Thursday, March 31, 2011


by Anne A. Simpkinson

Sexual abuse by spiritual leaders

violates trust, devastates lives, and tears communities apart.

No denomination or tradition is immune.

In the early 1980s, Jeanne Miller was a typical suburban mom. She did community work, served as PTA president, and helped produce plays in her school district just outside Chicago. She was also a devout Catholic. "My mother died when I was 14, and I went to boarding school," she recalls. "For a critical time in my life, the Church -- the nuns -- raised me and was my family."

This sense of family began to disintegrate in 1982 when another mother confided that one of the parish priests had, during a swim at a nearby lake, tried to strip off her son's bathing trunks when he was in the water. Thinking the accusation unbelievable, Miller initially proceeded, she admits, "to disprove what this woman had said." But instead of being reassured when she called the head of religious education at the parish, she was told that the church had a file of complaints against the priest. When she contacted the archdiocese, she was rebuffed by a chancery official, who told her that her motherly instincts were working overtime. She could not prove her allegations, he said; nothing was going to be done.

I can't even describe how devastated, angry, and hurt [I felt]," says Miller, who ultimately discovered that the priest had provided alcohol and marijuana to the 13- and 14-year-olds he took with him to a lake house each Tuesday on his day off, let them drive a boat and his car, lied to parents -- and tried to fondle her own 14-year-old son. Miller contacted police and filed a lawsuit, mainly to force the church to deal with the priest's behavior.

"We didn't want him removed. We just said, `Do something, find out what is wrong here, provide some counseling. Care about us.'" Instead, the church's law firm began fighting the lawsuit. Miller's legal bills grew steadily until she could no longer afford to continue the battle. She agreed to a small financial settlement -- $15,000 -- which didn't begin to cover the $35,000 legal bill.

"We were a Yankee Doodle Dandy family," Miller says. "We believed if you were good and gave to others, others would give back to you. We never expected the Church to come down on us like that."

Miller is not alone in the shock, betrayal, anger, and grief she experienced. One of the first to bring a lawsuit against the Catholic Church and a leading figure in the abuse-survivor self-help movement, Miller has helped bring awareness to the issue of abuse by spiritual authorities. The problem, however, is vast. For example:

• In July 1994, two lawsuits were filed against Swami Rama, the spiritual leader of the Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The civil suits followed decades of reports of sexual improprieties, including a 1990 magazine article that detailed instances of sexual misconduct and several individuals' efforts to alert Himalayan officials to the abuses.

• In October 1994, Yogi Amrit Desai, spiritual director and founder of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, resigned after admitting to inappropriate sexual contact with three women. At the time, he told senior Kripalu officials that there had been no other instances of sexual misdeeds. Eight months later, two more women came forward, and the then 62-year-old spiritual teacher admitted that he had had sexual contact with them and one other woman.

• In July 1995, Harry Budd Miles, a 65-year-old retired Methodist minister, was sentenced to five months in jail after pleading guilty to charges of child abuse and perverted practice involving a Boy Scout in the 1970s. According to court documents, the Maryland minister had engaged the boy in kissing, fellatio, and masturbation in his church office, the basement of his home, and his summer house over a five-year period.

• In December 1995, what is thought to be the first lawsuit against a Buddhist teacher was settled through a mediation process. The civil suit, filed initially in November 1994, against best-selling author and Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche alleged that over a period of 19 years he had induced female students "to have sexual intercourse with him . . . by preying upon their vulnerability and belief that they could only achieve enlightenment by serving the sexual and other needs of Sogyal, their enlightened master." In addition to intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty, the complaint included a count of assault and battery.

• In April 1996, 59-year-old Episcopal Bishop Edward C. Chalfant began a one-year disciplinary leave of absence after admitting to an extramarital affair with an unmarried woman. According to diocesan spokesperson Mary Lou Lavallee, following that announcement additional people came forward. Based on information provided by them and upon further consideration, the diocese's standing committee and the national church's Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning recommended that Chalfant resign, which he did in May, ending his 10-year tenure as Bishop of Maine.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, a rash of news articles detailing accusations and lawsuits against Catholic priests for molesting youngsters -- generally teenage boys -- unleashed a flood of revelations concerning sexual misconduct not only by Catholic priests but by spiritual authorities in virtually every religion. Regularly since then, reports of years-old as well as current sexual improprieties have surfaced, forcing religious organizations and churches to create codes of ethics, procedures for handling allegations, guidelines to deal with victims, and educational programs for clergy and spiritual teachers.

Hardly a month goes by without news of a priest, rabbi, minister, roshi, or swami being disciplined for, resigning because of, or charged with sexual misdeeds. Still, data that could precisely measure the prevalence of sexual abuse by spiritual authorities is difficult to come by. What research exists focuses solely on Christian denominations and is either years old or statistically "soft." For example, a nine-year-old survey of evangelical ministers conducted by the research department of Christianity Today magazine and published in the 1988 Leadership Journal found that 12 percent of clergy surveyed admitted to having sexual intercourse with someone other than a spouse; 23 percent stated that they had been "sexually inappropriate" with someone other than their spouse. A 1991 national survey of mainly Protestant pastors by a group at the Center for Ethics and Social Policy, Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California -- described by its researchers as "small and not scientifically controlled" -- uncovered similar findings: About 10 percent of those surveyed had been sexually involved with a parishioner. Another study published in the winter 1993 Journal of Pastoral Care found that only 6.1 percent of Southern Baptist pastor respondents admitted to having sexual contact with a person either currently or formerly affiliated with their church. In that same survey, however, 70 percent of respondents said they knew of pastors who had had sexual contact with a congregant.

A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Roman Catholic priest and current Baltimore, Maryland, psychotherapist, suggests that nearly 50 percent of Catholic priests break their vow of celibacy by engaging in some form of sexual activity. In his 1995 book, Sex, Priests, and Power, he estimates that 6 percent of priests have sexual contact with youngsters -- 2 percent with children under 10 years and 4 percent with adolescents. But, he writes, "sexual abuse of minors is only part of the problem. Four times as many priests involve themselves sexually with adult women, and twice the number of priests involve themselves with adult men."

Looking at the situation from another angle, the United Methodist Church sponsored a 1990 study that examined sexual harassment -- unwanted behavior ranging from suggestive looks and unsolicited touching to attempted or actual assault and rape -- within its ranks. Of the clergywomen surveyed, 41.8 percent reported unwanted sexual behavior by a colleague or pastor; 17 percent of laywomen said that their own pastors had harassed them.

Nevertheless, many researchers and professionals in the field are wary of citing statistics. According to Roman Paur, executive director of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute in Collegeville, Minnesota, statistics regarding clergy sexual misconduct are "fundamentally guesses" because there is no hard research to back up the numbers. Father Stephen J. Rossetti, vice president and chief operating officer of St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, for example, says that while he respects his colleague's work, he is not confident of the source of Sipe's figures. Yet interviews with clergy, victims, and other professionals offer clinical and anecdotal evidence that challenge several popular perceptions related to clergy sexual misconduct:

• That most sex-abuse cases involving priests are pedophilic. In fact, only about one-third of priests who sexually abuse children are pedophiles (that is, they molest a prepubescent child). The rest sexually abuse adolescents, generally boys. The precise clinical term for their behavior is ephebophilia. Although few would dispute the fact that sexual violations against youngsters of any age are detestable, the distinction has important clinical implications related to prognosis and treatment. The term "pedophile priest" is an unfortunately memorable but often inaccurate appellation.

• That Catholic priests become sexually involved with adolescent boys, whereas all other religious authorities become involved with adult women. Stephen Rossetti says he's seen enough cases of Protestant clergy abusing minors and Catholic clergy abusing women to believe that it happens both ways. He uses the generally accepted estimate of 2 to 7 percent when speaking of Catholic priests who molest minors, and he points out that this is the same percentage as in the general population. That fact carries no comfort for survivors such as David Clohessy, a St. Louis political and public-relations consultant and national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "It doesn't matter whether just as many priests [abuse] as plumbers do," he says. "You can't take solace in that." • That clergy misconduct involves only heterosexual men abusing women and children. According to social worker Melissa Steinmetz of the Holy Cross Counseling Group in South Bend, Indiana, sex abuse is not a males-only transgression. Because the feminist movement was largely responsible for awareness of sexual abuse, the original focus was solely on male perpetrators. But, says Steinmetz, experience has shown that some women, too, are guilty of abuse, especially of preadolescent and adolescent boys. "Probably there will always be more male sex offenders," says Steinmetz, but she notes that keeping the focus exclusively on male perpetrators does a disservice to the adolescent male victims of female offenders.

Pat Liberty, an American Baptist minister, also reports that she is beginning to see some grassroots organizations springing up for survivors of abuse by women religious and to hear about complaints against lesbian clergy. But regarding the latter, she says, "Gay and lesbian folk are not going to come forward to tell their story. They know that they are not going to get a fair hearing, because the Church will get lost in the gay and lesbian stuff rather than dealing with the power abuses and the other things that are at stake."

