A Critique of Abraham Hicks & the Law of Attraction

New Age guru Abraham Hicks has made many shocking and disturbing statements about rape, slavery, 9/11 victims and Holocaust deaths. She claims “less than 1% of rapes” are “true violations” and the rest are attractions. Hicks believes slavery was “the beginning of a journey that was better” and part of an “overall improvement in humanity.” She says “AIDS is the physical manifestation of not liking yourself.” Hicks and others like Rhonda Byrne, creator of “The Secret,” have taken a partial truth and concretized it into a religious absolutist system known as the Law of Attraction and made millions in the process. The teaching is harmful and a form of spiritual bypassing.


[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]

Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Contact: [email protected]

11/11/2019

Recipe For Success

Exactly fifty years prior to the publication of the best selling book and DVD The Secret, Earl Nightingale released a vinyl record in 1956 that set the motivational world on fire. It was called The Strangest Secret and it shared the same fundamental premise as Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 The Secret; we become what we think about and our thoughts create our reality. His self-written and recorded LP sold over 1 million copies making it the first-ever spoken word album to achieve gold status. After his phenomenal success, Nightingale went on to form Nightingale-Conant which became one of the largest self-help audiobook publishers ever. With only a one-word difference between the names did Byrne steal Nightingale’s title and message? We may never know but they are undoubtedly two of the biggest and most successful proponents of the Law of Attraction in the modern era.

New-age guru Esther Hicks, who claims to channel 100 entities known as Abraham is the other largest force behind the spread of the Law of Attraction. One of these entities is supposedly Jesus, another Buddha. Now 71 years old, she is also one of the most well-known figures in modern spirituality, traveling the world speaking to massive sold-out crowds. The late Dr. Wayne Dyer said Abraham are “great Masters of the Universe,” while Louise Hay, founder of the popular Hay House publisher said they are “some of the best teachers on the planet today.”

“That which Jesus was, Esther is” – Abraham

Just like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, the uniqueness of Esther Hicks and her teachings as Abraham don’t seem to be all that original, however. She too got her schtick from elsewhere.

Before Abraham was manufactured, Esther and her husband Jerry had several visits with a woman named Sheila Gillette who claimed to channel a group of twelve Archangels called THEO. Sheila acknowledges the origins herself, “Within a year of Esther’s experience with THEO, she began channeling ABRAHAM.” The channeled voice of Abraham was remarkably similar in accent, style, and content as THEO. “I was captivated by what I heard from Theo,” Esther said. The precedent had been set. The husband and wife team of Sheila and Marcus Gillette built a following and business channeling a cosmic entity using an accent. Esther and Jerry took note.

Sheila Gillette channeling THEO and her husband Marcus.

Esther also took a page from the books of Jane Roberts who claimed to channel an entity known as Seth. Author David Stone claims that Abraham is merely a dumbed-down version of Seth.

“Not long after their marriage, Jerry introduced Esther to Jane Roberts’ Seth books. Roberts claimed to be channelling an entity with traits in common with the soon to arrive Abraham. The primary distinction separating the two is that Seth is much pithier, more complex and original than Abraham, a supposed entity that often seems to voice nothing more profound than a simplified rehash of Roberts’ Seth.

Abraham, in fact, sometimes reads like dumbed down Seth, a digest constructed for easier mass consumption. Esther recalls Jerry reading out loud from the Seth books in bed, tickling her toes under the covers.”

Jerry was also heavily influenced by new thought teachings such as Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich prior to the emergence of Abraham. In Hill’s book, The Law of Success he uses the exact phrase “the Law of Attraction” 11 times. Yet both Jerry and Esther claim the first time they ever heard the term was from Abraham. Stone argues that Jerry was the motivating force behind creating Abraham and that he edited and helped write the books.

From Amway to NYT Bestselling Author

Why did Rhonda Byrne and the Hicks’s become world-famous multi-millionaires while Sheila and THEO never did? They had something Sheila and her husband didn’t: extensive experience marketing and selling product. Byrne was an infomercial and TV producer prior to creating The Secret. She knew how to dazzle an audience with presentation and packaging. Jerry was a prominent Amway salesman who was married to a highly successful Amway saleswoman named Trish. And Esther was Trish’s bookkeeper, thus she was also heavily immersed in the culture. Amway was a prominent multi-level marketing business known for its pyramid marketing scheme.

Former Abraham Hicks devotee turned critic Kyra explains that Amway salespeople made most of their money selling “motivational materials” such as Think and Grow Rich and audiobooks about them to new recruits, not from the product itself. “This is how [Jerry] became a Crown level with his former wife Trish. Not from selling soaps, appliances, etc. But from selling his motivational courses, tickets to “business presentations”, and tapes like so many Amway distributors did before him.” Amway salespeople were required to purchase one motivational self-help book a month.

“They worked for Amway, selling motivational materials to their recruits/distributors (aka “business associates”), and then Abraham mystically happened to them and they just started selling their own Abraham materials to their associates. And as their business associates recruited new people, they sold more, and then, like any Amway “business”, it just got bigger and bigger till they decided to take their act on the road, so that now they are on the New York Times Best Seller list.”

The recipe for success was laid out for Esther and Jerry. They got the style, accent, and initial content from THEO, more specific teachings came from Seth and they used their Amway sales and marketing background to launch Abraham into the world. They knew the scheme would work because as Kyra states, “Jerry and Esther were already giving workshops, holding seminars, and touring the country with Jerry’s Amway business presentations.”

Cult Dynamics

David Stone suggests that Esther and Jerry were originally experimenting with cult-like elements to test the waters. Esther, via Abraham, used to make prophecies about natural disasters and gave specific dates (none of which came true) and these were edited out of later editions of her first book. In her early days she would scream in an authoritarian manner and she no longer does. She also no longer circles and bobs her head in dramatic fashion at the beginning of her sessions as she originally did.

A New-Age Cash Cow

The Law of Attraction and related works are a big-money business. Nightingale sold 1 million records while The Secret has sold over 30 million copies. Esther and Jerry Hicks became multi-millionaires. Think and Grow Rich has sold over 20 million copies. Oprah and Larry King profited by featuring The Secret cast several times. Many modern spiritual teachers have also profited from the concept. Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson even cashed in on the phenomenon with her 2012 book The Law of Divine Compensation. It merely regurgitated a lot of the same non-sensical beliefs as The Secret. She states,

“The Fairy Godmother didn’t order a limo; she turned a pumpkin into a coach and mice into horsemen. Whatever Cinderella needed, the universe took care of it. The Fairy Godmother didn’t have to order a dress or call out for a car because the universe miraculously transformed existing material. That’s how the universe operates. Cinderella, despite her circumstances as a servant, had the mind-set of the miraculous. And so miracles came to her.”

Williamson literally invoked fairy tales to describe her understanding of how the world works. She was in good company with The Secret.

The money was so big in the Law of Attraction scene it led to a split between Byrne and Hicks. The original version of The Secret actually featured Esther. But once Byrne saw the massive profits to be made she forced all presenters to turn over their intellectual property rights, meaning they’d receive no compensation. Hicks’ original contract gave her 10% which was $500,000 at the time. Byrne gave her an ultimatum: she could either turn over her rights or be edited out. Hicks decided to be removed from the film and said the way Bryne handled the situation was “not nice.” As a result of Bryne’s power-play money grab, she became the sole profiter of those 30 million products sold.

Shocking & Disturbing Statements by Abraham Hicks

There are many ridiculous, outrageous, offensive and shocking statements made by Esther Hicks, Rhonda Byrne, and Law of Attraction teachers. From delusional and fantasy-based ideas that you can manifest cars, bikes or diamonds in an instant to horrible statements blaming victims for abuse and rape, there are a wide range of terrible comments made by these new-age prophets. Hicks says humans and dinosaurs once roamed the earth together and denies evolution and that humans evolved from an earlier species. They have gotten away with them because, in part, they are “spiritual teachers” who are often shielded from critique. Had a politician or public official made these same comments they’d immediately be forced to resign. And these statements reported here are certainly only a small percentage of the horrible things Hicks has said throughout her career.

Rape

On several occasions, Esther Hicks via Abraham has stated that if a woman or even a little girl were raped or sexually assaulted it came about because they attracted it to themselves. These quotes are taken from various talks she has given.

“It is less than 1% of the actual rape cases that are true violations, the rest of them are attractions and then a changing of intention later…”

“As this man is raping it is our promise to you this is a disconnected being, it is also our promise to you is the one he rapes is a disconnected being…” 

“We believe that this subject [of rape] is really talking about the mixed intentions of the individual, in other words, she was wanting the attention, she was wanting the attraction, she was really wanting all of it and attracted more than she bargained for and then as it is occurring or even after feeling differently about it…”

A woman asked Hicks during a talk how she could have attracted being sexually molested as a little girl. Hicks responded by saying that we all create our reality and that early “contrast” i.e. suffering is a way to accelerate spiritual growth. 

“No one ever wants to hear that they are the creator of their reality when things are not the way they want them to be. But we cannot say you are the creator of your own reality sometimes and sometimes you are not. Everything that comes, comes in response to your vibration. What people mostly don’t realize about the creation of children is that children are offering vibration even when they are not offering words. You pick up your vibration from those who surround you, from what you hear. You pick up your vibration and you offer your vibration…Why would some child with all of this innocence negatively attract? We say because you came forth thinking you had free will to think. And you would not give up your free will to attract wanted or unwanted by having someone else making all of the decisions of what should come to you…Also, you hit the ground running and there isn’t anything that causes streams to move faster than early contrast, there isn’t anything that puts more into your vibrational escrow than early experience. “

When responding to a question on Oprah’s radio show about how the Law of Attraction would lead to a young girl attracting her own rape and murder, Hicks responded by saying parents don’t teach their children how to think properly and they are influenced by the negative thinking of the adults around them. She told Oprah, “If they are listening to the guidance within they could not comfortably ever settle on the thoughts that would lead them to attract something unwanted.” What was also surprising was Oprah’s complete lack of a response. She said “OK” and moved on. 

Hicks has also claimed that protesting rape or rapists is what actually attracts rape. She says standing on pedestals protesting merely spreads rape “outwards.” Hicks also says that unless we can understand a rapists motives we have no right to critique him. 

