Add some more Zeros to his annual income…
(Part 2 of 2)
Link to Part 1
Note: We continue Hawai’ian Week with a piece that is very, very long, even for me. I’ll warn you right now that it is neither a straightforward review of Zero Limits (although within the copy you will find some actual opinions about the book). Nor is it a critical analysis, and I am not even going to make an attempt to tackle it from the classic skeptical/critical-thinking point of view. If you are in a hurry and just want various readers’ opinions in order to help you make a buying decision, click here. If, on the other hand, you’d rather "enjoy the journey," pour yourself a tall fruity tropical drink – and that’s "tall" in the classic sense, not the Starbucks sense – and read on. You might just want to print it out and take it out by the pool to read it. Be sure to use sunscreen.
Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrow, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala
~ Shambala (lyrics by D.Moore)
"Imagine wiping your mind’s slate clean and starting over without preconceived notions, so you can live in a world of daily wonder," reads the copy on the back jacket flap of Joe Vitale and Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len’s new book, Zero Limits (Wiley, $24.95 US). "Imagine if anything and everything were possible. In fact, everything is possible when you look at the world free of mental constraints…"
What an appealing idea: to be cleansed of all pain and anger, all guilt and worry and general emotional sludge. Or all sins, for that matter, if you happen to believe in that unfashionable concept. In one way or another, humans have probably always been engaged in the quest for purification, and have sought it everywhere – in churches and temples, via holy books or sacred sex, on the road to Shambhala or the path to the peak of Mount Shasta, across the ocean or just down in the river. We all want a chance to start over. We all hunger, in our own way, for redemption.
And as for living in a world where anything is possible, that notion is pretty much standard fare at any New-Wage banquet these days. To imagine anything less – to even hint that mental, emotional, physical or logistical limitations might keep a person from reaching his or her big dream – is to invite pity or scorn from the conspicuously enlightened, to be branded a negative thinker, a naysayer, or worse.
Most of all, people today want to believe in miracles and magic – or things that seem like miracles and magic, anyway. That probably explains the popularity of Joe Vitale’s 2006 article, "The World’s Most Unusual Therapist," which spread around the Internet like nothing he’d ever written. "I estimate about five million people saw that article," he writes in Zero Limits. The article told of how Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len had cured an entire ward of criminally insane patients – without ever seeing any of them – when he was a staff psychologist at the Hawai’i State Hospital in the 1980s. "The psychologist would study an inmate’s chart and then look within himself to see how he created that person’s illness. As he improved himself, the patient improved."
Joe went on say he was skeptical at first, though his definition of "skeptical" and, say, Skeptic ranter Mike, would probably not be even remotely the same. Skeptical or not, Joe was definitely interested enough to track Dr. Hew Len down and begin a correspondence. Eventually they began conversing too. The more Joe learned, the more Dr. Hew Len’s concept of "taking 100% responsibility" for everything in one’s awareness made sense. Whenever something comes to our attention, we become "responsible" for it. If it’s something negative, we can "clean" it – whatever it is – by working on ourselves, using four powerful phrases: "Thank you," "I’m sorry," "Please forgive me," and – the most powerful phrase of all – "I love you." This is an oversimplification of the modern method of Ho’oponopono, but, in combination with the story of Dr. Hew Len’s miracle in the psych ward, it was enough to light a very big fire.
Joe says that everyone who read the article found it hard to believe. "Some were inspired. Some were skeptical. All wanted more." Zero Limits, he says, "is a result of their desire and my quest."
What Ho’oponopono is really all about, as Joe writes repeatedly in Zero Limits, is "clean, clean, clean." Done correctly, this can be used for everything from personal healing to healing of those around us to the healing of the world. Even wayward rockets can be guided back on course. At one of his workshops Dr. Hew Len told attendees about a NASA engineer who came to him "because of a problem with one of their rockets."
"Since she came to me, I assumed I was a part of the problem, Dr. Hew Len explained. "So I cleaned. I said ‘I’m sorry’ to the rocket. Later, when the engineer returned, she explained that the rocket somehow corrected itself in flight."
Did doing ho’oponopono influence the rocket? Dr. Hew Len and the engineer think so. I spoke to the engineer, and she said it was impossible for the rocket to correct itself. Something else had to happen that was in the nature of a miracle. For her, it was doing the cleaning with Dr. Hew Len’s help.
Joe adds that he can’t say he bought this story, "but I also have to admit I don’t have another explanation for it."
Not surprisingly, Joe does not name the rocket scientist who availed herself of Ho’oponopono, nor does he give any other details such as the date, the type of rocket, the nature of the malfunction, and the like. I’m sure it was due to privacy concerns. Anyhow, it’s good to know that even at NASA there are open-minded folks.
Ho’oponopono may seem simple, but it is not easy, warns Dr. Hew Len. It does take commitment. Joe quotes Dr. Hew Len as saying, "This is not a fast-food drive-up window where you instantly get your order. God is not an order taker. It takes constant focus on cleaning, cleaning, cleaning." Which – you’ll pardon me for stating the obvious – is quite a bit different from the Universe as a big mail-order catalog, where you just flip through the pages, etc.…
A little history…
The word ho’oponopono means, "To make right, to rectify, to correct," and traditional ho’oponopono was a native Hawai’ian method of conflict resolution. Self I-Dentity Ho’oponopono, the modern form taught by Dr. Hew Len and now championed by Joe Vitale, was founded by Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona (1913-1992), a native Hawai’ian healer.
