Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Council or Cartel? You decide

Dear Ones, I apologize for not blogging for a couple of weeks. (Did you miss me?) I've had this post in the hopper for at least two weeks and decided I might as well finish and publish it before it becomes even more long and meandering than it already is. (If some of it looks familiar, it's because I borrowed a few passages from comments I'd previously made on Salty Droid's blog. I've also written about some of this stuff in earlier blog posts.)

As you may know, late last month the exclusive New-Wage guru club, the
Transformational Leadership Cartel...er...Council, aka the TLC, wrapped up its semi-annual meeting and sent its attending members back on their respective merry ways, presumably refreshed and renewed and primed to help each other sell millions of dollars worth of new products and events. The TLC has been described by some as the Bilker...um, I mean the Bilderberg Group for the leading lights in the personal-growth industry. As is the case with most excloooosive orgs, TLC's Top-Seekrit meetings are always held in posh and trendy spots; the recently adjourned gathering was in Santa Fe, in the Land of Enchantment. TLC also holds a meeting every January, generally around the time of Cosmic Connie Day (I'm honored and humbled); this past January it was in Puerto Rico. The July meetings, interestingly enough, are held very close to Whirled Musings Day (once again, I am humbled and honored).


What goes on at a TLC meeting? Oh, the usual: naked pagan rituals that include old men dancing nude and urinating on trees in old-growth forests; simulated human sacrifices; the porking of young male prostitutes... no, wait. That's Bohemian Grove, the summer camp for conservative politicians and other filthy-rich power brokers. My mistake.

The truth is that few folks outside of the members and those very close to them know what goes on at a TLC meeting because, hey, it's Top Seekrit. Although the occasional underground video gets leaked (see the bit below about New-Wage torture), it's very hush-hush for the most part. Well, except for all the tweeting and blogging by those who can't get over themselves for being TLC members (again, see below). And then there are those who don't seem to be listed as members but get to experience a meeting anyway, as did Soulwave Institute founder Katie Darling, who wrote about speaking at a Mexico TLC gathering in January 2006. (This was just before The Secret really hit, which is why there's no mention of it in the post. There is, however, a mention of the Victoria's Secret catalog and its possible role in getting Katie to the TLC.)

A little history...
You can skip over this part if you already know it; you won't hurt my feelings.
It's merely a rudimentary review of the Transformational Leadership Council's history and some of its esteemed members. The TLC was formed in 2004 by Jack Canfield, perhaps best known for his hand in the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise, also fairly well known for being a motivational coach, later very well known for being in The Secret, and perhaps less known for being a New-Wage Daddy Dearest. Damn, I don't know what happened with that font sizing. Blogger must be acting up again.

What was to become the TLC initially convened at Jack's home in Santa Barbara, California; the second meeting was at the Mendocino County ranch of John "Mars and Venus" Gray, (who is also mentioned in this article) and it just took off from there. Since that time the group has met twice a year, in January and July. Membership has grown steadily but is by invitation only, meaning that one has to be nominated by a TLC member and voted in (or not).

In the summer of 2005, at the TLC meeting in Aspen, Colorado, an Aussie TV producer named Rhonda Byrne descended upon the gathering and conducted a series of interviews that became the foundation of The Secret. Almost all of the speakers featured in her famous moviemercial are TLC members, though not all who were interviewed were enamored of the project, especially as they learned more about it (e.g., Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks).

James Arthur "Death" Ray was of course one of the luminaries in the film and, more relevant to the topic of this post, he was one of the founding members of the TLC, though his name was removed from their web site a couple of weeks after Sweatgate happened. I still don't know whether he was officially ousted or was just temporarily removed from "member in good standing" status pending the outcome of his manslaughter trial (whenever that may be).

Bill Harris, now known as much for threatening his critics as he is for his pricey Holosync scheme, is also a founding member of TLC and, notwithstanding his bad behavior regarding said critics, is still listed on the TLC site. For you nostalgic types, here's a blog post about Billy from none other than James Ray, written in the happier days of the summer of 2006, when The Secret had just taken wing and was soaring to giddy heights.

