Whirled Musings

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

Monday, August 31, 2009

Woman's positivity and passion fail to impress sharks

So I finally got around to watching an episode of the new ABC reality TV series, Shark Tank. This is the show where budding entrepreneurs do a show-and-tell before a panel of five highly successful venture capitalists, hoping to get a big booster shot of cash in return for giving the investor(s) an interest in the company. I rarely watch reality shows, for in my opinion most of them are worse than useless, but Shark Tank fascinates me. One segment on last night's episode (Episode 4) really caught my attention.

The second presenter on Episode 4 was a Texas woman named Gina Cotroneo, whose mission is to spread happiness through the world via her company, Soul's Calling. Soul's Calling offers products such as brightly colored umbrellas with positive sayings, positively-messaged bracelets with interlocking parts (to symbolize our interconnectedness, of course), and flip-flops that have positive words embossed on their soles so they leave uplifting messages in the sand. (Would that be "Sole's Calling?") Gina handed a bracelet to each of the sharks, and they oohed and ah'd. She offered a demo of the positive flip-flops as well; an assistant donned a pair, stepped into a little sand box, meowed, and then peed and tried to bury it... Oh, not really. The assistant stepped out of the box, leaving, of course, an inspiring message in the sand.

I actually thought that was pretty cool, and in fact I think Gina should also make footwear for pets and livestock. Perhaps she could team up with Joe Vitale's assistant Suzanne, owner of Intentional Treasures, and offer a line of pet footwear with the four magic Ho'opononpononononononononononononono phrases on their soles. This wouldn't work so well in litter boxes, of course, due to the way cats shuffle the sand around and fling much of it out of the box, but it would certainly be a viable product for, say, people who take their dogs to the beach. There could even be an equine version for folks who like to go horseback riding on the beach, though the words would have to be short, or the point size of the font small, given the limited real estate on a horse's hoof as compared to a human foot. Same thing goes with our porcine pals, who could don little Soul's Calling boots and fill their muddy pens with words of encouragement, causing the positivity vibes to radiate out into the Universe. The possibilities are endless, and I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

In fact, I think the Universe is really telling Gina to get into the companion-animal/livestock market. Just look at this eye-opening scientifical information on her web site:

Positive Energy Transfer (PET) is a very important component to the Soul’s Calling brand.

I send conscious positive energy into all the products by means of prayer and meditation, with the intent that they carry joy wherever they go. Requests for awareness and conscious creation are also made to the manufacturers as a way of helping to ensure that each product contains the highest “vibe” possible in addition to its more obvious positive message.

P-E-T. Could it really be any clearer? (Gina, I do expect royalties for the quadruped product line.)

Gina didn't really go into the Positive Energy Transfer aspect of her products as she stood before the sharks, but she was full of passion nevertheless, her eyes brimming with emotion as she spoke of how we are all connected and how her products will have a positive effect on the world. The world needs her stuff, she explained. She told the sharks about how hard she'd been trying to get her business going, and how much money she'd already put into her enterprise, and how people invariably fell in love with her products. Yet sales were lackluster. She added that she had promised herself that if she didn't make a profit at a recent New-Wage trade show she attended, she would take that as a sign that she needed to try something else.

As it turned out, she apparently didn't meet her goals for the trade show, but decided to go on pursuing her dream nevertheless. All she needed was a little capital.

As I watched her, I studied her eyes and facial expressions, and I couldn't help thinking, "This person looks and sounds like someone with some troubling personal issues." Turns out I was right, as I later found out when doing my usual cursory research; she was apparently the victim of a violent assault back in the 1990s. (But be careful when you do your own Googling; although her own site seems safe enough, some sites linking to info about Gina apparently carry active viruses and Trojan horses and the like, making your computer vulnerable to a violent assault as well. So much for Positive Energy Transfer.)

I was pretty sure the sharks wouldn't be all that impressed by Gina's passion and sense of purpose. And, indeed, they unanimously rejected her proposal, which involved a 25% stake in her company in exchange for $150,000. "Your numbers just aren't that impressive," they told her. No doubt the real problem is that they are all too full of negative energy.

But y'know, I'm kind of rooting for Gina anyway. I think she should take the rejection by the sharks and run with it, or swim with it, as the case may be (perhaps a "Let's prove the sharks wrong!" campaign and product line would get the ball rolling). There's a whole hungry market out there. Naturally, there's a whole passel of hungry marketeers as well, peddling the same sort of stuff. But Gina at least made it to Shark Tank, putting her a couple of positively-imprinted steps ahead of the thousands of other woo-product pushers.

What she really needs to do now is to try to grab on to the coattails of one of the New-Wage gurus who have scads and scads of money. After all, they're always jawing about how they like to help deserving people. Well, gurus, consider Gina. But Gina, keep your eyes wide open, because some of the most successful New-Wage types – and I refer to those who speak in the loftiest and most flowery terms about making a positive difference in the world – are just sharks masquerading as dolphins.

So on second thought, maybe Gina would just be better off continuing on her own, and trying to get all the free publicity she can from the gurus and their followers. After all, she's got that shark-rejection thing going for her now. That surely ought to count for something.