Dr. Hew Len met and began learning from Morrnah in 1982. He had heard of a "miracle worker" who was lecturing at hospitals, universities, and even the UN. She reportedly healed his daughter of shingles, and at some point he decided to leave everything in his life behind to study with her and learn her healing method. "Since Dr. Hew Len was also experiencing difficulties in his marriage at the time, he left his family, as well," Joe writes. "That’s not too unusual. There’s a long history of people leaving their families to study with a spiritual teacher."*
Although he thought Morrnah was a bit bonkers at first, Dr. Hew Len stuck it out with her and learned her methods. "I stayed with her till her transition in 1992," Dr. Hew Len told Joe. It was during this time – specifically, between 1984 and 1987 – that Dr. Hew Len had his stint at the Hawai’i State Hospital.
It was in the summer of 2004 that Joe first heard of Dr. Hew Len’s miracle at Hawai’i State Hospital. He heard the tale – at least in its bare-bones details – from a close friend. His friend had heard this story about the miracle therapist, and he happened to share it with Joe during the National Guild of Hypnotists conference in August 2004. Joe thought the story sounded fishy but intriguing. He did a bit of poking around online but didn’t really find any information. At the same conference a year later, the same friend mentioned the story again. He whipped out his laptop and they started Googling. Not too long after that Joe finally tracked down Dr. Hew Len and began corresponding with him.
A match made in book-deal heaven
After his initial email contact with Dr. Hew Len, Joe decided to hire him for a consultation by email. He gave some thought about what he should ask him about. After all, he was doing pretty well in his life; he had "the books, the successes, the cars, the homes, life partner, health, and happiness most people seek."
Finally he decided to work on his weight. He had lost 80 pounds and was feeling great. He’d even built an exercise shed in his yard and had written a lot on the Net about his weight loss, the fancy exercise equipment in his shed, and his new interest in bodybuilding. All of this had inspired him to give himself another nickname: "The Charles Atlas of the Internet." Still, he had about 15 pounds left to "release." He decided that would be the issue he’d work on with Dr. Hew Len.
He sent him an email about it, and Dr. Hew Len responded within 24 hours. He told Joe to talk to his body and tell it that it was fine the way it was. He also told Joe to drink Blue Solar Water (more on that in a while). And he added, "Your e-mail has the feel of elegant simpleness [sic], a gift beyond compare."
Believe me, the kissing-up gets worse. This is just the beginning.
And so began a new round of adventures and money-making ops for Joe and Dr. Hew Len. Joe went to a couple of Dr. Hew Len’s seminars and workshops and really got to know the man and his teachings, then wrote that famous article…and almost before he knew it, he and Dr. Hew Len were writing a book together. Actually, the lion’s share of the book was written by Joe, but it was with the blessings of Dr. Hew Len, who is very much a presence in its pages.
A nod to skeptics
For those who were wondering, as I often have, about the truth of the famous Internet story, Joe does appear to have gone to considerable effort to substantiate the particulars of Dr. Hew Len’s work with those criminally insane patients. He was, apparently, able to verify the bare-bones facts, at least to his satisfaction, and probably to that of most of his readers. But as for a cause-and-effect relationship between Dr. Hew Len’s Ho’oponopono and the improvements seen in the ward – that will just have to be taken on faith, which is no problem for the majority of Joe’s readers.
On several occasions he asked Dr. Hew Len for clarification of the story, and in a chapter titled, "Skeptical Minds Want to Know," Joe includes a rather detailed statement of facts from Dr. Hew Len. This statement contains a list of conditions in the high-security ward in 1984 when Dr. Hew Len began working there, as opposed to 1987, when his spiritual guide Morrnah told Dr. Hew Len his work at the hospital was done.
"What did I do for my part as the unit staff psychologist?" Dr. Hew Len adds. "I did the Self Identity through Ho’oponopono process of repentance, forgiveness, and transmutation for whatever was going on in me that I experienced consciously and unconsciously as problems before, during, and after leaving the unit each time."
He writes that he did not do any therapy or counseling with patients on the unit, did not attend any staff conferences on patients, and took "100 percent responsibility for myself to clean with the stuff in me that caused me problems as staff psychologist."
As his work on Zero Limits progressed, Joe still had questions about Dr. Hew Len’s work at the hospital. Dr. Hew Len gave him the name of a woman who had been the social worker during the time Dr. Hew Len was there. Joe followed the lead, and the woman, Omaka-O-Kala Hamaguchi, wrote a fairly lengthy letter to him, in collaboration with Emory Lance Oliveira, another person who’d been a social worker there at that time. The ward, Hamaguchi and Oliveira explained, was a newly opened forensic unit called the Closed Intensive Security Unit (CISU). The letter shared details such as the fact that Dr. Hew Len didn’t appear to do much work, often came in late, never attended staff meetings, and didn’t keep records as required – but he always seemed happy and at ease, and everyone at the hospital liked him. (I know what you’re thinking: nice work if you can get it. And what a creative excuse to give your boss for coming in late, not attending staff meetings, etc.: "I was doing Ho’oponopono to help clean the company’s problems!") The writers also confirmed that as the years went by even some of the most severely ill patients in the unit appeared to be getting better, and the entire unit seemed to be "coming alive" – even the plants were thriving. Things and people were all around more functional. They also noted that Dr. Hew Len had shared some of his ho’oponopono techniques with the staff.
Of course this is anecdotal evidence, related by people to whom Dr. Hew Len specifically referred Joe. Furthermore, you don’t have to be a hardcore skeptic, or knowledgeable about research protocol or medicine, to figure out that Joe didn’t present any hard evidence of cause and effect. But this information really doesn’t seem to be available. For now, the essence of the story – the miracle part – will, as I noted above, just have to be taken on faith. And that’s what Joe is banking on; his target audience doesn’t require hard proof.