I just wanted to give you a quick "heads up" about an incredible opportunity to meet with me and a good friend of mine.

As you may know, I'm a member of an amazing mastermind group of some of the most influential leaders in personal and spiritual development called the Transformational Leadership Council. Many of whom contributed to the movie The Secret with me.

Well, my good friend, Bill Harris (founder of Centerpointe Research Institute and creator of Holosync Audio Technology) is also a member of the TLC.

Our next TLC meeting is going to be held near Vancouver, BC, and Bill has decided to do something special for his local friends, readers and clients (and he has graciously allowed me to invite you as well)...

It's called "An Evening With Bill with Special Guest James Arthur Ray."

...By the way, when Bill and I get together, it's... well... it's just electric. The excitement and energy literally pulsates throughout the room. If you've heard any of our previous interviews, you know what I mean. It often ends up being like point/counter point, and it always promises to be fun and informative...

But that was then, and this is now. Still, despite Death Ray's troubles and his being bumped from the TLC rolls, apparently he and Billy got married, as announced earlier this year on Salty Droid's blog. Isn't it romantic?

Two others listed as founding members of TLC are Marcia Martin, who is a co-founder of est, which later morphed into The Forum and then into The Landmark Forum; and Belgian Feng Shui expert Marie Diamond, aka Marie Vyncke, one of the lesser known Secret stars. Marie was later the target of a lawsuit involving her failure to deliver more than fifty thousand dollars' worth of copies of The Secret (a lawsuit that she apparently lost), but it must not have been a very serious matter because her name remains on the TLC rolls.

And speaking of The Secret, if I remember correctly Rhonda Byrne was also listed at one time as a TLC member, but her name is not on the list now and apparently hasn't been for a long time. Could it be because of all those legal troubles that revealed a greed too blatant even for the usual New-Wage love-and-lightwashing? No matter; her absence from the TLC members list online hasn't stopped at least some TLC'ers (specifically, those who were stars of The Secret) from promoting her new book, The Power, which has been steadily climbing the bestseller lists even though it hasn't even been released yet. Lawsuits or not, the "teachers" in The Secret, even those who aren't in the TLC and probably never will be, are still getting mucho mileage out of their part in that franchise. And, as many of you may recall, TLC founder Jack Canfield wrote the blurb for Rhonda when Time magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people of 2007. He marveled at Rhonda's perpetual state of childlike bliss as The Secret project progressed:

Even when she ran out of film, when the money to complete the next phase of the project hadn't yet materialized or when her original TV distribution deal fell through, to her it was always "perfect." She radiated a confidence and a trust that it was all being handled perfectly by the universe. Obstacles that would defeat most people didn't seem to daunt her. She just kept moving forward in joyous faith that it would all work out. What I didn't realize at the time was that the way she was living her life and approaching her work was teaching me even more about how to live in harmony with her Law of Attraction than her movie or book.

Her Law of Attraction? Hmmm.

According to an article in The Australian magazine, Jack also spoke up for Rhonda when her legal troubles started coming to light in 2008:

Unfortunately, the teachers from the film who were contacted by this magazine were reluctant to discuss the current litigation, including Rhonda Byrne herself, who declined repeated requests for comment. The one exception was Jack Canfield, “America’s #1 Success Coach”, who believes that the bad publicity generated by the lawsuits is merely a “blip” in the relentless global spread of The Secret.

Like all of those who appeared in the film – except Esther Hicks – Canfield received no payment, but says he has benefited many times over from the exposure. And Byrne, he says, has since donated $400,000 to the Transformational Leadership Council he runs with several teachers from the film. “I think all of us … thought that was a generous amount,” he says.

So did TLC oust Rhonda despite her generosity, or is the absence of her name from the site an error? Or is she not officially a member but just an extraordinarily supportive friend? I've been Googling here and there but keep running into brick walls. Maybe someone less lazy and more determined than I am could find out for certain.

Another match made in hustledork heaven
Despite all that has happened with the stars of The Secret, and notwithstanding the rising tide of criticism of their industry, the members of the TLC are apparently still laboring hard to convince themselves and everyone else that they are part of a very special group that is striving to elevate humanity. If only humanity would quit resisting, snarking, criticizing, or — most nervy of all —
getting injured or croaking under their tutelage.

