • If you’re into Homeopathy, that is a system of healing that is not necessarily compatible with Accupuncture.
  • If you’re a Buddhist, that is not necessarily compatible with the belief systems underlying Neopaganism.

What this omnivore’s approach to anything spiritual or mystical or healing suggests is a lack of commitment to any particular system of thought or belief. It’s more a dabbler’s approach, and while there is nothing wrong with dabbling, if you really want to be good at something you need to commit to it. This is true even for New Age practices.

The New Age Intellectuals

The new age movement also has its intellectuals,including Eckhart Tolle, Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen. The diminutive German-born sage, Eckhart Tolle, became famous with his book The Power of Now can be described as a combination of cognitive psychology and Buddhist thinking. The central theme — that one should be conscious of the “present moment” and not concern themselves with the past or future — is similar to the advice not to engage in “negative self-talk” commonly found in cognitive psychology texts. The product of a broken family, Tolle was largely home-schooled by his father in Spain. He subsequently studied philosophy, psychology, and literature at the University of London and did some post-graduate research at Cambridge University. At around the same time Tol8le — who had suffered for a long time from depression and anxiety — had a “conversion” experience, which allowed him to experience a state of “deep bliss.” Tolle stopped studying for his PhD; he stayed with friends, in a Buddhist monastery, or otherwise slept outside on Hampstead Heath. After this period, former students and people he had met by chance began to ask Tolle about his beliefs. He began working as a counselor and spiritual teacher, moving first to Glastonbury — the center of new age culture in England — and eventually to Vancouver in British Columbia. Eighteen years later, Tolle published “The Power of Now.” Only 3000 copies were published of the first edition. Three years later, Oprah Winfrey recommended the book to the readers of her magazine, and by August of 2000 it had reached the New York Times Best Seller list for Hardcover Advice. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Another step up on the intellectual ladder brings us to Ken Wilber, the oracle of Oklahoma City. Ken Wilber completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology and a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln; his expertise, however, is in “integrating knowledge from different fields.” He wrote his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness in 1973, which has since been characterized as a “synthesis of religion, philosophy, physics, and psychology” that began the movement towards “transpersonal” psychology. Altogether he has published thirty-two books and counting, his two most famous are “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality,” his magnum opus published in 1995, and A Theory of Everything, published in 2000. Ken Wilber is not light reading.

Then there is Andrew Cohen, a spiritual teacher so controversial that even his own mother denounced him in “Mother of God,” her memoir of being his disciple. An admittedly brilliant teacher, who  has developed a path to spiritual transformation that he calls “evolutionary enlightenment” that synthesizes teachings about enlightenment from Eastern traditions with a Western scientific understanding of evolution, Cohen has been denounced not only by his mother, but also former followers André van der Braak in Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru and William Yenner in American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing, as well as through the websites What Enlightenment? and EnlightenNixt.

Born in New York City in 1955 in an upper-middle class secular Jewish household, Cohen’s life was transformed by a spontaneous experience of “cosmic consciousness” at the age of sixteen. He eventually met the Advaita Vedanta master H. W. L. Poonja in 1986, and after spending only three weeks with Poonja, Cohen began to teach. Philosophical and personal disagreements created a split between the two, after which Cohen began teaching his spiritual philosophy on his own.

Gurus Accused of Sexual Improprieties and Other Crimes

Cohen is, of course, far from the only guru who has been accused of scandal or an abuse of power. The number of gurus falling into that category are surprisingly large. Amrit Desai, the founder of the Kripalu Center, had to resign in 1994 after it was discovered that he was bedding three of his female students, despite having preached abstinence for the unmarried; in 2012, John Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the world’s fastest-growing styles of yoga also had to step down after infidelities with female students; Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the eponymous Bikram Yoga, had five women suing him with allegations including sexual harassment and sexual assault as of 2014; Swami Satchidananda was accused, in 1991, of exploiting a number of his female followers sexually despite his own vows of celibacy; Swami Nithyananda was also accused in June of 2012 of raping by an Indian-born American citizen, who went on Indian television accusing Nithyananda of doing so for several years; the Indian guru Asaram Bapu was recently accused of sexually abusing a 16 year old, of allowing a gang rape on his compound, as well as of illegal land encroachment; and Rodney Yee, another famed yoga instructor, was sued by former instructor Susannah Bruder for breach-of-contract lawsuit, alleging that Yee and his wife terminated her employment after she accused him of carrying on extramarital affairs with female students, two of which were subsequently admitted. But it’s not just sex scandals that has brought notoriety to gurus: Sant Rampal, an Indian religious leader of Kabir panth, often described as a self-styled godman, was arrested on suspicion of murder and criminal conspiracy in November of 2014; and another Indian guru, Baba Ramdev has been accused of financial irregularities and tax evasion, as well as of using human bones in the preparation of medicines.