In another apparent nod to skeptics, Joe also acknowledges that lots of folks will think Dr. Hew Len is off his rocker for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the man’s habit of talking to chairs and rooms. Joe relates an anecdote in which Dr. Hew Len is having a conversation with a conference room Joe rented for an event. The room tells Dr. Hew Len its name is "Sheila," and Sheila expresses its (her?) approval of the event.
And then there is the story of the chairs. In fact, one reviewer on Amazon had an issue with this story:
Joe relates a conversation he had with Dr. Hew Len wherein Dr. Hew Len talks about having a conversation with chairs in a meeting room. Joe relates it as though Dr. Hew Len has said these things to him. In fact, the entire vignette was lifted VERBATIM from an interview between Cat Saunders and Dr. Hew Len that had been published in the Seattle Times in September of 1997 ("100% Responsibility and the Possibility of a Hot Fudge Sundae: Cat Saunders gets the scoop on Haleakala Hew Len"). It made me question how much of the "friendship" between Joe and Dr. Hew Len was invented for literary license.
Now, it is possible that Dr. Hew Len did tell the story to Joe pretty much as he told it in the interview with Cat. Sometimes when a story becomes part of someone’s repertoire they do tend to use the same phrases over and over again. Still, the reviewer is right; it is verbatim. And even a repeat storyteller doesn’t repeat the exact words every time, unless of course he or she is reading from a script, which Dr. Hew Len didn’t seem to be doing. So that reader’s point is well taken. (Note that the reader is not suggesting that Joe invented Dr. Hew Len, only that he may have invented some of the conversations between himself and Dr. Hew Len.)
As for speaking to rooms and chairs, hey, I don’t necessarily hold that against Dr. Hew Len. When I was a child I used to almost drive myself crazy wondering what it was like to be, say, a chair or a wall or a rock or a tree – wondering if these things actually had thoughts and feelings. That’s pretty common with kids, and it also figures in many "primitive" religions. I think it’s called animism. And even today I still yell at my computer, and have been known to say a few choice words to the occasional chair when it runs into me. The furniture in my house is sometimes so clumsy. Maybe if I tell it I love it that will help.
Granted, it’s possible to carry one’s regard for inanimate objects too far. And it is probably not a good idea to tell a pack rat or clutterholic that all inanimate things have thoughts and feelings. But the mere fact of speaking to objects or thinking of them as "alive" does not an insane person make – well, not in my unqualified opinion as a non-medic, anyway.
Despite his humor and seeming irreverence at times, it is pretty apparent that Joe believes Dr. Hew Len is the real deal. (Or at the very least he sincerely wants his readers to believe he believes it, so that they in turn will believe it.) So the word "skeptic" is, as you might expect, used quite loosely in this book.
News flash: Secret not the ultimate breakthrough after all
Although he has capitalized heavily on his role as "Metaphysician" and promoter of the Universe’s Wish Book in the hit infomercial The Secret, in Zero Limits Joe seems, at first glance, to renounce major portions of the teachings in The Secret. For example, Secret culture, courtesy of Abraham-Hicks, is very much focused on "intention," as evidenced in Marcy From Maui’s Powerful Intentions Forum. In Zero Limits, however, Joe has an entire chapter on "The Shocking Truth About Intentions." (It’s not as shocking as "The Shocking Truth About Jonathan" that appeared in The Attractor Factor, but it’s still pretty shocking if you’re a real intention-ophiliac.) Citing a few researchers and philosophers, Joe makes a case for the view that intentions are merely thoughts after all. But where do the thoughts come from? That’s the big mystery. At best, says Joe, "a clear intention is nothing more than a clear premonition."
Yet for a while Joe was one of the big promoters of the power of intention. Later in the book he writes:
As I kept growing and having insights, I worried that all my previous books were wrong and were going to mislead people. In The Attractor Factor, for example, I praised the power of intention. Now, years** after writing that book, I knew intention is a fool’s game, an ego’s toy, and that the real source of power is inspiration.
Well, heck, Joe, Wayne Dyer could have told us that. And did.
The point, I think, is that Joe has discovered that inspiration is the real key to genuine breakthroughs; intention is just "a limp rag" by comparison. Still, he is not entirely renouncing The Secret. His infamous "Universe as a catalog" bit notwithstanding, he does like to emphasize that he was one of the few on the DVD who spoke of "taking inspired action" to get what you want, rather than just sitting around wishing and hoping. In Zero Limits, in fact, he touts Secret creator and producer Rhonda Byrne as an example of a person who did take inspired action. He recounts a dinner conversation with her (I’m thinking this took place during his much-ballyhooed vacation on Maui last September), in which he asked Rhonda, "Did you create the idea for the movie, or did you receive the idea?"
Rhonda had once told him that the idea for the movie teaser came to her "suddenly and within a few seconds." It took only ten minutes to make the preview.
"Clearly," Joe writes, "she received some sort of inspiration that led to the strongest movie teaser in history." What he wanted to know from Rhonda now was whether the idea for the final movie feature itself came from inspiration, "or if she felt she did it for some other reasons."
After pondering on Joe’s question for a long time, Rhonda finally replied that she wasn’t sure. "The idea came to me, for sure. But I did the work. I created it. So I’d say I made it happen."
From there, Joe takes the "inspiration" ball and runs with it.
Her answer was revealing. The idea came to her, which means it came to her as an inspiration. Since the movie is so powerful, so well done, and so brilliantly marketed, I can only believe it’s all the Divine unfolding. Yes, there was work to do, and Rhonda did it. But the idea itself came as inspiration.
Joe continues with the story of how the movie really took off after it had been out for several months, "and the buzz for it was reaching historic proportions."