Last summer the TLC gang gathered in Bermuda, and I blogged about that meeting on July 26, 2009. This was the day after Colleen Conaway had met her tragic end at a James Ray event in San Diego, and James and his top people covered it up, although at that time I knew nothing of this tragedy. Sweatgate was still two and a half months in the future. (I'm probably far from the only person who longs for a Quantum Leap type scenario in which we could go back in time and stop it from happening....)

Though he was still a member at the time, James was not at that summer 2009 TLC meeting in Bermuda, because, of course, he was busy destroying lives in San Diego. Regarding his alleged ousting from the TLC, it isn't surprising that there have been no public statements from the organization one way or the other, since the Cartel is, after all, a Seekrit Club, and they don't go broadcasting their stuff. However, as noted above, some of their members do love to blog and tweet about how exclusive the whole thing is and how proud they are to be a part of it.

Case in point: Steve Pavlina, aka Pervlina, who, as he did last year, once again boasted at length in his falsely modest way about what an honor it is to be a member of the TLC. What he both loves and hates about the TLC, he says, is that everyone there is so darned authentic. They have all the dirt on him — his D/s activities, his bankruptcy, his felonious past, and so on — and by golly, they still love him, or so he claims.

He particularly seems enamored of Joe Vitale, writing:

Joe and I have something in common in that we are both content machines. He’s authored 52 books, for instance, and he’s constantly giving birth to new products. I haven’t been working in this field as long as he has, but I’ve authored a respectable 1000 articles in less than 6 years, which is enough to fill about 25 books… not to mention getting one actual book published as well.
By the way, Steve's book was published by none other than Hay House, New-Wage dowager queen Louise Hay's baby. Even Joe, with all of his 52-and-counting books, hasn't achieved that yet, though he has implied that he would like to be a Hay House author like his friends Jerry and Esther Hicks and their imaginary friend collective, Abraham. Joe really admires Louise, though he was surprised she hadn't heard much about him when he visited her a couple of years ago and gifted her with his works. (I'm thinking that if he can't get a good deal through her traditional publishing arm, Hay House, maybe he can self-publish through her recently-launched Balboa Press.)

But I digress. Pervlina adored what Joe had to say about inspiration during his talk to the TLC. Gushed Steve, “He was simply brilliant.” Apparently Joe's sweetie Nerissa shot a video of this bril presentation, which Joe posted in six parts on his blog. It provides a little insight about the TLC meeting; f'rinstance, judging from the banner behind Joe's head, it seems that the theme for this summer's gathering was "The Excellence Effect." Wow, excellence: shades of 1980s Corporate America hustledorkdom. Tom Peters, where are you?

Anyway, here's a link to Part 1 of Joe's talk, which appears to be built around a form of New-Wage torture known as whiteboarding. This is a devious technique whereby the torturer scribbles a bunch of crap on a whiteboard (alternatively a flip-chart pad) or, as in this case, convinces a couple of volunteers to do the scribbling for him or her. Notice in this one how Joe is hypnotically trying to undress the female volunteer with only the power of his mighty mind, causing her to continually tug at her gauze frock to keep it from slipping down. I didn't watch long enough to see who won, Joe or the frock. I find that I don't really care all that much.

Whiteboarding is insidious because it causes the torturer's captive audience to be temporarily overcome by the sense that they are drowning in profundity and wisdom, when in fact all that is happening is that their brain cells are being whited out, one by one. In this case, as I discovered by skipping ahead to watch the last few minutes of Part 6, the talk ended with Joe's whiteboard wiped clean of words and rendered as empty as a New-Wage follower's mind is supposed to be in preparation for being invaded by the Divine (near as I can understand it, anyway).

The whiteboard shtick seems to be pretty much the same thing that Joe has used in the past, on more than one occasion, I'm guessing. Hey, if you have a spiel that works, why not use it again and again? Comedians do, after all. It's all entertainment. Anyhow, here's what the August 12 entry on the Mr. Fire's Pyre blog says:

I saw Joe Vitale speak about ho'oponopono about 4 years ago back before his book Zero Limits was written. He did this exercise where he had people brainstorm up all of these ideas on a white board and then he told us that none of that stuff ever matters because what really matters is inspiration and going back to a clean whiteboard.

