Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Joy to the Whirled

It's been another holly jolly Christmas, rich with the holiday traditions we always enjoy in this household. For example, I spent this Christmas morning picking up pieces of thrown-up Christmas garland from the cats' part of the house, a joyous activity that I wrote about last year. I can only thank Goddess we don't have a Christmas tree.

I was actually going to write a special Christmas post today, but I just don't have the presence of mind for that right now. As it turns out, though, SHAMblog's Steve Salerno pretty much captured my thoughts about the meaning of the season, and other matters of consequence, on his own Xmas blog post today.
Personally, I must say, [Christmas is] also the one day when I find myself focusing my thoughts and emotions on the single pivotal issue left unaddressed by the impeccable logic (and dismissive smugness) of books like The God Delusion: How did nothing come from something? I understand, I guess, how we got from amoebas to A-Rod, from paramecia to Paris Hilton (though some might say the latter isn't much of an evolution). But how did we get from a perfect void to amoebas? And please, oh please, don't bring up string theory or unified fields. Not on Christmas...
I think Steve makes a pretty good case for, at the very least, sticking with agnosticism, as opposed to veering off into atheist territory. Come to think of it, I addressed some of these issues on my own Yule blog post last year.

And now as I write this, Christmas is almost over (and in fact is over in some parts of the world, where Boxing Day has already begun). I feel no guilt for having taken the lazy way out by letting one of my blogmates (and my last year's self) do most of my blogging today. Matter of fact, I took the lazy way out with Christmas dinner too, letting Ron and his daughter do most of the cooking of our traditional Christmas dinner, which this year was smoked brisket, barbecued boneless pork ribs, potato salad, deviled eggs, artichoke dip, etc. It was kind of like a Fourth of July picnic – July In Christmas, so to speak.

All things considered, it's been a pretty good holiday, and I hope yours was good as well. I leave you now with a little gift that a friend of mine sent to me: a link to what he describes as "
a chuckle-inducing thread from the Secret Forum of a bunch of Secretrons discussing sex in a manner that makes Beavis & Butthead look scholarly.” It's not really about Christmas per se, but laughter is one of the best gifts one can give, so here it is.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The case of the disappearing post

It's another Cosmic Connie Mystery! Some of you may have noticed a post about Australian Secret star David Schirmer that appeared briefly on my blog last night (or earlier today, for those in other parts of the world), but is now gone. Rest assured there's nothing untoward going on; I have temporarily taken the post down pending further...shall we say..."research." This was entirely of my own accord – a decision to err on the side of discretion for the time being – and was not the result of any sort of threat.

I have every reason to believe that everything I wrote or suggested about Schirmer on that post is true. I also have good reason to believe that even if I never write another word about him, the truth will come out. Even if I had never written a word about him at all, the truth would have come out. It was well on its way out before I had ever even heard of Schirmer; in fact it was the initial exposé by the Aussie TV show A Current Affair that brought him onto my radar in the first place.

I do wish to apologize to anyone who may be disappointed about my taking the post down – particularly those who feel they have been harmed by Schirmer. I'm not backing down on my stance about Schirmer or The Secret, and I may very well republish the post very soon, or, alternatively, I may publish something very much like it, or something even better (or worse, depending upon your perspective). Believe me, I have a lot of information that I have not yet shared.

Meanwhile, I continue to welcome opinions from all sides, including from David Schirmer himself. I am not a journalist and this blog is not journalism, but I do make every attempt to be fair and accurate, if not exactly impartial.

That said, I don't want to leave you without a couple of comments that were sent to me before I took the post down. These were intended for that post but since it's no longer up, I can't publish the comments the normal way. So I'll do it here. The first one is from the ever-delightful and witty
Steven Sashen:
I've been compiling examples to support a theory of mine:

Listen to the self-referential jokes made by the personal development "gurus". They may get laughs, but they are revealing the truth.

So, when someone jokes about his wife only being with him for the money... guess what?

Similarly when one of these schmurus (as in "guru, schmuru") gets righteously indignant about any accusation, I would take the bet that the charge is true.

And if, instead of indignant, they pull off condescending and smug, double your wager.

Put all that together and it looks like the best way to make money off of Schirmer is to find a way to short-sell him.
A guy named Julian (who provided no link) made this comment:
Cosmic Connie, This is a very long and interesting blog. I have never liked David Schirmer from the first moment I saw him on The Secret. He gave off an air of smarminess which did not gel with the rest of The Secret content.

I have also heard that Bob Proctor is no longer associating with Schirmer and I think Bob should also force Schirmer to remove every video of them working together because Schirmer has dirtied the whole production in my view.

David Schirmer is a very sleazy man if even a portion of what [has been said about him] is true. I never did like him, never did trust him and never will and I also know many other people who feel the same way that I do.

Merry Christmas to you and yours and keep up the wonderful work on this blog. There should be many more people who investigate and report on these conmen. Thankyou
Thank you to Steven and to Julian, and happy holidays to you two, and to everyone else reading this. And for everyone's sake, let's just hope that David Schirmer keeps the promise he made on A Current Affair to pay back his investors by Christmas Day. That would be a great present for all involved – including and especially Schirmer himself.

PS added on 24 December ~
Numerous other sites and blogs on the Web are devoted to David Schirmer, including this one, called David Schirmer Exposed. Ironically, I found the link to that blog on Schirmer's own blog. When the only reverse links to be found on a blog are those slamming the blogger in question, that should tell you something.

Anyway, for the benefit of those who didn't catch my "disappearing" post, its main inspiration was a recent blog post of Schirmer's, in which he discussed a nude-photo scandal (not his own, fortunately). He used that post to moralize about the evils of revenge. In the interests of creating yet another useful reverse link on his blog, here's the link to Schirmer's post.

And here is another delicious bit of irony (and yet another back-link for Schirmer's blog): A February 2007 post in which Schirmer writes of an elderly couple who wrote to him because they'd apparently lost all of their money on other people's investment scams. They were overcome with disillusionment and despair as a result. And yet they were also newly hopeful, because they'd just viewed The Secret. "Mr. Schirmer," they pleaded, "can you restore our faith in getting back what has been stolen from us?" (I can hear a few of you out there gasping and sputtering right about now...)

Schirmer does his best to restore that shattered faith. In his reply to the couple he begins by stating, "There are so many scans [sic] out there it is hard for the average person to determine what is the truth." I think you'll agree that his next piece of advice seems strangely self-serving:
Firstly, you must let go of all resentment of whatever money you have lost. Resentment and Guilt are two of the biggest emotions that hold people back for getting what they truly desire. Easy to say, often not so easy to do! While ever we focus on what we haven't got or what was 'stolen' from us we cannot receive the abundance the universe has in store for us. Do not any longer think of or speak about your loss. Remove anything that reminds you of the experience.
He wraps it up with a short reading list that includes a book by Bob Proctor, and then he ends on this note: "DO NOT do any courses or seminar with anyone unless it follows the principles of The Secret and the above mentioned books."

Somehow I get the feeling – call it intuition, call it a strange hunch or a wild hair – that this couple ended up signing on for a Schirmer seminar, and that they did not become wealthy and happy as a result...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A mystery commenter shares some wisdom

This morning I received a comment to a post I wrote months ago. The person who wrote it was obviously angry about something I had written on this blog, though the remark didn't seem to be about the post in question. I present the comment here unedited (and "sic"-free).

Connie, thankyou so much for taking time out of your dull life to write a piece about me. How awsome that someone would want to write about me!! And to put me between Rhonda and Joe.. wow. These people are world class and awsome people so I feel so honoured!!

However when you write quotes from peoples blogs etc you really should write the truth. Abuse is not a subject to joke or laugh about. But then you know that don't you.

Sorry your life has never led you to where you need to be and sorry that you use jokes to cover how you feel. Maybe in your next life time you will be wealthy and not where your at now. Tis a sad waste of your life poor lamb!!
To which I replied:
Thank you for your deep insights about my life, Anon. I wish I knew who you were, though, so I could do more justice to your comment. If you are commenting on this post in particular [Happy Anniversary Hawai'i, 21 August 2007], I should remind you that I mentioned several people in the post. So I don't know which one you might be.