Rhonda sent out an email to all the stars in it, saying the movie now had a life of its own. Rather than stating intentions, she was answering calls and seizing opportunities. A book was coming out. Larry King was doing a two-part special based on the ideas in the movie. An audio version was coming out. Sequels were in the works.
When you come from the zero state where there are zero limits, you don’t need intentions. You simply receive and act.
And miracles happen.
Just thinking out loud here, but it seems to me that it helps if those "miracles" were set in motion by months and months of intensely aggressive marketing. And come to think of it, there’s a word that rhymes with "inspiration." It’s called "desperation." Rhonda, by all accounts, was emotionally and financially desperate at the time she was conceiving The Secret. She’d reached a nadir in her life. Even after she became "inspired" by reading Wallace Wattles and others, and ended up making The Secret, her woes were far from over. The story goes that Channel 9 in Australia backed out on promoting and broadcasting the movie, and Rhonda found she’d run out of money. Once again, desperation came into play: she was desperate to get her investment back. That’s when she called on her Internet marketing buds, who knew a good moneymaking op when they saw it – and the rest is viral marketing history.
Once the movie "had a life of its own," and the money was rolling in, "answering calls and seizing opportunities" was, I imagine, a no-brainer for Rhonda.
Reconciling the past with the present
Despite its astonishing commercial success, the bottom line is that The Secret just wasn’t the ultimate breakthrough. Zero Limits is – for now, anyway. But that could change in the time it takes for Joe to crank out another book.
In fact, as I mentioned in Part 1 yesterday, and as you might have inferred from the Attractor Factor quote above, Joe does acknowledge that some of the things he wrote about in earlier books seem to be inconsistent with what he learned from Dr. Hew Len and writes about in Zero Limits.
He says he was actually bothered by this. In the chapter from which I pulled the Attractor Factor quote, "Choice Is a Limitation," Joe discusses his attempt to reconcile two apparently conflicting philosophies: the concept of the world as puppet and the individual as the puppeteer (as implied in The Attractor Factor); and the concept of the individual as the puppet, with the Divine as the energy pulling the strings. He says he can’t help but wonder if both philosophies are right; we’re both the puppet and the puppeteer. "But that only works when we get out of our own way," he says. "It’s our minds that drive us to overdrink, overeat, frolic, steal, lie, and even spend too much time worrying about how the world works."
Hey, Joe, watch what you say about frolicking.
He is at his most honest and authentic when he admits to realizing that he really doesn’t have the answers after all, as in a passage near the end of that chapter:
Tonight I have the world figured out. (I think.)
Tomorrow I’m not so sure.
I long for comic books again.
Don’t we all, at times?
But then he kind of spoils it, for me, anyway, by wrapping up the chapter with a dialogue between him and Dr. Hew Len. Dr. Hew Len is talking about how everyone in the world is playing a role in the Divine play. "Even a janitor?" Joe asks. Dr. Hew Len says, "Yes! There are janitors and garbage collectors who love their work. You don’t think so because you are imagining playing their roles. But they can’t play your role either."
Joe concludes that his role is that of "inspirator" (his word). "I write books to awaken people, or to be more exact, to awaken me. As I awaken me, I awaken you."
And I write long blog posts to put people to sleep. But if you’re still awake, I want to add that despite his attempts to reconcile those apparently contradictory philosophies within himself, Joe still had a twinge of conscience about some of his earlier books. "I wanted to recall my books," he writes in a later chapter. "I felt they were misleading people. I told Dr. Hew Len that I felt like I was doing a disservice to the world."
To Joe’s great relief, Dr. Hew Len responds, "Your books are like stepping-stones. People are at various steps along the path. Your books speak to them where they are. As they use that book to grow, they become ready for the next book. You don’t need to recall any books at all. They are all perfect."
Besides, as Joe had explained earlier in Zero Limits, even the books that are "out there" are still in Joe, because there is no "out there." So Joe is, presumably, still working on "cleaning" them, which is good news for those of y’all who own Joe’s earlier books. Since I own a few of Joe’s earlier works, I assume he’s cleaning them for me. I do wish he’d get busy on my cats’ litter boxes while he’s at it. You can, too, now that you know about them. I expect to go out in my hallway and have everything smelling clean and fresh by the time I get finished with this post. So y’all get busy.
By the way, if you want to take a break from this for a while, there's an interesting discussion on free will v. determinism (and unjustified pride, as well) over at Steve Salerno's blog.
She ain’t heavy; she’s my sister
About ten years ago Joe wrote a book called Spiritual Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Formula For Easily Creating Wealth From The Inside Out. (This book was later
recycled revised and expanded into The Attractor Factor: 5 Easy Steps for Creating Wealth (or Anything Else) from the Inside Out.) In the "Author’s True Confession" on page 13 of the 2001 E-book version of Spiritual Marketing, Joe revealed:
I wrote this book for one person: My sister. Bonnie had three kids, was unemployed, and was on welfare. It hurt me to see her suffer. I knew her life could be different if she knew the five step process I developed for creating whatever she wanted. I wrote this material for her, and only for her, in 1997. She’s now off welfare and doing fine. She’s not rich yet, but I think I’ve shown her a new way to live life.
But the "new way to live life" apparently didn’t quite take. According to a tale he relates in Zero Limits, Joe was griping about his sister’s problems – to perfect strangers, no less – many years later. He recounts a conversation he had with Dr. Hew Len in October 2006, when the latter came to the Austin area to visit with him. Arriving at a local restaurant to meet with Dr. Hew Len, Joe found his new friend deeply engaged in a conversation with "two retired Mexican women who seemed to be hanging on his every word." Joe got some coffee and joined Dr. Hew Len and the ladies. "Tell these ladies what you do," Dr. Hew Len said to Joe. So Joe told them a bit about his books, his appearance in The Secret, and how he tries to help people find happiness.