Then he said that he didn't know what he was going to talk about that day, it was going to come from inspiration.

Indeed, Mr. Fire seems to really like whiteboards, and once he even invented something called Divine Whiteboard Meditation. Of course Joe is not the only New-Wage speaker who loves to scribble on whiteboards and flip-chart pads. His good buddy James Ray, to name just one random example that simply popped into my head unbidden, did a fair amount of stage scribbling too, back when he was allowed to have public events. If there's any justice in the world, those days are over, but you never know.

Recycled shtick or not, Joe's TLC talk really inspired Pervlina, who wrote that he quickly got the idea to perform a 30-day trial of "acting on inspiration whenever it hits me, whether it has to do with content creation or some other idea." The very same day he heard Joe's talk, Steve was in his hotel room around 8 PM, and a stray thought popped into his head: why not put an auction on eBay for a 60-minute consultation? At first he considered putting the idea on the back burner till he got back home to Vegas the following week. But then he stopped and smacked himself, possibly enjoying the rare opportunity to be both D and s simultaneously (or perhaps more accurately, S and M), and he decided he needed to catch the wave now and not let it pass.

So, no doubt still atingle from that sound self-smacking, he dove into action and reactivated an old eBay account. He wrote a quickie blog post, which also fed to his Twitter and Facebook pages, about the hot new auction item. "Imagine that," he wrote. "Less than an hour after getting the idea, it was already up and running." A few minutes after the posting, he was Skyping about it with ex-wife Erin, who said she loved the idea. "Beats the hell out of that old polyamory scheme of yours, anyway," she said. (Oh, not really. That was uncalled for. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.) Anyway, Erin checked the auction and informed him that the item was already up to $51.00. By Steve's bed time it had reached $132.50, by the next morning it was $425.00, and as the day progressed it hit $1,000.00. "There are still 3 days left till the auction closes," wrote Steve on his July 27 post. "I can't predict where it will end up."

The important lesson concerned riding the waves of inspiration as they come rolling in, which, Steve warned, he fully intended to do.

In any event, you may see some rather erratic behavior from me in the coming weeks. I’m extending this trial across all areas of my life, both personally and professionally. It’s a 24/7 commitment with no breaks except those that occur naturally as the inspirational waves ebb.

He shared the exciting news about his auction with several other TLC'ers, including his fellow content machine Joe Vitale. He whipped them all into a lather about the idea, and Joe was apparently so overwrought that he was inspired to tweet about it: "Sparked by my talk yesterday, he took action: 60-minute consult w Steve Pavlina" (and Joe provided a link to the auction page). Steve wrote that throughout the rest of the conference people would check in with him to see how the auction was going. "I think they were just as curious as I was," he wrote, meaning that more than likely the light bulb$ had blinked on in their own heads.

But alas, spoilsport eBay soon removed the posting. In a blog post titillatingly titled "Spanked by eBay" (he is nothing if not thematically consistent), Steve explained the situation. Still, he seemed undeterred from his 30-day, 24/7 inspiration experiment.

Don't blame the Universe
New-Wage gurus do love to go on about acting on "inspiration" at the moment it hits you, rather than waiting to act, because, after all, the Universe loves greed... I mean, speed. The gurus are basically preaching and teaching impulse buying, which of course helps line their pockets, but they generally frame it as advice to be open to messages from Spirit or God or the Universe or what have you. Apropos of that, ethics columnist Randy Cohen recently wrote, "...when you hear a voice that says it's the universe speaking, a bit of skepticism is appropriate. It may well be a crank call from your self-interest." (
Here's a link; the quotation is in the answer to the second question.) Of course many a New-Wage narcissist would not make any distinction at all between the Universe and one's own yearning self, so Mr. Cohen's point is probably moot for them.