OTOH, I realize that you could be commenting on another post or several other posts and are just using this one because it is currently the last one that appears on the main page. I'm thinking this is the case, because you wrote, "And to put me between Rhonda and Joe...wow." As it happens, I didn't mention Rhonda OR Joe this post.

Nor did I mention abuse, for that matter. (And I don't recall ever making any jokes about REAL abuse. Further, despite anything you might be implying, I am not a survivor of any type of abuse other than the self-induced abuse of excessive drinking, once upon a time.)

Tell you what I'm going to do. In order to ensure that as many people as possible have a chance to experience your wisdom, and to give you a chance to reveal your true identity, I am going to devote an entire post to your comment.

And then, perhaps, the world will come to believe that my life and this blog are not a total waste after all.

And so I invite Anon to come forth and identify her/himself.

Or themselves, as the case may be. I am going to start the ball rolling and venture a guess, based on the assumption that the post to which "Anon" responded with such passion – and compassion – is in fact a fairly recent one. In a very recent post I mentioned a rising channeling star named Kat, who has discovered that she is being visited and talked to by a female entity named Clara. Kat used the Secret official discussion forum to launch her channeling act. As it happens, if you start at the top of my page and scroll down, you will see that Kat and Clara do indeed fall between a post about Rhonda and a mention of Joe, both of whom I agree are Whirled-class. That's why I write about them here. (For example, consider the classy things Rhonda has been doing to the people who helped her create and launch The Secret.)

So... Anon, how did I do? Better than Clara did when feeding you that "information" about me, I bet.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

David Schirmer's lemonade stand

Rev Ron v Shameless Schirmer
It was not exactly the fight of the century, but it could have been kind of interesting.

It seems that Aussie Secret star David Schirmer is still trying to gloss over those little problems that have been plaguing him the past few months. He's just blogging away, for the most part as if nothing has happened, though he is still playing the martyr card as well.

My life partner/spousal equivalent/business partner Ron Kaye (his real name), who often uses the screen name "Rev Ron," wrote a comment to one of Schirmer's recent blog posts. Schirmer actually published it, and answered it, saying Ron was "a typical example of someone who posts on blogs and hide behind a false name, takes shots at people with no facts to back up his/her allegation."

Ron answered back. In his reply, he provided links to the Schirmer posts on my blog. But so far his reply hasn't been published on Schirmer’s blog. (He didn’t save it, alas, so it is probably lost in the ethers of Blogger.)

I sent a comment of my own to Schirmer's blog, though he hasn't published it yet and I’m thinking that he probably will not. After all, he's all about focusing on the positive, not the negative. But I did save my comment, and here's what I wrote:

[Quoting Schirmer:] Sadly, many who attempted to attack us (via blog and media) call themselves Christians."

I'm not so sure that playing the Jesus card is a good idea, Mr. Schirmer. In any case, Rev Ron is a Buddhist. I know, because I live with him. (I, by the way, am an agnostic who leans on the side of belief.)

My understanding is that at least some of your accusers *have* tried to confront you, as have those "gutter journalists" you decry, but you don't seem to be offering any honest answers to them. You do look uncomfortable enough by the questioning that it seems you are hiding something.

I have not been kind to you on my blog, though I have been kinder than many, and in fact I have refused to publish some comments about you that were particularly abusive. And I certainly do not wish you ill. I know you have a family to feed and you have to make a living. But don't you think you would benefit by coming clean with people?

Even if you can't give people their money back, maybe a heartfelt apology to those you have wronged would go a long way towards restoring your tarnished image.

I do find it amusing that on the one hand Schirmer moans about the "gutter journalists" who have allegedly spread lies about him. Yet he is clearly trying to exploit his tabloid exposure too. In fact it would seem he owes a debt of gratitude to those gutter-dwelling scribes – most notably, A Current Affair’s Ben Fordham – as evidenced by this, from Schirmer’s Nov. 20 post:

My wife and I had dinner at a beautiful restaurant tonight with my son Matthew and his friend Kristen (cause Kristen is heading back home to Canada tomorrow!) Matthew looks after our websites and he asked me if anything unusal happened last week (he didn't know about another attempt by ACA to discredit me). When I asked why he said that our websites experienced over 1,000% increase in traffic each day since Thursday! WOOHOO!

This flowed directly through to more online enquiries, more clients and more sales. A BIG thank you to ALL who have helped!!

I guess you can’t blame a guy for trying to squeeze some lemonade out of the lemons he’s been handed – even if it could be argued that he grew the lemon tree himself. (Remember that old song, David. It’s not all flowers.)

Schirmer’s responses to allegations
This morning I was Googling and found something I hadn’t come across before – a link to a written response (a PDF document) from Schirmer regarding some of the allegations against him.
Here is the link.

Granted, this appears on a web site created by a Schirmer fan and apologist. And, just so you’ll be aware, here are some thoughts from the guy who runs the site. He is also apparently a big fan of noted get-rich-quick expert Bob Proctor.

In Schirmer’s document he levels some allegations of his own, most of which you’ve probably heard. One of his claims is that the ill will against him is in large part the doing of an ex-employee with whom he supposedly had an affair.

It seems that "Hell hath no fury like a scorned woman." Shame on ACA [the Aussie tabloid show A Current Affair] to get caught up in this vindictive deceitful smear campaign by obviously not doing thorough research. Shame on the reporter Ben Fordham for buying into the lies and only thinking about how he can win another award and get better ratings regardless of the cost. God will make it right.

Ah, yes, God: the One who always comes through. Schirmer's apologist on the web site linked to above says The Universe will make things right by getting back at Channel 9 and Ben Fordham.

Schirmer also manages to play the "family values" card by ’splaining that he did "make a mistake," like everyone does, but he "made it right" by choosing his wife and six boys over The Other Woman. "When was the last time family values were upheld by ACA?" he asks rhetorically.

And then he closes the document by quoting himself on how to make the world a better place:

"If you want to help change the world to be a better, more abundant, more loving and peaceful place to live – every time negative media comes into your home or your life turn it off and listen to, watch or read The Secret. The more you focus on the good you desire the more greatness you will attract into your life and those you love."
– David Schirmer, Secret Teacher

If focusing on the good and watching The Secret doesn’t work, you can always take refuge in the men’s loo, the way Schirmer did when Robyn Janes, a New Zealand reporter, was trying to interview him a few weeks ago.

By the way, I found the link to the Schirmer defense document on a discussion that appeared on Steve Pavlina’s "Personal Development For Smart People" forum. Steve Pavlina is pretty much a Law Of Attraction fan, but he does host some interesting discussions on his forum, and not everyone who participates is a die-hard Secretron.

One member had this to say:

I'm not defending the guy. If he stole from people, he's an idiot. But if people gave him $92k and he stole it, why haven't they called the Police? Why not sue the guy?

I don't know. Personally, I always take anything I see from the media with a grain of salt. They are masters at spinning a story any way they want. They are really good at magnifying the hurt of the public. Constantly showing this guy driving his BMW and once again presenting that "Rich guy must be EVIL" archetype.

Another member weighed in with this:

I read both his video response and his written response and I found them to very lacking. He seems to think that just because he has happy customers (through motivational speaking) he is immune from being held accountable. I'm so glad he's taught so many people. Now they can go on to do what he did:

[Quoting from Schirmer’s written statement]:
My wife and I put over $250,000 of our own money into LifeSuccess Pacific Rim plus contributed hundreds of unpaid hours of time and effort over three years. Despite our best intention, dedication and hard work the trust never made a profit. And therefore there was no profit to share.

Whether or not he is legally responsible for paying back the money, I still consider him a scam artist if he tells people how to be successful and he obviously doesn't know how (other than by telling other people how to be successful). His attitude in all the videos and his own responses seems pretty dishonest. His sole purpose is shown in both his responses: to make more money by lying to people.

