Abrascam: Followers may fall, but the snow must go on
Note: I have modified some of the copy in this post since I first published it. In the portion following the "bad poetry" in honor of Abe Forum moderator Jody's birthday, I have substituted my original "speculation" about the forum mods' motives for censoring a conversation with actual private communications about these motives. I was aware of these exchanges at the time I originally wrote the post, and worked the basics into my (informed) "speculation." However, at that time I had not yet obtained permission to share the exchanges verbatim. Thank you to ex-Aber Tina, who brought this sad story to light after two-and-a-half-years, for giving me permission to share them, and for the erudite Clarity, who helped me secure the permission. For easy viewing, the new material will be in this color.
~CC, 19 January 2012
Also see addendum -- an important comment from Clarity -- posted in this color.
~CC, 23 January 2012
Now that we're well into The Year of the Mayan Apocalypse, I suppose I'd best get back to blogging while there is still time. Actually, this somewhat overdue post has been in the hopper for a few weeks, but work and other responsibilities kept popping up (not that I'm complaining).
One of the things I find most frustrating about New-Wage/selfish-help/McSpirituality culture is the constant, contrived, and almost superstitious avoidance of "negativity." This avoidance is manifested not only in ongoing efforts to ignore, discredit, or even take legal action against critics, but, at its most extreme, in the effort to cover up injuries or deaths of followers. While some fans of New-Wage gurus or belief systems may sincerely believe that focusing on the negative is counter-productive to their growth, it seems pretty obvious that the gurus and group leaders have their own motivations for nixing negativity: it's bad for business. When followers die and their death seems even marginally related to a particular New-Wage enterprise, that's really bad for business. And this brings us to the apparent cover-up, by Abraham-Hicks principals, of the 2009 suicide of one of their followers, Karen Shelton.
I am not the first blogger to write the sad story of this talented artist, who followed Abraham-Hicks in the last years of her life and used the name "Ari" (which is her son's name) on some of the Abe forums. She was very active on these forums, and when she took her own life in the summer of 2009, a few of her fellow members who found out about it wanted to discuss the matter on the forum. But moderators of the official online community, The Abe Forum, made a concerted effort to squelch the conversation. And although they didn't wipe "Ari's" hundreds of posts from the forums completely, they changed her status from "member" to "guest," and made it clear that discussing her was verboten.
So why go into this story now, when it is two-and-a-half years old? It started when an ex-Aber named Tina mentioned Karen's story recently on the blog of another ex-Aber, Mariah, and Mariah turned that into a blog post, the link to which is here. Around the same time, long-time Abe-Hicks critic Dave Stone wrote two posts about the matter, one on Seekyt and one on Healthmad.com.
I guess it's my turn now. Originally I had just planned for this to be a short post linking to the others' work. But it grew and grew, as things so often do on this Whirled. As usual with these long posts, you may want to print this one out to read it, and highlight the links you want to follow. I do urge you to read Mariah's and Dave's posts, as well as those on Kyra's blog. And be sure to read the comments from other ex-Abers such as Clarity, Claire, and Charmcat, and, of course, Tina, who brought the story back to light. These bloggers and commenters are the ones who are really the experts on the dynamics of the Abe forums and the whole Abe-Hicks body of work.
A member to remember...or not
Karen Shelton had been through more than her share of bad times in her life. She had battled depression for years, and even mentioned on a post I read that she had been suicidal at different times in her life. She'd suffered through an abusive marriage, the loss of twin baby girls who were born prematurely, and an aggressive form of breast cancer where she was given only a 50-50 chance of survival. Although single and lacking insurance, she did survive, but her hair never grew back after the cancer treatments. Before and after the cancer, her life was apparently a series of financial and emotional struggles.
But Karen had two things going for her: her artistic talent, and her son Ari, an artist in his own right, whose chosen art form was music rather than painting. Ari did everything he could to support his mom, even writing to CBS' The Early Show, requesting that they consider his mother for a makeover as part of the "Week of Wishes" that the show was sponsoring at the time. Thanks to Ari's poignant recounting of his mother's struggles, Karen was chosen and received her makeover, which was featured on an episode of The Early Show. Macy's donated a $1,000 gift certificate towards a new wardrobe, and a team at a posh New York Salon helped her make the most of her looks. According to the story on the CBS site:
In the end, Shelton felt like a new woman. "It's amazing, glamorous and beautiful," she said. While visiting The Early Show Thursday morning, the good news continued. Co-anchor Rene Syler surprised Shelton with the news that art supplier DickBlick.com is donating a $2,500 gift certificate. Shelton also will be getting a professional break that many artists dream of: The Animazing Gallery in New York's SoHO has agreed to hold a show of Shelton's work and to host a reception in her honor.
Hearing the good news, Shelton threw her arms around her son, saying, "He does magic for me."
Here is a link to that story, which includes a video of Karen and Ari's appearance on The Early Show: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/03/23/earlyshow/series/week_of_wishes/main1433783.shtml
It's important to note that although the article on the CBS site is dated February 11, 2009, the original date of the show on which Karen and Ari were featured was March of 2006. At that time, she had probably been into Abraham-Hicks' teachings for about a year. (Thanks to Clarity for clarifying these points for me.)
The page about Karen Shelton's Animazing Gallery show has some more biographical information about her. In the Artist's Statement at the end, Karen quotes a friend who wrote this about her:
"We should all be writing our books, but now you, you should be having [your son] Ari score your movie, a movie about a too quiet girl who dreams in color. It wouldn't be about all that was taken away from you but all that you create out of thin air..."
