In her Time Magazine article "In Praise Of Darkness," professor, author, and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of "full-on solar spirituality." According to Taylor, solar spirituality excludes the inevitable darkness of human experience which on the one hand feels ominous, yet without confronting it, the spiritual journey is incomplete.
"Darkness" is shorthand for anything that scares me -- that I want no part of -- either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. The absence of God is in there, along with the fear of dementia and the loss of those nearest and dearest to me. So is the melting of polar ice caps, the suffering of children, and the nagging question of what it will feel like to die. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love -- if I could just find the right night-lights to leave on. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
While Barbara Brown Taylor is not part of the New Age movement, her brilliant assessment succinctly captures a reality which has incessantly escaped that movement, namely that darkness must be valued as wholeheartedly as our veneration of the light.
Marc Gafni: A New Age Cosby?
While American culture has been recently rocked by ubiquitous allegations of Bill Cosby sexually assaulting women spanning at least the past fifty years, a lesser-known but equally repugnant scandal has erupted among the professional purveyors of "solar spirituality," namely a plethora of accusations against New Age teacher and former Rabbi Marc Gafni. Born Marc Winiarz and sometimes known as Mordechai Gafni, the spiritual guru, according to Wikipedia, has been accused by multiple women of sexually assaulting them, dating back to 1980, and he himself has admitted to having had sexual relationships with girls as young as 14. He was also accused of molesting a 13 year old girl over a period of nine months. I do not wish to enumerate or comment on all of the accusations against Gafni because the focus of this article is not litigious. Nevertheless, some accusations beg to be mentioned.
In the December 25, 2015, New York Times article "A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed By A Troubled Past," Gafni's long history of accusations of sexual abuse was examined as well as his associations with the founder of the Integral spiritual community, Ken Wilber, and with Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey. Clarifying the definition of "Integral," Barbara Marx Hubbard stated that, "Integral theory is based on the understanding that evolution itself is an expression of a spiritual universal force of creation embodied in each one of us as us, as unique selves."
In Sara Kabakov's article of January 13, 2016 in Forward Newspaper, "I Was Thirteen When Marc Gafni's Abuse Began," she writes, "Right now there are children in the Jewish world, and in other communities, who are being abused and forced into silence. Their parents and teachers don't know what is happening. I know, because it happened to me. I am the woman Gafni molested when she was 13 years old. This is the first time I am telling my story in my own name." Kabakov tells her story in depth and also recounts her healing process and her struggle to recover from years of sexual abuse and emotional manipulation at the hands of Gafni.
Only days before Kabakov's story was released, Forward Newspaper published a daring piece that came after Gafni's team mistakenly sent Forward a recording of them plotting a strategy of suing journalists. The tape is extremely revelatory and includes Gafni's statement, "Let's have a separate meeting, and figure out -- do we want to sue someone and who would that be?" Gafni said to Michael Wright, his press representative, and Christopher Marston, his lawyer. Earlier in the conversation, Gafni said: "If we do decide to take action someplace, maybe the Forward would be the test case."
Another damning piece regarding Gafni, "Gafni Faces Fallout From New Age Community," was published by Jewish Week on January 5. The article states that, "Already some 25 New Age leaders -- including Deepak Chopra, the best-selling author; Andrew Harvey, founder of the Institute for Sacred Activism; Craig Hamilton, CEO of Evolving Wisdom; author Jean Houston; and Stephen Dinan, CEO of The Shift Network -- have signed a public statement disavowing themselves from Gafni."
Perhaps the most thorough piece to date is from William Harryman writing in his Integral Options Café blog and highlighting the psychological aspects of Gafni's devastating actions. Harryman notes that,
"One of the many things missing in the NYT article, and most of the ones that have followed, is a recognition that Gafni's pathology is not only emotional and sexual manipulation and other forms of abuse, it is also a sociopathic personality that almost hides the malignant narcissist within. The NYT article exposed some of the controversies surrounding Gafni (which has led to the current outrage in the Jewish community and in the integral community, but in each instance allowed him to refute the allegations with no further exploration of the facts or statements by the victims.) What could have been an important document revealing Gafni's 35-year pattern of abuses--interpersonal, sexual, and control--became little more than a PR piece for him and his 'think tank.'"