Despite the lack of reliable figures and the misconceptions, most professionals agree that the problem is far-reaching not only in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish congregations but in Buddhist sanghas and Hindu ashrams as well. Abuse by spiritual leaders is nondenominational, and the dynamics between clergy and parishioners, between gurus and devotees, between spiritual teachers and students, bear striking resemblances to one another. From profiles of the perpetrators and victims to the impact on the spiritual communities and their ways of dealing with the situation, clergy sexual malfeasance is an ecumenical reality, one that has probably been with us as long as civilization and one that is not about to go away.

Through time immemorial, human beings have sought protection, salvation, and solace from deities -- from Shiva and Shakti, from Jesus and Jehovah, from Aphrodite and Zeus. For nearly as long as we have been petitioning and praising the gods, we have identified in our tribal ranks those who seem particularly attuned to or knowledgeable about guiding us in our search.

Anson Shupe, a sociology professor at Indiana University/Purdue University, reasons in his book In the Name of All That's Holy that if the priesthood emerged as a profession during the transition from a hunting-and-gathering to an agricultural society, then the ancestor of the priest is the shaman. Because Shupe believes that the shamanic craft is not without a certain amount of manipulation and sleight-of-hand, he theorizes that "clergy malfeasance, or something we moderns could recognize as such, is probably as old as practiced religion itself."

What is new, however, is the media coverage of abuse by spiritual authorities. In the not-too-distant past, a kind of embargo existed against publicizing what might at the time have been considered the "sexual shenanigans" of those in positions of leadership. Some offices carried such respect and weight that the persons occupying them were granted immunity from the scrutiny of their private lives. Sex scandals were seen as reflecting poorly on hallowed institutions -- the presidency in the case of John F. Kennedy's affairs, or the Catholic Church in the case of priests who might have been caught in flagrante delicto. Incidents were winked away or dealt with quietly.

Recalls Philip Jenkins, professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University and author of Pedophiles and Priests: "I had a police friend in New York who would -- pardon the expression -- talk about all the times he had `cut loose a faggot brother,' by which he meant he had arrested a priest or brother for a homosexual act and had let him go with a warning." For decades, it was impossible to write about church scandals due to publishers' fears of losing advertising dollars or of being boycotted. "Think what that must have done to people in the priesthood and in the seminaries," says Jenkins. "For a tiny minority who did have tendencies to any kind of sexual misconduct, it must have given them a sense of invulnerability."

That shield of immunity was shattered in the mid-1980s with the Gilbert Gauthe case. Gauthe was the pastor of St. John's Parish in Henry, Louisiana. According to journalist Jason Berry, who broke the story in a local weekly newspaper and who detailed Catholic priests' abuse of children in articles and a book, Lead Us Not into Temptation, church officials were aware of Gauthe's sexual propensities as early as 1974. Almost 10 years passed, however, before he was finally relieved of his priestly duties. Soon thereafter, in October 1984, Gauthe was indicted on charges relating to sexual abuse of minors and child pornography; a year later, the judge in his case agreed to a plea bargain. Gauthe pleaded guilty to 33 charges and was sentenced to 20 years without parole. He also lost a subsequent civil suit, which awarded $1.25 million to a boy who claimed to have been molested and the boy'sparents.

Since that time, gallons of printer's ink have splashed details of cases across the pages of newspapers and magazines. According to Marie Fortune, founder and executive director of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, Washington, the prevalence of sexual misdeeds by those in spiritual authority is due to the fact that most organized religious groups -- both traditional and nontraditional -- are "fundamentally patriarchal in their history and contemporary in expression and practice." In her new book, Love Does No Harm, the United Church of Christ minister says that this paradigm, which is sometimes seen as "normative, even ordained by God," supports and reinforces a dominance/submission model -- with men dominant and women submissive. This power imbalance is then combined with a cultural assumption of male sexual access to women and children. The result: sexual abuse in epidemic proportions.

Shupe offers a different explanation of the problem: "The sociological reality is that all religions are hierarchies of social status and power." This power, he says, is undergirded by the "loyalty and respect of rank-and-file believers who are taught or encouraged to expect that their leaders possess in large measure some special discernment or spiritual insight and have benevolent, ethical treatment of believers always uppermost in their mind." It is this inherent structure of "trusted hierarchies," Shupe explains, that offers ample opportunities for abuse.

Spiritual authorities -- whether rabbis or roshis, priests or pastoral counselors, ministers or swamis -- all hold a special position in their spiritual community. Zen Buddhists, for example, bow to their teacher as a sign of respect. Some Hindu devotees stand as their guru enters the room and wait until she takes her place at the front of the room, often on a flower-bedecked dais or elaborate throne-like chair, before settling in for satsang (a spiritual gathering). Catholics are taught that a priest is "called" by God to his vocation. One California woman who was abused by a priest owns a missal, a gift for her First Communion. In it, a section reads: "My child: Someone has said it is a sign of salvation to have a great love for Priests. Why is this so? Because the Priest takes the place of our Blessed Lord on earth. . . . Jesus loved you so much. He wanted to be always near you. He wants to do many things for you. He does them all through His Priest."

While Catholics are taught that priests are representatives of Jesus on earth, devotees are often led to believe that their guru is a god, a perfected being, or Realized Self. In his 1971 book, Guru, Swami Muktananda declares: "The Guru is an actual embodiment of the Absolute. Truly speaking, he is himself the Supreme Being." The word "guru," derived from Sanskrit, means "one who brings light out of darkness." Generally, the term is translated as "teacher." Many religious traditions -- including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam -- use the teacher-student relationship as a vehicle through which to impart spiritual knowledge and experience.

Speaking on an episode of the PBS series Searching for God in America, Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University argued strongly for having a spiritual teacher. Practices such as meditation, invocation, and concentration require the guidance of someone who has experience in them, he explained. But Nasr also cautioned against choosing a teacher too lightly; potential students need to exercise "a sense of discernment," he said.

Many believe that Americans sorely lack this quality. Our cultural conditioning encourages a fiercely independent, anti-authority stance, but the shadow of that self-sufficient lone ranger is a gullible idealist wearing rose-colored blinders. Yvonne Rand, a Buddhist teacher in the San Francisco Bay area, says that this tendency to "give ourselves away" is the source of enormous difficulty in the American Buddhist community -- so much so that the Dalai Lama, the Nobel Prize-winning leader of the Tibetan people, is said to be "particularly worried" and "deeply concerned" about the issue. He advises students to get close to the teacher, "spy" on him or her, watching carefully for at least three years to see if the person's teachings are congruent with how he or she behaves.

This advice can also apply to seeking a church. While there are numerous variables that go into finding a good fit, it is often the personality of the pastor or spiritual teacher that attracts parishioners and disciples. One personality trait to be wary of, experts warn, is charisma. Writing in his latest book, Feet of Clay: Saints, Sinners, and Madmen: A Study of Gurus, British psychiatrist Anthony Storr compares the original Greek meaning of "charisma" -- "gift of grace" -- with sociologist Max Webber's use of the term as "a special magical quality of personality by virtue of which the individual possessing it was set apart from ordinary men and women and treated as if endowed with supernatural or superhuman powers." In the former, the pastor's power is derived from a spiritual source; in the latter, his power comes solely from the force of his personality.

Charisma can be evident in the popular pastor whose dynamic sermons and impeccable people skills fill the pews and church coffers every week as well as in the guru whose mere presence induces altered states of consciousness. The problem comes, however, in mistaking a spiritual leader's persona and talents for holiness. This dilemma has been particularly troublesome in some Buddhist groups and Hindu yoga communities where religious practices -- meditation, yoga exercises, extended periods of prayer, chanting, and even silence -- can induce trance-like states of consciousness in which participants are highly suggestible and thus vulnerable. Furthermore, because of Westerners' inexperience with the mystical side of religion, they often become overly impressed by siddhis (psychic powers) and equate them with sainthood.

Biofeedback researcher and pioneer Elmer Green, formerly of the Menninger Foundation, part of the well-known midwestern psychiatric research and treatment center, has been involved for decades in investigating the mind's ability to control bodily functions, emotions, and consciousness. He has conducted many experiments on psychically gifted individuals, Indian yogis, and a Native American medicine woman. In his estimation, paranormal abilities have nothing to do with spiritual development. For example, in the early 1970s Green conducted experiments on Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute. Green found that the Indian swami was able to produce, among other things, an atrial flutter at will (a condition in which the heart rate flutters at four or five times its natural rate but doesn't pump blood), create a difference in temperature between the left and right sides of the palm of his hand, go into a sleep brain pattern while staying conscious and able to report what was being said in the room, and give indications of psychokinetic abilities. The swami's abilities, however, seem to have been matched by the size of his ego. In fact, Green recalls Swami Rama saying, "The greatest problem a person can have is ego. And nobody knows that better than I." Says the professionally active, 78-year-old Green: "There's a Hindu adage: `Go through the garden, but do not eat the fruit.' Swami Rama enjoyed the fruit."

Some of that forbidden fruit was sex with female devotees. According to a 1987 dissertation, a 1990 Yoga Journal article, and court documents related to two lawsuits filed against him, Swami Rama apparently chose to sexually exploit a continuous stream of female followers beginning almost as soon as he arrived in the United States.