But apparently it was not in Karen's nature to claim all of the glory for herself. She added:
My friend could write the same thing about herself; her challenges have equaled mine. “We think of something, and we doos it” is another way she describes how strong we, like so many women, have learned to be.
My desire is to describe this kind of strength through my paintings. It is a subtle kind of strength that comes to us just as a way of being. The flaws, the scars, the scratches in paint reveal a strong sense of presence… a Presence That Just Is...
We all love the heartwarming true-life tales we see on TV, and I'm sure they're good for ratings, but of necessity they provide only a snapshot and not the entire story. It would be lovely to believe that the trip to New York and the attention lavished by CBS et al. marked a turning point in Karen's life: both a happy ending and a new beginning. But there was no happy ending. Karen dreamed in color and committed those dreams to canvas, but her life off-canvas was not a dream. And although she was by all counts a strong woman, in the end there were forces that were even stronger.
At some point after she was on the CBS show, Karen became active on the Abe-Hicks forums (she joined in 2007), and was a frequent participant, not merely seeking support for her own struggles, but constantly trying to help others with theirs as well. Her story unfolded over a series of many posts, some of which were a clear cry for help, but the only "help" she got from Abe forum members were the expected cliches about getting into alignment.
Tina, the ex-Aber I mentioned above, put it most succinctly on Mariah's blog:
I recall Ari/Karen posting and seeking help and alignment, and seemingly, the harder she tried, the worse her life became. She quit her job at the encouragement of fellow posters. She was financially strapped at this time, but trusted she could rely on the abundance that was sure to flow in from her art work because of Esther's teachings. She would post every once in a while her out of alignment, losing her loft, no money, an art job would come in but be surrounded with problems. Most of her issues were seemingly stemming of lack of finances. She was getting deeper and deeper in depression, and her posts were clearly reflecting this, all the while she continued to get the same canned responses about getting into alignment, etc., and reminding her how close she is to getting everything in her escrow. She would get into a happier place, but then return a week later more depressed and discouraged than the week before.
Tina noted that some of Karen's last posts revolved around her excitement over her son's upcoming wedding. But this excitement was marred by financial concerns and not being able to afford a nice dress. She was also uneasy about seeing her son's dad, her abusive ex-spouse. It was all apparently too much for her, and finally, after leaving the wedding, she ended her life.
When Tina found out about it, she broached the subject on The Abe Forum, but the thread was quickly shut down by Super Moderator Jody Baron (more on her in a little while). And when Tina went looking for Ari's posts, she found that the Ari avatar, which was one of Karen's lovely paintings, had been removed, and her status changed from "Member" to "Guest." Wrote Tina on Mariah's blog:
It was as if she never existed on that forum. A few people did see my post before it was removed and starting asking about Ari and surprised at her death. Jody made a post reflecting the topic was not up for conversation, or something to that effect.
Jody also communicated privately with Tina that it was best not to allow any discussion of Ari/Karen; more on that below.
In a recent private discussion about this, ex-Aber Clarity (who gave me permission to quote her) summed up Karen's struggles and how unhelpful the Abe teachings apparently were:
So let’s see…she comes to Abe, loses her gallery to rotten people…moves 6 times in one year, winds up in a rough neighborhood in an oversized closet, has to borrow money to keep her place, finds a beau and gets dumped. Can we see how always trying to stay positive and figure out how to open that vortex door would tax a stable person, much less a person on meds who is suicidal??? Karen really tried hard to keep thinking better thoughts…and her life kept going downhill. God, the overwhelming sense of frustration that she had to deal with each and every day. The overwhelming sense of personal failure. She did something wrong…she didn’t line up.
...Not to forget she was a very integral part of the forum, a regular poster/always there for others, always trying to help, inspire, comfort. Then one day poof…gone…let’s not talk about it.
[Addendum, 23 January 2012]: Although it also appears in the discussion following this post, I want to insert Clarity's January 21 comment about a detail of Karen's story that I inadvertently overlooked. I'm going to quote Clarity verbatim.
…Karen’s last post on the Abe forum was the day before the wedding, the day before she took her life. From someone who recalls the post it wasn’t any kind of post that would be um, incriminating. She was excited about Ari’s wedding, wished she had something nicer to wear and was nervous about seeing her ex after so long. That post was removed, puff into thin air. I wondered about that for awhile…why remove a not damning post? It wasn’t till a few days ago that I got it. It was the last post she made and in spite of her happy face the next day she took her life. That was why it had to be erased. That is in fact the most incriminating of all…happy face today, gone tomorrow. The Hicks, who control the forum and make all the decisions, I would best guess went over Karen’s post and decided how to handle it…remove her avatar of one of her beautiful paintings, remove her as a member to guest status and remove her last post. Now that I understand why they removed her last post (because I really didn’t understand why when I first heard) it is reflective of not only sinister motives in how her passing was handled but someone’s looking at each detail carefully to sanitize her presence on the forum. What kind of ghouls go over her post like that? What kind of sick sadistic ghouls???
Just for the heck of it I Googled "Abraham Hicks suicide." The first few results were videos of what "Abe" says about death and dying. Then there was this blog post, which was hard to read for more than just the totally lousy typography. The gist of it? "Every death is suicide." Or so says "Abraham."
Dave Stone has written quite a lot about the Abraham-Hicks teachings on death and suicide. In his recent Seekyt article he wrote:
"'...death' is a matter of closing one's eyes in this dimension and literally opening one's eyes in the other dimension. And that, truly, is how all death is, no matter how it looks, up to that point.. The re-emergence into Source Energy is always a delightful thing."
This was said by Esther Hicks, posing as Abraham, in Buffalo, New York, two weeks to the day after terrorist attacks claimed nearly 3,000 lives on September 11th, 2001.