Dr. Hew Len said, "Tell them how you handle problems."
Joe replied that in the past he used to try to solve problems, whether his own or someone else’s, whereas now he just lets them be – but he cleans the memories that cause them. "As I do," he explained to the women, "they get resolved and I’m okay as they get resolved."
Dr. Hew Len asked Joe to give an example.
"My sister frustrates me," I said. "She’s been on welfare, had her home broken into, had her identity stolen, and more. She’s not happy and it frustrates me. I’ve tried to help by sending her money, books, movies, and even the DVD player to play the movies. She doesn’t make any effort to change. Bu now I don’t try to change her."
"What do you do?" one of the ladies asked.
"I work on me," I said. "Now I understand that the life she has isn’t anything she is doing. It’s a program, or memory, that is being played and she’s got in its web. It’s like she caught a virus. It isn’t her fault at all. And because I sense it…it means I share the same program. I have to clean. As I clean, the program will come off her too."
When the ladies asked what Joe did to "clean," he said, "All I do is say ‘I love you,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘Please forgive me,’ and ‘Thank you’ over and over again."
Joe explained to the ladies how the phrases are like magic words that open the combination lock to the universe. Dr. Hew Len said that he liked Joe’s "virus" analogy, and he went on to explain to the women about the idea of taking 100 percent responsibility: "When you clean yourself, you clean the program from everyone."
Joe writes that much to his surprise, the Mexican ladies actually seemed to understand the complicated principles Dr. Hew Len was talking about. "We were talking about mind-bending concepts," he wrote, "yet they seemed to relate to them. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were simply tuning in to Dr. Hew Len’s vibe, much like a tuning fork sets a tone for everything around it that can feel its note."
To me this just raises the question: is Joe is implying that these old ladies – who had never even attended one of Dr. Hew Len’s seminars or read one of Joe's books – couldn’t possibly understand this "advanced" stuff on an intellectual level? But the bigger question is this: with all that cleaning work Joe is doing on his sister’s life, will her fortunes finally turn? I would think this would be the case, especially since Joe’s work will presumably be enhanced by the cleaning that his readers do for his sister, as her problems have now become theirs too. Or perhaps the fact that Bonnie actually got to sit in (though not drive), Joe’s Panoz Esperante, Francine, will be the real key to cleaning her of that "virus" she caught.
Or will it take yet another book to finally make her see the light?
Y’know, I wish Bonnie would write a book. I think she should.
Never overlook an opportunity to sell
While the most devoted fans of Joe Vitale might not mind the continual hustling – and while Joe himself has expressed puzzlement about criticism of the sales pitches in the book (which he doesn’t see as sales pitches at all) – I found that one of the major distractions throughout Zero Limits was his endless promotion of his books, products, workshops, and services such as "Miracles Coaching." In virtually every chapter there is some mention of something he and/or one of his business partners is selling, along with the web site URL. And, as one Amazon reviewer noted, "…he doesn’t weave it skillfully into the story – each time, it comes across as a jarring sales pitch, like one of those product placements in a movie where the guy drinks a Coke out of the can and has to hold it in an unnatural manner so that you can be sure to see the label."
Among the many products Joe mentions are the Fit-A-Rita, which he thought up in the course of creating a company to market a nutritional supplement. The project was on hold, pending review of the packaging and web site by an FDA attorney. At the time, Joe was in a bodybuilding fitness contest and was out drinking with friends. While drinking a margarita – a rarity for him – he said, "What we need is a Bodybuilder’s Margarita." And as soon as he said it, he knew it was a good idea.
When he told the story to Dr. Hew Len, the latter said, "Good for you, Joseph. You weren’t attached to the first product and wanting things to go your way, so the Divine gave you a new moneymaking idea…Good for you, Joseph, good for you."
Joe’s openness to the Divine also led him to "receive" an idea for "clearing mats." "These are mats you place your food on to clean it and you before you dine," he explains. Unfortunately, the web site he lists, www.clearingmats.com, doesn’t seem to be working at this time. Or maybe Joe got a "cease and desist" order from a woman who already sells clearing mats as part of her "Feng Shui For Food" kit.
It occurred to me that Dr. Hew Len himself may be sitting on a gold mine. In a rather lengthy appendix (which was taken almost verbatim from an article on Dr. Hew Len’s web site, although a few diagrams were added), we are told that we should drink plenty of Blue Solar Water, and should also cook in it and rinse in it after bathing. Dr. Hew Len tells you how to make Blue Solar Water yourself. But it seems to me that making it for every conceivable use would get to be kind of cumbersome. Wouldn’t it be really cool if there were a company that offered genuine proprietary Blue Solar Water ™ that had been specially infused with extra cleaning power by Dr. Hew Len AND Dr. Joe?
Another fact we learn in Dr. Hew Len’s appendix is that it is good to eat plenty of strawberries and blueberries because "these fruits void memories. They can be eaten fresh or dried. They can be consumed as jams, jellies and even syrup on ice cream!" Too bad Joe has discovered he has a food sensitivity to blueberries. But once again I see a marketing op: Specially infused blueberry and strawberry jelly, jams, and syrups.
Joe has said that his purpose in constantly promoting his books and products is to serve, not to sell. Besides, one of the most miraculous "products" mentioned in the book doesn’t cost a dime: it is the "cleaning" web site he and Dr. Hew Len created together. And it’s perfectly free. You just go there and get cleaned. Of course, while you’re there getting cleaned, there’s plenty of opportunity for your wallet to be cleaned as well. You can buy Zero Limits and other related products, sign up for some "Zero Limits" coaching, or sign up for a workshop or two. Heck of a deal!