“Attention to people being raped and a feeling of irritation and irateness or anger at such injustice is the very vibration that causes you to attract it into your own experience. Give your experience to things you don’t want and it becomes your experience, it is law. Most whoever who have had that sort of experience will not allow themselves to look at the positive aspects and would rather gather together with others in groups and talk about the injustice of it. They’d rather stand on platforms and vibrate in a place of disconnection from who they are. And you can tell they are disconnected by the crummy way they feel. As they shout their outrage or cry their tears of pain. So, as they’re involved in this trauma and disconnectedness they spread disconnectdness and future rape outward. Whereas if you can acknowledge it as your attraction and understand how you attracted it, then instead of standing on platforms and spreading rape you can stand on platforms and spread deliberate control… Where is your time better placed? Abbhoring rapists? Joining panels that scout them out and persecute them? Or is your time better spent in finding the harmony of your own vibration? Do you have the right to eradicate a rascal? Can you understand his motives? And if you can’t understand his motives, do you have any plausible right or ability to tell him what to do or what not to do?”

In her book The Law of Attraction, she echoes a similar sentiment. “And so, if there is one who gives much thought to, or one who speaks much about rape, then it is very likely that they will be the “victim,” by their words, of such an experience. Because, by Law, you attract unto you the essence.”

Race and Slavery

In response to a question about slavery and how an entire population could have attracted such tragedy to themselves, Hicks replies by saying it was the start of something better. 

“Do you think it would be accurate to say that many of the descendants of some of those who were brought here in slavery are now living in a much better environment than if they’d stayed there? It’s really hard to believe that whole cultures of people could have things in their vortex that would call them to it that would be part of an overall improvement of humanity...Some of that trauma and tragedy that they are wanting to condemn, if you could make peace with it and acknowledge it was the beginning of a journey that was better then the improvement could be yours today, but the determination to condemn it as wrongdoing on whoever’s part you want to point the condemnation toward holds you in the place in not receive the benefit they all cared so much about in that they were willing to live it in order to create it.”

During a talk, an African-American woman asked Hicks about how she should teach slavery to her kid. “He could go to school and daydream,” she replied. “None of that [slavery] has anything to do with him,” and “he won’t have to deal with it” she continued. Hicks proceeded to equate the teaching of African-American history with a family legacy of passing down “bad” feelings. She then blamed Martin Luther King Jr. for his own death. Hicks stated, “He lost sight of his dream momentarily…he began to push against. And when one pushes against in a very fast-moving stream abrupt things happened…It’s trying to get others to agree with us about our dreams that causes backlash.”

At an event, Hicks was asked about the cause of prejudice and discrimination and she said the one being discriminated against attracts it to themselves. “More often, the one who feels discriminated against is the most powerful creator in that experience. The being who feels that others do not like him — for whatever reason — whether it is religion, race, gender, or social status . . . no matter what the reason is that he feels that he is being discriminated against — it is his attention to the subject of the prejudice that attracts his trouble.

Holocaust

In response to a question from a participant about the Holocaust Hicks replies that the Jews who were killed were partially responsible. 

All of them were co-creators in the process. In other words everyone that was involved in it did not die, many of them who were well connected with their inner beings were inspired to zig and zag. Many of them left the country.” 

In another talk, a woman asks Hicks a similar question about the Holocaust. “How did six million people of Jewish descent attract such despair and suffering that they endured?” Hicks replies by saying that many did not die because of vibrational differences amongst them.

“For everyone that died in that way there were many, many, many more who didn’t. In other words, it didn’t happen to everyone, so why didn’t happen to everyone? Because there were vibrational differences among them you see. How can that many people have that negative experience? Because you hang around with each other and you talk similarly, and you get a similar vibration going and you dovetail into the currents of things and then inevitable things happen.” 

Hicks also said that people were creating “future holocausts” by talking about victimhood, injustice, and unfairness. She even went on to say that the countries being bombed by George Bush were attracting it to themselves by their negative emotions. 

9/11 Terrorist Attacks

In response to a question about how so many people could have simultaneously attracted their deaths on 9/11 Hicks says that someone couldn’t wake up “happily vibrating” and walk into a building like the World Trade Center. 

“How would it be that so many would find themselves a vibrational match to something? That is what vibrational matches are about. All of the elements that have culminated in that eggarated experience have been percolating. It has been in the making. In other words you don’t just wake up one morning and be vibrating happily ever after and just walk into a situation like that. You don’t just wake up one morning vibrating happily ever after and find yourself working in a building where previous bomb threats have even happened.” 

She also stated that one could see clearly how the Law of Attraction applies when looking at all the factors. 

“When you think about the WTC and you acknowledge that it has been a target before, that there have been experiences there before, that trauma has surrounded it before, that some who are there are offering some similar vibration around that. When you think about the turmoil that has been happening around the airlines, when you think about the air rage that has been pulsing, as you have access to specific information about many factors that all culminated in that, as you address it from your knowledge of law of attraction suddenly things come into clear view.” 

Hicks also said that if the questioner understood the personal history of everyone killed in the attack it would be much easier to understand how the Law of Attraction was at play. And she said because “only” several thousand of the workers died and not the full 20,000 who were in the buildings that it was clear the Law of Attraction was involved.  

Assault and Murder

In this passage from Hicks’ book The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham Jerry asks Hicks how innocent victims of robbery attract it to themselves. 

“Jerry: I can understand robbers being attracted to those they’re robbing, but it’s difficult to see innocent victims (as they’re called) attracting the robbery, or the person being discriminated against attracting the prejudice. 

Abraham: But they are, just the same. The assaulted and the assaulter are co-creators of the event.

In a video, Hicks also blames people who are murdered for attracting their own death. 

“Every death is suicide because every death is self-created. No exceptions. Even if someone comes up and puts a gun to you and kills you. You have been a vibrational match to that.

And another example. “Unless you invite them through your thought, aggressors will not be part of your experience. That is Law, in your physical setting or in our Non-Physical setting.”

Gay Marriage

A lesbian woman who asks Hicks about gay marriage is told: “what is that stupid piece of paper anyway?” She responds that it is important because of wills, taxes and social security. Hicks replies with “that is all shortage consciousness.” The woman says to her “but, how do you create change in the world?” Hicks goes on to derail this woman’s interest in legalizing gay marriage. She tells her she has to stop pushing against. “Every time you say 35 states and 42 this and 152 that, you use that evidence to split your vibrational escrow.”

AIDS

Hicks claims that people with AIDS attracted it to themselves and that it is the “physical manifestation of not liking oneself.”

Jerry’s Death & Multiple Wives

Because Jerry and Esther have made a career of lecturing others about how negative things in their lives come from their thoughts, their own personal lives are fair game for analysis.

Jerry had at least five wives and even told an interviewer he “lost count” of how many he had. Is this evidence of an expert in practicing the Law of Attraction?

Esther via Abraham also has lectured her followers about not needing health insurance or traditional medicines. She’s stated, “The ultimate health insurance is ‘just get in the vortex’ but so many people don’t even know about the vortex.” On March 2nd, 1997 Hicks said, “In reality, we have never encouraged Jerry or Esther to take any sort of medication or medical treatment because we know it is easier to teach them with what they know how to find their vibrational harmony with energy.” When Jerry got leukemia he went on a high dose regimen of chemo which he referred to as the “big guns,” seemingly contradicting the teachings of Abraham. One must wonder why he didn’t just use the “vortex” as Esther preached to her susceptible followers. Hicks has said, “You could be diagnosed with every deadly disease known to man — but you could be lying in your bed in a state of utter allowance, and allow the Energy of Source to flow through to the cells of your body — and you would have an instant healing!” Jerry died from cancer in November 2011.

The Secret Presenters Disturbing Statements

“The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.” -Rhonda Byrne

In an interview with Nightline News anchor Cynthia McFadden, The Secret commentator Bob Proctor states that the country of Darfur has starving children because they have manifested it on a level of thought. Thus, negative or “bad” thinking has caused children to starve. He goes on to claim that he could teach them how to think properly because “the child in Darfur probably doesn’t even know anything about thinking.”

In The Secret, Proctor states rich people are wealthy because they know The Secret.

“Why do you think that 1 percent of the population earns around 96% of all of the money that’s being earned? Do you think that’s an accident? It’s designed that way. They understand something. They understand the Secret, and now you are being introduced to The Secret.”

Rhonda Byrne confirms this line of thought when speaking about those who have money, “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”

In an interview, Byrne states that those stated killed on 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina attracted it to themselves.

“In responding to the question about events where massive numbers of people are killed, there are a few important points to consider. First, there is no one to blame…In a large-scale tragedy, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc., we see that the law of attraction responds to people being at the wrong place at the wrong time because their dominant thoughts were on the same frequency of such events. Now, this doesn’t mean that they thought of the same exact event, but if their dominant thoughts and feelings were in alignment with the energy of fear, separation, powerlessness and having no control over outside circumstances, then that is what they attracted.”

Another Secret presenter, James Arthur Ray, claims that “many” Jews didn’t think the Holocaust was that bad, “I know many people, for instance, of the Jewish faith and heritage, who don’t necessarily believe that the Holocaust was bad.” He continues, “Now, that might, that might be shocking to you, but I’ve had — I have people on record who have said, ‘Hey, there was a lot of good things that came out of that, a lot of lessons, a lot of opportunities for the world.’” He said similar things about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “I’m suggesting to you that there’s every bit as much good in 9/11 as there was bad.” In 2011 Ray was convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his students who died on his retreat in a sweat lodge he mismanaged.

Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series describes the fruits of using the Secret while images of his Malibu mansion are shown in the background,

“Since I learned the Secret and started applying it to my life, my life has truly become magical…I live in a four-and-a-half million dollar mansion…I get to vacation in all the fabulous spots of the world. I’ve climbed mountains. I’ve explored. I’ve been on safaris. And all of this happened, and continues to happen, because of knowing how to apply The Secret.”

Secret presenter Michael Beckwith makes astonishing claims about the power of the Law of Attraction, “I’ve seen kidneys regenerated. I’ve seen cancer dissolved. I’ve seen eyesight improve and come back.” And The Secret itself states “Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity’s ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness.”

The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction is the quintessential form of spiritual bypassing. It requires you to avoid, deny and suppress anything that is perceived to be negative. The end result is the creation of a robot-like person who has disconnected from the reality of their humanness. This means trauma and wounds will go unhealed because they cannot be sufficiently processed. Moreso it means someone will constantly be guarding themselves, interrogating their mind and in a state of paranoia about their thoughts. They are left in a state of worry, monitoring their inner dialogue because their quasi-religious belief system has taught them it is a dangerous place in which any wrong thought can lead to a disaster. This is Calvinism 2.0.