PS ~ For an inspiring tale of another woman who had a mission and vision and turned it into lots and lots of colorful products, it's hard to beat the tale of Catherina Rodrigues (formerly of Australia, now infesting Oprahland and other U.S. hotspots) and her colorful "Think Love" line. Here's the flowery, inspiring version of her story. Not that I'm in any way advising Gina C. to follow her lead, mind you, but it seems that Catherina has her own unique way of getting venture capital, as Steve Salerno wrote about a couple of years ago on SHAMblog (be sure to read all three parts of the story). On the blog promoting her current U.S. RV tour, which she says was made possible by the kindness of many folks stateside, Catherina writes of her benefactors:

These guys are angels… what causes people to offer up thier [sic] home… thier [sic] RV … thier [sic] time..money…energy…what makes someone drop everything fly halfway across America then drive a big RV to NY to pick up people he met once and drive into the unknown… Wow…it must be love…I am speechless…humbled…basking in gratitude…thank you isn’t enough…you have touched me in the deepest way…I know together we can do amazing things…When love is at the helm all things are possible…
Yeah, I just bet it is. Appropriately enough, Catherina calls her group the "Love Bandits." The guy in the Mickey Mouse gloves is the SNAGgy little mandroid whom she snatched away from his wife and kid after he inherited lots of money her soul mate.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

People who are tuned into New-Wage marketing, with all of its edumucated-sounding references to scientific principles and cutting-edge technology, sometimes forget that the old scams are still alive and thriving. Some hucksters and hucksterettes continue to ply their trade in old-fashioned, almost quaint ways, without a single mention of quantum physics or other scientifical conceits. (By the way, I know I've discussed this matter numerous times on this blog, but just for good measure, here's a pretty good summary of what, despite the New-Wage co-opting of the discipline, quantum physics does NOT say. And if you're still not convinced, the author of that piece, my pal Steven Sashen, also has this.)

Anyway. This morning I was thumbing through the SmartSource coupon insert that came with the Sunday paper, and there, amongst the colorful ads/coupons for convenience foods, cosmetics, headache remedies, doggy treats, and incontinence pads posing as feminine hygiene products, I came across a full-page ad for the amazing psychic Maria Duval, "the famous clairvoyant." Central to the ad is a 33-item wish checklist, from which you are urged to pick seven items (your "7 Secret Wishes"). As soon as Maria receives your list...

...she is going to perform, on your behalf, a ritual known only to her which should allow your secret wishes to come true. You will have absolutely nothing special to do, other than to follow the very simple instructions that she is going to send you in a large, discreet envelope.

Only a few days after receiving your big white envelope, you should see the first beneficial effects of this special help. Then your life will take a new and quite amazing turn!

Here is the ad, which you can click on for an enlargement (the red disclaimer stamp is my addition, of course):

I like the nebulous, hedging language, e.g., "You probably won't believe your eyes, but each of the wishes you have asked for should come true." Maria promises that she will "try to realize them for you, FREE." Whaddaya wanna bet that after "trying" as hard as she possibly can for free, Maria will decide she needs a little bit of monetary enforcement to speed things along?

You've probably already guessed, if you didn't already know, that there is no "Maria Duval." There does seem to be a woman named Carolina Maria Gambia, aka Maria France, who apparently originally owned the company that is now using the psuedonym "Maria Duval." That company is Hong Kong-based Harmonie Ltd. (ne Healthtips, ne Astroforce). Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Maria (and yes, I know that the article isn't up to Wikipedia's quality standards (as of May 2009), but it's worth taking a look at anyway). What does seem clear is that the company masquerading as Maria Duval has been scamming folks all over the English-speaking world for many years. "Maria" reportedly keeps getting booted out of one market, only to re-emerge in another. At present "she" seems to have a comfy home in the U.S. via the SmartSource coupon insert, which, you may be interested to know, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. I know, I know, you're shocked that arch-conservative and model citizen Murdoch, owner of FOX News and numerous other unimpeachable news sources, would be even marginally involved in something questionable. But there you go; life is full of surprises.

As you've also probably already guessed, Maria's "free" wish-granting service is anything but free. Once you've spilled all of your most personal secrets to her/them, via that wish checklist and the "confidential questionnaire," you're on her/their sucker list for life, or longer. Maria's "work" on behalf of your initial seven wishes may be "free" (and worth every penny, as I like to say), but you will begin getting a steady stream of offers for advanced wish-granting that will cost you money, should you be so gullible as to accept those offers.

And it's all done by mail order, so that the vulnerable elderly and others who don't have Internet access can have an equal opportunity to hurl all of their worldly wealth into the Maria money pit.

Canadians have been alert to the Maria scam for a few years now. Here's a piece complaining about SmartSource's complicity as well as "Maria's" scamming. And here's a blog devoted to the Maria Duval scam. Those were published in 2006; a more recent piece by California writer Tony Evans appears on the eHow.com site.

If you type "Maria Duval scam" into Google, you do in fact mostly get links to information about "Maria" being a scammer, but the current "sponsored link" will lead you down yet another scammish road:

  1. Maria Duval Scam?
    Don't buy anything from Maria until
    you read this. This one is real.
    www.doublepayments.com

I still sometimes find it hard to believe that with all of the consumer fraud laws in the U.S., we continue to see ads like "Maria's" in our Sunday paper inserts. "Maria Duval" has clearly been exposed as a fraud and a scammer in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Why are we so far behind? Then again, the US is the world capital of wishful thinking, particularly in these hard times. And hard times do tend to make the gullible even more gullible.