Accusations of Swami Rama's sexual liaisons with female followers swirled around his community for years. In 1974, four Minneapolis yoga students sent a letter to their teacher, a Swami Rama devotee, accusing the swami of sexual misconduct, falsification of his background, and financial improprieties. In the summer of 1975, a small group of disaffected students tried to alert disciples to these issues by setting up a "Truth Booth" at the entrance to Carleton College, where Swami Rama's organization was running a summer yoga retreat. In the early 1980s allegations again surfaced, and in 1990 Yoga Journal published an article that detailed instances of sexual abuse by the swami. Finally, in July 1994 two civil lawsuits against Swami Rama, the Himalayan Institute, and one current and two former institute officials were filed. Testimony given in sworn depositions taken last year indicates that one of the defendants, Rudolph Ballentine, M.D. -- a member of the institute's board of directors in the 1970s and institute president from 1987 to 1993 -- received verbal reports and letters referring to instances of sexual relations and sexual harassment between the swami and female disciples, including his personal assistants, for years. In case after case, Ballentine discounted the allegations on the basis of the swami's denials and Ballentine's own judgments about the character and motivations of those reporting the abuse.

Since the suit -- which is still pending -- was filed, Swami Rama has left the country and has not returned. Says one former devotee: "I think he intentionally misrepresented himself. He played the game very, very carefully." Sadly she concludes, "Instead of being a real guru, which is the light that dispels darkness, he was a maya [illusion] maker."

It may be tempting to point a finger at a particular group of perpetrators and say, "It's all their fault. If we could only round them up, maybe even jail them, we could eradicate abuse." In reality, this is neither a wise nor a feasible course of action. The reason abuse has persisted for so long and cuts across denominational lines is because the dynamics underlying it are universal -- varying only in the degree to which we are aware of them and in our ability to deal with them.

One of these dynamics is transference. The concept, which originated with Freud, refers to the process by which we transfer past feelings onto individuals in the present for the purpose of reliving and resolving painful experiences. Transference does not allow you to see the person as he or she is; rather, you see that individual through a screen of projections.

Father Stephen Rossetti explains that authority figures such as clergy are often figures of transference, and as a Catholic priest he experiences it every day. Simply walking down the street, "half the people love and a few people hate me, and they don't even know me," he says. "They don't know Steve Rossetti."

Virginia Wink Hilton, a Costa Mesa, California, psychotherapist, agrees. In her opinion, a person who idealizes the minister, priest, or spiritual teacher or who has erotic feelings for him is not really seeing the clergyperson. The feelings are not for the minister but come out of unconscious material. If a clergyperson doesn't understand this, Hilton says, "it puts him in enormous jeopardy."

Hilton compares the transference that psychotherapists experience to that which a minister might encounter in his parish. Transference in a therapy setting is fairly clear and well-defined, she says: Psychotherapists meet with clients an hour a week, at the same time, in the same location. Ministers and priests, on the other hand, are "weaving in and out of the lives of parishioners all the time." The situation becomes complicated because of the play of both parties' unconscious dynamics and unmet needs roiling below the surface of their social personas.

For example, people may desperately crave a relationship with someone who is smarter, kinder, more spiritual, and more compassionate than they feel they are because they believe that association will quell their anxieties and afford them a measure of security in a seemingly unpredictable and dangerous world. They want heroes and saints to inspire, soothe, love them. Says one experienced spiritual seeker: "I've worked with enough New Age heroes in enough groups to know they aren't heroes; they aren't saints. But people don't want to see that. People want a hero. They want somebody who is a thousand times better than they are. They want a Pope."

In this way, disciples and parishioners can transform spiritual authorities into omniscient experts, the expectations of whom far exceed the leader's knowledge or experience. The basic function of a religious authority is spiritual direction, assisting individuals in forging a relationship with the Divine. But often there are pressures for them to do and be more. Yvonne Rand explains that students of Buddhism might go to their Zen teacher and ask him about their marriage, how to raise their children, what to do about their jobs. "Pretty soon the teacher starts to think, `Oh, I really know a lot about everything.' Pretty soon the student starts projecting all-knowingness on the teacher, and the relationship gets way out of balance."

This human propensity to desire a savior, an unconditionally loving parent, a hero, or a saint can devolve into a dark pursuit with painful consequences. For example, if yoga devotees believe that the guru knows best, they may gradually allow the guru to guide not only their spiritual process but every aspect of their lives. This unbounded devotion can feed the guru's sense of power and can fuel a sense of grandiosity or invincibility. The guru may begin to sound like the Pope delivering opinions ex cathedra. He may also begin to feel that rules that apply to others don't apply to him. As Anthony Storr writes, "It is intoxicating to be adored, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the guru not to concur with the beliefs of his disciples." Furthermore, Storr reasons, "if a man comes to believe that he has special insights, and that he has been selected by God to pass on these insights to others, he is likely to conclude that he has special privileges." Often those privileges are sexual.

Some female parishioners and devotees all too willingly cooperate because they have turned the priest, minister, or guru into an object of adoration, flirtation, and sexual desire. One meditation teacher says that women approached him even in the middle of the night on retreat. Another male ashramite recalls one young woman who later accused her spiritual teacher of sexual misconduct: "She was a sexy young thing, for sure. I remember sitting in the room and thinking that. But she wasn't giving me any attention." Her attention was riveted on the guru.

Despite these sexual come-ons, Peter Rutter, a Jungian-oriented San Francisco psychiatrist, argues that it is up to the spiritual leader to maintain the proper sexual boundaries. The task is difficult, admits Rutter, who has written two books on the subject of boundary violations, but he suggests that the ultimate protection against abuse is the leader's understanding of the harm he can inflict and his empathy with the woman.

Not all spiritual authorities have that capacity. Sometimes what psychologists call a personality disorder compels a person to exploit, manipulate, and hurt those in their spiritual care. While publicly charming, ebullient, devoted, hard-working, and inspiring, this leader proves himself cunning, slick, seductive, and cruel in private. Involved in multiple, simultaneous relationships, he can sweet-talk his victims into compliance -- "Our love is special and holy" -- or bully them into submission. United Church of Christ minister Marie Fortune, in her book Is Nothing Sacred?, details the havoc and pain wreaked on individual women and the congregation by the sexual misconduct of one of the church's pastors. Fortune notes that sexual predators go to great lengths to choose women whose current circumstances might make them vulnerable: for instance, the death of a parent, a divorce, problems with children, or an illness. The situation that sends Fortune "over the edge" is one in which a congregant approaches a minister for help in dealing with childhood sexual abuse. Often that confidence is seen by the minister as a "green light" to seduce the person. One clergyman whom Fortune heard about told his victim that the way to heal from childhood sexual abuse was to re-enact the experiences with him. "I am amazed at the creativity that perpetrators have," Fortune says, "the manipulation of theology and scripture and ritual, the moral rationalization they bring to bear: `No, there is nothing wrong with this because God's love for you is flowing through me, and this is a holy kiss.'"

Because of the innocence and vulnerability of the victims, perhaps the most heinous crime perpetrated by sexual predators is the abuse of children. Trust, innocence, and sense of self all shatter, leaving behind shards of fear, shame, distrust, and self-loathing.

David Clohessy of SNAP, himself a survivor of abuse by a priest, describes the abrupt shift in perception this way: "It's like getting up one morning, walking outside, and all of a sudden the law of gravity isn't in effect anymore. It is something that is so far beyond the pale of expectation for a kid. . . . It is just a horrible, horrible betrayal."

Of course, the degree of damage to individual youngsters varies. For example, the closer the relationship of the offender to the child, the greater the trauma. The type of abuse (fondling versus intercourse, for example), its duration, the degree of violence, and the age of the child also figure prominently in the extent of the pain and damage inflicted. Young sexual-abuse victims inevitably suffer from what professionals call posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms of which, says Judith Lewis Herman in her classic book Trauma and Recovery, are "both extensive and enduring." These include an extreme startle response, elevated arousal, sleep disturbances, deep distrust, sexualized behaviors, depression, withdrawal, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts and actions. In fact, a survey described in the paper "In the Name of God: A Profile of Religion-Related Child Abuse" in the Journal of Social Issues (volume 51, number 2) reported that, of their sample, almost 20 percent of children abused by religious authorities subsequently considered suicide.

Not only is the pain inflicted on an individual child heartbreaking, but the scope of the problem is immense because each perpetrator generally has multiple victims. In Slayer of the Soul, an anthology whose articles focus on issues related to the Catholic Church and child sexual abuse, Father Stephen Rossetti cites a 1987 study that found that 377 child molesters whose relations with victims were not incestuous had victimized 4,435 girls and 22,981 boys. Pentecostal preacher Tony Leyva, for example, pleaded guilty to having abused upwards of 100 boys, although law-enforcement officials placed the number closer to 800.

Although youngsters who have been molested by clergy exhibit the same symptomatology as those violated by other trusted adults, there is an added dimension if the abuse is perpetrated by a spiritual authority. Developmentally, children often equate spiritual authorities with God. For this reason it's easy to see how a child might think sexual fondling is somehow supernaturally sanctioned. One case cited in the Journal of Social Issues article involved a priest and his wife who told the boys they abused that the abuse was part of the youngsters' religious obligation as "good Christians." The same researchers also noted that the opposite attribution can be made: One young girl who was sexually abused by both parents was placed with a minister who molested her as well, saying that the abuse was "God's punishment" for her "badness."