The famous Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön announced just in January of 2020 that she was resigning from Shambhala because Shambhala leader Sakyong Mipham was resuming teaching this year with the approval of the organization’s board, after he had “stepped back” from his roles in the community after multiple allegations had been made against him of sexual assault and clergy sexual misconduct. Shouldn’t one expect that someone like this would be able to hold himself to a higher standard of conduct.

Someone wise than I once said that one should “separate the message from the messenger,” but I don’t know. I think they are integral in some way. The issue of hypocrisy is also a major phenomenon of the authors and leaders of the self-help movement.

On the Self-Help Movement

Closely related to New Age religions and New Thought religions are the self-help and human potential movements. None of these terms have, of course, precise definitions. The beginning of “self-help” has at times been traced all the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” But a better starting point is probably Dale Carnegie’s 1936 tome “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” followed closely in 1937 by Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” The 1939 publication of “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism,” (now known as the “Big Book”). In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale brought us “The Power of Positive Thinking.” And thereafter, the deluge.

It’s been noted that the language of self-help, and especially the language from the 12 Step movements, has completely infused popular culture. Terms like “recovery,” “dysfunctional” and “codependent” are now part of every day language.

If self-help began with Dale Carnegie, then the human potential movement can be said to derive from Abraham Maslow‘s self-actualization work and hierarch of needs. Subsequently, in 1962, Michael Murphy and Dick Price founded the Essalen Institute as a center for the study and development of human potential in Big Sur. Werner Erhard founded the “est” workshops in 1971, followed by Stewart Emery’s “Actualizations” program, Oscar Ichaz’s Arica School, John-Roger Hinkins’ Insight Seminars, John Hanley’s “Lifespring” courses, Alexander Everett’s Mind Dynamics, Peak Potentials Training from T. Harv Eker, the Silva Mind Control method, the Sterling Institute of Relationship, and more recently the Hoffman Quadrinity Process and the work of Tony Robbins.

In his book SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless, Steve Salerno has noted the twin themes of “victimization” and “empowerment” in the self-help movement, and how they often work at cross-purposes in ways that aren’t clearly recognized. Salerno’s book also focuses on the questionable credentials of movement leaders like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Phil McGraw, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson, and John Gray. While Salerno probably takes some cheap shots along the way — credentialing isn’t all that important in these endeavors — there is a consistent kind of hypocrisy that his book exposes. So, for example, Dr. John Gray, famous for his book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” took as his second wife fellow relationship expert Dr. Barbara DeAngelis, who is famous (or perhaps infamous) for having been married five times herself. Aside from John Gray, the magician Doug Henning was another of her spouses. Gray and DeAngelis are now divorced. They also both received their PhD degree from Columbia Pacific University, a correspondence school.

Then there is Marianne Williamson 9 who famously wrote, in a quote that has often been misattributed to Nelson Mandela:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
Marianne Williamson quote

Williamson also has an interesting back-story: born in 1952 to two left-leaning Jewish lawyers in Houston, she majored in theater and philosophy at Panoma College, supported herself for a time as a nightclub act, and shared an apartment with the actress Laura Dern. By her own admission, she led a lifestyle that involved a fair amount of mind altering substances before coming upon Helen Schucman’sA Course in Miracles.” Schucman (July 14, 1909 – February 9, 1981) was an American clinical and research psychologist, and professor of medical psychology at Columbia University in New York, who reported having “scribed” the Course in Miracles, dictated to her by Jesus Christ. As the story goes, Schucman was sitting at home one night in 1965, when she heard an internal voice say to her, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.” The Course was eventually published in 1976 by the Foundation for Para-Sensory Investigations. When Marianne Williamson found it, she used it to straighten out her own life. She began to lecture on it in 1983 and found a receptive audience. By 1992 she had published a book about the course entitled, “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles,” which was shortly thereafter endorsed by Oprah. And the rest, as they say, is herstory.

Nor is Williamson the only one mining this territory. It’s also being mined by Gary Renard, who in his book “The Disappearance of the Universe” claims to be reporting the words of two “ascended masters” known to him as Pursah and Arten, but who are really Thomas and Thaddeus, two of the first disciples of Jesus. In Renard’s book the two ascended masters essentially flesh out the teachings from the Course in Miracles.

Large Group Awareness Trainings

Closely related to the self-help movement is the phenomenon of large group awareness trainings (or LGATs), the most famous of which is the “Erhard Seminar Trainings” (or “est,” consciously in lower case), founded by Werner Erhard, born as Jack Rosenberg. That the est training was controversial should be without controversy. It attracted celebrities like Yoko Ono and John Denver, and was known for its grueling hours, abusive trainers, and the lack of bathroom breaks. People who were unprepared for the intensity of the experience had a hard time with. A few had emotional breakdowns before or after the experience. Twenty years after its founding Erhard sold the intellectual property to his brother and others, who became Landmark Education. By now, the Forum has been shortened from two weekends to one long weekend, and the trainers are no longer abusive. Bathroom breaks have been reinstated. But the Forum is still shrouded in mystery.