Apart from the endless promotion of his products and services, what I found most distracting about Zero Limits were the numerous anecdotes in which Dr. Hew Len expresses his high regard for Joe. With all due respect to the older gentleman, I seriously began to wonder if he’d gotten hold of some of that legendary Hawai’ian weed. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But I have to question some of the "wisdom" imparted by Dr. Hew Len, as related by Joe.
We learn, for example, that Joe was pretty impressed by the power and success reflected on his new business card that featured a hypno-whirly graphic and a picture of him and his car Francine. Most of you who have been following Joe’s writings online have heard about Francine. Repeatedly. Regarding the picture of him and Francine on his business card, Joe writes, "I knew I looked confident and probably radiated wealth in the picture…"
But he didn’t know just how powerful the card was until he showed it to Dr. Hew Len. Dr. Hew Len, after studying it for a few moments, assured Joe that the card was a powerful cleaning tool. "You can use it to clean that brown gunk from your fingernails," Dr. Hew Len explained, "or to remove the green crud that gets between your teeth after you've eaten one of your healthy meals that was specially prepared for you by your special meal preparer."
Okay, I am only kidding about the brown gunk and green crud. But Dr. Hew Len DID tell Joe that the card is an excellent tool for cleaning negativity and bad memories from any person or object that Joe swipes it over, including himself. I can see it now: hundreds of seekers lining up at a seminar to be "swiped" by Joe's business card.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Hew Len, the Panoz car is an excellent cleaning tool too, by virtue of its logo, which is based on the well-known yin-yang sign. It is, by all indications, the perfect vehicle for such an advanced spiritual master as Joe.
Later we learn that Dr. Hew Len had the idea for Joe to be photographed with his cigar and Francine. As a matter of fact, Joe was uncomfortable in the beginning about letting Dr. Hew Len know how devoted he is to his expensive Cuban cigars. When Dr. Hew Len saw some cigars in Joe’s exercise shed, Joe feared that he would get a lecture about how bad it is to smoke. He needn’t have worried. Dr. Hew Len assured Joe that is not the case (all science to the contrary be damned).
"I think it’s beautiful," [he said.]
"You do?" I asked.
"I think you should smoke a cigar with your Panoz car."
"What do you mean? Have a picture taken of me in front of Francine with a cigar in my hand?"
"Maybe, but I was thinking you can smoke while you polish her or dust her down."
Joe told Dr. Hew Len he was afraid the latter might ridicule him for smoking, especially in light of the fact that a reader of Joe’s blog had recently lectured him on the evils of tobacco. Dr. Hew Len replied, "I guess that person never heard of the American Indian custom of passing the peace pipe, or how smoking in many tribes is a rite of passage and a way to bond and share and be a family." (Trivia fact you won’t find in Zero Limits: "Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among American Indians and Alaska Natives, yet of the 217 Native American languages spoken today most, if not all, do not include a word for 'cancer.'" And in case you are interested, here is a link to more information about potential health hazards of cigars, both from smoking them and from secondhand exposure to their smoke.)
The conversation about Joe’s cigars came in the wake of a dialogue in which Dr. Hew Len had implied to Joe that you can eat anything with no ill effects, as long as you tell your food you love it. Clarifying his own fondness for consuming chili dogs and cheeseburgers, Dr. Hew Len said, "Before I eat anything, in my mind I say to the food, ‘I love you! I love you! If I am bringing anything into this situation that would cause me to feel ill as I am eating you, it’s not you! It’s not even me! It’s something that triggers that I am willing to be responsible for!’ I then go on and enjoy the meal, because now it’s clean."
Same deal with cigars. As Joe learned from Dr. Hew Len, the key is to love everything. "When you do, that thing changes," Joe writes. "Smoking is bad when you think it is bad; hamburgers are bad when you think they are bad. As with everything in the ancient Hawi’ian traditions, it all begins with thought, and the great healer is love."
No offense – and I realize that Dr. Hew Len himself is quite slender – but there are a lot of really overweight Hawai’ians running around. The late great Iz, who tipped the scales at 750 pounds, was one of them. And despite any "cleaning" Joe may have been doing for his own food, it seems he still has food sensitivities. Not to worry, though; I’m sure there’s another money op for him in that as well.
The story of how Joe got his Hawai’ian name is another example of the high regard in which Dr. Hew Len holds Joe. People who have been reading Joe’s online articles may have seen the words, Ao Akua above his signature. That’s the Hawai’ian name given to him by Dr. Hew Len after a weekend workshop Joe attended in his early Ho’oponopono days.
It wasn’t the first time Joe had acquired a new name. In 1979, as a follower of the late controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho), he had become Swami Anand Manjushri. "At that time in my life, when I was still struggling with my past, contending with poverty, and searching for meaning, the name helped me start fresh. I used the name for seven years." It was natural for him to wonder if Dr. Hew Len would or could give him a new name. Everyone who took Dr. Hew Len’s workshop had the right to make the request, but that didn’t necessarily mean it would be granted.
Joe needn’t have worried, of course. About a month after the seminar, he received an email from Dr. Hew Len:
I saw a cloud come up in my mind the other day. It began a transformation of its self, churning slowly into soft, soft yellow. It then stretched its self out like a child upon waking into invisibility. From the invisibility the name Ao akua, "Godly," surfaced.
And that’s how he got his new name.
But I think the ultimate example appears in a chapter entitled, "How To Receive Greater Wealth," in which Joe recounts a conversation he had with Dr. Hew Len when the latter was in Austin doing a workshop. The dialogue took place in Dr. Hew Len’s motel room in Austin. Joe writes, "he and I sit like master and disciple. The only thing is, he treats me like the master."