Harryman, who has two Masters degrees in counseling psychology, states that he has worked extensively with survivors of sexual abuse, and pointing to Gafni's repeated defense that his abusive encounters were "consensual," Harryman argues that,
"It is also important to understand that Gafni works hard to make these issues be about pseudo-consensual sex because the reality is much darker. His survivors ARE sexually manipulated, and there are consistent reports of debasing sexuality (woman as whore), but the sexual relationships are simply the seduction that brings women into his circle of influence. Once he seduces someone, then he begins the process of mind control, shaping their thoughts and experiences so that they come to see things his way."
Additionally, Harryman dares to use the term sociopath to describe Gafni and adds,
"Sociopaths... can be VERY charming and seductive, and if you'll notice in some of the online statements, even those who have distanced themselves from Gafni marvel at his charisma. It is the charisma that lures women, and it also lures in supporters (financial) and defenders (students). Once they are seduced, especially the women, Gafni's mask will begin to slip. These women discover the porn addiction, the rage, the manipulation of others, the lack of remorse, the debasing sexuality, and the inability to tell the truth. Understandably, they are frightened of him, and when they escape, they remain trapped in silence out of fear or reprisal -- because if they do speak out, he will call them liars, or say they are mentally unstable, and on an on."
In telling her story, Sara Kabakov (above) reinforces Harryman's perspective.
Since the publication of the December 25, 2015 New York Times article, over 40 other articles from a variety of sources have been published regarding the Gafni scandal. In addition, a number of spiritual teachers and authors have spoken out against Gafni and distanced themselves from him. One of the largest networks of spiritual teachers is Shift, which recently posted on its blog a statement of disavowal of Marc Gafni with a very specific explanation from one of its members, Andrew Harvey, which stated:
We, the undersigned, have concluded, based upon direct experience, investigation, or conversation with trusted allies, that we cannot endorse Marc Gafni as a teacher in any way. Furthermore, we will not feature him in any event, publication, or online activity we produce, nor will we participate as a speaker or promote any event in which he is featured.
Sera Beak - Author of Red Hot and Holy
Adam Bucko - Hab Community
Rev. Diane Berke - Founder, One Spirit Learning Alliance
Deepak Chopra - NY Times bestselling author
Stephen Dinan - CEO, The Shift Network
Scott Edelstein - Author of Sex and the Spiritual Teacher
Lion Goodman - founder, Clear Your Beliefs
Andrew Harvey - Founder, Institute for Sacred Activism
Craig Hamilton - CEO, Evolving Wisdom
Harriet Hawkins - Center for Spiritual Living Livermore Valley
Ross Hostetter - Founder, The Fieldwork School
Jean Houston - Author of The Possible Human
Kurt Johnson - The Interspiritual Network
Anodea Judith - Founder, Sacred Centers
Bill Kauth - Founder, The ManKind Project
Rory McEntee - Foundation for New Monasticism
Devaa Haley Mitchell - Co-founder, The Shift Network
David Nicol - Founder, Subtle Activism Network
Terry Patten - Integral Evolutionary Practice
John Robbins - Author of Diet for a New America
Ocean Robbins - CEO, The Food Revolution Network
Robb Smith - CEO, Integral Life
Mirabai Starr - Author of Caravan of No Despair
Marcia Wieder - CEO, Dream University
Claire Zammit - Founder, Feminine Power
Additionally, Change.Org published a petition entitled "Stop Marc Gafni From Abusing Again," signed by more than 100 rabbis who stated that:
As a group of religious and communal leaders, we are motivated by the obligation embedded in the belief that whoever saves a single life, it is as if they have saved a whole world. Marc Gafni has left a trail of pain, suffering, and trauma amongst the people and congregations who were unfortunate to have trusted him. He has abused his extraordinary intellectual gifts and charisma to harm many who came to him in search of spiritual guidance and teaching. He has used professional alliances to legitimize himself by association, and thereby be able to continue creating more harm. As a result Marc Gafni is neither trusted, respected, nor welcome to teach virtually anywhere in Judaism. In community after community, those who have trusted him have had their trust betrayed. Some of those who sign here were severely mislead and even once defenders of Gafni's integrity only to see that we too had been deceived.
