Thought I saw an eagle
but it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.
~ Leonard Cohen, Story of Isaac
Now, don't worry, Dear Ones; I'm not going all Bible on you or anything. I'll leave that to the true Bible experts in the blogosphere, such as Saint David of Victoria, who has likened his own suffering at the hands of his detractors to that of martyred saints in earlier times. These days, besides being a Law Of Attraction expert, star of The Secret, Biblical scholar and frequent though unwilling participant in Australia's Federal Court system, Saint David is a spirit-filled, faith walking Christian.
You've probably already guessed that this post isn't really about Abraham and Isaac. It's also not the first and won't be the last time I've co-opted a Cohen quotation to suit my purpose. Like many good quotations, this one works even better when taken out of context, and for me it works quite well indeed as an expression of the ambiguities of the New-Wage/selfish-help world.
I've snarked a lot about David Schirmer here because he's an easy target and I am a lazy blogger – more so these past few months than usual, due to having had so many other things to deal with. (I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I've bored with this stuff.) As you have no doubt guessed, most of what I've heard and read about Schirmer has been negative. Yet I've never hesitated to publish comments from the few people who have stepped up to defend him – or, more rarely, to attack me for snarking about him.
In the eyes of most people I've heard from on my blog, Schirmer is definitely more in the "vulture" category. But one or two people seem determined to put him up there with the eagles. He does have a few stalwart defenders, among them Aussie actor and sci-fi series producer Adrian Sherlock,** who apparently attended a Schirmer workshop, thought he got his money's worth, and really can't see what all of the fuss is about. In a recent comment to my January 30, 2008 post, "Journey To Fantasyland," he wrote:
It's important to remember that any human being who attempts to rise to a level of success above that of simply being an employee of someone else's company is going to face a long, complex and at times difficult life journey. How many people never make a mistake in their career or get fined for some infraction, etc? When the pursuit is so much bigger, the potholes will be bigger too. But the case you cite doesn't make the man a con artist or a bad person...
...If someone invested some money in the Stock Exchange and lost it, then they need to try again. Persistence and learning from mistakes is all part of the process of success.
If the people on ACA [the Aussie tabloid show, A Current Affair] are to be believed, then anyone who loses money should be able to get their stock broker on TV and say "This guy recommended I buy these stocks! I want my money back! He's a crook! Jail him!" What rubbish! The stock market's not a sure thing. You want the big returns, you take the bigger risks. They had a choice. But if that makes DS a monster, well, why only six people out of thousands of people? Why no complaints from the rest?
I'm being totally straight with you. I have not got any vested interest in the guy, I've met him once only. But he did me a good turn and I enjoyed his seminar. It was not over-priced, he was very frank and candid about things which had gone wrong in his life, everyone there seemed happy.
Con man? Proof required, innocent until proven guilty. And The Secret? One of the most encouraging things ever made, it's helped a huge amount of people. Fantasy land? Not at all. Without imagination, your house would be a pile of bricks. Someone needed to imagine your house and draw it first.
If you follow this link and scroll down a bit, you will see my reply to Adrian. I concluded it by telling Adrian that I will take him at face value when he says he has no vested interest in Schirmer's enterprises. However, I added, he does seem to have an emotional stake in the matter; something is compelling him to continue to defend Schirmer. I wrote, "Either you sincerely believe he's a stand-up guy, or you just aren't looking at all of the evidence."
Is Schirmer an eagle or a vulture? He seems to be doing everything he can to paint himself as the former, mostly by ignoring or glossing over any unsavory accusations. He's also still trying to ride on the coattails of those who are more well-known than he. Although Bob Proctor recently dissociated himself from Schirmer, Schirmer continues to feature Bob's wisdom prominently in his Succeed Magazine enterprise, and apparently in some of his email campaigns as well. I am sure he's within his rights to do that, as long as he doesn't actually try to make people think he's collaborating with Bob on anything any more. And I'm sure Bob isn't griping about all the free publicity either. But still...
On a recent blog post associated with his Powerful Intentions site, Henningsen wrote about how, after watching The Secret DVD back in November of 2006, he found Bob Proctor's email address and sent him an email. Lo and behold, not long after that he heard from a guy named Mark Low, who said he worked in Proctor's Toronto office:
[Mark] spent about forty minutes on the phone to me, letting me know that Bob had read my email and asked him to get in touch with me. I was beside myself!! I recognized this call as the first step toward my certainty that I would be working with the teachers of The Secret. Now, like me you are probably thinking that Bob, a man who has over one hundred and fifty different sources of income, and any number of businesses and conferences and speaking engagements to run and oversee, must receive a vast number of emails each day, how shocked was I to think that he had read my email and asked his “right arm” to contact me!!! Tell me this secret stuff doesn’t work!!!
True to his word Mark stayed in touch and we communicated by both emails and phone calls regularly, which continues to this day.
Wow...who says miracles don't happen? (I wonder how long Mark is going to stay in Bob's employ if he keeps hanging with DS's Mini-Me.)More recently, Schirmer has really been playing up his association with Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale. Joe contributed an article to the April/May issue of Succeed Magazine, and then was featured in a cover story/interview for the following issue. When someone recently commented on Joe's blog about this association, Joe denied even knowing Schirmer or knowing that Schirmer had anything to do with Succeed Magazine until "after all was said and done." Uh-huh.
Undaunted, Schirmer bragged on his blog last week that he'd recently had another chat with Joe, this time a long and friendly one, which Schirmer is now promoting as a teleseminar.
