In my recent Huffington Post article "In The Shadow Of New Age Spirituality," I documented and commented on the burgeoning scandal regarding New Age spiritual teacher and author Marc Gafni. Whereas some readers may assume that the debacle is relevant only to students and teachers in the New Age movement, I believe that the implications are remarkably far-reaching. In fact, I argue that by enabling Gafni's behavior, those who apologize for and defend him are colluding with larger and more global abuses of power.
We Shouldn't Judge
In response to my article, some readers argued that "we should not judge" Gafni but rather pray for and support him instead of attacking him. To reiterate, my article is not an attack, but rather, one of a host of well-documented exposés of Gafni's inappropriate sexual behavior and his attempts to distort and defend it to his advantage. Shining the light on a plethora of charges from offenders spanning more than 30 years is hardly an exercise in condemnation, but rather, a call to laser discernment which appears to completely escape the defenders of Gafni in the New Age movement. Given his sordid reputation, I assume that Gafni is a lost cause, and therefore, I am not taking him to task, but rather the purveyors of "solar spirituality" who refuse to engage with the dark side of human nature.
To argue that "we should not judge Gafni" is somewhat like proclaiming that Rosa Parks should not have "judged" the driver who told her to sit in the back of the bus when she refused to do so. It is not unlike accusing Martin Luther King, Jr. of "judging" when he called out Bull Connor for his brutal attacks on blacks in 1960s Alabama.
The renowned Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa famously spoke of "idiot compassion" by which he meant compassion that is not discerning and which enables injustice or perpetuates suffering.
Justice and truth must be spoken in times of ghastly in-justice, violence, and betrayal. Indeed, justice must be tempered with mercy, but often it is harsh and not what the ego or rational mind would prefer to experience, especially if one is wedded to a spirituality that routinely sidesteps the messiness of life.
The Essence Of Enabling
To enable is to "give power, means, competence, or ability" to a person or behavior. Clearly, for the past three decades, a number of spiritual luminaries surrounding Marc Gafni, most notably Ken Wilber and Sally Kempton, as I noted in my previous article, have defended or minimized Gafni's behavior in the face of glaring evidence of his culpability. Without their enabling, the human suffering caused by Gafni's sexual assaults would not have been swept under the rug by the New Age movement at large. When we enable someone, we collude with them, and the word "collusion" literally means, the sharing of an illusion.
We often unconsciously choose to "share an illusion" because a repressed part of the psyche, the shadow, contains material with which we choose not to identify, but nevertheless lives in us. To be human is to have a shadow, but it is each human's responsibility, especially those who identify as spiritual teachers and authorities on the psyche, to deeply examine their own shadow not once or twice, but frequently for as long as they live.
In the case of Gafni, evidence is mounting that he may be a sociopath, devoid of conscience and therefore the pangs of guilt with which most humans struggle. The shadow, in fact, may not be the issue for him in this situation because the dynamics of the shadow require that an individual have a conscience. The presence of conscience causes us to repress aspects of ourselves that do not resonate with what we consider morally sound, and we therefore bury those in the unconscious mind, or we choose to examine them and resolve the issue. Individuals without conscience, however, live out rather than repress their demons.
Gafni's shadow notwithstanding, where we find the most egregious shadow behavior is among his defenders. Anyone who defends a sociopath or any individual who has created a thirty-year trail of alleged sexual abuse, mind control, and deceit clearly has his or her own shadow work to do.
The Global Implications Of Enabling Marc Gafni
What the Gafni scandal most deplorably reveals is the moral bankruptcy of New Age spirituality which prefers to think pretty thoughts rather than confront the evil that is ravaging the planet and creating untold suffering for all living beings. Gafni has become the poster boy for abuses of power within spiritual movements in general, of women in particular, and by extension, abuses of the Earth, the poor, and abuses based on ethnicity and class. Groups wedded to what I have termed solar spirituality with an aversion to exploring the dark side of human nature, prefer to avoid issues of racial, gender, and Earth injustice in favor of remaining naïve and insulated from "negativity."
Attend virtually any New Age gathering, and you will be deluged with feel-good discourses on personal growth, creating individual abundance, erasing negative thoughts, and "living in the light." Occasionally, some sanitized "green wash" is thrown in by way of encouraging people to recycle their garbage or install solar panels on their homes, but almost without exception, any talk of climate catastrophe or the extinction of species is quickly derailed in favor of "remaining positive." Likewise, the scions of solar spirituality tend to squirm when topics of poverty and economic inequality arise. After all, it was from this milieu that The Secret, Rhonda Byrne's 'you can have it all' narcissistic nonsense emerged, promising the manifestation of one's desires through positive thinking.
Such pseudo-spirituality is neither in the tradition of the great mystics and wisdom teachers, nor does it serve an increasingly withering planet. What does serve the Earth community are individuals committed to Sacred Activism, the marriage of activism and spirituality---spiritual warriors who aren't afraid to witness and confront darkness with clear-eyed discernment. Until the New Age movement and its luminaries are willing to do their own shadow work, then make an unflinching commitment to social and ecological justice, we can expect to see the proliferation of more Gafnis within its ranks. Thus, the movement will remain ensconsed in naiveté, commercialism, and complacency, failing miserably to alleviate a plethora of injustices on a planet in peril. Absent ongoing shadow exploration, all spiritual movements eventually enable not only perpetrators of abuse and exploitation within their own ranks, but throughout the Earth community at large.
All beings harmed by abuses of power, as well as the Earth itself, cry out for awake human beings to commit to the journey of shadow healing. Grueling though it may be, the rewards are inestimable, for as the poet Rumi reminds us, "What hurts you, blesses you; darkness is your candle; your boundaries are your quest."
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is the author of Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis. Her radio show, the Lifeboat Hour, airs on Progressive Radio Network every week. She may be contacted at Carolyn@carolynbaker.net.