"Joseph, you are one of God’s original 10."
I’m flattered but admit I have no idea what he is talking about.
"You came here to help awaken the Divine in people," he explains. "Your writing is hypnotic. It is your gift. But there’s more."
"You are the J man for business," he says. "Do you know what that is?
I don’t have a clue and tell him so.
"You are the Jesus of business," he says, "the point man for change."
As he speaks, I’m thinking I’d better keep this conversation to myself. No one will ever believe it. I don’t…
But Joseph just couldn’t keep it to himself. Later in the conversation Dr. Hew Len says, "There’s a wreath around your head, Joseph. It’s made of money symbols, like eagles." This leads into a discussion of one of Joe’s past lives as a great orator. He’d often had flashes of such a life but just thought it was his imagination and ego at work. But Dr. Hew Len had picked up on it as a real memory. According to Dr. Hew Len, Joe was a great orator who was mobbed and murdered, and a 2,500-year-old ring he wears today, which comes from ancient Rome, is helping to heal that memory for him.
As the conversation draws to a close, Dr. Hew Len is staring at Joe, and then at his feet.
"Joseph, my God, I should be sitting at your feet," he says, genuinely moved by whatever he sees in me. "You are as gods."
All righty, then!
Time to get serious
Did I like anything about Zero Limits? Yes, believe it or not, and as much fun as I’ve made over the past few months, there were points at which some of the ideas in this book approached something like profundity (at least to me, though you should keep in mind that I am, in truth, a very shallow person). The most thought-provoking parts were generally when Joe was quoting Dr. Hew Len. I thought Joe himself was at his best explaining the principles of Ho’oponopono in the Epilogue and in Appendix A, "Zero Limits Basic Principles." And there were times when he used a bit of self-deprecating humor that seemed genuine – much like the Joe I used to know. Not surprisingly, though, I would have enjoyed this book more without the constant self-promotion and boasting, which Joe calls "service."
As for the actual value of the book for those who are genuinely interested in Self I-Dentity Ho’oponopono, I think it’s probably a good beginning. Then again, as a few reviewers have noted on Amazon, most of this information is available for free on Dr. Hew Len’s web site and other places on the Net.
Some skeptics may think I’ve been way too easy on this book. But the truth is that even I occasionally retract my claws. As I have written previously, I have considerably more empathy for those engaged in spiritual searching than is often apparent in my writings. Some would say that in my own circuitous way I too am so engaged, even here on Whirled Musings. I believe that exploring the mysteries of human consciousness, and trying to find answers to the big questions in life, are almost always worthy quests. Further, I do NOT believe that poverty is noble – from all indications, it breeds as much evil as an obsession with wealth does. Nor do I believe that material wealth and spiritual fulfillment are mutually exclusive.
But I do not believe that it serves anyone’s spiritual or emotional growth to read incessant boasting about material wealth and fame, even if the brags do emanate from an Internet Buddha.
As for Self I-Dentity Ho’oponopono: truth be told, I believe that those "four magic phrases" touted in Dr. Hew Len’s version of Ho’oponopono can have beneficial – if not exactly miraculous – effects, at least to the person who is uttering or merely thinking the phrases. If, for example, these words can neutralize a person’s tendency to blame others for everything, if they can diffuse potentially destructive anger or promote tranquility, and, especially, if they can keep a person from drowning in despair about situations over which they truly have no control – I say, use ’em. And actually, the concept of "100% responsibility" is kind of a refreshing departure from the Rhonda Byrne school of indifference.
I am tempted to say that, as spiritual paths go, Ho’oponopono, even in its modern commercialized form, seems relatively benign, at least for people who are not suffering from emotional or mental disorders. For the latter, or even for those who are prone to New-Age guilt (or traditional religious guilt), Ho’oponopono could be bad news. On the other hand, it certainly seems to be a lot less harmful than, say, Scientology or some of those nasty cults Jody talks about on the Guruphiliac blog. It may seem I am "damning with faint praise," as the saying goes, and, indeed, my take on 'Pono is a far cry from the stated promise that it holds the key to "a world where everything and anything is possible – a universe with 'zero limits'." But that's me: the wet blanket at the mystics' orgy.
I do have problems with the idea that one can chain-smoke cigarettes or eat unlimited amounts of greasy foods with impunity, simply by "cleansing" the substances before ingestion. And, as in most New-Age/New-Wage/alternative paths, I believe Ho’oponopono can be very harmful if people rely completely on, say, "cleaning" via those four phrases, rather than taking action when needed, or seeking real medical help for themselves or loved ones when necessary. Even Joe Vitale avails himself of traditional medicine at times. He had an emergency appendectomy not long ago, and has seen M.D.s for other conditions since.
Apart from the above, I am not even going to attempt to tackle the science, or rather the blatant lack thereof, behind Ho’oponopono. I will leave that to the real skeptics.
As for Dr. Hew Len – he may very well be a wise, grandfatherly shaman type. But I do wonder if, after all, he is about half a bubble off plumb. And it’s not because he talks to chairs or has conversations with rooms or sees spirits and symbols. It’s because… well, see "Joe Almighty" above. Now, maybe Dr. Hew Len just knows what side his palaoa is buttered on these days. Or maybe he’s that
sycophantic reverent to everyone. Hey, we’re all gods; we all have a spark of the divine. The alternative explanation is that Joe Vitale really is a holy man. If so, Heaven help us all.