I don't believe I am the only one who thinks that any talk about being in a state of "inspiration" 24/7, even for a 30-day trial period, is just as bogus as the implication that it is possible to live in a state of complete "wakefulness" if you follow the advice on a product that the person making that claim just happens to be selling. You can be completely "awake" or "inspired" for brief periods, perhaps. Over the long haul, you can be "awake" in some areas of your life and dead to the world in others. (Why, you can even market entire courses purporting to teach people how to be "Awakened," including a product about The Awakened Relationship... and still be apparently asleep at the wheel when there is major discontent brewing under your very nose. Or, alternatively, totally awake but just focused more on money than on love. I'm just sayin'. (And here's a small visual, by the way.))

Regarding "inspiration" in the sense that I think Pervlina is talking about it, I doubt that it is possible to live in that state on a continued, non-stop basis for any appreciable length of time, and still function in this world, no matter what the gurus tell you, though I suppose it is possible to convince yourself that you are doing so. Somewhat related to this, a friend of mine turned me on to the very interesting You Are Not So Smart blog, which pokes a hole in some of our favorite delusions.

But let's get back to the Cartel before I get too sidetracked.

More wisdom from the content machine
Pervlina’s "Inspirational Week" blog post about the TLC is full of numerous other gems. For example, he 'splains the exclusivity of the Cartel gatherings by noting: “One of the most important elements is that we do this away from the public eye, sans fans and critics alike, so we can keep the energy very positive and loving but also honest and real.”

I'm sure that some of the bidness deals that are struck there are quite real, anyway. We can be pretty certain that attendees trade frauduct ideas along with their hugs, laughter, and tears. Pass me that joint venture, my friend, and I'll take a deep hit and pass it on. In his review of the new Julia Roberts movie Eat Pray Love, Houston Chronicle film reviewer Mick LaSalle made an observation about the rather contrived nature of the spiritual quest that forms the basis of the story: "Thinly veiled in Eastern robes, Eat Pray Love is the ultimate American success story, in which every warm human contact becomes grist for commerce." That could easily be said about the TLC as well, and for that matter, about many of the personal interactions that occur in the New-Wage/McSpirituality industry.

But I cannot help wondering if damage control has been a topic at all since Sweatgate happened, or if the ethics of the New-Wage way of doing business are seriously discussed, or are these issues just ignored? I'd welcome insights about this from anyone inside or outside the TLC.

Another amusing bit was Steve's observation about the motives of his fellow TLC members.

I can’t say I’ve encountered anyone there who does this kind of work for the money. If such a person exists, I’ve never met him/her. Even the ones who teach about wealth and abundance seem to be primarily motivated by the love of the work and the desire to contribute. The truth is that it breaks their hearts when they see people suffering from lack, and they want to do what they can to alleviate suffering and spread more happiness and abundance.

I think if you got to know the people behind the scenes as I have, you’d feel immensely grateful for them. Even when they’re dealing with major personal and professional challenges, they just keep giving, giving, giving. Maybe their contributions aren’t perfect, but they do the best they can.

Oh, yeah, I'm sure they do. By the way, in this post Steve makes a passing (or perhaps passive-aggressive) mention of Tony Robbins' now-failed "reality" TV show. Tony is arguably the most successful "name" in the industry, and is notably absent from the TLC roles. Was he not invited, or simply not interested? Deep Pockets Chopra isn't there either. Numerous other big names seem to be missing as well.

Have you driven a Ford lately?
Speaking of Mr. Fire, he's another one who likes to name-drop TLC. While all of us critics and haters and losers were still hanging out in the Salt mines jawing about the World Cupple (
Joe+Pat), Joe himself was being charmed and bedazzled at the TLC gathering, and was, least in his own mind, being equally charming and bedazzling. He has long professed to be an admirer of Chopra protege Debbie Ford, author of numerous books about topics such as the Shadow Self.* He seems to have a major crush on her, and you can hardly blame him because she is pretty darn cute. But now it has come to light, so to speak, that the Shadow Queen admires him too. Writes Joe:

I loved relaxing with her, talking, sharing, and playing. When we met, she looked at me and said, “You’re gorgeous.” As if that compliment could be topped, one of the most flattering moments is when she said she wanted to co-lead a workshop with me.