Because church is often thought of as a refuge, and God as someone to turn to in troubled times, a child who is molested may turn away altogether from spiritual pursuits even into adulthood. He or she may not attend church, pray, or otherwise participate in religious rituals. David Clohessy, for instance, says he no longer considers himself a Catholic. "In fairness, I want to say that I could be in this same spiritual position even if I never had been abused." Still, he says, "there are times when I am very envious of those people who have been able to separate out what one man with a Roman collar did to them as kids from the rest of the institution and the rest of religion. I am envious of people who still have their faith."

Outrage and anger are understandable, natural, human responses to sexual abuse of minors by clergy; the force of those feelings is needed to protect children. However, what often gets lost in the hue and cry resulting from news of such abuse is an understanding of the central character in the drama: the perpetrator.

Father Rossetti of St. Luke Institute takes a compassionate yet clear-eyed view of clergy child abusers. The institute, a 32-bed psychiatric hospital in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington, D.C., provides care primarily for Catholic priests with addictive disorders and psychological problems such as chronic depression. St. Luke also deals with sex offenders on a regular basis. While Rossetti does not condone their offenses, he does see their behavior as reflective of larger societal problems. He uses family-therapy and systems theories to explain how these offenders might be the "identified patients" of a dysfunctional societal "family."

"Child molesters don't drop down from Mars," he says. "They come from a society that produces that pathology. So if we want to get rid of this problem, we have to heal society."

Specifically what need to be healed, he says, are our flawed attitudes toward human sexuality and aggression. On the one hand, he explains in Slayer of the Soul, we as a culture are obsessed by sex; on the other hand, religious traditions, in not-so-subtle ways, condemn sexuality as unspiritual and even sinful. Pointing to increasing violence, he states that we know neither how to encourage healthy human aggression nor how to manage violence. We need to learn to become strong, he says, without being overly controlling or power-hungry, assertive rather than aggressive. We need to become fully sexual people who are warm, compassionate, intimate, engaged, and empathic.

As for the molesters, Rossetti is surprised by the intensity of hatred toward them. He says he has heard people suggest castrating them, tattooing them on the forehead, even killing them. "You hear this said all the time by rather rational people. There is a well of hatred toward child molesters that goes beyond the heinousness of the crime." Furthermore, he notes, attention seems fixated on child abuse in the Catholic Church.

Another skewed public perception is that sociopathic predators are the sole perpetrators of sexual abuse. As clinicians who deal with sexual boundary violations have discovered, the profiles of perpetrators fall along a continuum. Many different personality types can violate boundaries, and ignoring this fact can jeopardize parishioners and devotees alike.

Psychologist John C. Gonsiorek has described the characteristics of clergy perpetrators (see box, "Who Abuses?"), as have Richard Irons, M.D., and Episcopal priest Katherine Roberts, distinguishing among them differences in age, experience, career development, clinical diagnosis, and prognosis. Their work in this area is important in terms of humanizing the perpetrators as well as communicating the message that factors such as stress, training and education, self-awareness, and peer relationships are significant elements in both the cause and prevention of clergy sexual misconduct.

Says David Clohessy: "The most notorious priest molester [of children] in history is James Porter of Massachusetts. He was clearly a predator; he abused anything with a pulse. But even though his behavior is predatory, I think that if you got inside his head and heart, you would find the same loneliness and woundedness that is more obvious in other priests who molest."

One of the most overlooked players in instances of abuse by spiritual authorities is the community. A good example of how a collective both contributes to and suffers from abuses by a spiritual authority is the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, which is struggling to regain the vitality it lost two years ago when its founder, Yogi Amrit Desai, resigned his post as spiritual director after admitting to inappropriate sexual contact with several women.

Nestled in the Berkshires amid a host of cultural, arts, and outdoor attractions, Kripalu's combination of holistic programs and spa-like offerings such as vegetarian fare, saunas, whirlpools, and a private lakefront beach make it a desirable R-and-R destination for holistically minded individuals. Its peaceful location belies the major upheaval it endured, losing two-thirds of its residents, running monthly deficits of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and reorganizing its management structure. The turmoil the center encountered clearly did not begin with Amrit Desai's resignation. With a core of 100 longtime residents -- some having been there for 10 years or more -- the community had been immersed in an individuation process in which midlife devotees were struggling to articulate and make conscious their growing discomfort with a system that on the one hand provided them with spiritual sustenance and a sense of belonging and purpose and on the other hand paid scant attention to the classic shadow bugbears of sex, power, and money.

The first Kripalu ashram, established by Amrit Desai in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania, in the early 1970s, was a small residential community that viewed itself as a religious order. With a skeletal core staff and affiliated members who worked in the town nearby, the ashram had an annual budget of less than $100,000. Spiritual practice was the community's raison d'etre, and members participated in a stringent yoga regimen -- wake-up at 4 a.m., with jogging, yoga, pranayama breathing exercises, and satsang (teaching session) all before breakfast. Brahmacharya -- a yoga principle akin to chastity or sexual modesty -- was strongly encouraged. In yoga the life force is seen as residing in sexual energy and sexual fluids. Yoga practice is aimed at raising that energy up the spine toward higher spiritual centers. Therefore, sexual activities -- masturbating or intercourse -- are seen as counterproductive to one's spiritual progress.

By all accounts, Amrit Desai was a gentle yet powerfully inspirational teacher. The pivotal moment in his own life had come during a morning yoga practice session in 1970 when, as he has described it, he was "flooded with bliss" and began spontaneously performing --- or being performed by -- yoga exercises with a newfound flexibility and fluidity. Not only was he drawn into an ecstatic state but those in the room with him -- his wife and two students -- were also drawn into a deep state of meditation. Inspired by this experience, Desai began to formulate a new method of "meditation in motion," which he called Kripalu Yoga in honor of his guru.

In the early years of the Kripalu ashram, it was not uncommon for residents to have strong shakti (energy) experiences, such as automatic movement and writing, speaking in tongues, and sharp increases in body temperature. These experiences in part solidified Desai's guru status among many of his students; some disciples took them to mean that the guru must be bona fide and therefore infallible. For too many devotees this reasoning translated as giving over their sense of judgment in major life decisions. One area that was affected was sexual activity. In a milieu in which "single and celibate" was the norm, many disciples did not marry or have children.

What community residents did not know was that, as they earnestly practiced brahmacharya, their guru was violating this yogic principle through sexual contact with female disciples. In 1986 a devotee made it known that she had had a sexual relationship years before with him. But when confronted in a community-wide meeting, Desai flatly denied the accusation. The upshot was that the community -- including her husband and son -- believed the guru. The woman left the ashram, staying in the area to be near her child. Eight years later, she was vindicated when another woman came forward and described to community members how Desai had used her sexually when she was his personal assistant in the 1970s. What devastated many of Desai's followers far more than the revelations of his inappropriate sexual relations was the fact that he had hidden them and lied about them for so long.

"I never would have said Kripalu was a cult," says Jean Matlack, a Washington, D.C., psychotherapist and a Kripalu Yoga teacher, "but now I understand that for people who lived there and were young and vulnerable, they were in a kind of trance. They gave over their lives in a way that is the hallmark of cults."

Another area where residents "woke up" was the financial one. Over the years the community grew both in numbers and in sophistication. In 1983, it invested $1.25 million to purchase a former Jesuit seminary in Lenox. Situated on several hundred acres, the ashram grew to 300 residents and became a thriving retreat and holistic health center. In the late 1980s Kripalu residents, especially the old-timers, began feeling their oats. Desai was traveling a great deal, and the staff found themselves teaching the courses, handling administrative duties, putting out advertising -- in other words, running the center. With the flush of financial success and the sense of real-world achievement, many felt a need to "graduate" and to reap the monetary rewards of what was now a multimillion-dollar-a-year enterprise. From the start, Kripalu was a religious order legally modeled on a Catholic monastery or convent. "Vowed" members initially received no salary. If someone needed a pair of jeans or shoes, he or she would have to request them. Later, members began to receive a stipend of $30 a month, out of which they had to pay for personal items such as shampoo. Than money was not technically a salary and did not qualify them for Social Security benefits. On the other hand, Amrit Desai, who at the founding of Kripalu had a wife and children, received financial compensation from the beginning. At the time of his resignation, he was being paid $155,000 annually, plus an additional $15,000 to $33,000 a year in royalties from the sale of his books and tapes. Although the words "financial exploitation" never crossed the lips of any Kripalu associates, the discrepancy between the remuneration of residents and the guru was obvious. When the community's cup began to run over, residents stood in line to share the bounty. "Appropriate" remuneration based on length of service was instituted. But even top-level stipends were no more than $3,400 a year. A resident security fund -- a kind of retirement plan that set aside monies to provide for lifetime residents in their old age. The vesting period was exceptionally long -- 16 years. But in the meantime, certain amenities -- such as a new building with living quarters for longtime members and easy access to automobiles -- made life more comfortable. One sticking point that remained unresolved, however, was the fact that some managers had been hired to work at Kripalu and drew salaries that seemed fairly competitive with professional positions in the outside world, while other vowed members, even though they may have been working for the community longer, received only the "appropriate" stipends. Many of the residents -- whether they have left or are staying in some relationship with Kripalu -- are now involved in a claims process that will work out a financial settlement between the center and longtime residents.