And speaking of lemons, if you read the PDF document you will notice that Schirmer mentions another company that was also given "the treatment" by A Current Affair: an "interest-free car loan" company called Motor Finance Wizard. Hmmm…used cars, auto financing… now those are normally squeaky-clean businesses. Surprisingly, however, ACA – those scandal mongers – reported that Motor Finance Wizard was also allegedly engaged in deceptive business practices. Here’s a link to a 7 News Yahoo forum discussion about the company.

My point for providing the link to Schirmer’s written statement, despite the snarkish context, should be obvious: I wanted to remind y’all, and myself, that like most stories, this one does have more than one side. On the one hand, as I’ve noted here previously, tabloid journalists do often go too far, engaging in what most folks consider to be unfair and sleazy tactics. That's their job. On the other hand, celebrities of all sorts – whether of the Hollywoodish or the New-Wagey variety – give the tabs plenty to work with.

As usual, y’all will have to make up your own minds. The story is still unfolding. My personal opinion, just from seeing Schirmer on the tube, is that he emits some pretty sleazy vibes of his own – the "hide your pocketbook and lock up your daughters" type of vibe.* But that’s just my opinion. I don’t know the guy personally, and have never spoken with him, and I did want to give you some other sides to consider in this matter.

Maybe Schirmer’s written response to the allegations is complete malarkey, and perhaps I’m a sucker for even considering it, but at least it addresses some of the allegations, unlike Schirmer’s clumsy evasions on the tabloid shows. (There is much more on the document than I have hinted at here, so I do urge you to read it. Here is the link again.) The point is that I am always open to hearing from the other side. I’ve printed posts from Schirmer defenders here before and I felt it only fair to provide the link to this document. Bottom line: I may be a hopeless snark – and you know I’m no fan of The Secret – but I do want to be reasonably fair about it.


And just in case you haven’t read it yet, scroll down or click on this link to a post I wrote about more Secret-related scuttlebutt. It's probably one of those pieces where I am really sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong... but that wasn't the first time and I have a feeling it won't be the last. Maybe there is a little bit of Rita Skeeter in me after all.

PS added Thursday, December 6 ~ In the comments section to this post, WisdomWench mentioned an episode of The Chaser's War On Everything, a show that represents serious investigative journalism at its finest. Okay, maybe not so serious and not so journalistic, but investigative nevertheless. Anyway, the guys did a "Nut Job of the Week" segment on The Secret that is easily one of the funniest bits about The Secret I've seen in some time. (It's been up for a few months but I just got around to watching it today.) And, as WisdomWench noted, David Schirmer gets plenty of "face time" in this one. Here's a link.

* For what it's worth, the vibe I get from Schirmer is pretty much the same kind of vibe I got from a single phone conversation with "Jonathan Jacobs" (Joe Vitale’s former "Miracles Coach") many years ago. Turned out my instincts about "Jonathan" were right on. (If you follow the link, scroll down to the 13th comment, from the first "anonymous" commenter on the list. That’s where the relevant discussion begins.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

More dirty little Secrets?

Warning: This post contains a generous dose of gossip, opinion, and speculation along with real facts. It is also very long...even for me. I recommend you print it out and take it into the "reading room."

Two weeks ago, our COO, Gary Chappell and I had the incredible opportunity to have lunch with the creators of The Secret…As Gary and I broke bread with Rhonda Byrne (the creator, producer and director of the movie) and her CEO Bob Rainone at a small bistro in Evanston, IL, we were absolutely amazed at their integrity, their passion, and their sense of mission about this movie. While I won't reveal what "The Secret" is (you'll have to see the movie to find out), it was refreshing to see a project of this magnitude guided by two people who truly want to help humanity, by providing an empowering, illuminating message that can be watched by anyone from 7 to 70, from the Far East to the Far West. Best of all, Nightingale-Conant intends to become a partner in this effort by providing our products and services to any and all people who might want to activate The Secret in their own lives. Watch The Secret, but best of all, live it!
~Dan Strutzel
VP, Publishing, Nightingale-Conant

From an April 2006 blog post (around the time The Secret was released)

[The Secret's] backers say they deliberately aimed to make "wealth enhancement" a major element of the project. "We desired to hit the masses, and money is the number one thing on the masses' minds," says Bob Rainone, a former IBM salesman and telcom exec who now serves as Byrne's U.S. business partner. Wealth enhancement is also part of the The Secret's business plan…
"The Da Vinci Code was entertaining, but this film is a personal tool for people who want to change their lives," says Rainone. "It's a gift to the world, to help humanity."
~ The Secret of Success, by Jerry Ressner

 Article in Time Magazine, December 28, 2006

May The Secret bring you love and joy for your entire existence. This is my intention for you, and for the world.
~ Rhonda Byrne

No purple bracelets in Secretville

Unless you’ve been totally isolated from American pop culture for the past few weeks, you are at least dimly aware of a ubiquitous new New-Wage fad, "
a complaint-free world." This is a gimmick based on a new book by Reverend Will Bowen, a minister at Christ Church Unity in Missouri. The way the complaint-free routine works is that you’re supposed to go for 21 days without complaining, criticizing, gossiping or using sarcasm. People taking the challenge are urged to don an official Complaint-Free World plastic purple bracelet, kind of like those equally ubiquitous What Would Jesus Do? bracelets. The purpose of the Complaint-Free bracelet is to make money for Will Bowen to show the world that the wearer is a follower of every dumb fad that comes down the pike to remind you of your good intentions, and to announce those intentions to the world. Every time you catch yourself complaining, you’re supposed to eat your bracelet and buy two in its place. Complain again, eat the two bracelets, and buy four in their place. And so on.

Okay, I am just kidding about the eating part, although come to think of it, that would be a good ploy to sell even more bracelets. They would probably have to make the bracelets more edible, though, and no doubt they’d need to pick some other place besides China to make them. What you’re really supposed to do, every time you catch yourself complaining, is stop and put the bracelet on your other wrist. The fad is really taking hold; purple bracelets are popping up everywhere, and not just in Unity churches.

I can pretty much guarantee, though, that there are some folks (besides yours truly, of course) who are not going to be sporting those bracelets any time soon. I’m talking about Rhonda Byrne’s intellectual property attorneys. These guys thrive on complaining the way flies thrive on poop. Ever since The Secret hit the big time, they’ve been engaged in sniffing out real and contrived copyright infringements committed against Rhonda, her US partner and CEO Bob Rainone, and Rhonda and Bob’s offshore companies – most notably, TS Production LLC (a Hungarian limited liability company), and TS Merchandising Ltd. (a British Virgin Islands corporation).

Lately the lawyers have been occupying themselves with filing lawsuits against some of the folks who helped make The Secret a huge success in the first place. The buzz is that not only have they sued Drew Heriot, the director of the original version of The Secret (he’s also the one responsible for making those astoundingly effective trailers that got everyone so worked up), but they’ve also filed a complaint against Dan Hollings, The Secret’s original Internet strategist, who orchestrated the amazingly successful online promo campaign.

Yes, around the same time that Rhonda was busy delivering her Secret Scrolls Thanksgiving message and handing out free sub-quality leather "Gratitude Journals" made in China (more on that later on), her attorneys were serving up some holiday lawsuits against some of the very people who helped create The Secret and then launch it into the New-Wage stratosphere.

"And how would you, Cosmic Connie, know this?" you might be asking. "Or are you just making it up because you hate The Secret and are no big fan of Rhonda Byrne? Are you, in fact, the anti-New-Wage version of Rita Skeeter?"

These are good questions, Dear Ones, and the answer is that I have many sources: anonymous tipsters; various little birdies; a cagey bee; the KGB; a Vedic astrologer or two; coded messages that appear in mysterious lights in the sky; channeled messages from a collective of disembodied entities who refuse to give me their name(s); the patterns in various tea leaves; and the voices in my head. Add to this my own penchant for Googling madly when I hear even a tiny whisper of scandalous scuttlebutt (I’m often pretty lazy, but occasionally inspired), plus my amazing talent for reading between the lines, and by golly, you almost have the makings of the beginning of a real story. Granted, I may be off on a few details – and I’ll be glad to make corrections or additions if I get something wrong and it’s pointed out to me – but the foundation of the story is, I think, pretty solid.