Imagine how this feels: a great teacher I’ve studied wants to share the stage with me. (!)

I keep telling people that as long as you keep working on yourself, your life will blossom. Teachers I’ve studied years ago when I was broke, are now partners, peers and pals of mine. Many of them are in TLC.

Do I even have to tell you that the words "keep working on yourself" link to Joe's Miracles Coaching scheme? And do I even have to mention that in Joe's case, "working on yourself" has meant, for the most part, aggressively working the hustledork/Internet Marketing circle jerk?

In any case it's clear that he is seriously kissing up to Debbie Ford, because there's a picture of the two of them together, and that pic links to...get this...Debbie's site. This would be NBD except for the fact that there are two other photos in the same post, and they link, as do the vast majority of pics on his blog, to Joe's Extract Money Now book site – which in turn is little more than a promotional piece for the "Mormon boiler room" (as Salty Droid would put it) that Joe's House o'Miracles-Coaching has become. Speaking of that, here's a link to the tale of one person's interesting experience with Joe's Miracles Coaching. I have a feeling we'll be reading a lot more about this stuff soon.

Given Joe's past history of accuracy, you have to wonder how the exchanges with Debbie Ford at the Cartel meeting really went down. I imagine that in many cases, "I'd love to do a workshop with you" is the h-dork equivalent of "Let's do lunch some time." I'm thinking that the Shadow Queen may yet regret the friendly overtures she made to Mr. Fire at the TLC gathering, much as, according to a rumor I once heard, she regretted tossing him a crumb of praise during a private conversation in the past.

But even if she does end up ruing the day she ever allegedly told him he was gorgeous, I imagine no real harm will be done. After all, the New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality industry is an easy-come, easy-go world of "friendships" and alliances that can turn on a dime, or, more accurately, on the promise of a lucrative joint-venture deal or the agreement to share a few hundred thousand mailing list names. Point being that if the James Ray debacles could be swept under the TLC rug so easily, as they apparently have been... and if someone like Bill Harris is still a member in good standing at TLC, for gosh sakes... anything else can be swept away as well. Hugs, tears, intimate sharing at the clandestine confabs...and then it's off to the next scheme. Business as usual.**

It is indeed a magic circle jerk, and the circle remains essentially unbroken despite the calamities that have hit the industry over the past year. The real purpose of the TLC's existence couldn't be more clearly expressed than it is on the blurb on their web site:

The Transformational Leadership Council was founded so leaders of personal and organizational transformation could support each other in their contributions to the world.

Sounds like a cartel to me! But at least the TLC'ers aren't running around pissing on redwoods or dallying with for-hire gay boy-toys.

Well, at least not that I know of.

PS ~ Speaking of cartels (or syndicates, if you will), The Salty Droid really nailed it in his August 12 post, illuminating not only the business models employed in Internet marketing but also in the frequently-overlapping "transformational" racket.

* One of my own critics advised me last year that I need to own up to the darkness in myself and that reading Debbie Ford's books would be helpful in this regard. This person was obviously unaware that I claim and actually like my shadow self. Or at least I like my shadow, particularly when it looms large on the moonlit wall at night, like an Amazonian Cosmic Connie. Those giant cat shadows that sometimes sneak up behind the big CC are kind of unnerving, though.
** 23 August 2010: Those of you who have been following this post from the time I first published it may notice that I have deleted a brief passage about Julia Rogers Hamrick's book, Choosing Easy World. I can see how people reading the original passage might have thought that the mention of the book in this context was an implication that Ms. Hamrick is a TLC member. At the very least it was an implication that she is peripherally part of the "circle jerk" the post reviles. After conversations with Julia's husband Rick, whose comments appear in the discussion section of this post, I believe it is possible that I have unfairly painted her and her work with my "broad brush strokes," and I think she and Rick deserve better than this. For the record, Ms. Hamrick is not a TLC member at this time, and, whatever one might think about the concept of "Easy World," this author does not appear to be in the same sorry league as many of my snark targets. For further discussion about all of this, hurry on over to the "Comments" section.

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