Not to worry. Pregnant women crushed by collapsing towers or jumping to avoid being burned alive, others on jetliners with babies in their laps, men with dependent families waiting for them to come home, telemarketers slugging away another day on the phone--no matter, they killed themselves, fully aware and instantly without a regret, according to Esther Hicks. “The death experience is always suicide.” Also, it “is always a delightful thing.”
Someone going by the name of Wide Eyes wrote this on a recent Salty Droid post, in a thread about the narcissistic mindset of The Secret:
January 11th, 2012 at 2:28 am
...Speaking of the evil of the secret, I’ve lost a newborn (stillbirth) and was told by a Secret/Abrahams Hicks devotee that it was probably because of a “negative thought”
This was the worst thing i’ve heard. So f-----g mean
But it was also total b.s. As in fact I did not worry at all
needless to say I erased this woman from my life… (who fancies herself as a coach helping people!)...
...Btw we had another child and worried sick for her (lots of negative thoughts)… She’s perfectly healthy...
It seems that the real laws of cause and effect are far more complex than the all-knowing "Abe" -- and other LOA gurus and followers -- would have us believe.
The mods versus reality
As you may know, the Abraham-Hicks empire is on somewhat shakier ground now than it has ever been, and it's not just because Esther and gang apparently got on the wrong side of an influential Hollywood celeb (but that's worthy of a whole other blog post, which I won't write but will link to when it is written). The shakiness is due in large part to the recent death of the original brains behind the whole Abrascam, Jerry Hicks. Granted, Jerry was old -- in his eighties -- and he had leukemia. Yet many are questioning why the Abe-Hicks teachings on health and illness apparently failed him. And even though the fact that...um...he was quite elderly and had a terminal illness should have been a sufficient explanation for his demise, the manner of his passing did raise interesting questions about the apparent disconnect between Abe-Hicks teachings and Jerry's choices at the end. For instance, there was his choice to use every conventional (and unconventional) medical treatment available as he fought to hang on to his earthly existence, despite Abe's teachings to the contrary. And then there's the question of why he "attracted" the cancer in the first place.*
The moderators of the official Abraham-Hicks forums have apparently been putting forth their best damage-control efforts, much as they did with Karen Shelton. I'm certainly not an expert on these forums and their dynamics and politics, but I think I have a grasp on the basics, thanks in large part to the Abe-Hicks critical bloggers and those who have participated on their blog discussions. In fact, the ever-intrepid Kyra, who takes her job as Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo seriously, connects some dots with the Abe forum(s) in this recent blog post.
Apart from Esther-as-Abe, perhaps the most influential voice on the official online community is long-time Abe-Hicks house boy David Gordon, who seems in many ways to be a typical SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). In his profile on The Abe Forum, he lists his home page as abrahamappreciators.com, but it directs to this URL: http://whatanicewebsite.com/faces/. David apparently received his noble calling to pilot Abe-Hicks' online conversations back in the late 1990s, as he relates on this link. Called to the "hotseat" at a live event in 1998, David had a convo with Esther-as-Abraham that began like this (with brief annotations from your hostess):
ABRAHAM: Right here. You've just been given a new birth.
DAVID: That's going to be a hard one.
ABRAHAM: Better than a lobotomy. [Yuck-yuck. Oh, that Abe gang. What a bunch of cut-ups. ~CC]
DAVID: What a wonderful act to follow. I have been given the wonderful opportunity to administer an E-mail list for the body of information that is Abraham-Hicks. There are over 140 people on this list. It's been in existence for about three years.
ABRAHAM: How did it come about? How did it begin? [Why would Abe ask these questions? I thought they knew everything. Oh, well. ~CC]
DAVID: It came about by a particular individual who is in this room coming up with the idea of linking on-line folks on the leading edge, as we are, together to discuss the works of Abraham.
ABRAHAM: So they are independent students of the process of deliberate creation.
And it goes on and on like that. Oy. I'm quite familiar with that "we're on the leading edge" mentality, by the way. It's a banner proudly carried by woo armies everywhere, providing the foundation for some of their most common (and fallacy-ridden) counters to criticism.
In May of 2011, David started a Love for Jerry thread on The Abe Forum, the URL of which is www.LoveforJerry.com, though it directs to http://www.abeforum.com/showthread.php?23438-Appreciating-Jerry-Hicks. Presumably this love-bombing was an effort to support Jerry as he fought his cancer battle...oops, I mean "allowed" the medical treatment. On one of his posts on that thread, David quoted from another Abe-Hicks fan named Tewa:
Jerry I love you SO much
It will take me a thousand rampages of appreciation to list the things I
You and Ester [sic] have given us all so much
My heart is so full tonight of all I have received
I love that you take the Chemo in true wonderful Jerry style
watching and allowing
i love how you Live Abe
i Love how you are
I love what you asked into Being for all of us
with your thirsting questioning mind and your great loving and appreciating
And I love you
I love your zippy do da -ness
i love how you are so tuned into FUN!
i love your incredible life
I love your courage and resilience
Love YOU Thank-you Jerry
But in spite of all of that love and zippy do da-ness and being tuned into FUN!, Jerry croaked anyway on November 18, 2011. Or, rather he "made his transition," though Esther waited a few days to announce it to the world. And there seems to be some pretty interesting buzz about that, about what was really going on while Jerry was being launched into the vortex and the Abe-Hicks propaganda machine was spinning its tales to keep the shocked and the doubting in thrall. There appears to be an interesting Korea story here; I do believe some of our Abe-Hicks sleuths are looking into that even as I write this.