Psychotherapists have described how they’ve seen patients who use the Law of Attraction get sucked into shame spirals. What this means is that people become even more depressed when their efforts to use the Law of Attraction don’t work. Since practitioners are taught that the law is perfect, then any failure must be due to the user. Thus, the person depressed from having cancer or heavy debt becomes even more depressed when they think they’re a failure for being unable to apply the Law of Attraction properly and fix their situation. The system sets a high bar and practitioners can easily get down on themselves for not following it perfectly. Similar shame spirals have happened with people practicing Byron Katie’s The Work.

Not only can the Law of Attraction lead someone to bypass their own pain but it can lead them to bypass harmful or negative behavior of their partners or people in their lives. The Secret asks us to write down all of the positive qualities of an abusive partner for example. Thus, the important acts of discernment and judgment in a harmful relationship are dismissed as “negative.” A practitioner may try to spin a clearly problematic or dangerous situation in a positive light. Anger, frustration, fear or sadness about what is happening is portrayed as negative and could be dismissed or denied. 

And what about people who suffer from severe phobias? Wouldn’t the Law of Attraction predict that someone who is constantly obsessed with the fear of car crashes would quickly get into a car accident? And what sort of divine or universal intelligence is this that would punish someone further who is deeply struggling with a mental illness like a phobia by then sending them negative experiences?

Most importantly, research in psychology has shown that this devout adherence to positive thinking isn’t supported by the data. As Mark Manson describes in his article “The Staggering Bullshit of The Secret.” 

“But this prescription for ‘delusionally positive’ thinking can have negative consequences for people as well. Psychological research shows that trying to suppress thoughts about something only makes those thoughts more likely to recur. In fact, rumination and obsession appear to operate in this manner, especially in people with chronic mental disorders like OCD, depression, and anxiety: the more you try to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the more these thoughts dominate your mental space. It’s like if I tell you, “Never think about a pink elephant!” the first thing that likely pops into your mind is a pink elephant. Thinking about the things you do not want can lead to more negative thinking and put you in a vicious cycle of negativity.

Research also shows that actively engaging in positive thinking, such as when you imagine getting a job, doing well on an exam, or even successfully recovering after surgery, can actually result in poorer outcomes. Psychologists think that this kind of delusional positive thinking can make us complacent and lazy, as though we already accomplished something we have yet to accomplish, causing us to put forth less effort and to feel less motivated.

Other studies show that people who engage in “self-affirmations” and are then presented with information that threatens their affirmation (even healthy criticism or feedback) actually engage in more faulty reasoning than people who don’t use self-affirmations. In fact, people who indulge in delusional positive thinking ironically become downright angry when someone tries to contradict their wall of airy-fairy thoughts. The truth about their situation just becomes that much more painful to them.”

How Does It Actually Work?

Proponents of the Law of Attraction never tell us how it really works. Do seven “negative” thoughts from yesterday mean seven “negative” experiences today? Or do negative thoughts from two weeks ago affect the current moment? Or is it only negative thoughts from the last few hours that could attract something like a car accident in the present? What if the mix of negative and positive thoughts are equal in a day? Is the impact canceled out? What if your overall “vibration” is “low” and you are chronically depressed, mopy and anxious but you manipulate your mental reality by rehearsing positive thoughts in your mind throughout the day? Is it the actual thoughts or the overall energy vibration that matters most? 

We have tens of thousands of thoughts each day, some of which may be considered negative, neutral or positive. Take the seven billion people on the planet and multiply it by the tens of thousands of thoughts they have each day and you have an almost unfathomable puzzle to solve. Who or what is computing all of this and assigning positive and negative experiences to each of the seven billion people’s lives? Does god send a lighting bolt down for someone who is thinking negative thoughts? A pony for a little girl who is behaving well? Death via a murder to someone who had one too many negative thoughts? While Hicks and other modern new-age thinkers denounce the draconian ethics of traditional religion their own beliefs end up sounding a lot like them. 

Proponents have also never offered a clear explanation of what exactly qualifies as a negative or positive thought or emotion. Sometimes we hear cliche statements like anger, hatred or jealousy are negative. But those are just part of being human. They arise in response to real-world events. Certainly one could overly dwell on some thoughts but it is human to experience reactions to life’s stimuli. If you didn’t get into the school of your dreams it is perfectly human to feel upset and disappointed. But the Law of Attraction proponents would argue that this is “negative” and would attract bad things to your life. In reality, one’s psychological state would be detrimentally impacted by avoiding the fullness of who they are.

While we can manipulate our thoughts, we cannot manipulate our emotions. This is why the idea of “negative” emotions is not accurate. There is no such thing as a negative emotion. There are just emotions that arise inside of us. Perhaps difficult emotion is a better word for those experiences that we find unpleasant. One cannot control the emotions arising, they can only choose to experience and process them or not. Being real about what is happening and meeting it with compassion and understanding is a much wiser approach than attempting to cut off or control reality. 

The “Law” of Attraction?

The Law of Attraction is by no meaningful definition a law. At best it is a hypothesis which is defined by Google as a “supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.” Yet, author Jack Canfield claims it is “the most powerful law in the universe. Just like gravity, it is always in effect, always in motion.” None of the proponents of this idea have ever offered a systematized break down of how the law actually functions, however. No one has explained how it works beyond vague statements like “you attract your reality.” Yet, to become a law, let alone a theory there needs to be evidence and a well thought out rationale behind it all. Instead, the public has been fed a variety of cliche statements, half-truths and faux scientific claims about the reality of this supposed universal law. 

Proponents in The Secret also invoke quantum physics to bolster their arguments that the Law of Attraction is scientific. They claim that thoughts vibrate on positive and negative frequencies and that quantum physics explains that everything is “energy” and therefore can be manipulated by our minds. New thought minister and Secret star Michael Beckwith claims, “It has been proven scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.” Also in The Secret, Mike Dooley states, “It is no more difficult to attract on a scientific level something that we consider huge to something we consider infinitesimally small.” There is a difference however, because what happens on the quantum level is not equatable with what happens on a larger scale. And even if one could manipulate reality on the quantum level it doesn’t mean that the universe then becomes a giant ATM for the Law of Attraction devotee. Also, brainwaves are incredibly weak, which is why sensitive electrodes are needed to measure them.

If the Law of Attraction were really a scientific law that worked 100% of the time then literally every single moment of each day would somehow be choreographed by one’s thoughts. Everything that occurred, no matter how big or small, would happen entirely because of one’s thoughts. Spilling your coffee on the kitchen table. Your puppy peeing on your slippers. The sink getting clogged and splashing water on your work clothes. Winning a $5 lotto ticket. Getting a raise. Puncturing a tire on the way home. Just imagine the sort of complex super consciousness that would need to continually regulate all thoughts and then assign them experiences, pair people or groups together for events, in the real world accordingly.

Postmodern Salvation

“We must understand that the founder of a cult or new religion has no room for compromise: absolutes are necessary. True believers in mystical psychotherapy will not embrace a gospel with modest claims: it must be all or nothing.”– Martin Larson

While there are no claims of virgin births or bodily resurrections made by the new prophets of positive thinking they do preach many miraculous and magical ideas. And like other religions, the Law of Attraction promises salvation from the difficulties, anxieties and tensions of everyday life, which undeniably fuels its mass cultural appeal. Every era seems to have a book or an influential figure who is able to fill this role. 

Charismatic leaders viewed as Godlike speak with authority and conviction. In early videos Hicks can be seen shouting at her audience in a way that is reminiscent of fire and brimstone preachers.  It is this unwavering absolutism and belief in her system that has allowed her to convince the masses to drink from the positive thinking well.

The Law of Attraction is perhaps the most accurate form of postmodern religion one could imagine. It is individualistic (no community needed, one person’s thoughts run the world); narcissistic (the universe will supply me with anything I ask for); focused on immediate gratification (it’s central teaching is to “feel good now”); materialistic (strongly emphasizes achieving money and wealth); detached from structural reality (lacks an awareness of political/social/cultural systems) and is hypocritical (claims to be free from religious dogma when it is actually reproducing it). 

The Law of Attraction is also similar to dogmatic religion in that criticism or questioning of the system is not allowed. All critique is dismissed as “negative thinking” and practitioners often become very defensive when challenged. Author Barbara Ehrenreich describes this as the “cult of cheerfulness.” The Secret author, Rhonda Byrne warns, “If you are criticizing, you are not being grateful.” Diane Ahlquist in the Idiots Guide to the Law of Attraction states, “Challenging the source can come off as a lack of belief….If the law of attraction hasn’t worked for you yet, you are probably saying or thinking many things, none of them particularly positive….The best advice I can give you is to stop questioning the process because by doing so, you’re effectively telling the universe that you don’t trust it.” This is not unlike true Christian believers who have it ingrained within them that doubt, questioning or critique are profound threats to their salvation. With the Law of Attraction however, the leaders have ingeniously convinced practitioners that questioning will lead to them attracting terrible situations to themselves. Thus, practitioners won’t go to hell like Christians may believe if they abandon their belief, rather their lives will become hell. Coach Julia Stewart describes how the Law of Attraction shares a fundamental trait with cults.

“It is the insistence that you replace your current worldview with a completely new one in order to get what you want and that you must control your thoughts and eliminate any deviation from what is prescribed in order to succeed. That robs you of your inner knowing, common sense, intuition, confidence, etc. Then you become dependent upon the Law of Attraction “experts” to help you succeed. Usually they’re happy to sell you more books, programs, coaching, seminars, etc. that explain all over again what and how you should think. Folks do get rich with the Law of Attraction, but it’s usually the sellers, not the buyers.”

Spiritual Growth is NOT Easy

In this quick fix and immediate gratification culture, people want easy solutions to their pain and suffering. Abraham Hicks and her new age teachings provide this easy approach. They don’t actually work however. The Law of Attraction merely guides people to bypass, escape, deny and suppress those difficult aspects. While the practitioner may experience a brief reprieve from the immediate suffering they are experiencing it won’t last because the core issue was never dealt with. Merely staying positive and thinking happy thoughts won’t address one’s concerns.

Now, more than ever we need to challenge this narrative that spiritual growth is easy. Instead of running away from our pain, shadows and difficult emotions we need tools to embrace them and work with them. Real spiritual growth is tough. There are no quick fixes or easy outs. And we must use discernment to sort through what is a healthy and not healthy form of spirituality.