Now, if you are not entirely comfortable throwing your hard-earned moolah at a gen-yoo-ine phony psychic, you can always pay for a
yagya, or have some other type of remote work done on your behalf. And lest you think that susceptibility to such things is the sole province of the old or uneducated, I'll remind you that it wasn't all that long ago that hundreds of seemingly well-educated folks, eager to improve their lives, paid $100.00 apiece for "absentee tickets" to a New-Wage seminar. For their hundred bucks, here's what they got, according to the come-on copy: "Your name goes on a piece of paper in the room, and the energy of the room and the participants will work on you, even when you aren’t physically in the room." (For moron...I mean, more on this matter, see here now. And giggle, if you must, at the sheer irony of the Google display ad that appears above that post. Hey, I don't pick 'em, I just rake in the bucks...nearly nineteen U.S. dollars so far!) [Also see this comment I received to yet another post, from a person whose friend apparently attended the event in question. ~CC, July 2009]

Once again I am hearing, in my head,
a certain set of lyrics still in search of a tune...

PS ~ For the story of another old-fashioned scammer from a few years back,
check this out.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Snippets for a dog day afternoon

Just a few little Saturday snippets, Dear Ones.

Here we blow again...
Much to the relief of those of us who were blessed by
Ike last year, the 2009 hurricane season has been relatively quiet until very recently. And then along came Bill, who paid a visit to Bermuda (though too late for that recent hustledork pow-wow), and then set his sights on the East Coast of the US. Fortunately, once again we have a cadre of wind whisperers on the job, most notably, Phoenix, aka "The Spirit Diva," who has been so helpful in past storms. Phoenix and gang have been working nonstop to help keep Bill on a loving path, and she sent this progress report out to her email list:

...As I write you, Bill has continued to take the path of the highest and best good for all. He has dropped his intensity to Cat 2 from Cat 4 passing between Bermuda and east U.S. Tropical storms (as in lots of rain and wind) expected on Cape Cod area in New England with more intense weather through Nova Scotia and St. John providences in Canada tomorrow and Monday. All storms, all things, are transformed with our thoughts and feelings. Although no longer a threat to America's shore it's important to continue to see and feel Bill through the eyes and ears of love whenever you hear or see him mentioned in the news. Please continue to see him that way. See him spinning CLOCKWISE in COOL waters DISSOLVING back to the nothingness from where he came NOW under GRACE

And here is the actual channeled message from good ol' Bill:

A MESSAGE FROM HURRICANE BILL CHANNELED THROUGH PHOENIX 8-21-9

I've enjoyed my ride.
Peoples' responses to me are most interesting.
Your media in particular amuses us. They seem to thrive on feeding fear to the masses. And, in doing so, everyone wins accept the masses.

They receive viewers.
Merchants increase their sale of hurricane supplies.
The masses - humanity - raises their blood pressure with worry, anticipation and all that running around.

Yes, it is true, I am real and my force is most powerful.
Yet, the way to treat me, as with any storm in your life from the unruly child to an upset client, customer or partner is always through love.

Love transforms all things.
At our core essence all beings - real and imagined - are love.

Connect with the soul of what is and it is so.
It takes no hard work - mental or physical.
Love is a vibration that emanates from within and radiates out like the rays of the sun.
We are the same.
We are of the same divine substance, this love essence.
Be at peace. All is well.
Raise your awareness of outside forces.
Transform them with the creative power of love

Dang, those hurricanes sure are evolved. I've noticed, however, that they have a tendency to be a tad condescending, in that peculiarly SNAG-ish way.

Anyone can become a life coach. And we do mean ANYONE.
I've
paid tribute to the noble profession of life coaching here before. Well, now I have gained even more respect for life coachery, now that I've learned that ex-New York Times journo Jayson Blair is a certified life coach for one of the most respected mental health practices in northern Virginia. Jayson, you may recall, resigned from the Times a few years back in the wake of scandalous allegations of plagiarism and fabrication.

Michael Oberschneider, the psychologist who hired Jayson and urged him to become a life coach, praised the latter's "electric" personality and said that Jayson is now using his talents for good. "He can relate to patients just beautifully," says Dr. Oberschneider. Jayson says the troubles resulting from being a liar have allowed him to be "a little more authentic" with clients.

Hmm. Plagiarism. Fabrication. Self-reinvention. What better entree could there be to the lucrative New-Wage industry?

Swine flu in the Land Down Under
It seems that the latest incarnation of the swine flu, more specifically the H1N1 virus, is becoming a problem in Australia,
despite strong implications from renowned epidemiologist David Schirmer a few months ago that the plague is chiefly a creation of the mainstream media and our own fears. (David recently was hospitalized with pneumonia himelf, but acknowledged that it could have been his own weakness and fears that made him temporarily susceptible to Satan, who is the cause of all sickness.) Of the porcine plague, you may recall, he had this to say back in April:

SWINE FLU! HOW STUPID! Dis-ease is always created in the mind. Amazing how drug companies purpetuate [sic] such fear. from web

@missjordanoslie drug co.'s + media. Disease is ALWAYS creatd [sic] in the mind frm fear. Fear causes the mind 2 be not-at-ease (dis-ease) from TweetDeck in reply to missjordanoslie

@m1ch43lf Yes Micheal, reporters & media is responsible for so much damage in society. Fear creates reality. from TweetDeck in reply to m1ch43lf

@missjordanoslie We will never know y those 159 people died. Many ppl take what the media delivers & believe it as truth without question! from TweetDeck in reply to missjordanoslie

@missjordanoslie A great book to read is the Bird Flu Hoax, will give you a different perception about the dreaded swine flu from TweetDeck in reply to missjordanoslie

At the time David was going on about this, the swine flu really wasn't a problem in Australia. But that was then, and this is now. Aussies are getting worried about it. And last Sunday I came across a rather alarming article (originally appearing in the New York Times), that said Australia's Aborigines face an elevated swine flu risk. The disease is taking a disproportionately heavy toll on indigenous folk Down Under – which only suggests that The Wanker of Oz was correct in his original assessment. After all, those Aborigines are utterly notorious for their susceptibility to alarmist reporters, and their addiction to the mainstream media. I imagine they're constantly on the Internet as well, spreading rumors and lies that are just making the flu problem seem that much worse.