One big stone in that foundation is this link to the listing of a federal suit filed by Rhonda and the gang against Web strategist Dan Hollings. The link appears on a web site, Know-More-Secrets.com, that an anonymous tipster pointed out to me recently. The complaint itself is thirteen pages long – like I said, no purple bracelets for these guys – with seven pages of "exhibits." Just a couple of weeks previously, according to the Know More Secrets web site, TS had filed a lawsuit against director Drew Heriot.

I’m kind of a savant about anniversary dates, and I’ve noticed that the suit against Hollings was filed on November 16, 2007, which happens to be the exact one-year anniversary of Part 2 of Larry King’s fawning two-part tribute to The Secret. (Part 1 of the fawn-fest was on November 2, 2006.) 

To me, there’s no small irony in the Larry King anniversary date, since Drew and Dan apparently had a very large part in rendering The Secret "Kingworthy" (and, later, "Oprahworthy") in the first place. Talk about lessons in gratitude. I don’t think that distributing cheap-o leather journals to the Secretrons is going to make up for this error. On the other hand, as my friend Blair Warren has often said (and I think he got this from his channeled entity Ralph, who revealed the Law Of Extraction to him): "The Universe likes greed!"

Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve stated on this blog previously, I believe business owners have every right to protect their creative endeavors and intellectual properties. And when you have an enterprise as successful as The Secret franchise has been, there will always be interlopers, cheap imitators, and others who seek to unfairly capitalize on your success. So, love them or hate them, intellectual property attorneys are a necessity in today’s business climate. I get that.

The big question is this: where does the legitimate need to protect one’s rights end, and sleazy business practices and unbridled greed begin? I suppose we all have our own opinions about that. I’ll just tell you some stuff I have found out, and you can form your own opinions or, if you wish, do your own research. I’m thinking that sooner or later this will all end up as a New York Times feature written by a real journalist, but you can say you got wind of it here first.

My own bias (just in case you don't know the story already)
Before I go any further with this I want to play devil's advocate for a moment. I have no doubt that some who read this post are going to point out that the folks I’m writing about have, in fact, been trying to capitalize on The Secret. To some, the issue of whether they are doing so fairly or unfairly – or even legally or illegally – is moot, since the whole situation could be viewed as just another battle of egos. A few, I am sure, will speculate that the people I’m writing about are probably just trying to get a bigger piece of the pie now that The Secret has become so successful.

Regarding the last point: as far as I can tell, the folks in question are claiming that they only want what Rhonda promised them in the beginning. And while I don’t want to gloss over the other points, I’ll say right off that I am inclined to be sympathetic to people who do good work in good faith and are not compensated as promised.

As you may know if you’ve read my "cosmic" backstory, many years ago I too was stiffed by a New-Wage entrepreneur. Granted, it was on a much, much smaller scale than seems to have been the case with the former Secret team members, and the business person in my case was a small-time magazine publisher. Nevertheless she talked a good game of spirituality and ethics and a new era for humanity, and – go ahead, laugh at me; I deserve it – I honestly thought at the time that I was going to be a part of something big and important.

Unfortunately, her business dealings were anything but clean, and she ended up stiffing just about everyone who did any work for her. In her case, however, instead of suing those who tried to get payment from her (as seems to be the case with at least one of the lawsuits I mention in this post), she just disappeared into the crowd, and resurfaced a few years later with a new name.

For me, the incident with the publisher was a turning point on my road to cynicism about many of the things I'm blogging about today. This person was far from the only shady New-Wager I've encountered over the years. Had this been an isolated incident I would have shrugged it off. But her behavior seemed to be part of a larger pattern that became clearer to me as time went on. And it is remarkable, really, how many people in the metaphysical/selfish-help/pop-spirituality community use lofty spiritual concepts to either justify or detract from their sleazy dealings. To me that’s kind of like using a spritz of room spray to take care of the stench at a sewage plant.

The point is that I come by my cynicism honestly. And that’s why am willing to devote blog space to others who have apparently been wronged by New-Wage capitalists. Especially when they seem to have been wronged on a very grand scale.

The director gets the boot
According to the information on
his Internet Movie Database page, Australian-born Drew Heriot (whose name is fairly often misspelled "Hariot") not only directed the original movie of The Secret and made the trailers, but was also one of the writers. He had worked with Rhonda on several projects previously, according to the story on The Secret official web site.
In early 2005, when The Secret was simply a name and a (momentous) vision, Prime Time Productions was made up of Rhonda, Producer Paul Harrington, and Director Drew Heriot. Paul, who had worked with Rhonda at Prime Time Productions virtually since its beginning, and Drew, who had directed several projects for the company as well, became, with Rhonda, the foundation for The Secret team.
Word has it that in the beginning, Drew had an agreement with Rhonda that included a percentage of sales of the DVD. And why shouldn't he have a generous piece of the pie, since he was, after all, a member of her original tiny team who struggled to bring The Secret to life? Besides, my guess is that Rhonda probably couldn't afford to pay him properly upfront, since she was struggling financially back then.

Apparently, however, Drew was fired not long after the movie was completed. The story goes that Rhonda and gang had invited him to relocate to the US, but about one week after he arrived in the States, Rhonda’s US cohort Bob Rainone just called him out of the blue and fired him. Why? Could it have been because of that percentage deal he supposedly had with Rhonda in the beginning? Who knows?

In short order Drew found himself all but penniless in the US on a temporary green card, with no immediate job prospects. He implored Bob and Rhonda to set him up with a distributorship deal so he could at least sell the movie he’d made and have some income till he could find other work. He got the distributorship and reportedly sold a lot of Secret DVDs, until Bob Rainone abruptly yanked his distributorship. Allegedly it was because Drew was doing something numerous other distributors were doing, and that wasn't forbidden by the distributorship agreements: running GoogleAds.

Nevertheless Drew seems to be doing all right these days; he has turned his attention to more positive enterprises, such as the Elevate Festival of Film and Music. (He can hardly be faulted, however, for also resorting to satire to express some of his frustrations.) He did file for a copyright on The Secret movie, which, if I’m not mistaken, is normal practice for a director in Australia. Apparently this is what prompted Rhonda and gang’s lawsuit against him.

Again, I don’t know the whole story here. And some might point out that Drew has gotten a lot of mileage out of his association with The Secret, and that he has worked it to his advantage in many ways. Detractors and Secretrons might also say that, for better or worse, it was due to Rhonda and gang that Drew was motivated to come to the US, where he is now carving a promising Hollywood career for himself. He might never have risen to prominence had it not been for this turn of events.

Fair enough, but I do know this: just about everyone who has ever commented on the marketing success of The Secret has mentioned those early trailers.Those teasers were apparently key in igniting interest and in getting other people on board the promotion train. And while that first trailer may have been conceived by Rhonda Byrne – who has often said that she and/or The Universe came up with the idea in a few moments, and made the trailer in about ten minutes – it was, by all accounts I’ve seen, Drew Heriot who actually created the trailer that made Internet history.

More importantly, even if Drew is doing all right for himself now, that doesn’t negate any wrongdoing on the part of Rhonda and gang. It doesn’t alter the fact that if they did renege on their promises to him, and/or if he was arbitrarily fired just to prevent him from getting a cut of the profits as originally promised by Rhonda, that surely is a violation of the lofty principles espoused in The Secret.

A tangled Web: the Internet strategist gets the shaft 
Another person whose work was apparently very instrumental in the success of The Secret DVD was Dan Hollings, the original Internet marketing strategist. After the movie was completed and Rhonda found herself in her famous big financial bind, Internet marketing saved the day. Actually, it didn't just save the day; it created a brand new day. It made Internet marketing history, for Goddess' sake. More than one person has opined that the The Secret is, thus far, the greatest case study of viral marketing ever done.