Other examples of LGATs include Barry Neal Kaufman’s Option Institute Happiness is a Choice program, the Opening the Heart workshops, T. Harv Eker’s Peak Peak Potentials training, and the Pathways Institutes’s Personal Mastery Intensive. (These are just ones that I have some personal familiarity with; there are many more).

Two of the distinguishing features of large group awareness trainings are size — they normally involve at least 50 people and can range in size up to 200 or 300 participants or more — and the fact that these programs are almost never advertised. Their advertisement is all “word of mouth,” and often the solicitation is built into the program itself. So, for example, the Landmark Forum recruits very actively among its program graduates, encouraging them assiduously to bring their friends and acquaintances to a program. The Pathways Institute has an advanced program called “Stand and Deliver,” the primary purpose of which is to enroll the next class of the Personal Mastery Intensive. The Peak Potentials Training draws people in by offering the initial workshop for free, and then putting on the hard sell for people to enroll in subsequent courses.

Are Large Group Awareness Trainings Effective?

The question of whether these trainings are effective is one that does not have a clear answer. Part of the problem is that there has been little independent research of the LGAT phenomenon, and part of the problem is that a number of the organizations sponsoring these trainings are very secretive and actively discourage objective analysis. Landmark Education, sponsor of the Landmark Forum, is notorious for its aggressive litigation posture against anyone who dares to criticize their programs.

What appears to be the case is that LGAT trainings can often given participants a powerful short-terms sense of belonging and of revelation. These programs can be very successful in breaking down longstanding defenses, in breaking through certain psychological barriers, and giving participants a sense of transformation. Of course, if you do have a breakdown, there isn’t necessarily anyone with the skill and attention to help you put yourself back together again. Some — although not many — participants in LGAT trainings have had psychotic breaks, occasionally leading to litigation. One notable distinction between traditional therapy and an LGAT, is that participating in an LGAT normally involves waiving any and all legal rights prior to participation, something which never happens in traditional therapy.

In addition, whether these positive phenomenon last is open to debate. Many participants, finding themselves bowled over by the power of the experience, sign up for a string of successor courses, often at a very substantial cost. Still, repetition can solidify the lessons learned at the initial training.

The flip side of that coin is the concern, actively expressed by many critics of large group awareness trainings, that these have much in common with cults. And there are certain disturbing commonalities. Many of them are 12 or 14 hour workshops that encourage a certain amount of sleep-deprivation. There tends to be a very active message relative to how wonderful or powerful the workshop is, with active encouragement to get participants to testify to the same. Many of these workshop are actively hostile to any kind of criticism and work hard to direct anyone who happens to go off-message. Still, while coercive, there are also limits to the analogy. These workshops do not require participants to renounce their former lives, to move into segregated housing, to donate all of their money to the group, to cut off contact with former family and friends.

Return to discussion of the Purpose of the BlogProceed to discussion of Biblical Literalism

  1. In any case, it seems clear that the Star Trek universe is more powerful than the Star Wars universe, since the latter only has the “Force,” while the former has the Q Continuum, who essentially have Godlike powers.
  2. In fact, Jews practicing Buddhism is so common place that there is even a clever name for the phenomenon: “JewBu.” Celebrities who fall into this category include Leonard Cohen, Robert Downey Jr., Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, Daniel Goleman, Goldie Hawn, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Mandy Patinkin, and Jeremy Piven, among many others.
  3. Hinduism has it’s own set of Western celebrities, who follow the religion. Probably the first high-profile celebrity to adopt Hinduism was George Harrison of the Beatles. More recent Western celebrities who have adopted the religion include Julia Roberts, Russell Brand, John Coltrane, Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead fame, and former running back Ricky Williams.
  4. The name “Omega” came from the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a 20th-century French philosopher and Jesuit priest who used the term “Omega Point” to describe the peak of unity and integration toward which all life is evolving.
  5. Desai is one of the many gurus who has had to leave his position of leadership because of allegations of sexual misbehavior and adultery, including fathering children out of wedlock with former disciples.
  6. The Kripalu Center reports that it offers more than 750 programs and spiritual retreats attended by about 25,000 people annually.
  7. It should be noted that there are also a large number of medium and small retreat centers throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and continental Europe, and even parts of South America, and that just a search of meditation and retreat centers produces 45 entrants in New England alone.
  8. Desai is one of the many gurus who has had to leave his position of leadership because of allegations of sexual misbehavior and adultery, including fathering children out of wedlock with former disciples.
  9. Williamson has, of course, become much more visible recently by running for President of the United States. Her quote, by the way, is the kind of quote that sounds very powerful the first time you read it, but becomes sillier and sillier as you think about it more and more.