Or maybe they're getting sick simply because they haven't yet accepted Jesus H. Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Apropos of some of the above (well, sort of), let me leave you with an old song that has always made me smile. This song, by one of Oz's (okay, and Britain's) national treasures, Rolf Harris, was a hit decades before "World Music" became a genre.

That's it for now; I'm off to laze away the rest of this thunderously hot August afternoon watching old movies with the love of my life. See you next time!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Katie, bar the door!

NOTE: I've added to this post since I first published it. It occurred to me that some readers might not be familiar with Byron Katie, so I added a little bit of biographical information, as well as additional insights, opinions, and links. ~ CC

"...we all want to be special, and hiding underneath this desire is the thought that we also really feel we are special, and we all think we are right. This can be the reason that sometimes we start to believe in our own legend or myth."
~Janaki, former devotee of Byron Katie



This being the fortieth anniversary of the last day of the original Woodstock (and
Happy Anniversary to everyone who attended, wanted to attend, or lied about attending), I didn't want to let the day go by without a nod to "the event that defined a generation." There's been way too much written and spoken about it, so I won't add to the fray; all I'll say is that if you didn't celebrate Moon Day by watching A Walk On The Moon, as I suggested here last month, you can observe Woodstock Days with the same flick, because it covers that celebrated event as well. Of course there are other films, both new (Taking Woodstock) and old (Woodstock (1970)), that cover the territory in more detail. I urge you to hurry, though, Dear Ones, because the 1960s' Major Anniversaries are almost over, and the next big fortieth-anniversary observations will be the deaths of Jimi, Janis, and Jim...and then, before we know it, Watergate. Ugh.

So now to the matter at hand.

Over the past couple of years, several people have mentioned to me that I ought to do a blog post about Byron Katie, the sweet-faced, silver-haired perp behind The Work (not just work, mind you, but "The Work").

Many of you have heard of Byron Katie and The Work, but for the benefit of those who haven't, here's a bit of backstory. Born Bryon Kathleen Reid, she was, once upon a time, merely a mom and businesswoman living in the desert town of Barstow, California. But she wasn't happy, and suffered from depression, anger, mood swings, agoraphobia, overeating, addiction to alcohol and codeine, and thoughts of suicide. She was, by all reports, not a nice person to be around.

Then in 1986, while sleeping in the attic of a now-defunct L.A. halfway house where she was temporarily residing to work on her eating disorder, she had her epiphany. (She was sleeping in the attic because the other residents were afraid of her.) As the story currently goes, she awakened one February morn and found that she had been transformed into a giant cockroach. She was lying on her back and had trouble getting out of bed in her strange new body; all she could do was wiggle her six legs helplessly. Wait...that's another story entirely.

The "real" story goes that Katie was awakened by a cockroach running across her feet. That would have made most of us scream and jump out of bed looking for a shoe or a can of Raid, but Katie says that when she opened her eyes, it was as if something else had awakened within her and was seeing the world anew, through her eyes. This new being was "intoxicated with joy," according to Katie. She claims that it was at this moment that the four questions central to The Work appeared in her consciousness. She applied those questions to her own life and immediately felt all of her suffering lift. She now claims The Work can end all suffering.

By many accounts besides her own (most notably, those of a therapist at the halfway house, and her own kids), the person who woke up that day in 1986 was completely different from the rage-filled, mood-swingy bee-yotch who had entered the halfway house. (Katie herself has been quoted as saying she hasn't been angry or sad since 1986.) She attributes the sudden dramatic change to "waking without memories," and claims that she couldn't even recognize her own husband or kids at first.

Subsequent to leaving the halfway house, Katie says she dropped 75 pounds, stopped eating meat (it made her tongue bleed), and began meditating, often sitting motionless for hours, though formerly she'd been a salt-of-the-earth type who had no experience with Eastern traditions. (There has, however, been some speculation that she had exposure to esoteric ideas at the halfway house.) She also took to wandering the streets of Barstow embracing strangers and vagrants (there are a lot of the latter in Barstow), eventually inviting some to her home...and her following grew. Many folks claimed to be healed in her presence, but she said they were healing themselves. Though she rejected many of the labels that others tried to place on her – "mystic," "enlightened," "self-realized" – it was clear that something had been set in motion.

Her kids were puzzled, her husband was baffled, the marriage became strained and eventually broke up. But the seeds of The Work had been planted, workshops were developed, the business grew and grew...and, love her or loathe her, today Byron Katie has an international presence and is truly a force to be reckoned with in the New-Wage/selfish-help bidness. And maybe it's just me, but, despite her apparent humility when it all began, it seems that all of that adulation has gone to her head a little bit.

* * * * *

I'm not the only blogger who has been asked to blog about Katie. Many have prodded Steve Salerno over at SHAMblog to do the same. He has yet to do so because, as he explains...

...If you're going to attack a public figure in a (reasonably) visible venue like SHAMblog, it shouldn't just be 500 or 1000 words of clever, lively snark; it should be a fully researched piece of journalism that could stand up to formal scrutiny, if it had to.