The Internet marketing, the web site development, the customer support, and fulfillment were reportedly all set up and/or done directly by Dan Hollings, with the help of a network of connections he had built over the years. According to some of the info on his web sites, he has been doing Internet marketing ever since there was an Internet to speak of, and he has consulted for over 100 companies and individuals to date, including TV talk show host Montel Williams and Chicken Soup co-author and Secret star Jack Canfield. Like Drew, Dan clearly is getting a lot of mileage out of his own Secret connection, and like most online marketing types he is not shy about self-promotion. But when it comes to Internet marketing, he does seem to know his stuff.

Word is that Dan employed every type of marketing strategy in his arsenal, including working out the joint ventures with the teachers in The Secret. The DVD was pulling in a couple mil a month in Internet sales for several months before Larry King, Oprah, etc. And even those major media events caused surges, but probably did not sustain lasting sales. After all, on their respective shows Oprah and Larry feature dozens of people, books, and trends in any given year. What helped The Secret stand out? Just speculating here, but I imagine it was a combination of strategies that would seem to require a dedicated effort by someone with genuine expertise in online promotions. (Rumor has it that Dan was also instrumental in getting The Secret DVD to the number 1 spot on Amazon, another act for which Rhonda and gang failed to express proper gratitude.)

Of course, when Rhonda was asked who did the Internet marketing, she generally said, "The Universe," in that breathy way she has. That was her story, and she was sticking to it. Accordingly, Dan Hollings facetiously branded himself "Mr. Universe."

But trouble loomed for Mr. Universe, who, in addition to a monthly retainer, had a ten percent deal with Rhonda on Internet sales of the DVD only. That would have been a tidy sum for him, as the first twelve months of Internet sales were reportedly $24 million. Do I even have to tell you that those payments were not forthcoming? At first there was a series of excuses, the most notable one being, "We haven’t shown a profit."

Finally, after seventeen months in the employ of The Secret organization, Dan was "let go." Reportedly he continued to try in vain to collect on his percentage. And now, apparently, Rhonda and gang take issue with that original ten percent agreement. Instead of giving Dan his cut, they’re trying to nail him for infringing on their copyrights, unfairly competing with them, cutting into their profitability (uh-huh), creating brand confusion, and the like.

Riding The Secret gravy train
Not being an intellectual properties/copyright attorney, I am unqualified to give any sort of legal opinion whatsoever about any of these matters. And I hope it is clear that this is not what I’m trying to do here. The legal issues, of course, will have to be hammered out in court (or out of it, as the case may be). But I would like to make my own observations about "brand confusion."
There clearly seems to be a great deal of exploitation of The Secret throughout the New-Wage community, not the least of it by some of its featured teachers. For example, Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale has released not one but two DVDs about "The Missing Secret" – which blatantly capitalize on his connection with The Secret. And then there's his DVD, Install And Transcend The Secret. (For that matter, Joe even claimed that "The Secret" is more in keeping with his own book, The Attractor Factor, than The Science of Getting Rich.)

And there are countless other New-Wage capitalists, major and minor, who have tried, with greater or lesser degrees of success, to hop aboard The Secret gravy train.

Perhaps the most flagrant examples are "The Three Amigos" – Bob Proctor, Jack Canfield, and Michael Beckwith, with their Science Of Getting Rich (SGR) affiliate-based program. All three starred in The Secret and have exploited that to the max. (Bob Proctor, who seems to be the real "brains" behind the SGR deal, has apparently suffered a bit of embarrassment in the past year due to his association with Secret scam artist David Schirmer.) From the beginning, even some of the most loyal Secret fans were annoyed and even dismayed by the shameless money-grubbing of the SGR program, which costs $1,995.00 to join. For that entry fee you get a pile of dubious bonuses, including a cheap Chinese-made leather briefcase. Oh, yeah, and you get the chance to become wealthy beyond belief.

You may recall that Rhonda and company took some pains last March to release an announcement that SGR has no connection with TS Production et al. Still, the SGR web site clearly bills the three principals as stars of The Secret, and there’s that whole ancient-scroll design to give it kind of the look and feel of the official site.

But that’s not even the half of it. What most people don’t seem to remember is that the project started with Rhonda in the deal. It was even announced in her Secret Scrolls newsletter in November 2006, and also here, on what used to be The Secret blog.

Scuttlebutt has it that some folks, and not just disappointed Secretrons, were very unhappy about SGR. I hear tell that Oprah’s attorneys were even rattling their sabers – I don’t have the full story about that, but I’ll let you know if I get it. Supposedly Rhonda and Bob Rainone wormed their way out of responsibility for the deal, falsely claiming that Bob Proctor was a renegade teacher doing this without their permission. I do know that the issue was discussed on The Secret official forum. Here’s that link, and here’s the link to the page where Oprah is mentioned in conjunction with SGR. (You might want to copy and paste for your records, though; don't be surprised if the thread "disappears," as has happened before on that forum.)

You may also remember that Michael Beckwith apparently pulled out early on, but he’s back in. At least his picture is on the site. And supposedly he was on the Ship Of Fools LOA cruise in October. Most significantly, the SGR site is clearly still in business.

Perhaps Rhonda and gang know what side their bread is buttered on: most of the "teachers" are "names" (without whom far fewer folks would have been interested in her product, no matter how good the trailers and the marketing were). Or maybe TS still has a "secret" stake in SGR, and it wouldn’t do for them to sue themselves. At any rate, it seems that they’re cutting the "teachers" more slack than they are the workers. And I don’t anticipate that any of the stars of The Secret are going to speak out for the worker bees, even if some of them might privately agree with the guys. New-Wage stars also know what side their bread is buttered on.

Remembering the Hicks
The most widely publicized story of folks who had an early percentage deal with Rhonda Byrne is that of
Esther and Jerry Hicks, the George and Gracie of the New-Wage industry. The Hicks have enjoyed a long and successful career showcasing Esther’s imaginary friend(s) "Abraham." Early on in The Secret project, Rhonda sought out Esther and Jerry, who had been writing and speaking about the Law Of Attraction for nearly twenty years at the time. As most people know, Esther was a big part of the original Secret DVD. Rhonda couldn’t afford to pay the Hicks to be in the DVD – she was still poor and struggling at the time – but she promised them 10 percent of the revenues.

Alas, Rhonda and the Hicks had a falling-out, the end result being that the Hicks were cut out of the revised version of the DVD. At first Esther and Jerry were tactful about the reasons for this, but as time went on they got a little more candid about it. Some sources suggest the fight between Rhonda and the Hicks was considerably nastier than was publicized. So much for spreading love and joy to the world, and uplifting humanity.

The New York Times story I linked to in the above paragraph implies that part of the trouble was due to the fact that the Hicks were dissatisfied with the way Rhonda was doing business and promoting the law of attraction, and that Esther demanded to be cut out of the revised version of the DVD. Other sources, however, suggest the ousting was primarily Rhonda and Bob’s doing, and that the main reason for cutting the Hicks off was to eliminate that 10 percent deal – leaving, of course, more money in Rhonda and Bob’s coffers.

In any event, most stories have it that Esther and Jerry walked away with $500,000.00, a respectable sum to be sure. It’s not nearly as much as they would have had if they’d stayed on The Secret gravy train, but don’t cry for them; they’re not hurting. The main point is that Rhonda apparently did not keep her commitment to them. My opinion is that even people who rake in millions peddling their imaginary-friends shtick to gullible folks deserve to be treated fairly.

And I think most people would agree that whether or not one believes in the Law Of Attraction or disembodied entities, it is only fair and good business – the honorable thing to do – to keep your written agreements.

History’s mysteries
By now nearly everyone who is even remotely aware of The Secret has heard some version of how Rhonda Byrne, who once upon a time was merely an
Aussie TV producer, was inspired to create her paean to narcissism and magical thinking in the first place. On the one hand, the DVD’s infomercial format and hype-y sensationalism seem right down the alley of someone whose previous works included such uplifting fare as The World’s Greatest Commercials; UFOs in Australia; and Australia Behaving Badly (no, the latter show was not a tribute to Aussie Secret "star" David Schirmer, though it very well could have been).