[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]

A Critique of Byron Katie’s The Work

Is Byron Katie’s method known as The Work harmful? Some believe so. There are numerous instances of Katie on stage blaming sexual abuse victims, denying racism, stifling efforts for social change, denying the reality of abuse and accusing people of things they didn’t do. It’s all done under the guise of spiritual growth. Katie claims to haven’t had a thought in 26 years and says she could walk into a gas chamber knowing it’s an “amazing day.”

[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]

Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Contact: [email protected]

10/24/2019

As a psychotherapist who works with people who’ve had severe trauma, my opinion is that Byron Katie is dangerous.” – Karla Helbert

Author and teacher Byron Katie has been described as a “spiritual mentor to millions.” With her method of inquiry known as The Work she has traveled the world for the last thirty years speaking to sold-out audiences inspiring them to find freedom from their suffering. Her popularity has undoubtedly made her one of the most well-known figures in the self-help and new age spiritual scene. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, says Katie’s work is “a great blessing for our planet.” Oprah Winfrey is also a fan. She interviewed Katie in 2010, strongly praising her teachings, later saying she had never met anyone like her. Katie’s books Loving What Is, A Thousand Names for Joy and Question Your Thinking, Change the World have sold hundreds of thousands of copies internationally.

Katie wasn’t always a highly confident, well-spoken spiritual luminary, however. She claims The Work was born out of her own journey through the dark night of the soul.

According to Katie’s official story, she suffered from years of deep depression, severe anxiety, and compulsive overeating. She drank excessively, took codeine pills and obsessively ate until she was over 200 pounds. Suicidal, she prayed each night to not wake up the next morning. At the age of forty-three, she checked herself into a half-way house for women with eating disorders and while there she slept in the attic because the other residents were so frightened of her. They even booby-trapped the door because they feared she may “do something terrible to them.” Katie slept on the floor of the attic because she didn’t feel worthy of sleeping in a bed.

After only a few weeks of being in the half-way house, Katie says she had an awakening experience that gave birth to The Work. One morning while sleeping, a cockroach crawled over her foot and “woke” her up. “I understood that when I was asleep, prior to cockroach or foot, prior to any thoughts, prior to any world, there was — there is — nothing. In that instant, the four questions of The Work were born.” She claims she then saw the world through perfectly neutral eyes. “There was just awareness, no story.” This pure consciousness “had never seen anything before” and “it had never been born before” she says. All her depression, fear and tormenting thoughts were gone. She then became “intoxicated with joy” and it has never ceased to this day Katie claims.

Katie says she spent the next year sitting in meditation and practicing deep inquiry about any thoughts that arose. Any thought that took her away from her newfound state of peace and joy was “subjected to rigorous inquiry” until it was resolved.

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I did´t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”

She says it was from this real-life field testing that she created her four-question method and began offering it to others in 1992.

Katie claims that since her awakening she has lived in a dream-like state where everything is beautiful and wonderful. In a 2012 interview with Haaretz she claimed to “have never had a thought in 26 years,” since her awakening in 1986. Katie told him she lives in a “state of total peace of mind…a kind of nirvana.” She also said she doesn’t get upset or mad anymore. When the interviewer asked her how that was possible she explained:

“Look, so far I haven’t experienced anything like that. But I’m open to such an experience. It’s very liberating to live in the world where I live. A world where there’s no right and wrong, just or unjust. Everything is right. Everything is in place. There’s no possibility of making a mistake.”

ANATOMY OF THE WORK

The four questions of The Work taken from Byron Katie’s website are as follows:

Step 1:Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Step 2:Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
Step 3:How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Step 4: Who would you be without the thought?

Katie guides students on stage and in her books through this process of inquiry to help them see how their thoughts are causing them suffering. No experience or trauma is too difficult for her method. The Work is true for every human being and can be used on all problems humans face she claims. According to her website, The Work “is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the fear, violence, depression, frustration and suffering in the world.”

How does Katie’s method actually work? It is quite simple, although to an untrained eye it can seem like she is offering something psychologically sophisticated or spiritually profound.

The Work is similar to a method known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that it focuses on correcting our mental patterns. CBT, however, focuses on correcting actual cognitive distortions like “everyone thinks I’m ugly” whereas The Work tries to “correct” valid thoughts about real-world situations that Katie believes to be “negative” or judgmental. She wants people to stop believing the perfectly normal and healthy thoughts that arise in response to injustice, abuse or trauma. She thinks being upset or angry at your abuser is causing your suffering, not the abuse itself. This is where The Work gets dangerous. When used like this it can blame those in pain for their own suffering and often requires people cut off important parts of their inner lives and spiritually bypass difficult emotions.

In Katie’s view, nothing in the world no matter how awful it is can cause us to suffer. Only our minds are real and thus only we can cause ourselves to suffer. “Harm is nothing more than believing your thoughts” she states. This is an extreme form of philosophical idealism, the notion that only minds exist. She’s essentially taken the new age cliche “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and monetized it with her four-question system. As this passage from her book A Thousand Names for Joy illustrates, Katie literally believes the worst thing that could ever happen to someone is a belief.

“Nothing terrible has ever happened except in our thinking. Reality is always good, even in situations that seem like nightmares. The story we tell is the only nightmare that we have lived. When I say that the worst that can happen is a belief, I am being literal. The worst that can happen to you is your uninvestigated belief system.”

In 2016, Katie posted a tweet that read: “All harm in 2015 was nothing more or less than how you react when you believe your judgments.”

Katie’s extreme view of thoughts equal reality is further illustrated in this quote referencing the holocaust, “When I’m walking to the gas chamber, other than what I’m thinking and believing, what an amazing day!” Katie believes “everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking” and thus terrible situations such as walking into a gas chamber become merely mental illusions that can be easily corrected by denying the awful reality of what is occurring.

“When I’m walking to the gas chamber, other than what I’m thinking and believing, what an amazing day!”

Remarkably, in her book Losing the Moon Katie even states that she could throw her baby into the fires of the concentration camps without resisting.

“If Someone (God, ‘what is’), pulls my baby from me – if that’s what it takes, I’m there. Take the baby. Tear my baby from me. Throw it in the fire….My discomfort is my war with God.

You see, there are NO choices. What is, is.

But when we get to the baby thing, we’re getting down to our sacred little concepts now….You take my baby from me, you’re messing with the illusion of I’m the mommy, this is the baby, there’s the daddy…

But tearing the baby away- that’s the higher. That’s the higher, because it snatches your story from you and makes it apparent in your face – nothing’s real short of reality….

That’s it. That’s what is. That’s love. That’s absolutely un-describable love. That you, God, would even give me that.

Can you know that Hitler didn’t bring more people to realization than Jesus? On your knees – God. God! God! But our stories of reality keep us from the awareness of God is Everything. And God is Good. […]

There has never been evil and there never will be. Evil is simply a story about what’s not…”

In her interview with Haaretz she was asked about the world’s problems. “According to you, all the problems that we’re dealing with are nonexistent?” Katie responded “true.” In the same interview, Katie states that the cause of people’s suffering from things like rape, abuse or murder is strictly their belief in their thoughts.

Interviewer: People come to you with very bleak stories of abuse, rape, bereavement, even murder. Do those stories shake you up? Do you feel sorry for them?

Katie: No. Never. I know that they’re perfectly all right. They only believe their thoughts. You can examine your life for a moment. If you set aside the things that you think and believe in, isn’t your life good? Aren’t you all right?

Obviously, the students seeking her out for support are not “perfectly all right.” Merely telling students to no longer believe the thoughts that stem from trauma and abuse doesn’t address the reason they are experiencing those thoughts. Any momentary relief a student will receive from temporarily switching off their thoughts will be short-lived. If the core wound is not dealt with the person will not find freedom from the painful or traumatic experience. They will find that those thoughts revisit them regularly.

Healing occurs when someone is met where they are with empathy, care, and connection. By claiming a student is not really suffering and dismissing their pain as a “story” or “belief in their thoughts” Katie is trivializing their experience. She regularly does this live, on stage with abuse victims and trauma survivors. Katie is missing an opportunity to deeply listen and instead invalidates their reality.

The Work echoes something we see more broadly in new age spiritual culture; the idea that all healing can occur on the level of thought alone. Of course, psychotherapy works on the level of thought and it can be highly effective, but it is a longer process and based on certain parameters like a caring therapeutic relationship, not just the manipulation of thoughts. What these new age teachers mean is that healing can occur by using quick fix mental techniques. A Course In Miracles, for example, describes a miracle merely as a shift in perception from fear to love. But those who understand the process of healing know that shifting a perception, denying a thought or suppressing an emotion won’t address the real underlying problem.

In the context of Katie’s awakening story, one can understand the method behind The Work. Remember, she says the inspiration for her technique comes from her realizing that she had no thoughts while sleeping. She then realized that she no longer needed to believe her thoughts and from this unending joy and peace were felt. Given her explanation, it’s understandable then why her method involves literally shutting down the mind to turn off any “negative” or judgmental thoughts. When she was sleeping the morning of her supposed awakening those thoughts didn’t exist. Her method is an attempt to return to that undisturbed place.

What Katie has done is essentially monetized her trauma, as Matthew Remski, author of Practice and All is Coming describes it. The suppressing of her pain and thoughts became an unsubstantiated pop-psychology healing method used by millions. Mixed with her new age spiritual influences she crafted The Work which quickly became an authoritative self-help process and text.

THE WORK IN ACTION

There are numerous instances of Katie on stage blaming sexual abuse victims, denying racism, stifling efforts for social change, denying the reality of verbal abuse and accusing people of things they didn’t do. She probably believes she is helping but the consequences of her applying The Work unconditionally to every situation can make things worse for some of her students, potentially leaving them confused and further traumatized.

In this exchange from her book Loving What Is, Katie, convinces a woman who is upset about terrorism that the real problem is in her mind. If she wants true freedom she must get rid of her judgmental and “negative” thoughts about terrorists.

Emily: They’re evil, ignorant, and yes, they’re successful and powerful.

Katie: And I…

Emily: I am evil, ignorant, successful, and powerful?

Katie: Yes. In all your righteousness.

Emily: My thoughts are like locusts.

Katie: Exactly. I don’t see any terrorists in this moment except the one you live with: yourself.

Emily: Yes. I see that.

Katie: I live in peace, and that’s what everyone deserves. We all deserve to end our own terrorism.