Fortunately, I have no such standards here on this Whirled. I won't knowingly print untruths, and I do nominal fact-checking, but I will print snarky opinions. How clever and lively they are is up to the reader to decide.

There has also been some heated controversy in the past about Katie on the site of another of my blogging mates, Jody Radzik of Guruphiliac fame – most notably here and here.

And the discussion about Katie on Rick Ross's forum, which began in December of 2005, is 238 pages long as I write this, and shows no sign of fizzling out. Here's a portion where participants speculate on the Great Cockroach Legend (as well as that "waking without memory" phenomenon). They raise an excellent point; after all, The Work is supposed to be all about losing your "story," but much of the BK mystique – not to mention her marketing – is based on her story. New-wage marketers, and indeed, hucksters of all types, know that you can never underestimate the power of stories. Rhonda had her Wallace Wattles experience, Werner had his drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, and Bryon Katie has her cockroach in the attic.*

Speaking of stories...
One source quoted at length on the Rick Ross discussion is the long blog of a
Dutch writer and life coach who goes by the name of Janaki. Janaki is a former Katie devotee/assistant who was with "BK" in various capacities for about twelve years. Someone sent me a link to her blog several months ago, and I finally got around to reading it. It is pretty straightforward and detailed, and while it is obvious that the blog is a catharsis for the author, it does not seem mean-spirited or snarky; further, Janaki doesn't hesitate to document her own shortcomings and weaknesses that made her especially vulnerable to BK's influence.

In many ways Janaki's story is all too typical, both in her own self-description and that of her fearless leader's behavior. Much of it mirrors what I have either experienced firsthand or have heard and read from former devotees and friends of other New-Wage gurus.

Katie appears to share many traits with those other gurus: most notably, an enormous ego, bordering on megalomania; a gift for manipulating individuals as well as crowds; and a tendency towards passive-aggressive behavior that often leaves even the closest friends or colleagues stunned and reeling, wondering what they did wrong and scrambling to make it "right." For people who have supposedly done so much work (with or without a capital "W") on themselves, and have been through years and sometimes decades of every kind of therapy and workshop on the planet, and who now make their living teaching others how to be better people, some of these gurus are genuine a--holes, if you'll pardon my saying so. Of course the gurus and their followers would just dismiss that opinion as "my stuff." And in a way it is, because (to name but one example) I too can be passive-aggressive. Just ask Ron. The problem is that I don't like that trait in myself, and, even worse, I'm not getting paid for it.

The gurus are getting paid because not only are they easily able to disguise, or at least put a good spin on, their private foibles, but, more importantly, they are adept at convincing the hordes that they are providing something of enormous value. And, "value" being so often a subjective judgment, perhaps they are, for some. I'm reminded of something a wise friend noted in the context of a fairly recent discussion: even the most imperfect, broken, and egregiously hypocritical gurus can inspire hope in many people.

Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not. All too often, what the New-Wage gurus do is simply inspire a transitory exhilaration. When the high wears off, the seekers scurry in pursuit of the next level or the next guru or teaching, and many use these as steppingstones, hopping from one charismatic personality or teaching to the next one to the next, in order to avoid the mundane or painful reality of their own lives. I am not saying that every "serial seeker" is trying to avoid life; to the contrary, many are trying to confront it head-on, and spiritual shopping is their means of doing so. Shopping around surely beats resolutely sticking to something that's not working for you. But the point is that one can't entirely blame the gurus for taking advantage of a ready market.

At any rate, the traits and techniques of gurus have been analyzed in painful detail by greater and more thoughtful minds than mine. Janaki herself seems to have a pretty good handle on the dynamics of the guru/follower relationship, even though she still seems to be in seeker mode, though in a much less cultish way now. On her blog she refers several times to the unassuming nonduality lecturer Tony Parsons, who actually has some interesting ideas. Be that as it may, she is right on the button about many things, including this passage where, in simple language, she explains what commonly drives guru/workshop junkies:

Most of the people that I know who do The Work, do it to get out of a bad feeling. In other words, to become happy. We all seek pleasure and want to avoid pain. There is nothing wrong with this. It is what we all want, all day long. However, people who keep doing this are noticing that it ultimately stops working, like any other substance that you use to alleviate pain. You need your fix faster and in a higher dosage.
At the risk of disappointing a few readers, I have to say that my post here will be neither the comprehensive analysis nor the skewering of Katie that some might long for. But I will share a few things that made me raise my eyebrows while reading Janaki's blog. The first two snippets are from Chapter 10, "Working for Katie":

I was in need of making money and I found a well paying job. I told Katie that it was becoming very difficult to combine making money and doing all the work for the Foundation. She offered to put me on the BKI [Byron Katie International] payroll. I agreed and then panicked. The next day, I went to her room and read her the one liners I had written. One of them was: ‘if I start to work for you, you will treat me as an employee and not a friend’. She said, ‘I probably will, I lie about this friendship thing, I am a self realization machine’. She asked me how much I wanted to earn and I asked for $ 2500 per month. Katie told me that she would expect me to work full time for this. Even though I was already doing this above and beyond the call of duty, I took her literally and for as long as I was on her pay roll, I took no weekends off and no vacations. The agreed salary only lasted a few months. Soon I received a phone call from the manager at the head quarters, telling me that BKI was almost bankrupt, and would I work for $ 1000 a month. I told him I would, and I asked him if they would let me know when they were solvable enough to pay me my regular salary. They never did. Finally, when I felt that things must be financially sound again (after 1 year), I requested and received my regular salary.