On the other hand, Rhonda’s stated intentions to give a true gift to the world, and to uplift humanity, hardly seem in keeping with someone whose previous works include the above. But that’s where "the inspiring story behind The Secret" comes in. And I have to tell you that whenever someone mentions that story these days, I definitely hear a voice in my head, and it belongs to Cate Blanchett, narrating the prologue to the first movie in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of The Ring: "History became legend; legend became myth."

I don’t really have much trouble believing the basics of the most commonly related legend about the origins of The Secret – i.e., Rhonda had reached a low and very sucky point in her life, and things began to turn around when her daughter gave her a copy of a book that changed her outlook. The book most commonly cited is Wallace Wattles’ 1910 work, The Science of Getting Rich, which inspired her so much that she was driven to find out more about some of the ideas Wattles wrote about. A spark had been lit: Rhonda was newly on fire to bring her joyful message to a waiting world.

To hear Rhonda tell it, the creation of The Secret was a result of the Divine at work, with the Universe orchestrating and everything unfolding beautifully and effortlessly. History did indeed become legend, and legend rapidly became myth, a myth repeated endlessly by others, including some of the stars of Rhonda’s brainchild. Joe Vitale, for example, writes about Rhonda’s "divine inspiration" in his book, Zero Limits. In that book, Joe describes a conversation he had with Rhonda. I hope you’ll indulge me a bit while I quote one of my own blog posts; it will save you the trouble of having to follow the link and read, or re-read, the relevant passages. (And again, if you've read this bit and don't want to do so again, feel free to skip it.)
[Joe asked Rhonda] "Did you create the idea for the movie, or did you receive the idea?"
Rhonda had once told [Joe] 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.
[Quoting from Zero Limits] 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."
[Quoting from Zero Limits again] 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.
Even as jaded as I am, however, I don't have much trouble believing that some of Rhonda's sense of inspiration was genuine, at least in the beginning. It is very possible that reading Wattles (or whomever) made her feel better about her own life, that it gave her hope, that she even felt that maybe other people would benefit from hearing these ideas.

Cynics would say that to suggest there was any altruism involved in this at all is to give Rhonda (and her US partner Bob Rainone) the benefit of the doubt, but I'm willing to do that, since even the most greedy and self-centered person has her or his shining moments. In any case, I do find it believable that in her emotional and economic desperation – her dark night of the soul, as it were – Rhonda found a ray of hope in a classic work.

But there was that burning need to make money, and one can't fault her for that, really. Problem was, The Science of Getting Rich was in the public domain; how to package these ideas in a proprietary way? Just as the big drug companies can't patent certain natural substances such as natural hormones, but they CAN patent the delivery system, Rhonda found a way to package and deliver the ideas in Wattles' book and in others from which she drew inspiration. The recipe was simple, really:
Find a "golden thread," however thin, between Wattles' ideas and those of some of the most successful contemporary New-Wage capitalists and hustlers (and a smattering of legitimate professionals) who teach even remotely similar ideas
Interview those living luminaries and edit out the parts that don’t reinforce the message
Tie it all together
Throw in some real or imagined wisdom from numerous dead famous people (e.g., Jesus and Plato and Edison and Shakespeare)
Add a "DaVinci Code" ambience
Season generously with promises of "forbidden knowledge"
Mix well
Heat for several months before serving
Serves millions [of dollars into the master chef’s bank account]
It was a brilliant recipe indeed. The problem was that master chef Rhonda allegedly refused to pay some of the chief "cooks" – the ones who'd done the real work – as she had promised. And when they tried in their various ways to collect, The Secret gang called upon their "sue chefs" to cook up some contrived complaints.

The result is leaving a bad taste in a lot of folks’ mouths.

There is always the small possibility that Rhonda is not completely aware of all of this furious legal action. If that is the case, I’d say it is most likely from choice; perhaps she chooses to keep herself well removed from the fray in order to have some credibility, at least among the credulous, as she continues her wide-eyed, awestruck, altruistic shtick ("Ah don't really know WOT those legal guys are doing. Ah just want to concentrate on spreading the message of the Lor of Attraction!") Or perhaps CEO Bob, for reasons of his own, is taking pains to shield her from the worst of it.

Then again, there is an old saying, "When a fish stinks, it stinks from the head" – not the most pleasant metaphor one could use, admittedly, but an apt one nevertheless. Besides, it fits in rather nicely with today’s graphic, seeing as how Gollum was an avid consumer of raw fish (though he preferred his sweet fishies freshly caught and still wriggling).

At any rate, one way of interpreting the history of Rhonda and gang’s business practices is that they have, to put it mildly, failed to express proper gratitude for some of the people who helped skyrocket them to the top.

Byrne-ing questions
Although Rhonda Byrne is generally billed as "the creator" of The Secret, it seems to me that in truth, Rhonda created very little. It was, as someone said on a forum I saw some time ago, a giant copy/paste job. She copied everything from someone else or got others to do the real work, claiming all along it was being delivered by The Universe.

The latest developments in the saga seem rich with irony. On the one hand, we have Rhonda delivering a Thank You "Secret Scrolls" at around the same time she sues two different folks who helped her get where she is today. Does her "lesson" in the "Scrolls" really teach what she is practicing in her business life? Has she not made enough money (as she claims) to pay the people instrumental in her success? Why the negativity? Why all of these friggin’ lawsuits?

And is this a pattern? The Hicks, the director, the Internet marketing consultant – what's the common thread? Was it that these were the only folks who had a back-end percentage deal with Rhonda? Can all these people that "the Universe" delivered to Rhonda now suddenly be bad people – or was it Rhonda's greed, and a lust for fame that's at the heart of all this? Or maybe it’s just that Rhonda has a problem with the initials "DH." Think of it, Dear Ones: Drew Heriot. Dan Hollings. Da Hicks. Okay, well, maybe that third one is stretching it. But still…

Regardless, why is Rhonda not stepping up to the plate and explaining it all? Has The Universe just not yet provided the words?

For that matter, does anybody really think the "Hick-less" expanded version (a full two minutes longer) was really better after they axed Esther Hicks? The truth is that many Secret fans have expressed disappointment in the revised version. Has anybody seen a good trailer or movie out of these folks since the original director was fired? Has anybody seen any great marketing since their Internet consultant was fired? And no, giving away sub-quality Chinese-made cowhide Gratitude Journals – that Rhonda and gang had reportedly tried for months to hock for $70.00 and couldn't sell – does not count. Does dumping that inventory in a PR and tax write-off maneuver really show Rhonda as such a giving person? And how in the Universe can a company that claims 50 million-plus in sales in the press/media, turn around and in the same breath claim their profits were so low they could not pay the folks helping them?
Questions, questions, questions.

The story isn’t over yet, of course, and what I’ve told here is apparently only the tip of a very large iceberg. I would be happy to hear other people's opinions.

It all seems rather sad, really, that the noble desire to spread the gift of joy to all of humankind – if such a desire ever existed in the first place – was tainted by avarice almost from the beginning. I think of the creature Gollum, relating his sad tale to the "Hobbitses": "...we forgot the taste of bread, the sound of trees, the softness of the wind..." And I am left with a vision of Gollum clutching the One Ring, poised to annihilate anyone who would dare even approach that coveted treasure. Once again I hear a voice in my head, a raspy, hissing declaration of greed: "It’s mine, mine, MINE! My preciousssssssss….!"

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Today's antipasto

I’m putting the finishing touches on a looooooong post (can’t tell you about it right now; it’s a Secret), but for now, here are some little snark bites to munch on while you’re waiting for the main course.

A vision of utmost Clara-ty:
an (imaginary) star is born

About a week and a half ago one of my
vigilant email pen pals alerted me to a thread on the official Secret forum. It was started by a woman named Kat, who describes herself as a survivor of child abuse. ("I have known this all my life, I just couldn’t see the answer. I live my life by the secret, every day, every minuet (sic).")