Emily: I can understand the arrogance of doing what I’ve been doing.

This is called the “turnaround” technique where Katie convinces the student that the real problem is in their head not in the world. Emily went from someone with legitimate feelings about terrorism to someone believing that she was the actual terrorist , a mental terrorist to be precise. It goes without saying that it’s quite normal to be angry and upset with people who intentionally kill innocent civilians. Yet, Katie’s method left Emily believing her thoughts are “like locusts.” Until Emily can remove any “negative” or judgmental thoughts about terrorists she cannot be free according to Katie.

In this exchange taken from a video, a woman speaks of her concerns about the meat industry and factory farming. Katie downplays her valid and legitimate perspective by convincing her the problem is only in her mind.

Katie: So, the meat industry is the largest, most accepted form of violence in the world today? How would you turn that around?…Fantasy is.

Student: So you’re suggesting to replacing the meat industry with fantasy?

Katie: Yes, or “my thinking.”

Student: Oh, definitely. My thinking is the largest most accepted form of violence.

Katie: Of violence in in your world today and it just wipes people out. It can wipe out your happy life.

Katie believes this woman is upset only because of her thoughts about the meat industry. Factory farming itself could never cause someone to be upset. It is only a choice we make in our own minds and being upset equates to suffering in Katie’s view.

In this exchange, also from Loving What Is, a passionate believer in social change expresses hurt and frustration about corporations polluting the planet, only to have Katie tell her that her feelings are violent.

Margaret: It hurts. I can’t stand what they’re doing to our planet.

Katie: Doesn’t all that anger feel violent inside.

Margaret: Yes.

Katie: Anger is violent. Feel it.

Margaret: But it motivates me to act, so it’s good to have some stress. We need it to get things moving.

Katie: So what I hear from you is that violence works, violence is the way to a peaceful solution. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Margaret knows that the anger she feels about pollution is a motivating factor to take action but Katie twists this around in her mind. The result may leave the woman confused about her activism. Furthermore, Katie’s method cuts off an essential part of Margaret’s human experience.

There are numerous examples of Katie victim blaming sexual and verbal abuse survivors in her books and in videos.

In this exchange from her book Loving What Is, Katie convinces a woman who was sexually abused by her stepfather that she abused him.

Katie: He abused me — turn it around. I…

Diane: I abused me?

Katie: Yes. Can you see that?

Katie: There’s another turnaround. I…

Diane: I…

Katie: …abused…

Diane:…abused…[There is a long pause.] I abused…him? That’s a hard one.

Katie: Tell me about that.

Diane: I abused him.

Katie: Yes, sweetheart. Tell me about it.

According to Katie, this woman is abusing both herself and her step-father merely by thinking critical thoughts about her abuser. Katie is requiring abuse victims to state live on stage in front of hundreds of people that they abused their abusers.

In this exchange, also from Katie’s book Loving What Is, Marty explores the pain of verbal abuse they experienced from their uncle. The same turnaround technique is used by Katie to deny the reality of this persons experience and blame them for the abuse.

Marty: I’m still feeling the pain of his verbal abuse.

Katie: Okay, verbal abuse — turn it around. “I’m feeling the pain…”

Marty: I still am feeling the pain of my verbal abuse.

Katie: Toward him in your mind.

Marty: I’m still feeling the pain of my verbal abuse toward him in my mind?

Katie: If your uncle says something that hurts, he’s just revealed what you haven’t wanted to look at yet. The man is a Buddha.

Marty: You mean that everything I’m defending against is the truth that I don’t want to see? Holy shit! No wonder I’ve been seeing my uncle as an enemy! This is amazing!

Katie: Uncles have never been the problem, and they never will be. It’s your uninvestigated thinking about your uncle that’s the problem. And as you inquire, you set yourself free. Your uncle is really God in disguise as an uncle. He’s giving you everything you need for your freedom.

Marty falsely believes they’ve experienced a breakthrough or profound insight based on this inquiry. What’s really happening is that an abuse victim is blaming themselves for “abusing” their abuser. On top of this awkward exchange, they are being misled to think it is “spiritual” to tolerate abuse. Katie tells them that their abusive uncle is a Buddha and “God in disguise.” Marty is then told that the cause of their suffering is the resistance to the abuse. Katie likes to say “war begins at defense.” Their uncle’s abuse is actually helping them discover things they didn’t want to look at according to Katie. Denying someone’s reality like this and making them question their own reality is undoubtedly a form of gaslighting.

In a video, a man is on stage discussing his girlfriend’s verbal abuse towards him. When Katie asks him if he can think of any instances where he is verbally abusive to her he says “nothing comes to mind.” Katie then focuses in on that “terrorist” in his mind and asks about the thoughts he’s been thinking about his girlfriend’s verbal abuse towards him. And voila, she’s found the real culprit. He tells Katie “My thinking would be insulting to her definitely. I’d be looking at her thinking you’re crazy, this is insane, damaged, very unevolved behavior. I would definitely be having insulting thoughts.” Katie responds “there it is!” Having critical thoughts about someone who is abusing you is normal. It protects us from harm and is a sign that things are working properly.

It’s important to understand when reading these passages that Katie outright denies the reality of verbal abuse. “There’s no such thing as verbal abuse. There’s only someone telling me a truth that I don’t want to hear. If I were really able to hear my accuser, I would find my freedom.” In one video she says “aggressives come for us, not to hurt us, to open us.” This quote from Katie further illustrates her belief about the benefit of an abusive partner.

“There’s never a mistake in the universe. So if your partner is angry, good. If there are things about him that you consider flaws, good, because these flaws are your own, you’re projecting them, and you can write them down, inquire, and set yourself free. People go to India to find a guru, but you don’t have to: you’re living with one. Your partner will give you everything you need for your own freedom.”

It’s worth pointing out that, by her own admission, Katie’s husband was so verbally abusive to her that people would leave the house in fear of him. She says he was her Buddha, teaching her profound spiritual lessons that she truly needed to grow.

It goes without saying that verbal abuse is serious and can cause severe trauma. Anyone who has ever been screamed at knows intimately the lasting impact it can have in your body and psyche. The effect of long-term partner abuse is even more serious.

In a video, an audience member tells Katie she is upset with someone named Bob because he lied to her, stole from her and betrayed her. Katie has the woman turn around her statement and say “Bob should lie.” Later in the exchange, the woman tells Katie that Bob groped her inappropriately at her husband’s funeral. Katie asks her what her thoughts were about the incident and she replied, “I just thought that he was a disturbed person on a power trip.” Katie immediately says “turn it around” to which the woman responds “I’m a very confused person on a power trip and I’m self-absorbed.” She continues, “yeah, I guess so. I was deciding what behavior was right for him and what wasn’t. I was very self-absorbed. I wasn’t thinking about what he was thinking, I was thinking about me and what I felt.” Once again Katie convinces someone who was harmed that she is the problem, not the perpetrator.

In this exchange taken from a video, Katie tells a woman she is the one having an affair, not her husband who cheated on her.

Woman: Bill had an affair.

Katie: Turn it around.

Woman: I had an affair?

Katie: Have you ever imagined him with her?

Woman: Of course.

Katie: So you’re having an affair and you’re using him and her to do it. You’re having an affair in your head.

Woman: Because I’m picturing their affair in my head?

Katie: Can you find another turn around?

Woman: He didn’t have an affair?

Katie: Give him some credit, there were some times when he didn’t.

Katie proceeds to stifle this woman’s desire for her husband to accept responsibility for cheating on her by questioning her at length until she abandons her efforts. She also asks her where she has been “sneaky” and dishonest with her husband and her children which confuses the woman.

In a video on her channel titled “No One Can Hurt Me, That’s My Job” she tells an audience member that if someone threatens to kill him with a loaded gun that he is responsible for any suffering that stems from the situation. 


“If someone pulls a rifle and says ‘I’m going to kill you’ where’s the problem?” He says he’s going to kill me, the gun is in his hand loaded, his finger is on the trigger. Where is the problem? Here [pointing to her head]. I imagine whether I’m aware of it or not, he’s going to pull the trigger, bloods gonna fly and I’m going to die or I’m going to be maimed and fall and be in agony and my family’s going to suffer and I’ll never see my children again and it’s not fair and it’s all because of the color of my skin or my national or my culture or whatever it is, and he hasn’t even pulled the trigger yet. So who would I be without all of that? Who would I be if I were not projecting a future into imagining what’s going to happen. Who would I be without out it. Look into his eyes, the sun is shining, I’m looking around, it’s just, in reality an amazing world, a gift. So, who caused my fear and pain, was it him that said I’m gonna kill you or was it me? Who’s causing my agony now in that situation? How many of you get it’s me. 100% totally there’s no exception to it.”


Katie blames any pain or suffering entirely on the victim being held at gunpoint. Yet, it is totally normal for someone to panic in a life and death situation like that and they should not be blamed for the responding experience.

Katie flat-out denies reality in one video by telling a woman who has cancer that she doesn’t.

Katie: I have cancer. Turn it around.

Woman: I don’t have cancer.

Katie: yeah.

Woman: I don’t have cancer. It’s just that simple.

Katie: That’s it.

Woman: It is just that simple.

Katie: Exactly so.

In this exchange from a video, Katie tells a young boy he should celebrate when someone he knows dies.

Boy: What would you do if someone just died that you know?

Katie: Celebrate. What would you do?

Boy: Probably be sad.

Katie: Oh, why?

Boy: Because I love them and they’re gone.

Katie: Well, if you love her why wouldn’t you celebrate?

Boy: I don’t know.

Katie: Have you ever hurt yourself? Ok. Well, that person you love, there never gonna be hurt again.

Boy: Ok.

In a dialogue with a World War II survivor in Loving What Is Katie convinces him to say that he looks forward to “the bombs falling again.”

Willem: I don’t ever want to experience again the bombs falling on my head, or being a hostage, or feeling hunger.

Katie: If only in your thinking. The bombs aren’t coming from out there; they can only come from inside you. So “I look forward to…”

Willem: It’s hard to say this.

Katie: I look forward to the worst that can happen, only because it shows me what I haven’t yet met with understanding. I know the power of truth.

Willem: I look forward to the bombs falling again and feeling hunger. Hunger is not so bad. [Pause] I don’t feel it yet. Maybe I will later.