......

[Katie] told me that she and Stephen [Mitchell, her husband and frequent co-author] had made a pact with each other. She said that if ever either one of them would attract a disease that would involve a slow dying process, they would throw a party, invite all their close friends and both drink a death cocktail.

At the time, even though this information overwhelmed me, I cheered what she had said. But I remember the thoughts that followed later. I happen to think in pictures, so in my mind’s eye, the whole scene flashed before me. I thought, I wonder who gets to clean up the mess, after you are both dead? Would people be seen as accessory, if they know a suicide is going to take place and they don’t try to stop it? How are we going to explain to the world that both the authors of a book called Loving What Is, just committed suicide and one of them was perfectly healthy? And what about all those sessions where she does The Work with people who have cancer, and asks them, ´Do you love your cancer yet?’

Could this be an example of, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’?

In a brief chapter (15) called "Katie Goes Blind," Janaki reports:

Katie was losing her eye sight. In one of the newsletters she announced she had succumbed to a genetic disease called Fuchs Dystrophy, and finally, after she was almost blind, she had a cornea transplantation that restored her eye sight fully.

What struck me was the word genetic.

I was in the car with Katie and some others, when a friend asked her which thought causes blindness. Katie started to go into an explanation about metaphorical blindness, when my friend told her she was actually talking about Katie’s physical blindness that was going on. Katie then told her that her blindness had nothing to do with a thought, that it was a genetic condition.

I remembered how Katie used to say, Body follows mind, and there are old tapes of Katie sessions where she actually said to people, ‘that’s how you cancer you’ and ‘that’s how you heart attack you’. I have never heard her say, ´that’s how I blind me’.

Hypocrisy. Inconsistency. Egotism. Money-grubbery. Yawn...just another day in the life of a New-Wage guru. The more important question is, does The Work work? Like anything else in the New-Wage bidness, that's debatable. For many, though, it doesn't seem to live up to its promise of "ending all suffering." Janaki writes in Chapter 37, "The Downside of The Work":

I know people who made the conscious decision to stop doing The Work and who felt greatly relieved. One particular person I am referring to here was doing The Work all day long, to get out of her anxiety. She said that she found a therapist who claims that he is treating a lot of people whom he has advised to stop doing The Work because it doesn’t seem to help them and it increases their sense of shame and guilt.

There was a girl in one of the recent Schools in the States. During one of the sessions Katie had done The Work with someone. Afterwards this girl stood up and gave Katie feedback. She commented that she actually didn’t experience Katie as kind and that she also didn’t feel it was very appropriate what Katie had said. Later on in her room, she was visited by a staff member who gave her the message that Katie wanted her to pack her bags and leave immediately. I personally have witnessed this before, that people were asked to leave a School. Katie’s explanation was, ‘it can hurt the curriculum’.

Following that, Janaki says that Katie's take on it is that if people don't like that sort of behavior from her, they can do The Work to work on it.

And so on. You can read Janaki's blog at http://janakisstory.wordpress.com/. A PDF version is available at http://www.theworkingcompany.nl/story.html.**

Finally, one of the most recent comments on the Rick Ross forum concisely describes the workshop hypnosis effect that, of course, is far from a uniquely BK phenomenon. (I've experienced it myself at one of those "crying and screaming" workshop series, which I should probably write about.) This is from a participant using the handle "Meadow":

It has been said before on this forum, but I don’t think it can be said enough, just so that people are warned before attending one of BK’s programmes.

This video shows how [magician, illusionist, and mentalist] Derren Brown robs someone of their possessions by just asking, while using the conversational hypnosis technique. [www.youtube.com]

That is exactly what Byron Katie does. She robs people just by asking. She is clever enough to warn them by announcing that if they want their possessions back, then now is the time to come and get them, because after this they won’t get them back. After this they belong to HER. It has been told before on this thread, BKI's offices are stacked with laptops that came to them through this 'Giving' exercise.

First people have been worn out emotionally through all the crying and screaming sessions. They are on a full ‘workshop high’ by the last day of the school, they have been detoxing and are going through withdrawal through enforced fasting. They are completely infused with the ‘love bombing’ atmosphere. They feel very intimate with complete strangers. They think they are part of a peace movement that is going to end war on this planet. So naturally they will give her anything she asks for. The criminal part is that this whole thing is being presented under the pretence of 'voluntary'.

But Byron Katie is very aware of the fact that, in a crowd of 300 people, it is very hard for a lot of people to ask for their possessions back. They think they will be seen as Indian givers. They feel ashamed and weak if they did so. They don’t want to feel they failed this last precious exercise. They don’t want to lose face in front of the crowd.

The correct term for this is STEALING, and Byron Katie is nothing short of a common THIEF.

At least (if I may digress momentarily) the above-mentioned magician Derren Brown doesn't pretend to be a spiritual leader; whatever he may have tried to get away with in previous endeavors, these days he knows he's an entertainer. (Plus, he gives people's stuff back to them after he takes it.) I've long said that much of selfish-help/New-Wage is expensive entertainment masquerading as something much more profound. The paradox is that in order to keep it truly entertaining, both guru and follower have to pretend, on some level, that it's all for real. Anyhow, this is from the "Criticism" section of the Wikipedia page about Derren Brown:

In his book Tricks of the Mind, Brown writes, "I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, 'I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship'. I happily admit cheating, as it's all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what's real and what isn't. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people's real-life decisions or belief systems."