The hype goes on forever, and the selling never ends…
A reader/reviewer on Amazon named Rosemary Heenan, who calls herself an "integrative coach," says, "This may be the last book you have to read!" With all due respect, Rosemary, we heard that about The Secret. In any case, don’t count on this being Joe’s last book. He is already gearing up for promotion of his next big breakthrough work that goes beyond The Secret, Zero Limits, and everything else: The Key. So let’s just say that Zero Limits is the last book you’ll ever need to read until Joe comes out with the next last book you’ll ever need to read.
And then of course we have the true raison d’être for most New-Wage bestsellers: up-selling. The early warning comes at the end of the introduction, when Joe writes:
Please understand that this is the first book in history to reveal this updated Hawaiian method for healing, called Self I-Dentity Ho’oponopono. But also please understand that this is just one man’s experience with the method: mine.
It is, indeed, mostly one man’s experience, though enforced by a 34-page chapter smack in the middle of Zero Limits called, "The Evidence," which is a string of testimonials from satisfied attendees of a Vitale/Len event last fall. Included is an anecdote from Joe’s domestic life partner Nerissa Oden, who used Ho’oponopono during an exercise at a three-day Landmark Forum event in October 2006. Landmark Forum is the latest incarnation of est. You’d think that a woman who lives with the Buddha of the Internet wouldn’t need such things, but I guess it’s something to do with a long weekend.
Anyway, in the intro Joe goes on to say that while the book is written with the blessing of Dr. Hew Len, it’s written through his own lens of the world. Sounds like a good honest disclaimer, doesn’t it? But there’s always a "but." "To fully understand Self I-Dentity Ho’oponopono, you need to attend a weekend training and experience it for yourself." He mentions the same thing at the end of Appendix B.
It just so happens that Dr. Hew Len and Joe will be doing a Maui gig November 30-December 2 for $1,000.00 ($1,500 after Aug. 1). This does not include airfare, accommodations, or meals. Although Joe says that Dr. Hew Len is the star and Joe
will just be the sidekick, the (nonrefundable) payment for the workshop is to be sent to Joe.
Not all of the gigs are so pricey. The classes listed on Dr. Hew Len’s own web site are less expensive. (But you still have to pay your way to Hawai’i or Colorado or California or wherever, of course.) And I imagine his prices will go up if he hitches his wagon to the Vitale star.
Don’t shoot the critics
In the end, of course, it really doesn’t matter so much what I think of Zero Limits, which is number 160 on Amazon as I write this. And as I mentioned yesterday, Joe and his allies are putting their own spin on the words of the critics. One responder found it fitting to offer a couple of reassuring quotations:
"Ridicule is the tribute that mediocrity pays to genius."
"Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices, but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thought in clear form."
~ Albert Einstein
They do love to drag Albert into their discussions. He was one of the unwitting stars of The Secret too. In fact, we’re basically hearing the same arguments from Joe’s defenders that we heard from the Secretrons (who are one and the same, in many cases). The critics, we are told, are not actually commenting on the merits of the work in question, but simply revealing themselves to be:
- Unable to understand complex ideas
- Unable to appreciate the genius of those they criticize
- Angry or negative
- Drowning in their own mediocrity
- All of the above
But these are old and very tired arguments.
And just in case some JoeBots*** were thinking that now would be a good time to remind me, I am well aware that I am not the one with the $150,000 sports car, the custom Rolex watch, the trips to Maui, the seven-figure income. So I’ll make a bargain with the JoeBots. If they won’t remind me that I am not in possession of a Panoz Esperante, a first-class ticket to Hawai’i, or wealth beyond understanding, I won’t remind them that even the most faithful and ardent among them are highly unlikely to be hobnobbing with the Maui millionaires any time soon either. Somewhere deep inside themselves, they know it. And so does their hero, their Buddha of the Internet, their Jesus of business, their point man for change.
But that won’t keep him from aggressively marketing, or them from eagerly buying, his next breakthrough book or miracle product.
PS – Walter Terry at ROI Copywriting continues his series on the iCAP Release Meter. You should read it.
PPS added Oct. 2007 – I recently found a particularly interesting one-star review of Zero Limits on Amazon. Unlike some who were simply disgruntled with Joe Vitale or with New-Wage/self-help culture, this reviewer seems to be very much into Ho'oponopono, as taught by Morrnah (who originally taught it to Dr. Hew Len). This person says Zero Limits does not capture the true essence of Morrnah's teachings, and goes into considerable detail to explain. Here's the permalink to the review.
PPPS added Jan. 2008 – Here's an interesting discussion on a Ho'oponopono forum.
* Regarding people leaving their families in pursuit of spirituality (or something), Steve Salerno wrote about a few modern-day cases on his blog recently.
**As for the years that have passed since Joe wrote The Attractor Factor, the hardcover edition was published by John Wiley & Sons in March 2005. The paperback edition (which, presumably, had identical content to the hardcover) was also published by Wiley in October 2006. Granted, much of the content of the book is based on an earlier work, the above-mentioned Spiritual Marketing, which Joe has said he originally wrote in 1997 (though a few pages before that, he says he wrote most of it in 1999). That one was published by a Print On Demand company (1stBooks, now AuthorHouse) in 2001. But there was also a fair bit of new material in The Attractor Factor, and, one would think, conceivably there was time to make a few revisions between the hardcover release in the spring of 2005 and the paperback release in the fall of 2006. On the other hand, Joe probably would have had to rewrite much of the book, and he probably just didn’t have the time. Besides, from the publisher’s perspective, if The Attractor Factor was selling well, there wasn’t any compelling reason to make changes, even if the book no longer reflected the author’s beliefs. And besides, as Dr. Hew Len said, all of his books are perfect already.
*** Thanks to Blair Warren for coming up with this term.