Polyamorous Or Polyamoral?
Gafni defends his sexual proclivities as polyamorous, and to that orientation, he is certainly entitled. However, the trail of alleged sexual abuse documented by his accusers and those who believe them reveals manipulation, mind control, and ghastly incidents of misogynistic abuses of power over his victims. Moreover, Gafni touts himself as a "sexual pioneer" who is being persecuted for his polyamory in a manner similar to the way in which a gay man might have been persecuted for his sexual orientation in the 1950s, daring to compare his twisted sexual cannibalism with the benign sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered human beings.
Chaya Kurtz nailed it beautifully in her article "How To Spot A Spiritual Sexual Predator:"
Anybody Who Ideologically Justifies Polyamory: If he's really "progressive", this man can quote The Ethical Slut. And since his predecessors in his spiritual lineage had multiple wives, certainly he should have them. While he is free to enjoy his spiritually-sanctioned dalliances, you're in big trouble if he even thinks you're cheating on him. After all, it's Tantra! Or it's Christianity! Or Abraham had more than one wife! He has so much spiritual mojo that he is simply gifting it to all the women he's intimate with. How dare you refuse his gift!?
While Marc Gafni attempts to package himself as a spiritual and sexual revolutionary, he has shown himself to be yet another ethical train wreck--a sexual predator with a pretty face, an impressive resume, and terrifying charisma. Gafni is nothing more than a retread of an ancient archetype with which world literature is replete and religions in particular are infested. Whether it's the prurient guru system of a variety of Eastern spiritual traditions or the Vatican's soul-murdering path of sexual carnage among innocent children, the story is always the same: Power, control, manipulation, conquest, and psychological mayhem.
Where Are The Voices Of Solar Spirituality?
Marc Gafni is the co-founder, with Ken Wilber, of the Center For Integral Wisdom, one of many organizations promoting Integral Spirituality. According to Wikipedia, "Integral theory is Ken Wilber's attempt to place a wide diversity of theories and thinkers into one single framework. It is portrayed as a 'theory of everything' trying 'to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching'." Gafni has been long associated with two heavyweights of the Integral movement: Ken Wilber and Sally Kempton.
In 2006, three women from a spiritual community in Israel, headed by Gafni, filed complaints with the police of sexual misconduct against him. At that time, Ken Wilber did not distance himself from Gafni but offered his opinion on the Jews School website:
I have stated my conclusion, after reviewing the evidence and as many perspectives as I can, that there is truth to some of these allegations and that this is due in part to Marc's illness, and that as long as this dysfunction is not addressed, I do not believe that Marc should be teaching. But I want to point out that emotional illness can be treated and in many cases cured. Marc may or may not be sincere, and his therapy may or may not be effective--but that is exactly the purpose of the therapeutic board: namely, to make that decision, and not to let either of the partial sides do so. I do not know if this solution will work, but to date it is the only rational, compassionate, and fair one that I have heard, and therefore the only one which serves justice.
At that time, Ken Wilber and Sally Kempton published a lengthy defense of Gafni, asserting that the women in Israel had lied.
More recently in the New York Times, December 25, 2015 article, Wilber was quoted as saying that, "Marc has a lot of Shakti," [Mr. Wilber said, using a Sanskrit word for energy.] "I don't think he understood the impact it had on people."