But back to Katie. What struck me even more than the blatant-thievery aspect of the BK workshops was the bit about the workshop attendees feeling they are "part of a peace movement that is going to end war on this planet."

At least the original Woodstock attendees had acid (brown or otherwise) for an excuse. Eventually those hippies grew out of the hallucinogenic phase...well, sort of. A lot of them are now attending New-Wage workshops.

* Of course, the phenomenon of sudden enlightenment is nothing new. Whatever its physical, emotional or spiritual causes (and results) may be, it has a loooooooong tradition. Forty-four years before Werner's experience on the bridge, Bucky Fuller (who is often wrongly credited with inventing the geodesic dome), supposedly had one of those enlightening/out-of-body experiences that led to a life of brilliant innovation, though that story is also suspect. (This is not to discount his subsequent accomplishments in the real world, only to question the veracity of his "awakening" story.) And of course, there was Paul on the Road to Damascus. (You can question that one all you want, but true believers won't budge, and Paul's enlightenment experience did land him a major role in a book that has sold more copies than even The Secret. Paul's revelation has had a lasting influence on the beliefs and actions of uncounted millions, and therefore on history itself.)

And so on. Much has been written about enlightenment/revelation as a spiritual phenomenon, but it seems to me that the most lasting product, at least of famous folks' enlightenment, is the story/legend of how that enlightenment came about. That being said, for some really worthwhile thoughts on enlightenment, you need to check out Blair Warren's No-Nonsense Guide.

** In January 2010, Janaki added an interesting update to her blog. Here's the link.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A degree of hostility, or the beginnings of a great dissertation?

Yesterday I received a comment from an eloquent writer named Anonymous (a very common name among Whirled participants). Anon sent the comment as a response to my most recent post on phony college degrees. I have no way of knowing if it was something in that particular post that inspired such passion in Anon, or if it was just the blog in general, and the Faux-Degree piece was the last one this individual read before firing off the comment. But I felt inspired to share it with y’all. In the interests of what little decorum I try to maintain on this blog, I am lightly censoring and abridging the comment, but here is the gist of it:
Cosmic Connie, you are a f–g bitch...an idiot... I hope you die for what you wrote. You know f–k about what you write about on your blogs…I hope you die a horrible death…Whore. Bitch. Slut.
And so on.

My first thought was that this was someone who was simply bored and trying to provoke something – perhaps a junior-high school student with too much time on his/her hands. And that may very well be the case.

Of course there are other possibilities, though I seriously doubt that the comment came directly from anyone to whom I have paid tribute on this blog. For example, the fact that all of the spelling, punctuation and capitalization were correct would rule out someone like Melbourne’s Mini-Madoff or his teenage son, the latter of whom maintains a blog telling other teens how they can make money in ways both legal and not-so-legal. Both the elder and younger Schirmer seem to be seriously spelling- and grammar-impaired, and at least I can say that my fond Anon doesn’t seem to have that problem. It's possible that the remark was from one of the elder or younger's fans or pals.

It is also possible that this comment, if genuine and not simply a practical joke, is from a follower of one of the hustledorks whose own phony degrees I've snarked about here, but in no way do I think this is typical of such fans, as their general policy is to publicly ignore bad apples like moi. For the most part they are too busy fawning over their hustledork(s) of choice and perfecting their own derivative hustles to spend time or energy in my Whirled.

There is, however, the possibility that Anon’s comment was indeed a response to the post to which it was sent. Perhaps it was written by a person who has begged, borrowed, or hustled to obtain the funds for an advanced "degree" from a fine institution such as Belford University or the University of Metaphysics/University of Sedona. If so, then here is my advice to you, Anon: Take that eloquent comment and flesh it out a little – you need only add a few sentences – and then add some footnotes or endnotes, and perhaps a bibliography, and voila! You will have yourself a doctoral dissertation that may very well help you earn that coveted degree from the esteemed university of your choice.*

Never let it be said that I am not a big believer in eddy-cation.


*I’m talking, of course, about the universities that have the really high standards and actually require the appearance of minimal effort on the part of the student.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

New-Wage meets New-Rage?

"People don’t want to be beat up every day with, This caffeine product is going to kill you, or, The seas are rising and New York’s going to get flooded. They want to hear about greatness.

"They want — people want to be inspired! People want to be motivated. They want their positive thoughts validated. They don’t want to hear every day how everything’s going to hell in a handbasket and there’s a shortage of handbaskets. They don’t want to hear this. That’s what gets ratings on television. I have shown you get ratings on radio being positive, respecting the audience, being inspiring and motivational at times, when it’s necessary."

~Rush Limbaugh, explaining his consistently high ratings after 21 years on the air


Where have we heard that rousing "people want to be motivated" spiel before (and its corollary, "The mainstream media are just too darned negative")?* Hmmm....

Rush was halfway correct (perhaps a result of talking with half his brain tied behind his back).** The truth is that people...duh...want their thoughts validated, whether positive or negative. And they adore those who pander to them by consistently and passionately arguing that someone or something else is responsible for the negative stuff. Which Rush does, of course, and very skillfully too, despite his claim that he's all about positivity and "greatness." In fact, the main way that the New-Wage gurus differ from Rush (and other talk-radio raconteurs of all political stripes; I want to be fair here) is that Rush and company make their main living by dwelling on negativity.***

The New-Wage gurus, on the other hand, just sweep the negative crud under their magic carpets and pretend it doesn't exist. The problem with magic carpets is that they rise (probably as a result of all of that hot air), and expose the negative anyway. If the bad stuff bites the New-Wagers' butts, they just blame it on (1) the flaws and limitations of their critics; or (2) more abstract or mystical forces such as Mercury in retrograde, Earth Changes, 2012, the conflict between old and new paradigms, or Satan.