But I digress. The point towards which I am meandering is that at least the participants were allowed on the forums to talk about Jerry's passing...well, sort of. Apparently they can't comment about Jerry anywhere but on the "I love Jerry" thread, where the post-croaking rampages continue. Head SNAG David Gordon makes it clear:
Posts in the "main" forum, Abraham Teachings and you, are open only for that topic and not comments about Jerry.
And I'm sure that any critical posts will be disallowed.
David has been aided in his guard duties by several others, most notably, the aforementioned Jody Baron, Super Moderator. Here are some highlights from Jody's profile on The Abe Forum:
- Where Life is FUN
- Favorite short Abraham quote
- "Stop making such a big deal out of everything!"
- How did you find the Abe forum?
- I created and launched it with David Gordon in may, 2007
It seems Jody and David once had a thing going, but alas, the love did not last, and Jody ran off with another SNAG, with whom she is now co-author of a book on tantric boinking called Relax Into Sex. Jody and her partner are apparently delivering workshops on how to use the Law of Attraction to have great sex. Icky, icky.
But that is now, and this was then. And for the benefit of those who might accuse me of indulging in gratuitous gossip, let me state that I am merely providing some context for Karen's story. As both David and Jody were instrumental in the censorship of her story on The Abe Forum, it only seems appropriate. It's also appropriate to mention that around the time when a few of the regular participants were trying to bring Karen's story to light on The Abe Forum, and the mods were busily wiping the forum clean of her presence, David Gordon began a "rampage of appreciation" for Jody to celebrate her birthday. On August 19, 2009, David introduced a new topic: "Rampage for Jody Today." Judging from the time stamp, he got up pretty early in the morning to do it:
Posted: Wed Aug 19th, 2009 03:35 am
I thought I'd give a Happy Birthday to our Beloved Super Moderator today. Today is her birthday, and I wish her a GREAT day today.... and every day.
It may not be enough to just write some appreciation, and words may not work or be enough to express how much I appreciate her, but I wanted to at least try!
The Abe Forum is yet another one of Jody's expressions of Love in her life. And like her sons and daughter, it has turned out magnificently. Without the energy of Jody, this place would not be what it is. (okay, she has a lot of help from Marc and Scott, but it's not their birthday today, it's hers.)
And so today I rampage for Jody. The world has the best possible forum for the appreciation of Abraham because of her amazing talent and focus. It's a LOT more than just her talent that is involved, there's an energy that is off the chart for helping others understand and use the Abraham teaching. And she does this tirelessly, day after day after day. (unless she is on a cruise, which is OMG.. often!) Even then there's hardly ever a time when this place is not on her mind and in her heart.
I practically go breathless to encompass all the Love she is. The Forum is just a portion of that Love. I see how she is as a Mom and there's not anyone around that can know the feeling that I feel or understand the Love that is present. I have told her that she is Love on steroids, and that is SO true!!
So Jody, this rampage is for you today.
May you feel Loved and Appreciated today beyond anything that makes any sense.
with Love and Rampages,
Last edited on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 10:45 pm by
This open invitation was followed by a page of emoticon-heavy, animation-infested, happy-happy joy-joy messages from participants whose profiles listed their locations as places such as "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "The Vortex." It was a true "rampage," Aber style. There was even some bad poetry (and goodness me, you know how I love bad poetry):
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!HAPPY BIRTHDAY JODY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Birthdays come but once a year
But, your radiant love is always here
Your style and grace never cease to be
And we all appreciate you responding so inspirationally
Your energy and enthusiasm radiates to us all
As Abraham's philosophy you so KNOWINGLY recall
Jody you're an uplifter of pure clarity
Which we can all enjoy for eternity...
Meanwhile, the discussions about Karen's death were wiped clean, and "Ari" was de-avatar'd and re-listed as a "guest" rather than a "member."
Some might say that the forum moderators had good reasons to suppress discussion about the tragic end to Karen's life, apart from the obvious agendas to keep negativity to a manageable level and to avoid anything remotely resembling liability for a member's death. In fact, Birthday Girl Jody, in private communications with Tina at this time, expressed these reasons like a true expert in obfuscation (Abe-fuscation?). As I mentioned in my Jan. 19 note at the beginning of this post, Tina has graciously given me permission to share this exchange.
Jody begins with this communication to Tina:
I think we're going to make any discussion of Ari off-topic. What do you two think?
Meanwhile, the consensus of the moderators is that we'll discuss it in PM [private messages] - those who are aware, but we don't see value it discussing it on the open forum. I'm very willing to entertain opinions to the contrary though... any thoughts?
My thoughts on Ari's transition. Obviously, the decision is yours and David's [that would be David Gordon, of course ~CC], and I appreciate the opportunity to give you my thoughts. With this being the Abe forum, and Abe always referring to us humans in physical forms attributing negativity to death when it is not a negative experience, I feel in keeping quiet when someone from the forum transitions, well, it gives me the feeling that death is bad in some way, which contradicts Abe's teachings on the subject. It doesn't feel right to me .
I honestly feel a guided thread, perhaps started by a moderator with clear intentions in place of it being about Ari and the teachings of Abe to keep the flow on the experience of death from Abe's perspective would be beneficial to those on the board following Abe and his words. We need to comprehend and totally understand that death is not something we should be afraid to face, it can't be swept under the rug, but should be addressed in some fashion. Even to make a positive comment about Ari transitioning and then locking the thread would be better than not acknowledging her transition at all.
As I said, of course, the call is yours and David's, but to pretend that it didn't happen would be a travesty and certainly not in line with what Abraham teaches.