To date, neither Ken Wilber nor Sally Kempton have spoken out about the ongoing, incessant, enduring charges of sexual misconduct against Gafni that surfaced in 2006, 2011, and 2016. In fact, on Gafni's website, one finds endorsements from Wilber and Kempton who have been aware of Gafni's proclivities for years, yet neither have distanced themselves from Gafni.
What are we to make of this?
Living In The Light, Ignoring The Shadow
For the past three decades, I have been a student of the immortal Carl Jung and currently as a life coach, a former psychotherapist, and an author, my life has been profoundly altered by Jung's work. Perhaps most personally profound for me in the body of his work is the reality of the human shadow of which I was totally ignorant when in my thirties I wildly embraced solar spirituality
After many years of immersion in New Age spirituality, at the age of 40 my life fell apart as a result of my shadow blind spots. I subsequently entered Jungian depth therapy, and as I persevered in it, I quickly came to understand the extent to which my reliance on New Age spirituality had served to mask my pain and obscure the deep childhood wounds I needed to attend to in order to experience the wholeness for which I longed. My obsession with positive thinking and attempting to manifest a pain-free life had fostered within me an ego-inflation that was rapidly de-flated as I became more familiar with the ugly, obnoxious aspects of my shadow.
While basking in the sunlight of positive thinking was more pleasurable for me than allowing the presence of the so-called "negative," it neither rang true nor felt consistent with the full spectrum of my humanity. As I read the works of Jung and as I opened to the reality of my own personal shadow, on the one hand, I felt more emotional distress, but on the other, exploring the forbidden territory of my psyche felt profoundly authentic and substantial. I soon realized that solar spirituality, focused primarily on the light, offered a dubious peace of mind at the expense of familiarity with my deepest humanity and the human condition at large. In fact, I came to understand that addiction to positive thinking precariously ignores the dark side of humanity and in doing so, conceals the shadow of manipulation, abuse of power, self-righteous arrogance, and compulsive control that lurk beneath the still waters of "living in the light."
Seldom does one find discussion or instruction on shadow dynamics within the New Age movement. In an astonishingly hypocritical article by Marc Gafni himself, "Shadow Integration," Gafni reveals that he has no idea what shadow work entails:
Why would you want to integrate your darkest impulses? Perhaps those impulses need to be transmuted and evolved. At the very least, it would appear that they need to be disciplined and controlled. Is shadow integration merely a sophisticated license for ethical libertines, as some spiritual moralists have wanted to claim? And if it is not, if shadow integration points to some profound and important intuition about our wholeness and enlightenment, as others have loudly claimed, but not explained, then what is it?
As he blathers on throughout the article, Gafni repeatedly reveals his ignorance of the shadow and implies instead that he has a fuller grasp of it than all of the world's wisest teachers on the topic.
In my 2016 book Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis, I offered a detailed definition of the shadow, bolstered by several other authors in the Jungian tradition.
For example, mythologist and student of Jung, Joseph Campbell, states that "The Shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. It's that which you won't look at about yourself. This is the counterpart exactly of the Freudian unconscious, the repressed recollections as well at the repressed potentialities in you."
In The Shadow In America: Reclaiming The Soul of a Nation, Jacquelyn Small notes that:
Until made conscious the shadow causes us to act in ways that create catastrophe or explosions of emotionalism....When we try to deny the shadow, it multiplies. When instead, we choose to invite it in, we gain stability and expand consciousness, losing our self-righteousness, and becoming flexible, less defended, more balanced.
In her 2005 book The Sacred Purpose of Being Human, Small refers to the shadow as "...our holy grit. It's the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious."
It is important to understand that we commit to working with the shadow not only because failing to do so impedes our loftiest intentions but because we are "prospectors" in search of the "dark gold." If there are precious metals to be mined, why would we settle for less? For as Robert Johnson reminds us in Owning Your Own Shadow, "...these disowned parts are extremely valuable and cannot be disregarded. As promised of the living water, our shadow costs nothing and is immediately---and embarrassingly -- ever present. To honor and accept one's own shadow is a profound spiritual discipline. It is whole-making and thus holy and the most important experience of a lifetime."