In an interview conducted in May 1994, Amrit Desai told Yoga Journal senior writer Ann Cushman that "we are in the process of dismantling the old form, which has served its purpose. We are now exploring new depths of the guru-disciple relationship." It's hard to believe that, as he spoke these words, he could have anticipated the chaos and disillusionment that would be precipitated five short months later when revelations of his sexual contact with female devotees would come to light.

Kripalu's general counsel, Daniel Bowling, is convinced that Desai's secret misdeeds did not explode into a conflict, but the conflict was there calling for integration; whatever was keeping the secret in place and unintegrated had to be exploded. Dinabandhu (Patton Sarley), past president of Kripalu and now executive director of the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies, states this same idea slightly differently: "Clearly, individuation needed to happen for all of us. You can't fool Mother Nature. Either you do it gracefully, which we attempted to do, or you do it ungracefully -- but you are going to do it."

Kripalu did it. For months, even while guest programs continued, intense catharsis was carried on in private behind closed doors, in community meetings, and in special workshops conducted by outside leaders such as spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass; Arnie Mindell, known for process-oriented psychology and his conflict-resolution work; and Elizabeth Stellas-Tippins of the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence. According to Daniel Bowling, it is difficult to "put words around the impact," referring to the windstorm of emotions -- anger, frustration, disbelief, disenchantment, grief -- that were unleashed. There were a rash of marriages, births, and many, many leave-takings.

Still, the community seems to have weathered the storm. A new executive director, with both corporate management experience and a personal understanding of the spiritual journey, has been hired; the quality of programs remains high; the claims process is nearly complete; and a new organizational structure has been created: Whereas the Kripalu staff once consisted primarily of vowed members and 15 salaried employees, today 160 staff members are paid, and only 26 remain vowed. The managers are also working hard on a strategic direction for the center.

According to Daniel Bowling, what Kripalu has accomplished over the past two years "is not just Hatha Yoga on the yoga mat. We have done it under the most difficult of circumstances one can imagine, to bring about a healing in this three-way dynamic between individuals, teacher, and community." While the problem of abuse by spiritual authorities threatens to overwhelm with its universality, prevalence, and magnitude of spiritual and emotional devastation, there are indications that with vigilance, systems interventions, and support for victims, perpetrators, and their religious communities, the tiger can be tamed.

At the organizational level, codes of ethics are being written clearly stating that sexual contact by a priest, pastor, guru, or roshi with a member of his or her flock is a breach of professional boundaries, that responsibility for maintaining appropriate boundaries lies with the spiritual leader, and that violations of such boundaries are both unethical and unacceptable. Policies and procedures for handling situations -- ranging from verbal accusations to formal, written complaints -- are also being put into place. Experience has shown that without them, the process of investigating allegations gets muddled in ways that can retraumatize the victim and upset the community. At present, a variety of institutions, from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship to the General Conference of the Seventh Day Adventists, have implemented such codes, policies, and procedures on sexual abuse and/or harassment. But according to American Baptist minister Pat Liberty, "policies and procedures don't solve the problems"; what does is "shifting basic paradigms about ministry." One way to accomplish this is through education and training. Courses on sexuality, ethics, professional boundaries, and transference can help young men and women get a more realistic view of interpersonal problems and dynamics that go along with the ministerial territory.

Buddhist teacher Yvonne Rand also thinks that spiritual seekers need to be educated in how to find a teacher and what to look for if they think they may be getting into trouble. Asian teachers coming to the United States to lead Buddhist and Hindu spiritual communities are to some extent culture-bound to patriarchal systems. Rand believes that the best hope for diminishing sexual abuse in the American Buddhist communities is to educate students by speaking out, writing articles, and holding workshops on the topic.

In addition to self-help and support groups for victims, an often effective avenue for healing is litigation or mediation. Many people in both the therapy and ministry professions believe that if victims feel that their wounds are acknowledged and that some restitution -- for example, payment for therapy sessions -- is made, litigation may be unnecessary. Marie Fortune maintains that victims generally have reasonable requests: an apology, acknowledgment from the perpetrator, a letter to the congregation that indicates what final steps have been taken around the complaint. But when institutions stonewall victims, many feel that they have no other option than to bring a lawsuit. Of course, litigation is what brought the issue of clergy sexual misconduct into public awareness. Lawsuits against the Catholic Church alerted the media to the problem and resulted in large settlements for victims. Through this economic leverage, victims forced changes in institutional responses. However, Kripalu's Daniel Bowling doesn't think healing and spiritual values are upheld by bringing in lawyers to rectify the power imbalance in this setting. In fact, he says, you can destroy everything in that process. Kripalu and its longtime residents are using mediation to resolve financial claims against the center.

Another area that can help guard against abuses is pastoral self-care. According to Liberty, the issue of workaholism is critical. "Basically, the lines between clergy personal life and clergy professional life are pretty thin. Historically, the Church is a place that has rewarded workaholism and called it devotion." She adds that for clergy and their parishioners to think that the former are on call 24 hours, seven days a week, is "nonsense."

Ministers need to have a life beyond their professional calling, experts say, a place to relax and renew themselves. One essential part of that life in order to stave off temptations to violate sexual boundaries is same-sex friendships. Jungian analyst and author Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig is convinced that they are the single best antidote to ego inflation and self-deception. Friends point out our virtues as well as our ridiculous sides. Setting oneself up as a guru can preclude simple peer relations, and without solid friendships one begins to minister in a vacuum. Colleagues and friends keep us connected, honest, and in touch with reality.

Last, Fortune cautions that people who have come out of destructive family relationships often seek a haven, a safe and intimate family unit, like a spiritual community. Unfortunately, these desires might create unrealistic expectations of intimacy and an enmeshed system that is inappropriate to a faith community. Although people often refer to their spiritual community as a family, Fortune thinks they should look for a different metaphor and model. "Which doesn't mean that significant things won't happen," she says, but it all comes down to a sense of balance. "There are some things I do with my family and close friends. Other things I do with coworkers. There are still other things I do with my church. Occasionally there are situations where they blend, but I don't expect any one of those pieces of my life to meet all my needs."

Still, Liberty is convinced that "we have only seen the tip of the iceberg" with regard to abusive power by spiritual authorities; hundreds, maybe thousands, of men and women who have been wounded have not yet come forward to tell their stories. And, she adds, instances of abuse in which perpetrators are not being held appropriately accountable are still occurring. Far too many religious institutions are, she says, turning "a blind eye and a deaf ear to the reality of abuse."

The breadth of the problem and the depth of the suffering seem to require a constant vigilance from communities, spiritual seekers, and spiritual leaders alike because the problem is part and parcel of the spiritual search. As Carl Jung cautioned, we need to be aware that as we grow toward enlightenment, so too does our shadow grow. Thus, simple remedies consistently applied -- balance in one's life, deep friendships, a dedication to self-knowledge, integrity, a willingness to stand up and tell the truth, empathy, and a healthy exercise of inner authority -- all help counteract abusive behavior. For in the end we are all guardians of the gate. As Yvonne Rand reminds us, the dynamics of abuse are "in everybody's back yard. In fact, the critical thing to understand is that not only is it in our back yards, but it is in each one of us."

Anne A. Simpkinson is editor of Common Boundary magazine. The Common Boundary Organization is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to exploring the sources of meaning in human experience. They examine the relationship among matters of the heart, matters of the mind, and matters of the soul; psychology, spirituality, and creativity; and individual growth and social change.

Betraying Trust I: Manipulation and Parasitism through Privilege, Knowledge and Ability

March 10, 2012

One of the central contentions and conflicts within the process of spiritual development is whether or not there is recognition among other human beings that one has achieved a higher state of being that engenders respect and devotion. Some mystics or healers are revered and become materially powerful by the recognition of others, whether it is genuinely deserved or not. Other mystics and healers, most in fact, regardless of their abilities, live in with little respect and little material control over their own lives or the lives of others.

I do not agree with the idea that people who develop their spirituality or their subtle abilities should be given more respect or trust than any other field of development. This is very similar to the way in which I do not think that medical doctors or scientists should have special morality or privilege conferred upon them. They are just human beings with an uncommon set of experiences. Beyond those special experiences they are just as prone as anyone else to weakness, desire, prejudice, hate, shortsightedness, ignorance and the tendency to disregard that which is unfamiliar or unknown.
Two pertinent examples of systems or hierarchies that are invested by others with special morality and privilege and possess of themselves a deep knowledge of subtle reality are the priesthoods of Vajrayna Buddhism, more broadly known as Tibetan Buddhism, and some orders of the Vatican (Edit: I should have added any number of less well known cults, sects and movements to this list). This post deals exclusively with the former.

I have a mixed feelings toward Vajrayana Buddhism and Buddhism in general. I very much recognize deep knowledge and understanding of reality, both subtle and gross, within various branches and teachings, but there is a hierarchy and a patriarchy within the organized monks, priesthood and teachings that is too often glossed over by Western devotees and admirers. Beyond these obvious discrepancies between some Buddhisms and modern Western morality, there are subtler issues of symbolic, ritual and spiritual meaning.