I totally hear what you are saying, of course. We would never censor the subject of death, as you know, and we have had many very intense threads on it. The reason I'm hesitant to allow a discussion of Ari is that she was sort of anonymous here - if she was your mother, then of course I would allow you to discuss your use of the Abraham teachings while "dealing with" (for lack of better phrase) her death. But just the fact that she was a forum member doesn't seem a "good reason" for us to get into a discussion of it. Does this make sense? It is what feels right to me and David and Scott and Marc right now, but again, I'm happy to keep up the dialog with you here and if you feel there is a thread in the making that you have bubbling up in you that involves Ari's death and directly relates to the teachings- please run it by me here?
(I'm copying my co-moderators on this note in case they have words of wisdom..)
Tina's response to Jody:
I have come to the thought that being anonymous, then the name is not known, so to speak, outside of the board. It is a screen name. Ari is known as Ari the screen name. I see no contraindications to making a thread about Ari transitioning and locking it. Ari is a screen name. The screen name transitioned and will not longer be posting. Does that make sense? Separating the real person from the anonymous screen name?
I didn't know Ari's real name or even where she lived, but I do see a difference in stating on the forum that Ari transitioned versus Karen Doe of West Sawdust, MA transitioned. She posted here as Ari. The use of the name Ari would still allow the person behind the screen name to remain anonymous.
Jody's reply to Tina's response:
I'm not sure what would be gained by announcing her death, and then discussing it. To discuss it "just because" she was a forum member seems a little "off". Does this make sense? I don't think we are "grieving" for her or really in any way having to deal with her passing, so a thread just to let people know that someone who was on the forum is now in non-physical doesn't make sense as far as topic.
For me, it seems most downstream just to answer the questions of those who PM me or the other moderators (of they will) asking why she is no longer on the forum. But since even that has not happened.. I think with over 4000 members, in and out of physical, we're not going to be able to keep track!
Am I over-thinking this? It's very possible!! I do have a tendency to do that!
Thanks for mulling this over with me!
Today Tina says, "Of everything Jody said in those messages, this stuck out the most to me: 'I don't think we are "grieving" for her or really in any way having to deal with her passing.'"
Indeed. That's the part that sticks out for me too. Jody's arguments come across as just so much rationalization. First there are the issues of privacy and anonymity. As Tina pointed out, it would not have been a violation of Karen's privacy or anonymity to discuss her death using her screen name, Ari. For that matter, on other platforms, both Karen (using her real name) and the son who survived her (more about him below) have been quite public about their troubled stories. Had this not been the case, I would not have used their real names here.
Moreover, grief has many faces, and I think it is indeed possible to grieve for a relative stranger, even if you don't have to directly deal with the logistical matters or the deeper emotional issues related to their passing. To imply that those who mourned Ari/Karen's passing were not dealing with real emotions is ignorant and cold. Tina and the others who wanted to talk publicly about Ari were motivated by empathy and compassion, traits for which the Abe machine apparently has little use. And the matter of Karen's untold story has remained painful for Tina even after two-and-a-half years.
When I speculated on these matters in a private conversation with a small group of Abe critics, and added that empathy and compassion do not seem to be stressed in the Abe-Hicks teachings, Dave Stone responded (and has given me permission to quote him):
You think empathy and compassion are not stressed in the Abe-Hicks teachings? Worse they that, the embedded, radical narcissism makes them anathema. If it ain't about me, it ain't.
I remember one heavy-duty Aber... in one of the last debates I ever had on AbeTalk [another Abe forum], insisted that she would waltz past the children being forced to ingest poison in Jonestown, singing La-di-da-di-da. It was law of attraction in action, after all. The children, even infants brought it on themselves with their "vibrations," and it wouldn't be right to interfere. Hers was a pure expression of the teachings in real life. It's about me, me and me, or it just isn't. After all, I created the whole thing, and I can just ignore what I don't like.
The philosophy gives a bad name to sophomoric and shallow.
I couldn't have said it better, Dave. And that whole Jody birthday exchange leads me to wonder: If, according to the Abe-Hicks mindset, the grief that some members felt for Karen/Ari wasn't "real" because after all, they only "knew" her through the forum, how could all of those joyful rampages of appreciation in which the Abers indulge on the forums be "real?" And how genuine is that effluvium of professed "love" for Jerry and Esther? Granted, some of the gushers and fawners have probably met Esther and Jerry -- and each other -- in person on cruises or at other Abe-Hicks events, but do they all really "know" each other? Probably not.
But then, much like the Beatles' fabled Strawberry Fields, in the Aberhood nothing is real.
What is real is the life that burns beyond the ecstatic rampages on the forums, but those stories can be so distressingly mundane. I think Tina summed it up quite well on Kyra's recent blog post (Jan 11, 2012 07:31 PM):
I find that most people on the forum are either looking to attract a relationship or money, money probably being #1, but relationship is a close second. A lot of posts I read on the forum are people who are down and out, can't pay their basic need bills, strapped for cash, yet continuing to use their last dime, so to speak, to buy a Hicks's book, a video seminar, or actually going to a seminar in person (all when posting they are soon to be evicted for not paying their rent). They are willing to spend their last bit of money on anything Hicks's related because they think "I just need one more piece of information and then all my abundance will come to me, this might be it, this might be the final piece of the puzzle I need." Unfortunately, reaching their goal through the Hicks's "scam," for lack of a better word is always elusive, dependent on the new book, the next seminar, the next great recycled idea that the Hicks...and Company come up with.