Given the choice between Rush and the New-Wage gurus, I'll take...um...Jon Stewart, any day.

PS ~ One of the best works I've ever read on what motivates people is Blair Warren's One Sentence Persuasion Course. Blair and I are not exactly on the same page politically, but I still consider him a pal. And I truly enjoy his writing.


* Of course, Rush's audience would add that the mainstream media are also too darned liberal.
** Which might help 'splain why his head fits so neatly up his...um...
*** Just as I'm doing here on this very blog. You bet I'm pandering to my audience, and I'm proud of it, too. The distinction between myself and more famous shameless panderers is that, alas, I'm not making a living at it...yet. So far I've earned a mighty thirteen dollars and change from Google Ads, but those funds are frozen because the Google Adsense site is malfunctioning and I can't complete the process of providing payment information. Lots of other folks are apparently having this problem as well. (Speaking of Google Adsense, I'm beginning to think that their bots do have a sense of humor. Currently the ad atop this post links to a site selling pain-relief supplements for horses.)

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

The bright, bold colors of SUCCESS

Dear Ones, I have been inspired. I have dared to dream, and I am now pursuing my passion! My life was changed in one incredible instant when I discovered Madeleine Kay, whose latest book is entitled, Serendipitously Rich...How to Get Delightfully, Delectably, Deliciously Rich (or anything else you want) in 7 Ridiculously Easy Steps. And you just know that this book delivers exactly what it promises, because it has a Foreword by one of the most credible people in the New-Wage industry, a man well-known for telling nothing but the truth and avoiding hype and exaggeration at all costs.

Madeleine's web site and other books are as colorful as the title of her newest opus. She appears to be following in the fine tradition of inspirational artist Sark, except without quite so much illegible scribbling...er...creative calligraphy. However, Miss Madeleine is not afraid to use fonts that resemble childish handwriting, just in case you miss the point that she is filled with childlike wonder and bubbling enthusiasm.

The description on her bio page is also colorful: "Adventurist, unconventional success and motivation coach, and maverick entrepreneur." There sure are a lot of mavericks running around these days. ("Yes! We are all individuals!") Miss Madeleine has also lived on three continents, has been an international fashion model on two of them*, and has enjoyed stints as a university instructor, an ad agency owner, and an actor in film, TV and a music video. And she speaks four languages. [Turn-ons are fast cars, walks on the beach, world peace, and, of course, adverbs. Turn-offs: Negative thoughts, meanies.**]

She has also been listed in Who's Who of American Women and Who's Who of the World.*** But most important of all, she is considered America's leading expert on serendipity, which is the art of having good luck, especially of the unexpected kind. Apparently you can learn to have unexpected good luck by purchasing certain books or other products.

I was utterly blown away by the colorfulness and originality of Madeleine Kay's tag line: "Everything is possible." Wow. Just wow. How did she ever come up with that one?

So far the Amazon reviews of Miss Madeleine's latest work are overwhelmingly positive. Burbles one reviewer named Karen, "This is the best of her books. I recommend it to anyone but especially to my friends who want to be Rich!" Perhaps Karen will come back in a few months and tell us whether or not she or her friends to whom she recommended the book actually got rich using Miss Madeleine's advice.

In keeping with the trend of marketing New-Wage material to younger generations as well (e.g., Rhonda Byrne's soon to be released teen version of The Secret), I think Miss Madeleine should create a version of Serendipitously Rich, or some of her other books, for the juvenile market. Or would that be redundant?****

You pop psycho-analyzers out there have probably already figured out that what is really fueling my post today is envy, which stems from my own chronic underachievement. Yup, busted again, I am. So far, THIS is the only bubble-ectably splendicious, gloriously enthusifying, passion-igniting, joyfully outrageous and outrageously joyful creation I've come up with (and I've even included a link to a more readable version if you need it). And that was YEARS ago. (And now there's someone else using the name "FARK," to boot. But I swear I came up with "Fark," which is of course a play on "Sark," years before I ever heard of Fark.com.)

At any rate, I have tons of catching up to do, cuteness- and colorfulness-wise. So I'm off to buy a jumbo box of crayons!

PPS ~ Here is a superchargedly fantastical shopping source for Miss Madeleine in case she runs out of adverbs for future book titles.
PS ~ Don't get me wrong. I really am a believer in Serendipity, and am not at all ashamed to say that I adore it and enjoy it every year around Christmas time.

* I don't like to brag, but I am an international model as well – a model of gratuitous snarkiness, that is – on not one, not two, but almost certainly more than two continents. I know for a fact that there are Whirled Musings fans in the UK and Australia, and probably a few here in the US too. But as I said, I don't like to brag. (Come to think of it, the pic of Miss Madeleine that is on her web site looks kind of like me in some pics an ex-boyfriend took of me a few years back. (I left my hat on too.))
** I just made up that part about turn-ons/turn-offs.
*** I was invited to be in Who's Who of American Women, but didn't have the bucks to pay for a listing. Still, it was nice of them to think of me. But as I've said, I don't like to brag.
*** And might there be a bit of brand confusion with Stephen Cosgrove's painfully cute series?

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