The David Schirmer saga, of course, is just one of hundreds of similar stories. In a broader sense, it is immensely difficult to judge whether the selfish help/New Wage is largely malignant or mostly benign. While I applaud the efforts of people such as Steve Salerno (thank goodness he has decided to continue SHAMblog), as well as anti-self-help-fraud activist John Curtis, and, of course, Rick Ross, I suspect that the truth lies somewhere squarely in between.
Few people from either side of the argument are willing to concede to that, however, because, gosh, it's just so boring.
Though I definitely err on the side of snarkiness on this blog, I have always stopped well short of declaring that the New Wage is either evil or dangerous. Unlike most of the defenders of the faith, however, I don't hold to the idea that critics are all pathetic, cynical, small-minded, fearful and deeply unhappy sorts. Maybe some are, but then again, I've seen loads of pretty pathetic stuff on the pro-New-Wage forums too.
And fairly frequently I hear from people who have experienced the darker side of the movement.
For example, I recently received a private email from a person who wanted to know if I could offer any information on another New-Wage guru I'd snarked about a few times. This person said that the guru had abandoned a child from a previous marriage, and now no one seems to know where the child is. My correspondent told me that the former spouse of the guru had been killed recently in an accident, and the dead ex-spouse's parents (friends of the writer) were desperate to know the whereabouts of their only grandchild. I put my correspondent in contact with someone who might have information or at least insight.
Of course I don't know the entire story. It could be that the guru and ex-spouse had an agreement about child custody and that it wasn't really a case of abandonment. However, given the apparent flakiness of this individual, I'm leaning on the side of believing my correspondent's spin on the matter. So many of these folks have left a ton of wreckage behind on their quest for the perfect New-Wage shtick.
Some apologists for New-Wage gurus have suggested I'm being too judgmental; after all, we all make mistakes and all that. Sure we do. I've made plenty. But I'm not going around making a fortune giving advice about how people should live their lives either. Even so, I'd still be willing to cut some of the gurus more slack if they didn't attempt to selectively exploit their private lives for their own gain. So many of them cherry-pick events from their lives in order to cast themselves in a heroic light, prompting their followers to ooh and ah over how candid they are. There's just one problem with this: the facts they leave out invariably tell much more about their character than the facts they choose to share. And I have personal knowledge of some of these folks' stories, so this isn't just hypothetical.
...my sister in law is doing some crazy things for this ACCESS group.She was left widowed with her two gorgeous little children, last July when my brother passed away within 6 months of being diagnosed with a brain tumour. She then got involved in ACCESS. The long and the short is that an american access 'chick' has moved into their home with them and my sister in law is having a sexual relationship with her!! we are so shocked and so worried for her kids and the confusion all this ACCESS rubbish is causing in their lives... she has already flown to Mission Beach leaving her kids with her mum in school holidays(!?) for another "course", came back declaring she is going to move to [Queensland] to live to help with the ACCESS school and become a teacher there!...We have suspicions this ACCESS woman that has moved in is probably some sort of converter or keeper...
The more I hear and read about ACCESS, the more patently absurd – and yet the scarier – it gets. I have to say that it mostly weighs in on the side of absurd, though. If you truly want to be left scratching your head and saying, "WTF?" , take a look at some of the videos of ACCESS presentations. You can find quite a few of them on a site called Potency Productions, which has nothing to do with male performance enhancement...well, on second thought, maybe it does. Anyway, I challenge you to try to make sense of, say, "Choice and the supermind" by Dr. Dain Heer, a chiropractor turned ACCESS leader. Or this one: "Facilitating through beingness." Almost puts me in mind of the last two paragraphs of a November 2006 post of mine, in which I lampooned another cult-like org called Avatar. It truly seems that the purpose of ACCESS is to render language utterly meaningless, and thought completely irrelevant. In return for losing the gift of meaningful conversation and your capacity for thinking, you get to have unlimited sex with anyone who who suits your fancy, as long as you don't try to actually enter into a "relationship" with them (horrors). At least I think that's how it goes.So... is ACCESS helpful or harmful? Are the ACCESSories, particularly Dain Heer and ACCESS founder Gary Douglas (who reportedly "received" ACCESS from a disembodied being who in turn got it from the late Russian unholy man Grigori Rasputin), eagles or vultures?
That depends, I suppose, upon whether you're asking (1) the woman who is giddy with her newfound "knowledge" and infatuated with her ACCESSory lover, or (2) that woman's family.
It could certainly be argued that the whole "eagles or vultures" question is mostly a matter of individual perception. When it comes to self-help gurus, one person's eagle may be another's vulture, and vice-versa. Some may vacillate between perceiving any given guru as one or the other. And competent adults should have the right to choose who or what to follow without interference from what some refer to as the self-help police or the spiritual cops.
But I think we'd all do well to remember that despite the noble attributes often assigned to eagles (as opposed to the general disdain in which vultures are held), both are fierce predators and blatant opportunists – eagles no less so than vultures. An eagle will snatch a cute little puppy right out of your backyard if it gets half a chance. Moreover, like most other flying birds, even the most gloriously lovely, awe-inspiring eagle is not above taking a big messy poop in midair. So as you're driving down the road to enlightenment, watch out. You never know what might hit your windshield.*although I prefer the version by Suzanne Vega, on the Tower Of Song tribute album, to the Cohen original
** Update, 2010: Not long after this post was written, Adrian apparently saw the light and ceased defending David Schirmer.
*** Update, 2010: Warren Henningsen has long since left Schirmer's employ and is now doing his own motivational thing.