The position of privilege combined with subtle knowledge creates powerful temptations and opportunities to abuse the energies of others. I recently found a first hand account that provides a very complete and accurate picture of one form that this abuse can take. The woman’s account deals with a Buddhist monk of high standing having a hidden romantic relationship with a female student whose energies he seemed to use for himself. Vajrayana Buddhism is in no way the only system or hierarchy that produces such situations. I know that such circumstances can manifest themselves without any help from organizations or spiritual systems, but I feel there are inherent tendencies within Vajrayana that make it more prone to them as a whole. One aspect of my perception is that Vajrayana possesses great knowledge and insight into subtle reality, magic and the human being, but I do not believe that this kind of knowledge can be equated to morality. Subtle knowledge is like all other kinds of knowledge. It can be used for good or ill and sometimes seeing the difference is very difficult.
The first hand account can be found at the following link:
For a more complete treatise on some of the aspects of Vajrayana Buddhism that can disturb the modern Western sensibility and the subtle seeker with an egalitarian disposition, see The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism. The book can be found in its entirety at:

Energy Predation and Emotional Manipulation at a Tibetan Meditation Centre

This post outlines some experiences i had while living at a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centre in the mid 1990's, and my hypotheses on what was going on 'behind the scenes' in terms of people's motivations and some of the psychic techniques employed. In short, while individual psychic attacks can generate emotional energy to feed an 'energy vampire', i also believe that the aftereffects of these attacks can prevent normal, fulfilling human relationships in the victim's life. This frustration of normal outlets generates 'excess' or 'unused' emotions to which the energy predator can help itself. I believe that this is a major part of certain energy predator's strategy and the underlying motivation to their actions. I'm also of the opinion that these energy predators can be human or non-human.
Any comments, insights, similar personal experiences, or literary references are very welcome and deeply appreciated.

In my early thirties (in the mid 1990's) i moved out of my fiancee's grandmother's house and into a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center in the SF Bay Area. The centre, 'MC', was located in an old, rambling house in a well to do suburban area. The resident Rinpoche, 'LP', was in his late sixties. His father had been a highup functionary in the Dalai Lama's government in Tibet and Rinpoche was recognized as a reincarnated teacher as a very young child. He was separated from his family and raised by monks in a monastery of the Sakya tradition (but with many visits home to his family, with whom he remained close). 'LP' escaped Tibet in the early 1960's and came to the United States, bringing the surviving members of his family over as he was able.

'MC', the meditation centre, comprised 'LP', who led Chenrezi meditation service every Sunday nite, and a number of rooms that various practitioners rented. Sunday nite meditations usually had 12-20 attendees, and at most five people were living in the house at any time. A few times a year various Tibetan teachers would come and stay for a day or a couple of weeks, leading various initiations into various practices. During these times a hundred people or more would attend the activities. The mailing list had at most 250 names on it. Rinpoche was also invited to other organizations to lead his own talks, meditations, initiations, and at these times i was often left alone in the approximately 15 room house. It wasn't a very active meditation centre for the year and a half that i lived there.

The main activity at the centre was Sunday nite Chenrezi meditation. Chenrezi meditation is a beautiful practice, focused on reducing suffering in all sentient beings. You can do it yourself and without any special initiation. But you can also do it in a group with an experienced teacher leading the meditation. As it was explained to me, the leader has a very particular purpose in these meditations. At a certain point, the 'energy/emotion/intention' of all the practitioners, accumulated through meditation and mantra, is released into the universe to do it's work of reducing suffering. The leader's purpose is to direct and focus this subtle energy (generated by other people) in order to make sure that it reaches those most in need. You can imagine the moral and ethical rectitude needed in this type of service. Once you are able to direct and or manipulate others' excess energies (generated either consciously or unconsciously), there has got to be the temptation to 'take a little' for yourself. Thus, the traditional emphasis on compassion and moral/ethical training in Tibetan Buddhist practice. At any rate, i was told that this 'subtle energy direction' is specifically part of the training involved at the higher levels of this form of spiritual practice.

The Rinpoche, 'LP', was a monk and so supposedly led a celibate life. But it was pretty obvious early on he had a long-term girlfriend living in the house (plus a considerate fellow practitioner thought i looked like 'fresh meat' - so he took pity on me and filled me in on all the history). This woman, 'Tara', was kind, thoughtful, sincere, very knowledgeable about Tibetan Buddhist practice and theory, gracious, and a welcoming hostess to every visitor. I found out later that she had been a student of 'LP's when he began to put the moves on her. She didn't really feel comfortable with the relationship, but he was her teacher so she felt pressure there. Plus, 'Tara' truly cared for 'LP' and wanted to help him in his spiritual duties - 'Tara' saw this as an opportunity to help more people with their spiritual lives. Later, she discussed her situation with 'LP's higher ups (well, he's pretty high up so he only really has two or three people above him in the hierarchy), and they encouraged her to stay with him and help him as part of her spiritual practice. But 'Tara' could never expect any public, formal recognition of her long relationship with 'LP' and the many ways in which she helped him and the meditation centre. 'Tara' was put in a really nasty position - give this other person all this spiritual, material, and emotional support in all of their very public duties -but you will never be acknowledged for it publicly yourself. Really, my respect for the people pulling this stunt on 'Tara' sank like a stone the more i saw what was going on. But the question remains - why not just let 'LP' modify his vows and marry? Other Tibetan Buddhist teachers marry and have families, such as His Holiness The Sakya Trizin. It's hard to believe that the US public (the great bulk of 'LP's students) is all that fascinated with celibacy - in fact, anyone who visits any Tibetan style Buddhist school will be subject to any number of ribald jokes and stories about randy monks. However, the longer i lived at the meditation centre and took in what was going on, i developed a 'hypothesis' about one way to look at this relationship. If you have a woman who is being tantalized with the lure of a fulfilling romantic, emotional, spiritual, or marital relationship but who is constantly frustrated from actually attaining that relationship - chances are that that person will be giving off a large amount of emotional energy with no focus. Anyone with the training or inclination will be able to take that energy for themselves. And a person with lots of spiritual training, an exalted position, followers, etc. may very well feel that they will make better use of this energy than the frustrated person would. Besides, it's excess steam to the frustrated party, right?

When i'd lived at the centre for getting towards a year, 'Tara' moved out and started her three-year meditation retreat (the foundation of a serious Tibetan Buddhist practice, which her support of 'LP' had prevented her from performing for over a decade). When i moved in, 'LP' had made some romantic type overtures towards me - getting me a birthday cake with 'Happy Birthday XXXXX' written in Tibetan on it, for example. (Luckily it was carrot cake, which i don't care for - if it was chocolate, i'd have been in trouble!) Fortunately, i'd learned of his reputation with women and his relationship with Tara, who i really loved and respected. Also, i've been 'popular' with a number of people since i was pretty young, so i have a lot of experience in being very nice while blowing off romantic moves. So i was able to avoid any scenes.

A turning point in my relationship with 'LP' came in the strangest way. I'd heard vague stories from different students about 'LP' showing up in 'non-material' ways. A couple of women talked about 'LP' appearing in their dreams, offering some sort of 'deal' to them, but they didn't get specific about this and i didn't pry. But one night, i don't remember when but a few months into my living at the centre, i had a dream. I was dreaming and i was in a room, just a boring room with a door. The door opened, and 'LP' walked in. I woke myself with a start, and sat straight up in bed. I heard a 'click', like the sound of a door lock (these clicks are also associated with sudden changes of consciousness). The room reverberated somehow, as after the end of a very loud symphony which suddenly ceases. I knew i'd had my first 'shaman's battle', that i'd saved my skin in really the only way i could. 'LP' obviously had much more experience than i in 'astral battles', if i had to face him down in the dreamworld i'd be seriously disadvantaged. But if he couldn't get me to stay there....There was a sense of fear, but also a sense that i was a different person than i had been before that dream. I don't know how to explain the effect this experience had on me, but it was very profound.

After my outwardly incredibly boring dream, 'LP's attitude towards me changed. It was like, 'Okay, i won't try to pull that b.s. on you anymore...but maybe you can help out with some of this stuff...' 'LP's public persona had always been very charming, kind of happy and ding-y (my mom and my step-mom both thought he had some type of mental disability). Always smiling and laughing and easygoing, never involved in any heavy mental lifting. Afterwards, he seemed much more - normal is the only word. He had ups and downs and some things were kind of a pain but had to get done for mundane purposes. He came across as a lot smarter and more observant. He also started to show me a lot more respect, and would ask me to help in making ceremonial objects for use in initiations, for example, when six or so more senior students were there in the room just itching to help.

His change in attitude towards me re-inforced my initial conviction that my behaviour in that dream had been very important. My sense was that he'd wanted to get me on the astral with him so he could co-opt me in some way; but how i didn't know. I did realize that he had a helluva lot more experience in astral battles and deals than i did, plus he had some pretty powerful spiritual allies, so my only recourse was to stay in the mundane. As Dion Fortune puts it in Psychic Self Defense, psychic attacks take a lot of energy and if the attacker can't keep your attention, they'll just run out of energy. Writing in the early part of the twentieth century, she points out that if you're busting your gut at Charlie Chaplin's antics in the local theatre, your attacker doesn't have a chance at keeping your attention involved in dreamworld battles and relationships. But when it came down to the specifics of 'the deal' 'LP' had in mind, i had no clue.