Kat began the thread by describing a spirit guide who’d been coming to her all of her life, a female entity she has recently determined is named "Clara." So far the ensuing discussion on the Secret forum has dragged on for eleven pages (!), and not ONE person that I can see has even questioned the existence of "Clara." Instead they’re coming to Kat with their own stories and their questions for her and Clara.

And now Kat and Clara have moved on. After bestowing some wisdom on other gullibles – and revealing to a few forum members the names of their own spirit guides – Kat and Clara are now focusing on building their own web presence. Other forum members are still coming forth with questions, but Kat and Clara have "left the building" (their words, not mine). Still, Kat’s powerful intentions remain on her forum profile page:

  • To spread the word of CLARA.
  • To speak the truth of the LOA to as many people as I can.
  • To teach what I am being taught.
  • To be wealthy in every aspect of my life.

With any luck Clara will be able to help her with all of those, particularly that last one.

If you look at how this evolved, you’ll see that Kat, though she may be an amateur, is handling the whole thing like an imaginary-friends industry pro. First she played the "reluctance and disbelief" card. Then as she became heartened by the encouragement of others – the awe, the sympathy, the questions – she grew ever stronger in her conviction that "Clara" is real. And now she’s ready to strike out on her own, dispensing "Clara’s" wisdom to a much wider audience.

And a star is born. Maybe. Hey, it worked for Esther and Jerry!

How to attract checks
I just saw a post on Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale’s blog
about attracting big checks. Apparently taking a cue from The Secret’s magic Universal Check gimmick, a woman who attended a recent seminar (that was put on by one of Joe’s buds) handed Joe a phony check.

If you want, she’ll give you a phony check too. It will help you attract the real thing. Thinking about getting checks in the mail will help too, of course – in fact, it's necessary – but having a genuine phony check in your hand will presumably prod The Universe to get off its lazy butt and bestow the real thing upon you sooner.

Hey, don’t scoff. Thinking about getting checks in the mail worked for Aussie Secret star David Squirmer Scammer Schirmer, who famously said, in The Secret:

When I first understood The Secret, every day I would get a bunch of bills in the mail. I thought, "How do I turn this around?" The law of attraction states that what you focus on you will get, so I got a bank statement. I whited out the total, and I put a new total in there. I put exactly how much I wanted to see in the bank. So I thought, "What if I just visualized checks coming in the mail?" So I just visualized a bunch of checks coming in the mail. Within just one month, things started to change. It is amazing; today I just get checks in the mail. I get a few bills, but I get more checks than bills.

Start ’em young
I didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder when I
read this comment to a recent post on the aforementioned Joe Vitale’s blog:

If we are to change the world we need to focus on our children. The Secret and Pass it On should be a part of the curriculum of every school in the country. Every child should know Anthony Robbins, Joe Vitale, and all of the greats!… I guess the school systems think it’s more important to learn that an earthworm has eight hearts!!!! I just don’t understand!!!

Yeah, why focus on boring, unimportant stuff like science – when there’s magical thinking to be learned!

Don’t make me get out my whip!
And finally, I was very pleased by Jody Radzik’s description of me as "the whipping mistress of the New-Wage,"
from this recent post on his Guruphiliac blog.

That’s it for now, Dear Ones. I’m getting the big whips ready for the next post (a whipping post, as it were?)…

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Beast meets West, Part 2

Is it just my imagination, or do Western spiritual seekers just get dumber every generation?…Yup, the deeksha giver lays her hands on your crown chakra, and kickstarts the flow of kundalini, the fire that has burned countless naive Western novices.
~ Kevin Dann,
Reality Sandwich

The Maharishi, whom we visited here the other day, is not the only beast from the East who is steadily devouring the bank accounts of eager Westerners. These days, more and more of the conspicuously enlightened are embracing India’s Oneness University, founded by Sri Kalki Bhagavan and his wife Padmavathi Amma. Judging from some of the copy on their web site, these two have to be one of the ultimate MystiCouples of all times.
Loved and worshipped by millions, Sri Amma Bhagavan are avatars for enlightenment and God realisation. They are one single avataric consciousness in two bodies. They represent the Divine feminine and the Divine masculine. Together Amma and Bhagavan power the process of enlightenment of the individual seeker as Yin and Yang, stillness and movement, Prakruti and Purusha.

They are like the spirit, all pervading yet abiding in the deepest recesses of one's Being. They are the silent Presence powering the phenomenon of Deeksha everywhere. Far removed from the periphery of the various activities of the movement they reside at the Oneness temple. Deeksha anywhere in the world draws its power from the consciousness and the intent of Sri Amma Bhagavan. They are the life breath behind the any number of miracles that are experienced by the seekers. They manifest across space and time to people when they seek their help. Their consciousness not being limited to their physical body, Amma Bhagavan's manifestation even predates their birth.

What was hitherto possible for great masters, Sri Amma Bhagavan are making it possible for ordinary men and women… Sri Amma Bhagavan do not belong to any one people, one nation or one faith. They are for all mankind. Their vision is not a golden age for any one community or country. It is a Global Golden age.
Once again I defer to Jody at Guruphiliac (and I warn you right now that I will be quoting him at length in this post). If you’re a regular reader of his blog you know he is no fan of the Oneness U cult, and that is putting it very mildly. (He sometimes refers to Sri Kalki, the Mister half of Oneness U’s MystiCouple, as "Kracki" or "Krapki.")

"Deeksha" is the Sanskrit word for "initiation," and a major part of the whole Oneness U experience is something called "deeksha energy transfer," which is sort of like Jesus H. Christ’s laying-on of hands, though more sophisticated because, you see, it’s got that Eastern-mystic cachet. Actually it’s not known so much as "deeksha" any more, at least not at Oneness U. Now it is more frequently referred to as the Oneness Blessing. There may be a ™ or © or ® after that; in any case, you can be sure it’s proprietary.

Actually, come to think of it, Oneness Energy Transfer sounds a LOT like Access Energy transfer, which we also visited here on WM a few months back.

Whatever you want to call it, deeksha/Oneness Blessing is a pretty hot commodity among New-Wagers. In my neck of the woods, evidence of Oneness' enlightenment-chic status can be found in the fact that Houston’s primo affluent New-Thought church, the nondenominational Unity Church of Christianity (which I used to attend), is into the Oneness game. In September of 2007, its senior minister, Howard Caesar, went through the 21-day Oneness Process in India. And the result? Do you even have to ask? Oneness Blessings are now being offered at Unity in Houston.

There was even a Deeksha Camp at this year’s Burning Man Festival. Jody at Guruphiliac posted a video of some deeksha sessions that took place at BM (hmmm… pretty apt initials, don’t you think?). The only thing missing from that video was Maui’s resident poet-poseur Dreaming-Bear, who was also BM-ing, but alas, he was busy in the Diva Boot Camp being naked, suffering, and dreaming up new poetry to inflict on the world. (BTW, Dreaming-Bear seems to have found the true secret to age reversal. Last time I’d checked his MySpace profile, he had listed his age as 34. Now he is only 28! Utterly amazing.)

There have been some disturbing stories here and there about the effects and after-effects of the deeksha process. But that’s probably true of any process or therapy (whether it’s done by a licensed or unlicensed therapist). What really made me raise my eyebrows when I was Googling – okay, so I have a taste for the sensational – was the buzz about a hallucinogenic drug that in the past was allegedly administered as part of the Oneness process. I hasten to add that, according to reports I’ve read, this is no longer done. But back in the day…whoa!

Apparently this drug, leyham, which seemed to be a combination of LSD and ecstasy, was being used for a while in the 21-day "process." Not surprisingly, some folks were experiencing ill effects. Others were having "peak experiences."* Again, my understanding is that the drug is no longer used, and hasn’t been for a couple of years. Still, anybody who has any insight on this is welcome to share his or her experiences here.

Some folks are pretty upset with Oneness U’s apparent money lust, and with evidence that the poor in India as well as affluent Westerners are being exploited by the Kalki cult. As is the case with most New-Wage paths or trends, some people swear by Oneness U, and (as you surely know if you’ve read Jody’s blog) some swear at them. A more balanced look can be found on a rather long blog post (with some annoyingly long paragraphs) by one man who was involved with Oneness U for several years, but no longer is. The comments are interesting as well.