In a video, a black woman in the audience at one of Katie’s events recalled a conversation she had with a white man who told her to just forget her ancestral history. Her gut feeling was to say “fuck you” to that idea because “the history is still happening today.” She was trying to understand the collective history, her personal story and the reality of racism in her world and asked Katie for her insights. Katie’s response was to essentially derail the reality of racist harm by saying it’s happened to everyone equally and to claim she is not a color.

“Things that happened to you have happened to every color. You are not a color. You are beyond that…When you really love your people. When you stop fearing for them is when you stop fearing for yourself and then everyone is your people.”

In an exchange with Katie, a woman expresses her desire for there to be less racism in the world. She references the murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was murdered by three white men in 1998. “I was thinking about the guy in Jasper Texas. These guys dragged him behind the truck.” Rather than saying how awful that incident was and acknowledging that racism is a blight on our society, Katie responds by awkwardly asking her to turn the question inward. Katie says, “How did I drag my three children behind the truck their whole life? Let it begin with me. I begin there and then I’ll go talk to those guys.” The woman presses on with her desire for a more just and sustainable world. “I need for the establishment to give up the need to separate by race, to accept that people of color can be smart, successful, brilliant.” Katie responds by asking her “Can you see a reason to drop the story first?” The woman is confused and doesn’t want to abandon what she knows is right. “I don’t know. I’m having problems with that. I’m having this wedge of resistance.” Katie responds by saying, “You want to control our thinking.” The woman is then convinced that it is unloving to want people to not be prejudiced.

Katie: I want people to stop being prejudiced. Turn it around.

Woman: I want me to stop being prejudiced.

Katie: That will work.

Woman: I just didn’t realize how unloving that was to not let people have their prejudices.

[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]

I GOT MINE

What about all of the people who report profound breakthroughs and healing from doing The Work? The first response to this is that the same reports are found in every spiritual or religious group, no matter how outlandish they are. This is referred to as “I got mine,” as formulated by author Matthew Remski and it’s one of the most commonly used defenses to shut down criticism. Scientologists, followers of cult leader Jim Jones and devout Christians report to have significant transformations and breakthroughs. Do we conclude from this alone that being a saved Christian is a useful method to heal trauma or abuse? Do we assume that what Jim Jones offered was a responsible and wise approach to treating depression or personal problems? Karla Helbert is a psychotherapist familiar with Katie’s method and believes it is harmful. She shared her views online about the efficacy of The Work to warn students who may be misled.

“As a psychotherapist- who works with people who’ve had severe trauma, my opinion is that Byron Katie is dangerous. She has no training in supporting people who have been traumatized. She blames and shames them and calls it The Work. In her book Loving What Is, she has a woman agree that as a child she was responsible for her sexual abuse and invited it. It’s appalling and psychologically and spiritually dangerous. I can’t believe no one has sued her. Her method of questioning our own thoughts, challenging our own beliefs is sound and a good practice- ultimately the basis of Jnana yoga- but when it comes to the flip, turning the statements toward yourself and the way this can easily turn to blaming a victim/survivor is horrid.”

In the very least, a conversation about the scope of what situations The Work can be applied to would be beneficial.

Secondly, The Work is similar to a cognitive-behavioral technique, so it could offer people relief when applied to actual cognitive distortions like “everyone thinks I’m ugly.” As Helbert mentioned, there can be a place for examining and reframing certain types of thoughts. And even victims of abuse may experience relief after doing The Work. The problem is that it is often only a temporary shift that undoubtedly returns once the student no longer suppresses or denies the difficult emotions and thoughts. Regardless, Katie has no training in CBT or psychotherapy either, so the efficacy of her work, even when applied to cognitive distortions, is questionable.

Lastly, you have to consider the context that The Work is being used in. All of these exchanges with Katie occur on stage, in an environment and context that carries with it a certain power. Students often uncritically accept her method as legitimate because she has authored books and can command a stage. Nervous and traumatized people sit in awe of a self-proclaimed awakened spiritual teacher who is seemingly showing them love. The act of sharing your story with someone alone can be cathartic and shouldn’t be discounted as a contributing factor when a shift occurs. Matthew Remsksi describes the power dynamics at play in his insightful article “Byron Katie’s Domination Technique: a Case Study.”

“Consider the performance pressure on the subject, on a dais in a room filled with a hundred people or more, with whom she must socialize on breaks, to whom she might be looking for relief from social isolation, who might constitute for her the idealized friend group for which she’s longed for years. Imagine the stakes involved in her talking back, refusing the advice, reasserting her original thought, wrestling back her agency from Katie.

Note signs of Katie’s somatic control: talking to the subject but really to the crowd, nodding as though she’s heard it all before and nothing could possibly surprise her (grandiosity), the implicit agreement that she can interrupt anyone at any time (because she’s not there to listen but to tell).”

Remski refers to this stage performance as “somatic theatre.” In no way is this performance dynamic unique to Katie’s method, it can be found widely in spiritual culture.

CULT AMBITIONS?

In addition to offering workshops and events, Katie offers a 9-day experience called The School where participants question “the fear-based stories” they’ve “innocently clung to” for so long. Some schools have had as many as 300 students. With a tuition of $3,500 per person, Katie is making hundreds of thousands of dollars per event. Katie also sells a 28-day program called “The Turnaround House” which costs $20,000 per person.

The School may have evolved since its inception but previous participants have complained that Katie creates a cult-like atmosphere. They’ve reported it consisted of: a 36-hour long fast, intense group confessional sessions where people were required to list the worst things they’ve ever done, participation in long days (7:00 am-11:00 pm), being subjected to Korn’s heavy metal music to probe out deep traumas, being encouraged to criticize Katie and The School only to be shunned when doing so, being required to go two days as a “silent one” where no talking was permitted and not being allowed to exercise or have contact with family. When some people vomited from the food provided it was seen as cleansing and evidence of how powerful The Work is. Also, any questions, criticisms or concerns about The School were required to be endlessly subjected to the turnaround technique until they lost their inner critic. Apparently, none of this is explained to participants beforehand either. Current descriptions of The School do not say what occurs during the nine days.

One participant describes what they witnessed when people were forced into deep confessions in the “shame” unit of the week.

“In the Shame unit, we were instructed to write down the thing we’d done in our lives that we were most ashamed of, then take the mike and tell the whole group, then do The Work on it with a partner.

People stood up and, sobbing or preening, revealed everything from bestiality and zoophilia to embarrassing physical features, infidelity to poor parenting that bordered on abuse. Many people told of having been abused and shamed by that. The reward for producing a novel or particularly painful shame experience was Katie’s cooing, warm approval and attention. This was such a powerful exercise that, for the next few days, Katie would interrupt whatever exercise was in process to say that so-and-so desired to tell about their shame.”

A former senior staff member of many years named Janaki broke away from Katie after realizing how dysfunctional she was. She went on to write a 72-page document detailing her time working with Katie. She warns of The Work becoming like a religion and of Katie adopting a messiah-like complex.

“It seems to me that The Work has become a religion that is now taking on global forms, especially when I see how it is being marketed through Katie’s various websites and her weblog. The four questions have become the holy bible…

Many years ago, I sat with Katie in her room one morning. She was talking about the future of The Work and she said, ‘I have seen it Janaki, it is going to be like the Sermon on the Mount’. I felt so in awe of her at the time. Here I was sitting with someone equal to Jesus Christ, having tea on the balcony.”

Janaki says that other staff members and core followers believe that Katie exists in a state of flawless perfection as well.

Stephen Mitchell is Katie’s current husband and helped her write Loving What Is. He told Janaki that he was proficient at understanding the significance of people’s eyes and whether or not they were spiritual masters. From their eyes alone he could tell if they knew “The Great Secret.” When looking into Katie’s eyes he saw something truly unique: “But Katie’s eyes were even more glittering, I felt, even more ancient, and so beautiful that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with joy. The joy shining from them was something I had never seen before.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell said in regards to Katie’s awakening, “I don’t know of an instance of this happening to another human being. It’s like if you took psychosis or amnesia as a negative and printed it as a positive photograph.”

Taken as a whole, Katie’s project begins to fit the description of a cult: A spiritually awakened charismatic figure who claims to have no thoughts and that exists in a pure state of awareness, the use of behavior modification, thought reform, shaming techniques, confessionals, the stifling of criticism, and the manipulation of the environment to break down individuals. The result is a new person who has shed their previous identity and has merged with Byron Katie and her system. Katie promises that “once the four questions are alive inside” of participants their minds “become clear.” Ironically enough, “clear” is the same term Scientology uses to describe when someone has achieved mastery in their program.

THE REAL ORIGINS OF THE WORK?

Did The Work really come spontaneously from Katie’s awakening experience in 1986? Former staff member Janaki points to different sources: the work of Ken Keyes, Ramana Maharshi, A Course In Miracles and other spiritual new age books. She claims to have spoken with someone who lived near Katie in her early days who told her that Katie’s basement was filled with boxes of spiritual books that allegedly “had underlined sentences in them and contained notes in Katie’s handwriting.” This disputes the assertion of her husband Stephen Mitchell, who has stated, “Anyone who knows Katie knows that she doesn’t read books.”

Janaki was told that Katie had all of Ken Keye’s books. This is significant because she makes a compelling case that Katie plagiarised Keye’s’ teachings when creating The Work. After purchasing Keyes books she realized how strikingly similar they were to Katie’s method.

“I became more curious and ordered some of his books. I was amazed. He called his process The Inner Work. He worked with worksheets that consist of 6 uncompleted sentences. I found a list of all the questions that are on the worksheet from The Work: I want, I need, he should, what I never want to happen again. I also found some of the questions, especially the 3rd question was literal, including the answers that are given to that question. I found the turnarounds, exactly the way they are done in The Work. And there was a lot more.”

Towards the end of her 74-page document called “Byron Katie and Janaki,” she illustrates the similarities in detail by using images taken from Ken Keye’s work. In total there are over forty pictures from his books that show strong evidence for the true origins of The Work. The image below clearly shows the origins of Katie’s turnaround technique. Keyes calls it the “Insight Leap” but the method is identical.


Image from Ken Keye’s book A Conscious Person’s Guide to Relationships. The Work utilizes an identical process which Katie calls the turnaround technique. 

NOT LOVING WHAT IS

Byron Katie’s dictate to “love what is” has taken an idea that at best is a quasi-universal aspiration and awkwardly contorted into a pseudo-method for healing. For Katie, what is is. If it has happened or is happening, no point in judging it. People who lie, cheat and steal should lie, cheat and steal simply because they are doing it. This is God’s plan according to Katie. The world is a beautiful and perfect place, where nothing terrible has ever happened. Suffering only arises when we think reality should be any different than it is or was. It is our “negative” or critical thoughts about what has happened that take us away from inner peace, not the actual abuse or injustice we’ve been subjected to.