As it happened, however, just before i moved out i found out exactly what he had in mind. As i said earlier, 'LP' traveled all over the US giving teachings. He had a couple in the southeast who were well to do and very committed spiritual seekers, especially the wife 'M'. 'M' and her husband decided to sell their house and move into the meditation centre with 'LP' and get the centre going great guns. As i didn't show up to the Sunday nite meditaions and other events (for reasons i hope are obvious by now), 'M' decided that i was just mooching off 'LP' and taking advantage. 'M' saw that i wasn't in line with her plans for the centre, and put pressure on me to get out - which was fine by me, i felt i'd learned about all i was going to at that point. I was more than happy to let her go to town whipping the centre into shape, and i left.

However, this took a month or two to play out. Before it did, a couple of weeks after 'M' and her husband moved into the centre, 'M' and i went clothes shopping together. It turned out that 'M' had had a dream involving 'LP' the night before and she wanted to ask me about it because she didn't know what it meant. 'M' said, "'LP' came to me in my dream and he said that if i had sex with him, i would have all this spiritual advancement and powers and i would have a lot of public acclaim and status in the meditation community but i had to have sex with him and keep it secret. I just don't know what this dream means.' Dear reader, i have never been more flummoxed by humanity's unlimited ability for willfull ignorance than during this conversation. However, i simply replied, 'Well, it sounds like 'LP' is saying that if you have sex with him you'll get power, spiritual advancement, and so on, as long as you keep it secret. It seems pretty straightforward to me.' 'M' continued her position of being unable to understand the meaning of this dream (though she always accepted that 'LP' had actually been present in her dream, she never took the position that this had all been a projection of her own mind). I did ask her what she had responded to this proposal, and she said she hadn't said either yes or no. 'M' was also flummoxed about the fact that she was married and 'LP' very obviously knew about this. The conversation on this subject kind of petered out, as she just couldn't wrap her mind around what she herself said had happened.

Shortly afterward my relations with 'M' went downhill, i moved out, and i didn't keep up with anyone from the centre. ('Tara' was on retreat, and she was the only person i was interested in keeping up with.) So i have no idea how things turned out with 'M', her husband, and 'LP'. But i had found out enough to get a good idea of 'LP's game with women. Find a woman who you can manipulate into giving some kind of sub-rosa consent to a frustrating type of romantic/sexual relationship, then use that relationship to keep the woman frustrated and continually 'worked-up' (for want of a better term), and drink up all that 'excess energy' at your convenience. But why the consent? I'm thinking that getting consent makes the woman more likely to continue the relationship and less likely to complain about it (to 'LP' or to others), since the woman had 'agreed'. And i wonder if consent may make subtle energy more (or more easily) available to the 'vampire' or 'energy predator'? Also, does this consent give the energy predator a 'clean conscience'? And why get consent in a dream rather than in the mundane plane? I'm guessing that someone with experience on the astral plane will have the upper hand over a 'novice', thus making consent more likely. Plus, as i saw with 'M', the whole scenario sounds so outrageous and unbelievable to the average Western mind that the woman won't even believe that it happened herself, much less be likely to tell anyone else about this or complain. Sounds like an effective way to knock over the traces. But these are just my own opinions, i don't have any knowledge about this and would be very interested to hear anyone else's own experiences or stories or readings on this matter.

To sum up, in my evaluation, this situation involved a human acting as an energy predator, using mundane and esoteric means to manipulate women into sexually/emotionally/socially frustrating relationships as a way to set up consistent, long-term sources of subtle energy for predation/consumption. While sex plays a big role in 'LP's strategy for 'farming' victims, i can imagine a scenario where a person's lust for political power, greed or their desire for powerful influence in the business world could be similarly manipulated in order to generate 'ongoing excess subtle energy' for an energy vampire. But i have never seen it done myself, or even read about it. So it could be that emotions surrounding sex and romantic relations are particularly 'tasty' to predators, or easy to access/provoke. I don't know.

I also am of the opinion that this strategy is not limited to humans in living bodies. I don't see why non-human entities couldn't learn and use these same techniques in order to 'farm subtle energy'. I don't have any personal experience with this, but any number of 'alien' or 'demonic encounters' could be viewed from this perspective. At the same time, attacks attributed to 'aliens' or 'demons' could be perpetrated by out of body humans, consciously or nonconsciously. Again, Dion Fortunes' Psychic Self Defense outlines a sensible, comprehensive plan for investigating these experiences and providing relief to the victim.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Counteracting Manipulation and Unethical Hypnosis