That's a familiar scenario, one that is no doubt played out over and over and over again across the New-Wage (and Internet Marketing) universe, on everything from Marcy From Maui's Powerful Intentions forum to Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale's Attract Miracles "community" to the wretched hive of self-described "Syndicate" members that Salty Droid writes about on his blog. There will always be people who are willing to spend their last penny and even go into debt for overpriced products and events, hoping that the next one will be the portal to the realization of their hopes and dreams.
Same story, different verse
When I first read the story of how Karen/Ari was all but "wiped away" from the Abe forum after she killed herself, and particularly after I read about the Jody birthday appreciation rampage, I immediately thought of another tragedy that also took place in 2009. I recalled how James Arthur "Death" Ray and his minions worked so hard to cover up Colleen Conaway's death after she (apparently) jumped off of a third-floor mall balcony during one of Ray's Harmonic Wealth weekends in San Diego in July of 2009 -- less than three months before the fatal sweat lodge in Sedona. Many of you who are reading this probably know the basics of Colleen's story, but it bears repeating in this context. (For those who are interested, Salty Droid wrote of the tragedy of Colleen in detail over the course of numerous posts.) One of Ray's minions, Greg Hartle, actually witnessed Colleen's fatal leap from across the mall, and instead of calling 911 he simply tweeted: “Just witnessed a woman jump several stories down onto pure concrete. I gotta say it was disturbing. I’m sending her my love right now.”
Even after Colleen's body had been identified and Ray was notified, some of his assistants pretended to still be looking for her. One of them even called her cell phone repeatedly and left messages asking her where she was -- after it was known that she was dead. And that night, they all had the wrap party and danced the night away, with the principals knowing full well that Colleen was lying dead on a slab. In all fairness I'll say that most of the dancers and party animals did not know that one of their fellow participants was dead. Most did not have a clue until months later, after the Sedona tragedy put James Ray in a harsher light and the news media and critical bloggers started digging. But Death Ray and the Rayettes did know that very night, and still partied up a storm.
As Abe-Hicks critic Clarity wrote recently about Karen and the Hicks, "In the name of the franchise must go on it was hushed up." That tactic backfired big time on Ray and will continue to backfire. He is currently serving a prison sentence -- a paltry one but a prison sentence nevertheless -- for the three deaths in Sedona, and Colleen's family is reportedly pursuing justice. I find the tale of Karen and the Abe forum to be equally sad and disgusting, and especially poignant as there seemed to be ample red flags leading up to her suicide. (Colleen's death, on the other hand, took everyone by surprise -- particularly her family -- since she apparently had no obvious problems before that, other than the problem of being utterly hooked on James Ray seminars and spending all of her money to attend his increasingly pricey events.)
The story of Karen and the Abe-Hicks forum also reminded me of another sad tale that didn't quite have the legs of the James Ray cases, but seemed to be another clear example of the harm that can be caused by New-Wage nonsense, and a reminder of how grievously unprepared the hucksters who peddle this mindset are when it comes to dealing with people who are in real trouble. In December of 2005, a 34-year-old Australian woman named Rebekah Lawrence, described by many as normally shy, modest, and polite, took off her clothes at work, hurled insults at her coworkers, shouted out her love to her husband David, and jumped out an office window, plunging to her death. No alcohol or other drugs were found in her system, and she did not have a history of psychiatric problems. Yet according to at least one forensic psychiatrist, she was clearly in a state of psychosis.
A couple of days earlier, Rebekah had completed an intensive and emotionally grueling $695.00 "experiential" self-help course called The Turning Point, which, among other things, focused on bringing out one's inner child. In the days leading up to her suicide she had tried repeatedly to get phone support from the folks at the company sponsoring the course. She said she was having some awful thoughts about death. Yet she was met by platitudes from various volunteer support workers, one of whom advised her simply to take a warm shower, have a hot drink, and be gentle on herself. Instead she took herself out. And she wasn't the only one; at least two other suicides, both before and after Rebekah's, were linked to The Turning Point course. I wrote about this in September of 2009.
And then there's the tale of Michael Scinto, who killed himself after some harrowing experiences with the men's selfish-help group the ManKind Project. I wrote about that on this lengthy post in January of 2011.
Sad stories just keep popping up to rain on the New-Wage parades... or should I say the charades?
All is not well
By mentioning those other examples, my intention is not to take anything away from Karen's story, nor to gloss over any unique characteristics of the Abraham-Hicks community. But it is hard not to notice a common pattern among all of these organizations. While countless folks have claimed over the years to have been helped in some way by various New-Wage/McSpirituality/selfish-help ideas, leaders, and LGATs (Large Group Awareness Trainings), there is also a body count. Ever since the days of Esalen and est (the forerunner to the intensely annoying Landmark Education), disturbing news of deaths or serious injuries have surfaced on occasion -- relatively rare and briefly newsworthy tales that for the most part are quickly forgotten by the public. But the true body count probably remains unknown (at least in this dimension). What is known is that there is a body count, to which the Abraham-Hicks machine has apparently contributed in its own way.
Besides Karen there is the sad and puzzling (well, it's puzzling to me, anyway) story of Andrew Wilcox, reportedly a former Abe insider who at some point decided Esther was a fraud and apparently spent the rest of his life trying to prove it. The story goes that he even went so far as to track down Esther and Jerry in an elevator, following them down the hall and challenging Esther about faking. Esther's only response was to repeatedly chant, "All is well. All is well" -- presumably in her Abe accent.
Andrew took his own life in May of 2009, leaving behind a body of work that included an angry blog. In one post titled, "Abraham's Lies Part 1," he wrote this about one of the Hicks' bestselling books:
The premise, THE F-----G TITLE, is, "ASK and it is Given". BUT... it should really be...