Clinical and forensic psychologist, Stephen Diamond asserts that authentic spirituality requires consciously accepting and relating properly to the shadow as opposed to repressing, projecting, acting out and remaining naively unconscious of its repudiated, denied, disavowed contents, a sort of precarious pseudo-spirituality.
''Bringing the shadow to consciousness,'' writes another of Jung's students, Liliane Frey-Rohn (1967), ''is a psychological problem of the highest moral significance. It demands that the individual hold himself accountable not only for what happens to him, but also for what he projects. . . Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship to other people, or to the creative sources in the soul; there cannot be an individual relationship to the Divine.''
Thus engaging in meticulous and astringent shadow work is a moral and spiritual imperative. Moreover, in situations of ghastly abuse as we witness in the sordid saga of Marc Gafni, a host of enablers always encircle the perpetrator. He would not have been able to continue his devastating sexual behavior without the likes of Ken Wilber and Sally Kempton fluffing pillows and making tea for him. The Gafni scandal reveals nothing if not the grotesque head and monstrous appendages of the human shadow writ large across the entire New Age movement, intoxicated with the Kool Aid of solar spirituality. Overwhelmingly, the New Age movement and the spiritual guru system is in abject denial of the shadow, and until it confronts its shadow, we can expect to see lives and communities ravaged by the darkness ignored while spiritual celebrities bask in the light of happy-faced, huggy, saccharine spirituality.
In his January 3, 2016 statement on behalf of Shift Network, Stephen Dinan wrote: "I strongly believe that the full truth of this situation needs to be surfaced, witnessed and addressed, not just for the sake of those involved but for the sake of our whole movement so that we may do collective shadow work and face the abuse of power that too often happens under the guise of spiritual teaching."
Integral teacher, Terry Patten, who has firmly distanced himself from Gafni offered wise counsel in a recent blog:
The victim narrative is too easy, too convenient, and very incomplete. We are all autonomous adults. No matter how smart, talented, and tenacious Marc Gafni might be, the only power he has over anyone is the power we have given him. If he has compromised our community, it's up to us to reclaim it. It's our responsibility to draw a clear line if we want greater goodness and moral intelligence.
His unexamined shadow compromises everything he associates with, so it's undermining those remarkable philosophical ideas and this community of practice and inquiry, not serving them. They are the victims I'm most interested in defending.
But make no mistake: this is a teachable moment, a developmental opportunity. Our community needs a way to protect itself from talented sociopaths with histories of unprocessed shadow and violating others' hearts, souls, and bodies.
With respect to Marc Gafni, the trail of accusations against him is so long and so despicable that it is difficult to discern if Gafni is just another so-called spiritual teacher who needs to do shadow work, or if he is a sociopath who truly lacks a conscience and for whom, therefore, shadow work would be meaningless. In any event, until individuals on a spiritual path have done deep shadow work, they are highly susceptible to being blinded to it by solar spirituality, making themselves vulnerable to taking advantage of others or being taken advantage by them. One of the risks and liabilities of solar spirituality is that it makes us prey to exploitation and abuse and also increases our own potential for becoming a perpetrator of abuse. Unfortunately, the more "light" associated with anyone in the public sphere, the more vulnerable that person is in terms if his or her own shadow. Likewise, the more "light" we project onto that individual because we have not done our own shadow work, the greater the danger of shadow eruption and the greater the disservice we do to them and to ourselves.
The poet William Stafford in "A Ritual To Be Read To Each Other," notes that "the darkness around us is deep." Without doing our own shadow work, we severely compromise our ability to engage with the gargantuan challenges of shadow and darkness in the world. Embracing a spiritual path compels us to commit to doing shadow work so that we may skillfully and compassionately navigate both the darkness and the light.
Carolyn Baker, Ph.D. is the author of Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis. Her radio show, the Lifeboat Hour, airs on Progressive Radio Network every week. She may be contacted at Carolyn@carolynbaker.net.