Love ’em or hate ’em, it seems clear that Kalki and Amma and the crew at Oneness U have some grandiose plans for humanity. One big goal is to effect a critical mass of enlightenment in the human race by the year 2012. 2012, in case you aren’t aware, is the new Y2K. That’s the year when the world may or may not end, depending upon which nutty web site you land on. According to the Oneness U folks, however, if their critical-mass plan works, 2012 will see the birth of a new Golden Age of Humanity, which will spread all over the world.

The web site of Oneness U affiliate The Oneness Centre Australia ’splains in simple scientific terms how the critical-mass project works:
The divine plan is that when 64,000 people, spread all over the globe, have reached the oneness state, the effect will spontaneously spread to the rest of humanity. This will occur through what is known as the morphogenic fields**, by the action of the ‘100th monkey syndrome’. It is, as Malcolm Gladwell says in The Tipping Point, a "positive" epidemic. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly and this can lead to permanent change of a massive nature.
While there are probably enough New-Wage concepts in that one paragraph to make the average skeptic’s head explode, the one thing that stuck out for me was that tired old hundredth-monkey banner, which, though loosely based on a real incident, is mostly b.s. in the context in which New-Wagers employ it. But Oneness U has apparently dragged it out again in order to push their critical-mass enlightenment agenda. (I suppose one could call the hundredth-monkey story in this context a "turban legend," but the Oneness U folks don’t normally sport that particular type of headgear.)

The paragraph preceding the one I just quoted from the Australia Oneness site gives a good idea of what’s in store in 2008:
In 2008 a special conference is to take place at Oneness University which will be attended by many prominent world figures. Leading scientists, quantum physicists, and medical professionals are visiting as well as practitioners and therapists of every modality of medicine, therapy, meditation and personal development. A number of very prominent and celebrated movie actors have also undertaken the course at Oneness University.
Are you excited yet?

In case you're interested in getting a Oneness Blessing but can't afford the trip to India, you can receive it from anyone who's an official Oneness Facilitator. However, you can’t become a Oneness Facilitator yourself unless you’ve spent the bucks and made the trip. At the time I first began this post a few months ago (okay, so I got sidetracked!), the total cost of the 21-day process was $5,500.00 USD. Now, however, it seems the price has gone up a bit:
The total cost for the Level 1 Course is $5,650 USD (this includes a $500 Deposit Fee, a $150 Preparatory Course and a $5000 Course Fee). Of this amount, a non-refundable deposit fee of $500 USD is required upon acceptance of your application.
Then there’s Level 2; repeat customers get a deal:
The total cost for the Level 2 Course is $1,500 USD. Of this amount, a non-refundable deposit fee of $500 USD is required upon acceptance of your application. Food, lodging, laundry service and transportation is included in the course fee.
You may be wondering what effect, if any, a Oneness Blessing really has on the one who is so blessed. Well, according to information on the Oneness U FAQ page, the effects are profound. Now if only science would admit it…
The Oneness Blessing is known to produce a neuro-biological transformation in the brain. We look forward for the cooperation of the scientific community to conduct an in depth research in order to establish the exact details of this transformative process.
Hey, maybe they can get the Maharishi’s research teams on it.
But just what can a person receiving the Oneness Blessing expect? Here’s what it says on the Unity Church page I linked to above:
Oneness Blessing is transferred by a Oneness Facilitator by placing his or her hands onto the crown of your head, usually for about 1 minute. Experiences during the Oneness Blessing vary, sometimes strong, sometimes subtle, sometimes delayed until even days later. The recipient may experience a tingling sensation in the head, or blissful energy flowing through the body, or sometimes nothing at all. Whatever the experience, the recipient can trust that the process of Oneness has begun.
*It is helpful to receive the Oneness Blessing on a regular basis.
It should come as no surprise that the Oneness trend has inspired other New-Wage capitalists, some of whom are in my own back yard, sort of. I guess I’m lucky to live in Texas, a state whose capital city and surrounding areas in the Hill Country are just crawling with the conspicuously enlightened. Granted, I’m in relatively unenlightened Houston here on the soggy Gulf Coast, but hey, at least I’m in the same state, geographically speaking, as folks such as "Crazy" William Cooper, M.Th., LPC, LMFT. Cooper is adept at the "laying on of hands" (and some of my sources have suggested that he has at times practiced the laying on of "hands where they don’t belong," as Jody might put it – but I won’t go there right now). Cooper has kind of a "Christ deeksha" shtick, but he is definitely riding the Oneness train as well.
Then there’s another Texan, Lola Jones, who also inspired Jody:
The deeksha virus has broken free of its Oneness Movement cesspool and is adrift in the New Age™ marketplace, where any knucklehead with a white robe can be an enlightened master, one able to solve any problem in existence by laying-on hands and pretending that something is happening other than dummies being separated from their money.
Along with her partner Michael Abeden, Lola is the publisher of Austin All Natural magazine, which is in the genre of those New-Wage publications to which I once crudely paid tribute via my BLP (book-like product), Cosmic Relief. Lola is also a photographer and a talented artist, a friend to folks such as Joe Vitale…and, yes, a deeksha giver. Or seller. But her deekshas don’t cost as much as the ones at Oneness. She calls them Divine Openings, and apparently you can get Divinely Opened in a group session if you wish – even over the phone. And, of course, Lola is more than willing to teach you how to be a Divine Opener yourself. It's much cheaper than going to India. Or, as Jody put it:
Become your own flimflammer for less than $2000! That's over half off the regular fee!
And finally, there’s Steven Sadleir – not a Texan but a Californian. He’s the guy Jody refers to as "Kracki Jr.", describing him as "an American guru who has hijacked the flimflam of pretty much every Indian scamatar out there." I’ve mentioned Sadleir here too. (Scroll down to "You must act now! Or pay Steven to teach you how.") Sadleir apparently really has the magic touch, and is able to infuse every word he writes with divine power. It’s kind of like that magic cleansing power on the Zero Limits web site, which, as you may recall, is the first web site designed to "clean" you while you look at it. But Sadleir’s magic is done with the printed word, according to a press release that hit PRWeb in July of this year:
Paper, in the form of Steven S. Sadleir's new book The Calling: A Journey Within Your Own Being, is being used to conduct energy that awakens consciousness. An American guru transmits shaktipat to awaken the readers kundalini while they are reading.
Shaktipat is the primordial life force current that creates, sustains and guides every living thing in the universe. Author and Shaktipat Master Steven S. Sadleir transmits energy through his new book The Calling: A Journey Within Your Own Being. The book is a guided meditation. Steven takes the reader on a journey of self discovery as they connect with the energy as they are reading the book. Each word is designed to activate an inner awareness within the reader; they trigger the part of the mind that already knows as the words are reflected upon.
As I understand it, shakitpat transference is kind of like deeksha or Oneness Energy Transfer or maybe even ACCESS Energy Transfer, except it’s spelled differently. Slowly but surely, I am beginning to gain a deeper understanding of these matters.

I did notice that Sadleir’s "new" book The Calling, which was so hyped in the press release, doesn’t appear to be all that new – at least not by Earthly publishing standards – having been released in 1995. Maybe on Steven Sadleir’s planet, that still constitutes "new." But hey, no matter, the book has a five-star-review average!

So how does all of this stuff leave me feeling? Oddly enough, it leaves me invigorated and inspired. It leaves me, once again, with a strong conviction that grows ever more powerful as time goes by: I GOTTA find me a scam.

* I am very much aware that there is a long tradition of using hallucinogenic drugs during a spiritual process, and that some of these drugs (e.g., peyote) make one violently ill before the "spiritual" stuff starts. This is not an experience I would ever seek out for myself, but to each his or her own. In any case, I am just passing along information here.

** Here’s a Skepdic link about Rupert Sheldrake and his theory of "morphogenic fields" – not to be confused with the developmental biology concept of "morphogenetic fields."

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