Ask, and then visualize, and then work up the emotional scale, and then buy another book, and then come to the seminar, and then only talk pleasingly and upliftingly about Abraham only on The Abe Forum, and then make sure you really believe this stuff, and then, and then, and then, and then, and then... it MIGHT be Given... might be... if you're lucky, and you didn't complain to[o] much, or have a few doubts or negative "episodes" along the way... maybe.
I'll say this for Andrew: Just judging from his last blog post, written two days before his death, he seemed to be good at spotting liars. Word is that he was actually a kind and gentle soul, not nearly as in-your-face in private as he was on his blog and on some of his forum and blog posts, and I also hear that there were Abe forum members who genuinely tried to help him. (Here's a thread on what has been described as a "renegade" Abe forum about his passing: http://abetalk.com/showthread.php?t=3396.) I'm told too that Andrew Wilcox was the one who coined the name "Estherham" -- a name that surely has two meanings, for what is Esther if not a large and egregiously over-cooked ham?
Andrew had his own set of problems, which may or may not have been exacerbated by Abraham-Hicks. But I have observed over the years that groups such as Abe-Hicks seem to attract more than their share of broken people. Is it that groups such as these are seemingly less judgmental than traditional institutions such as most churches? If that's the motive, many soon learn that the lack of judgment is illusory, for while New-Wage communities may be accepting of things that would make the church ladies at the local Baptist church cluck disapprovingly, they are peopled by positive-thinking fascists who level their own set of judgments. Or do troubled folks flock to these groups because participation at its most basic level is generally free or cheap (cheaper than legitimate therapy), and most of these broken people are also broke? Beats the heck out of me, but it's good discussion fodder, anyway.
It could be argued that the body count in the Aber-hood goes beyond the suicides. Kyra recently shared a story of a woman in the "hotseat" at a live Estherham (oh, I do love that word) event, whose husband had recently died of cancer after refusing chemotherapy. The grieving woman said her husband had opted out of conventional treatment because he intended to cure himself of cancer by using the Abrascam virtual-reality method. Now the man's widow wanted to know why this had failed. Estherham's answer? "All is well." This seems to be a standard response not just from the Abe-Hicks machine (apparently the forum moderators love it too) but also from numerous faux-wise New-Wage/McSpirituality gurus. I suppose it is marginally more enlightened than "It was God's will," but not by much.
With Karen Shelton in those final months, it was painfully obvious that all was not well. But Abraham-Hicks did not provide a proper framework for her to even express the not-wellness of her world, much less provide a solution.
Liability versus responsibility
I know what you may be thinking: It's possible that the hotseater's husband would have died of his cancer anyway, and that the chemo would have just delayed the inevitable, adding a few months or years to his life. And that life may have come with a lot of suffering in the bargain, as conventional cancer treatment is grueling and sometimes turns out to be almost worse than the disease itself. One can hardly blame people for seeking an alternative to being disfigured by surgery, burned by radiation, poisoned by chemo, or some tortuous combination thereof. But I guess we'll never know what might have been, and the kindest thing I can think of to say about this infuriating hotseat exchange is that "All is well" in this circumstance is a callous and cold response. (And do I even need to remind anyone that Jerry Hicks didn't stick with Abraham's usual "medical" advice when faced with cancer himself?)
This question has certainly been raised before on other blogs, but how many other people have refused possible life-saving medical treatment because of the Hicks' dubious advice? Or for that matter, because of the advice and "counsel" of any other Law of Attraction guru or Internet marketing mercenary? I believe in free choice, and I generally don't think Draconian measures should be taken to protect people from their own choices. But by the same token, I believe charlatans should be called out, loudly and often. And I don't believe that they deserve any special legal protection from critics who wish to expose their nonsense, either through the presentation of facts or informed opinion. But that's definitely a whole other (long) blog post.
Abraham-Hicks has alternately been called a cult and a religion, as have many other New-Wage and LGAT orgs. Most of the principals and the followers of these gurus and groups bristle at the suggestion that they are part of a cult. (Some groups apparently don't mind being tagged a "religion," however, if it will earn them some of the tax breaks and other perks that mainstream churches receive in the US, including the right to accuse critics of religious discrimination.) Some groups, such as Scientology and Landmark Education, even go so far as threatening to sue anyone who dares suggest they are a cult. From a technical standpoint they may not be cults, but all too often the results are cult-like, and sometimes tragically so.
In today's litigious milieu, one of the first questions surrounding any tragedy is that of liability. Who's responsible, and how can the responsible parties be made to pay? But with New-Wage gurus liability is generally very difficult to establish, even in cases where there seems to be a fairly clear cause-and-effect relationship between the guru in question and the deaths or injuries or emotional harm suffered by followers. Consider, for instance, the James Ray trial for the three deaths in the fake sweat lodge in Sedona. That trial was a long and expensive ordeal that resulted in the aforementioned light sentence for Jimmy Ray Jumpsuit, a sentence that his lawyers are still fighting (pro bono, or so they claim, because Jimmy Ray is indigent, or so he claims). Colleen Conaway's family may or may not eventually get some sort of justice, but it seems like a long shot.
With the Hicks enterprise and Karen, it would probably be even more of a long shot, should someone wish to pursue legal remedy. Karen clearly had a troubled history, and it could not reasonably be said that the Abe-Hicks teachings were the cause of most of those troubles. She came to Abe-Hicks relatively late in her life. I imagine that criminal or even civil liability would be exceedingly difficult to establish. The case isn't even as clear-cut as that of a party host or bartender who knowingly serves more alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated.