As a result of this erroneous conflation of the absolute with the relative realm, Katie has led millions of people to believe disassociating from their thoughts and feelings is a valid form of spiritual growth. If only healing were as simple as a shift in perception, or the reversal of difficult thoughts.

The Work is ultimately a double betrayal. On one level wounded participants are being deceived because they’re sold a system that most likely won’t help them. On another level, they are gaslighted to such an extent that they are coerced to say on stage in front of hundreds that their abusers never abused them, that they abused themselves and that they abused their abusers. When Katie tells students their abusers were “God in disguise” or the Buddha she has weaponized spirituality in the disservice of fragile trauma survivors.

Following Katie’s logic ultimately leads to a predicament: we can no longer try to change the world because challenging reality causes suffering. Remember, the problem in Katie’s view wasn’t the corporation polluting the world or the factory farm inhumanely processing animals. The real problem was the anger and frustration in the mind of the student discussing their concerns with Katie. She told Haaretz news that all of the problems in the world are non-existent. Katie will push back and say her intent is not to prevent people from creating change. Yet, in example after example of her doing The Work and in her statements she is doing just that.

We’ll never know the full extent of damage that Katie’s methods have caused, regardless of her claim that “it’s not possible for” her “to hurt another person.” One can only imagine the lasting confusion in the young boy who was told by an authority figure whom his parents admire that he should celebrate when a loved one dies. Or the harm caused to the World War II vet who said on stage that he looks “forward to the bombs falling again.” Or the re-victimization of the woman sexually abused by her step-father who proclaimed to an audience of several hundred that she abused him. Or the pain of someone having to list off positive qualities of their abuser. Or the stifling effect it had on the student who was passionate about reforming the factory farm industry.

It is not spiritually wise to blindly follow a dictate like “love what is” and apply it equally to all situations. We need to use discretion and critical thinking to navigate a complex and treacherous world. This is a fact that marginalized people understand much better than Katie ever will. As a wealthy, straight white woman it is much easier for her to live in a fantasy world where everything is always wonderful. And isn’t Katie merely promoting the same false story that underlies neoliberal capitalism? That everything is ok no matter how terrible things actually are? That we can grow and pollute exponentially without harm? That individuals alone are responsible for their own well-being or suffering?

In conclusion, like so many other well-meaning spiritual systems, The Work tragically leads participants away from themselves under the guise of leading them towards themselves. This is a form of toxic spirituality that we must challenge and think critically about as spiritual practitioners, journalists or concerned citizens.

[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]

Why Eckhart Tolle’s Evolutionary Activism Won’t Save Us

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle gives ineffective and overly simplistic solutions to our global challenges by over emphasizing the role of individual transformation.


Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Author contact: [email protected]

Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth have not only sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages but they’ve earned him the title “the most popular spiritual author in the [United States]” by The New York Times. He’s gained worldwide popularity amongst the masses and widespread admiration from movie stars, celebrities and famous musicians. Annie Lennox of the Eurhythmics said that he “has some kind of special quality that I’ve never seen before.” One student of his work asked in an online forum, “has he appeared in your dreams as well?” Oprah included The Power of Now in her 2000 book club, helping to launch it to the number one spot on the NYT book list a few years later. They also teamed up in 2008 to produce a 10-week webinar on the teachings of A New Earth. Millions of people from around the world tuned in for this first of its kind techno-spiritual phenomenon. Never before was so much wisdom instantly accessible and easily understood.”

Given the central role Tolle plays in modern spiritual thinking, his ideas have world-wide implications. He is one of many modern day teachers who emphasizes internal transformation as the central most important part of global transformation. As a result he makes quite exaggerated statements about the relationship between a privatized psychological shift and the larger transformation of the planet. His solutions are simplistic and border on irresponsible, especially when so much is at stake. Understanding the details of his spiritual framework and how his personal experience of transformation influenced it sheds light into Tolle’s thinking.

Awakening

Tolle’s framework and approach are shaped by a profound awakening experience he had when in his early twenties. After this powerful inner shift Tolle claims to have lived in a “state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss” for around five months. He studied spiritual texts, worked with teachers and eventually spent two years in a state of profound joy while sitting on park benches. He was realizing that his shift in thinking had peeled back the layers to reveal the “ever-present ‘I am’: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.” Tolle had discovered something of immense value and was now ready to share it with the world.

Tolle’s Vision of Social Change

Given the profound nature of Tolle’s personal awakening and the incredible sense of peace and joy that he felt one can see why he makes a direct link between his own private experience and social transformation. Indeed, if there is a defining theme in his work it is just that: internal spiritual transformation leads to a better, more peaceful and just world. More so, Tolle identifies a shift in the inner world as the only significant factor in social change.

The primary factor in creation is consciousness. No matter how active we are, how much effort we make, our state of consciousness creates our world, and if there is no change on the inner level, no amount of action will make any difference. We would only re-create modified versions of the same world again and again, a world that is an external reflection of the ego.

This line of thinking is problematic. For example if someone were organizing to change the racist institutional structures in society but yet hadn’t changed on the “inner level” Tolle is stating that their work would be futile. Of course people with lots of inner baggage contribute immensely to the transformation of the world and similarly, those who have done years of therapy, are deeply in love with healthy families are responsible for supporting some of the most harmful policies. He proposes that once people awaken to the deepest experience of Being the world will somehow drastically change.

We are not separate from our world, so when the majority of humans become free of egoic delusion, this inner change will affect all of creation. You will literally inhabit a new world. It is a shift in planetary consciousness.

We first need to ask, when one becomes free of egoic delusion what will their positions be on abortion, health care or foreign policy? Won’t this “new world” merely reflect the views of those who describe it, like Tolle? Egoic delusion is vague and it’s unclear what this means in the context of social transformation. In an interview Tolle admits to have $4 million dollars just sitting in the bank. What is the best “ego-free” use of that money? Becoming free of egoic delusion does nothing to provide answers to the most complex moral questions we face. Thus, it is inaccurate to suggest that once we are all free of ego we will inhabit a new world. In order to believe Tolle, you have to think that anyone who “awakens” will necessarily share the exact same social, political and cultural ideology. Secondly, forget about ethical systems, community, protesting or frameworks for engaging with others, everything one needs to play his or her part in the creation of a new world can be found within. He states, “The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.” Global transformation has never been easier.

Tolle’s bold claim rests on the belief in a “vast realm of intelligence beyond thought,” that once accessed will guide and direct the planetary transformation through humans. In short, God is evolving through us. It is in this space if Being that such universal experiences as “beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace” originate. This energy is the “intelligence, the organizing principle behind the arising form.” Tolle uses the terms Source, the Unmanifested, consciousness, God and Being interchangeably to describe this realm or force. This intelligence has designed the world through its continual unfolding. The Unmanifested flows “through human form…becomes conscious and thus fulfills its destiny. The human form was created for this higher purpose, and millions of other forms prepared the ground for it.” God created humans to fulfill God’s divine destiny.

What keeps us separated from this Source according to Tolle? It’s simple: identification with the mind. By this he means incessant mental chatter, confusing our true identity with form or labels and the obsession with the false egoic self. This is nothing other than evil. He states, “If evil has any reality — it is has a relative not an absolute, reality — this is also its definition: complete identification with form — physical forms, thought forms, emotional forms.” This false identification leads to ignorance and beliefs of separation and hence the complex global challenges that we currently face.

In The Power of Now, Tolle suggests there are various “portals into the Unmanifested” which lead beyond the limited identification with ego. They include: connecting to the body, dreamless sleep, surrender, the now, space and silence. Opening ourselves to pure consciousness via these methods, we can play our part in the unfolding of the divine will.

Without the impairment of egoic dysfunction, our intelligence comes into full alignment with the outgoing cycle of universal intelligence and its impulse to create. We become conscious participants in the creation of form. It is not we who create, but universal intelligence that creates through us.

Tolle claims that when he is speaking it isn’t him but rather the pure power of presence that is speaking through him. It’s interesting as this is an almost universally shared claim made by many other gurus, preachers and religious leaders. Many mainline Christian ministers claim that God is speaking through them. And of course Neale Donald Walsch claims in Conversations with God that God actually dictated several books worth of material to him. Yet God seems to be saying very different things to Tolle, Walsch and Pat Robertson. How can this be?

As we have seen, Tolle believes that God is evolving through us to awaken his or her divine planetary will on earth. How does he substantiate this theory? He doesn’t. The only evidence he can point to for his theology is that more and more people are abandoning “mind-dominated religions.” This is evidence, according to Tolle, that a new consciousness is arising through us. It’s not convincing. Besides, around the globe “mind-dominated” religion is spreading quickly. He gives more insight into his cosmology.

But what we are doing here is part of a profound transformation that is taking place in the collective consciousness of the planet and beyond: the awakening of consciousness from the dream of matter, form, and separation. The ending of time…On our planet, the human ego represents the final stage of universal sleep, the identification of consciousness with form. It was a necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness.

This is almost incomprehensible. How does he know what the evolutionary stages of consciousness are? What is the relationship between evolved consciousness and capitalism? When we no longer identify with form will all injustices be eradicated? If not, and if it is possible for us as a species to be “awake” while simultaneously living in an and being complicit with an oppressive industrial society then we should seriously question the social and political dimensions of spiritual transformation.

Why can’t this divine evolutionary impulse awaken us to the reality of things that actually matter like deforestation, pollution, racism, homophobia or imperialism? Why couldn’t experiencing Being and connecting to our divine source actually provide us with tangible knowledge and concern about the ravages of industrial capitalism instead of disembodied, abstract and politically neutral states of presence? Tolle and others like Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen believe that God evolves through everyone — Tea Partiers and KKK members, white liberals, black feminists, Chinese Taoists and queer activists to merely discover their deepest and truest self. Unfortunately this divine act does extremely little to actually move us towards global and planetary change. If it helps everyone equally then it empowers everyone at the social, political and ideological perspective they are based in and is essentially neutral. Aligning ourselves with an ever-present divine evolving impulse is vague, empty and will still reflect one’s social and cultural values and prejudices. It’s like going to therapy to discover deeper states of psychological truth. Of course anyone can benefit from therapy, but this won’t make them challenge the worst injustices around them. There are of course millions of Americans oblivious to the realities of racism and injustice who have done profound inner transformational work and who have connected with the “light of consciousness.”