However, moral liability/responsibility is quite another matter. And while Abers may be all lah-de-dah about how all deaths are suicides anyway, and death is no big deal, and that it's a joyful experience, and so forth, it seems to me that the forums did play at least a cameo role in the final scene of the tragedy that was Karen's life, and the moderators' attempts to wipe her away are reprehensible. But then I have to remind myself that a moral sensibility -- and a conscience -- much like empathy and compassion, are not required to get you in the door at Big Abe's Speakeasy. If anything, conscience is a hindrance.
What part did Abraham-Hicks really play in Karen's death? We can only speculate, but I think Dave Stone said it succinctly and quite well in the conclusion to his recent piece on Healthmad.com:
Did Abraham-Hicks Kill Ari? No, Ari killed herself, but Abraham-Hicks and the Forum helped her get there.
Lost in the Trees, found in the music
The trees may be scary
but hidden among them
is your house.
~ Poet and essayist Andrei Codrescu
These days Karen's son, Ari Picker, is coming to terms with his mother's death -- and her life -- through his music. Since 2002 he has headed a group called Lost in the Trees, whose music reflects Ari's classical training. Though classified as "alternative," the band's work has been more accurately described by music writer Cameron Matthews as a combination of the pastoral and the orchestral. I find it very compelling, so compelling that I recently bought the group's debut CD, All Alone in an Empty House.
In December of 2010 Ari's story appeared on Indyweek.com. Wrote music editor Jordan Lawrence about All Alone in an Empty House:
On the album, Picker turns his adolescence—a dark saga steered by an emotionally abusive father and a mentally troubled mother—into searing episodes. Recollections of conversations and glimpses of intimate imagery combine over the stacked textures of a beautiful orchestra and heartache-fueled folk music. The two stylistic poles tug at each other, pushing into the other's territory, blurring into a cathartic whole. It's a fitting backdrop for a narrative that's rich with moral ambiguity and poetic sorrow.
Not to mention a combination of disturbing, whimsical, and beautiful visuals in the music videos, such as the one for the CD's title song, "All Alone in an Empty House." The moral ambiguity to which Lawrence referred is Ari's refusal to morally condemn his abusive father; the video concludes as illuminated lanterns sail up into the night sky like souls returning home as Ari sings:
no,no one is perfect
and, no one is perfect
we've got holes in our heart
no one is perfect*
"All Alone in an Empty House" is powerful and moving, but the song that won't leave me is "A Room Where Your Paintings Hang."
i have a whole room
where your paintings hang
i have a whole heart
where you can plant your garden
it would grow, oh*
Lost in the Trees will release a follow-up CD, A Church That Fits Our Needs, in March. The title echoes lyrics in "A Room Where Your Paintings Hang":
and we will find a church
that fits both of our needs
and we'll forgive ourselves
and forgive our enemies
dump them into the sea*
According to the write-up on the billions.com site:
At end of day, this is the album Picker set out to make, a celebration of the woman he calls a "warrior," and a testament to the power of music to heal and transcend.
And if the following preview video is any indication at all, Ari has done Karen proud. This collection promises not to be just a continuation of the first one; it is taking Lost in the Trees' music to a new level. I'm definitely going to buy the new CD too as soon as it's available.
While I am frequently snarky about McSpirituality and, to a lesser degree, organized religion, at heart I remain sympathetic to the spiritual quest. I may laugh, I may snark, I may roll my eyes at times and giggle fiendishly as I Photoshop, but in the end I really cannot bring myself to categorically condemn people for the very human desire to find answers to the mysteries of life and death and love, answers that normally can't be found in a life lived on the surface. I don't fault Karen for seeking answers and support in an online community, nor do I fault her son for the new and more mystical direction of his own art (and his explanations thereof). He has taken his pain, and his mother's pain as well, and used his talent to mold that pain into something gorgeous.**
For Karen, Abraham-Hicks was far from being the church that fit her own needs. When she needed it the most, it failed her, adding to a long list of other people and institutions that had failed her. When a few concerned members of her final "church" tried to express grief for her passing, they were silenced.
But we need to remember that The Abe Forum is just one little corner of a vast world. (And in fact, the "renegade" Abe Talk forum did allow discussion of Karen's passing: http://abetalk.com/showthread.php?t=4129.) Karen lives on, in her own paintings and in the soaring, atmospheric music of her son Ari and his band. And no amount of rationalization or heavy-handed moderation from the loyal followers of an imaginary-friends-spouting charlatan can keep Karen's story from being told in many other ways as well, and by many other people. I imagine that we will each contribute our own spin and that we'll bring, as Clarity has observantly noted, our own biases to the story. And that's okay, I think, for the room where Karen's paintings hang is a boundless place, larger by far than even her son -- the one person who never failed her -- may have imagined.
And I predict that the population of the Aber-hood will continue to shrink, as more and more people awaken from their daze and come to realize what a garish, silly, and ultimately empty place the house that Jerry and Esther built really is.
* This just in (19 January 2012): Dave Stone presents "Jerry Hick's Bio, A Strangely Short Story." Seems like serial con artist Jer's bio is spottier than his head was in those final years.
** All lyrics copyright © Lost in the Trees. All rights reserved. I did not get permission to use these lyrics and will remove them if requested by the copyright holders. I just thought it was important to share them, and I urge everyone to buy this group's music (from legitimate sources, of course).
*** Contrast Ari's efforts to a certain selfish-help guru/frequent Whirled snarget's recent efforts to produce "the world's first self-help rock-n-roll CD," a work that sounds in places like the worst outtakes from American Idol auditions... and, well... jeez, I'm sorry I even brought that up. Lost in the Trees deserves better than that. I'm sorry. Please forgive me.