Elsewhere, Tolle’s work is littered with unsubstantiated vague claims like, “All egoic structures are destined to collapse,” and “We are breaking mind patterns that have dominated human life for eons.” Who is the “we” and what are “mind patterns?” Where do they exist? What is an egoic structure?

Tolle’s magical thinking reveals itself more clearly when he gives examples of exactly how internal transformation can affect social transformation. He states, “The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution: millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space…As within, so without: If humans clear inner pollution, then they will also cease to create outer pollution.” While this may intuitively feel right, it is of course nonsense. Some of the most passionate advocates of environmentalism have lots of “inner psychic pollution.” Likewise, many people who are irresponsible with the environment are very evolved, loving and caring people who have done extensive personal transformation work. Tolle’s correlation with inner and outer pollution is profoundly abstract and vague. It’s entirely meaningless, overly simplistic and irresponsible. It’s literally no different than a right-wing conservative saying the reason why there are so many abortions in the United States is because of “inner psychic pollution.” What does this really mean?

In A New Earth Tolle goes so far as to claim all of the atrocities associated with Communism could have been avoided had their been a shift in their “inner reality, their state of consciousness.” Again, his absolutism in regards to the power of internal transformation is quite extreme. If communists would have only stilled their minds, connected to their bodies and dis-identified with their false egoic self he believes countless lives would have been saved. It’s important to understand that when Tolle is referring to shifting inner consciousness, he is specifically talking about stilling the mind, not shifting inner social or political consciousness. Of course the issues are far more complex than Tolle presents. No simple solution like cultivating presence, stillness or embodiment would have changed a profoundly complicated socio-political experience that spanned vast territory and numerous decades. Furthermore, he falsely believes that spiritual awakening supports his social and political positions.

Tolle is suggesting that what communists needed and what environmental polluters need is internal spiritual transformation — not education, training, relationship building, diversity training, political understanding, environmental awareness or anything else. Why? Because Tolle believes in an all-knowing divine power that once channeled knows exactly what to do. This universal intelligence is unfolding and working through humans. If only environmental polluters and communists were to connect with God the world would be a much better place. For those who successfully do, they are contributing to more joy, peace, creativity and happiness on the planet. Spirit is unfolding in a direction and it supports Tolle’s social and political agenda and reflects his social location as a wealthy, heterosexual, white male with $4 million in the bank and a Jaguar in his driveway.

The reason, of course, that environmental experts don’t recommend mind-body practices like meditation or yoga in order to stop worldwide pollution is because they are entirely unrelated. If we were to take Tolle seriously we should instruct environmental educators to stop teaching about pollution and start teaching about how to connect to Being. However, stilling the mind will make someone pollute less just as it would make someone a better chef. Otherwise, we’d expect anyone who engaged in mind-body practices to eventually share the exact same social and political ideology. Again, the divine will of the universe could have resolved this if it only could awaken people to the realities of social injustice — not just instill within them an abstract and politically neutral state of presence.

Dangerous Minds

For Tolle the “mind” is a huge problem. He believes the reason that we have poor art, literature and music is because the world is mind dominated. It is in turning off the mind and stopping thoughts that we find salvation. This is however quite problematic. While certainly people can benefit from stilling the mind, to say that a busy mind is the cause of industrial capitalism or pollution is nonsense. There are lots of people with busy and cluttered minds who are on the forefront of social justice movements. Also, there are many people who have done lots of work to quiet their minds and yet still are supportive or in the least complicit with awful things. Inner calm is not synonymous with anti-capitalistic sentiments. Again, he is identifying a particular social/political agenda or outcome with presence. If only we turn off the mind then society will be better. Yet this is absolutely not the case. Members of the Tea Party can benefit from mindfulness just as left-wing anarchists can. Furthermore, creativity (one of the things Tolle values and is a result of stilling the mind) can be accessed by anyone for any purpose. Increasing the amount of creativity in the world won’t support the political ideas of Mr. Tolle. People can be creative in harmful ways.

Tolle believes that when the mind is still one can listen to and be guided by divine inner guidance. However, intuition is not detached from ones social and cultural conditioning. It is most certainly shaped by the values, morals, beliefs, customs and practices that have already influenced the intuitive feeling. The intuition of a KKK member in approaching issues of race is vastly different than the intuition of a Black Panther member. Any sort of universalizing divine quality that Tolle believes will speak to a particular social or political agenda is pure fiction.

What happens when you still a busy mind in Nazi, Germany? You have a still minded person living in and supporting an oppressive state. Same goes for Imperialistic countries like the United States.

Awakened Doing

At the end of A New Earth, Tolle describes his understanding of how acting in the world lines up with one’s inner purpose.

Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose — what you do — with your inner purpose — awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you and into this world. It flows into your thoughts and inspires them. It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it.

He names three modalities of awakened doing, which without whatever we do will “be dysfunctional and of the ego.” They are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. He believes these modalities represent a frequency of vibration and claims that we need to be in one of these states at all times. In fact, our suffering is caused by our lack of being in them.

There is a danger to Tolle’s simplistic belief that acceptance, joy and enthusiasm lead to awakened doing. It can easily lead one to believe that whatever they are doing is aligned with the creative principle of the universe as long as they are enthusiastic about it. The only compass or gauge of whether or not something is moral or non harmful is the individuals internal mind. Rather than basing ethics on dialogue, relationships or structural inequalities Tolle’s system is entirely dependent upon the cultivation of acceptance, joy and enthusiasm. These are vague and meaningless terms when trying to determine whether or something is, for example, racist or sexist.

Conclusion

“Resistance to the Now as a collective dysfunction is intrinsically connected to loss of awareness of Being and forms the basis of our dehumanized industrial civilization.”– Eckhart Tolle

A friend recently told me that he believed spiritual awakening would make someone become more progressive politically. I asked him how far left would it make them go? Left-wing anarchist, liberal democrat, socialist? He didn’t know. But he believed it would make them more compassionate and likely to want to serve others. Yet, these are not domains of the “left.” I know many right-wing Christians who have dedicated their lives to serving others, but yet maintain homophobic, sexist and patriarchal attitudes. There were common citizens in Nazi Germany who volunteered and did service. There are many conservatives who are compassionate. My friend, like Tolle, confused spiritual awakening or a renewed sense of love with a particular political agenda.

Love isn’t progressive, socialist or limited to any political position. People of all ideological persuasions fall in love, make love, experience love and act in love. Is global transformation really based on raising the “love” vibration on the planet? After all, Glenn Beck’s latest gathering was called “Restoring Love.” There was lots of “love” amongst Protestant and Catholic Christians in Nazi Germany. Love for spouses, children, families and God. People were kind, caring and compassionate to members of their own kind while turning a blind eye or supporting to the horrific crimes of the state. What frequency did their love vibrate on and how did it matter in the larger scheme of things? Love is not the sole property of either progressives or conservatives. If both a pro-choice and a pro-life activist group based all of their methods, techniques and actions in love who would win?

According to Tolle what is most urgently needed to address the thought addicted insane world is the cultivation of presence. Global transformation hinges upon awakening to our deepest, most essential being. How might one begin to discover this? As we’ve mentioned through stilling the mind or other embodiment practices. Also, “For some,” Tolle claims in A New Earth, a glimpse of awakening “will come while reading this book,” as it is “Designed to draw you into this new consciousness as you read.” He continues, “Again and again, I endeavor to take you with me into that timeless state of intense enlightenment.” If you were worried about the authenticity or truth of his teachings, he clears up the matter by stating his book “is not derived from external sources, but from the one true Source within, so it contains no theory or speculation.”

Like many others Tolle mistakenly conflates presence with justice. People can cultivate presence and still the mind and yet live in a society that is racist, sexist and based on capitalist exploitation. Presence is not anti-thetical to a “dehumanized industrial civilization.” There can be lots of “nice” people who are calm and do things in a “sacred” manner and yet be completely oblivious to the ways in which the surrounding culture pollutes, oppresses and marginalizes people.

As was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism — the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, most white people in the history of U.S. have believed themselves to be loving, caring, compassionate people. Many have even engaged in spiritual practices for decades now, yet have been complicit in all sorts of racist, bigoted and Imperialistic actions in America. White people aren’t more aware of their own racism or racist past because they’ve cultivated presence or live in the Now.

Certainly Tolle has transformed the lives of many people. Millions have benefited from his teachings. The physical and mental benefits of mind-body spiritual practices are clear. Yet, this just makes the point I’m trying to illustrate much clearer. It doesn’t matter what political or social persuasion one is, anyone can benefit from individual transformative practices. To suggest that engaging in these practices is thus aligning with a certain political direction of the divine will as Tolle does is simply untrue. Again, anyone who stills the mind or cultivates presence would necessarily end up at the same social and political positions. We’d all end up like Tolle. That’s not my definition of a transformed planet.

Teachings like those of Tolle are overly simplistic and irresponsible. To say that the global problems of the world will be solved if we all still the mind, connect with Being and live in joy, enthusiasm and acceptance is incredibly naive. His ideas are based on magical thinking, not unlike The Secret and many other pop-spiritual philosophies. He claims that by just allowing the present moment to be it “will miraculously transform your whole life.” Even if one addresses their shadow through therapy or other transformative work, this still won’t lead to the global transformation that Tolle speaks of. These teachings make larger than life promises and conflate inner transformation with external transformation when in reality people with varying political positions can equally benefit from spiritual/psychological growth and still maintain their perspectives and actions regardless of how harmful they are.

Claims that the divine is working through us to fulfill the evolutionary mission of consciousness are so abstract they are meaningless. Most significantly the “will of the divine” always reflects the social, political and ideological positions of those making the claims. Saying this doesn’t mean I’m against spiritual practices or individual transformation just as me saying that poetry won’t save us doesn’t mean that I’m against poetry. Rather it is important to pull these two domains of internal and external transformation apart to clearly see what has erroneously been projected onto them.

We are already facing immense global challenges, which are seemingly only going to get worse. Getting in touch with God, love, Being or Source won’t save us now. Spiritual awakening won’t solve the problems we must confront. The issue is not lack of Being or unwillingness to be in the Now. Instead of fetishizing internal transformation as a global panacea or promoting the idea that God is evolving through us let’s build the networks of relationships and communities of resistance necessary to survive the coming planetary challenges.