Building Resistance:p Tactics for Counteracting Manipulation and Unethical Hypnosis in Totalistic Groupsp By Steve K. Dubrow Eichelp (This article first appeared in Suggestion: The Journal of Professional & Ethical Hypnosis, 1, (Summer 1985), pp. 34-44.)p SUMMARY: The need to develop the ability to resist influence is examined in light of the existence of totalistic groups and individuals that employ a variety of unethical manipulative techniques, including hypnosis. Relevent research in social psychology and experimental clinical hypnosis suggests that three factors may be important in developing resistance. First, becoming acquainted with the social psychology of manipulation and attitude change will be an asset to understanding mind control. Second, having a specific knowledge of experimental and theoretical as well as practical hypnosis is also important to resistance. Third, one's fund of general information can be vital in resisting manipulation. An awareness of the limits of one's knowledge base, and a willingness to add knowledge when one is unsure of the validity of what is being said is important. Finally, specific techniques for resisting influence as it occurs are discussed.
Most hypnotists and therapists are concerned with finding ways to overcome resistance, not with ways of building it up. Yet the ability to resist influence may be an important skill to develop, especially in view of the many groups and individuals seeking to covertly modify behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Destructive religious cults, certain "mass therapy" groups, many individuals claiming to be "psychics" and/or "spiritualists," and a wide assortment of political extremists on both the Radical Left and the Radical Right all seem to be vying for our attention, if not our hearts and minds. The equating of hypnosis with "mind control" or "thought reform" has been a misconception professional hypnosis organizations have been combatting for years; ethical practitioners do not employ hypnosis as a means of influencing people against their own self-interest. Yet the technique of using a surgeon's scalpel can be employed for harm as well as for healing. There is ample evidence that covert hypnotic techniques can and are being used (unethically) to manipulate feelings, thoughts and perceptions--typically without the "subjects" even being aware that they are being manipulated or influenced against their "free will" (Dubrow Eichel, 1984; Dubrow Eichel & Dubrow Eichel, 1985).
It is a misconception that brainwashing always involves thugs who torture or threaten their victims, or connect them to bizarre-looking electronic equipment in order to force a marked personality change. The Central Intelligence Agency's MK-ULTRA program, which sought to discover overt methods of mind control (including the use of electroshock, sensory deprivation and psychedelic drugs) is a case in point. The MK-ULTRA program was ultimately deemed a failure, yet it nonethless did much to foster the "torture, technology and drugs" myth of brainwashing. Ironically, the fact that the U.S. government could not produce a reliable technology of thought reform using these blatant methods may have created a false sense of security among the general public. After all, if the CIA experts failed to brainwash their subjects, then surely nobody else could, and the average citizen had no reason to fear being "brainwashed."
Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychology professor who is perhaps the foremost American expert on the topic of social manipulation and mind control, is not so optimistic; the CIA failed to brainwash people, he claims, not because their methods were too "soft," but because they were overt, blatant, and obvious. If force is used, people may surrender temporarily but they will often fail to "internalize" their newly acquired opinions and feelings; when no longer held captive, these subjects no longer do what they have been told. It is more effective to be subtle and covert: "you need at least an illusion of choice," according to Zimbardo, and the expert manipulator leaves people "unaware of [the manipulator's] influence" (Cunningham, 1984). In order to influence or brainwash people, the following methods work best: isolate them in new surroundings apart from old friends or reference-points, provide them with instant acceptance from a seemingly loving group, keep them away from competing or critical ideas, provide an authority figure that everyone seems to acknowledge as having some special skill or awareness, provide a philosophy that seems logical and appears to answer all or the most important questions in life, structure all or most activities so that there is little time for privacy or independent action or thought, provide a sense of "us" versus "them," promise instant or imminent solutions to deep or long-term problems, and employ covert or disguised hypnotic techniques. Motivation is an important issue. A subject's motivation can range from loneliness and mild depression to being at a point of transition in life; from searching for spirituality, altruistic relationships or deeper meaning to impatience with or resistance to "conventional" religious or psychotherapeutic routes of discovery (Clark, Langone, Schecter, & Daly, 1981; Cunningham, 1984; Schwartz & Kaslow, 1982). Contrary to the beliefs of many, vulnerability to mind control techniques is not a sign of psychological or intellectual weakness; there is a vast body of research that clearly demonstrates that "average" or "normal" individuals can be highly susceptible to covert attempts to influence them, and that most people are, in general, not particularly good at recognizing when their behavior has been externally manipulated (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1968; Freedman, Carlsmith, & Sears, 1974, pp. 341-375). Given enough time and the proper environment, the motivated subject is highly vulnerable to brainwashing.
What can be done to safeguard against covert manipulations, and how does one resist covert, unethical forms of hypnosis? The literature suggests that three factors may be important in developing resistance: self-knowledge, fund of general information and specific knowledge about the psychology of manipulation.
First, becoming acquainted with the social psychology of manipulation and attitude change will be an asset to understanding mind control. A brief summary of selected research findings in this area suggests the following:
• Manipulators often start with making minor requests. Getting people to perform small and relatively unrisky acts now will make it more likely that they will perform larger, more difficult and riskier tasks later. Corollary: giving in now to "minor" requests that are mildly uncomfortable makes it difficult to refuse more difficult and unsettling requests in the future (Freedman, Carlsmith, & Sears, 1974, pp. 395-397). • Manipulators often seem unusually friendly, concerned and sincere. When people perceive that someone likes them or cares about them, they listen less critically to what is told to them and are also less apt to think negatively about the communicator (Zajonc, 1968). Corollary: "love bombing" (being made the center of attention and the target of an unusual amount of praise, affection, etc.) makes it hard to disagree or resist.
• Manipulators do not immediately ask for agreement, they ask people to "try it" with an "open mind." Getting people to behave in a manner that is somewhat contrary to their current belief system will often result in changed attitudes (Deutsch & Krauss, 1965; Festinger & Carlsmith, 1968). That is, acting on requests to "try it before you reject it" and assurances that "you can disagree with what you are doing even as you do it" often leads to changes in belief systems, especially if the subject is not overtly rewarded (e.g. by being paid) for performing the new behavior.
• Manipulators use group pressure. It is difficult, especially over long periods of time, to be the only one in a group to disagree (Jones & Gerard, 1967, pp. 331-386). It can be painful to feel rejected or different, and sometimes even more painful to think of oneself as someone who has trouble tolerating rejection. Hence, people conform but are not always willing to admit to themselves that they are conforming (ie. responding to group pressure). People rationalize instead, and claim it was their "free choice" to change.
• Manipulators do not make things easy. People actually place more value on their actions if the task to be performed is somewhat unpleasant or difficult, even if it did not need to be unpleasant or difficult (Festinger, 1957). Corollary: making a task artificially "tough" typically makes it appear more meaningful and important than it may in fact be. Having a specific knowledge of experimental/theoretical as well as practical hypnosis is also important to resistance. What are the implications of role-taking in hypnosis, for example? This theory suggests that, by "pretending" to be in hypnosis, people can in fact become more suggestible and open to influence. Research on classical and "nonclassical" (e.g. Ericksonian) forms of hypnosis suggests the following:
• It is possible to be hypnotized without being aware of the induction process. Most hypnotic phenomena, including carrying out posthypnotic suggestions, have been produced in subjects who were not aware of being in hypnosis (Erickson, Rossi, & Rossi, 1976).
• Hypnosis begins with a shift in attention (Hilgard, 1968). Attention is normally motile. That is, it is dynamic and is relatively freely focused on a variety of events within a large perceptual field; it moves back and forth between the external (e.g. actions and events "outside" the self) and the internal (e.g. thoughts and feelings). Trance is a state that involves relatively focused, fixed or immotile attention. Corollary: anyone or anything that results in decreased motility of attention is highly likely to induce an altered state of consciousness ("trance") whether or not it is labeled "hypnosis."
• The language of hypnosis is marked by vagueness, overgeneralizations, metaphors and abstractions. Classical inductions are not the only way to "talk hypnosis" (although they can be found in many "meditation" techniques not overtly labeled as hypnosis). Nonclassical inductions use "normal" conversation and storytelling, often directed at more than one representational system (e.g. sight, sound and touch) to shift attention, in part by activating the subject's tendency to search within him- or herself in order to find ways of relating what is being said now to experiences in the past (Bandler & Grinder, 1975). Corollary: words that sound "deep" or meaningful but feel confusing (and/or strangely calming) can induce trance outside the subject's awareness.
• In trance, memories, fantansies, feelings and thoughts are often experienced more vividly and intensely than they are in the normal "waking" state (Hilgard, 1981). If a person is unaware of being in trance, or is unfamiliar or unconvinced of the phenomenon of hypnotic enhancement of perception, fantasy and suggestibility, then that person is likely to attribute the vividness and intensity of the trance experience to some special characteristic of the message and/or communicator. That is, the person links his/her feelings of intensity with what has been said or who has said it, not with how (ie. hypnotically) it was said. The message is therefore experienced as "more real" or "more true" than other messages, and the communicator of the message is endowed with extraordinary (or even supernatural) characteristics or skills.
• Hypnosis involves powerful transference. The induction process involves establishing and utilizing rapport, and hypnosis is perhaps first and foremost an interpersonal process (Fromm, 1979). Most subjects, after being hypnotized, feel closer, more trusting, and more positively about their operator than before. It is always more difficult to objectively assess someone (or what that someone says) after a powerful transference relationship has developed.
• Hypnosis involves the suspension of "normal" logic. Trance logic is characterized by, among other things, lack of criticalness and the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs as true without one cancelling out the other (Orne, 1959). Thus, in trance one can have the sensation of cold and still be aware of being seated in a warm, heated room. Corollary: in trance, people can accept notions or ideas that they would otherwise reject because they contradict other beliefs known to be based in reality. For example, the members of one Hindu-based cult believe that the space program is a hoax and yet may listen to and accept weather reports based on satellite pictures.
One's fund of general information (e.g. philosophy, comparative religion and history) can be vital in resisting manipulation. Perhaps more important, however, is an awareness of the limits of one's knowledge base, and a willingness to add knowledge when one is unsure of the validity of what is being said. For example, a new form of so-called psychotherapy might claim to be "the modern science of mental health." What makes a discipline a "science?" In part, it is the acceptance and utilization of a very specific method of inquiry that has uniform steps for positing hypotheses and validating them. What are these steps? When these steps are not followed, what risks to validity are usually encountered? What is the "scientific method?" If uncertain, one should seek the answers to these questions before accepting any claim as being "scientific." Similarly, groups or individuals may claim that their beliefs and/or practices are based on scriptural passages, history, research or other literature with which one is unfamiliar; before accepting anything else said, it is wise to check these references for their accuracy. In addition, the following steps might be helpful:
• "Paraphrase other peoples' thoughts both aloud and to yourself to see if you're understanding clearly." Dr. Zimbardo and his associate, Susan Andersen, recommend that if a message, book or lecture is difficult to understand, repeating the central points in one's own words might help (Andersen & Zimbardo, 1980). Ask questions. If the answer is equally or more puzzling, a mental "beware" alarm should sound. The same alarm should go off if the answer is something like "well, you will understand more later" or "of course you can't understand now, you're too [nonspiritual, unenlightened, intellectual, ignorant, materialistic, rigid, unaware, unconnected with your feelings, etc.]."
• Do not relate personal experiences, thoughts or feelings, or make any kind of confession that may be harmful should the information be released, Anderson and Zimbardo (1980) warn. Confidentiality is not automatic: nonlicensed/noncredentialed therapists and their clients may not come under the protection of state doctor-patient confidentiality laws. Groups or individuals that pressure people to reveal personal information may be acting unethically.
• Put off any and all decisions until after the group experience is over, and then decide only after obtaining other information or consulting with trusted confidants.
• Outside interests and social contacts are vital, state Zimbardo and Anderson, and any group that makes an overt or subtle appeal to sever these bonds should be rejected. These outside sources are usually instrumental in providing reality-oriented feedback, and in helping to maintain a sense of personal continuity (ie. a sense of knowing "where I came from").
• Any group or individual that arouses guilt to an uncomfortable level should be carefully checked out and probably avoided.
• Have at least one good friend who is a "natural born" skeptic or critic. Or, if in a possible mind control situation already, seek out known "doubters" within that group. Put off feeling guilty about doubts for a day or two; discuss doubts now.
• Seek outside information before joining or making a commitment to a group. This may be the single most important guideline to follow. Read or listen to critical arguments. If the group claims to be a religion, speak to nonmember clergy or contact the local university's theology department or divinity school and ask about it; if it claims to be a therapy or self-awareness group, contact the local or state Psychiatric or Psychological Association and ask for information, references and research on the group and/or the methods it uses. If the group seems like it might be cultic, contact The International Cultic Studies Association.
These organizations are responsible and can act as guides to information that may be difficult to locate on one's own. They can also usually find former members of the group in question for in-person or telephone consultation. Become familiar with the literature on deception (some of which makes for highly entertaining reading!). The field of spiritualism and paranormal/parapsychological research has been so riddled with deception and fraud that the Parapsychological Association itself has formerly admitted to the need for "fraud checks." A number of professional magicians, most noteably James Randi ("The Amazing Randi") have made careers out of debunking fraudulent and shoddy research on the paranormal, and have exposed the deceptive tactics employed by scores of well-known "psychics." The Parapsychological Association now recommends that scientists consult magicians when designing experiments to test for psychic and spiritualistic abilities, in large part because scientists are not particularly better than the average person at seeing through deceptions.
Finally, self-knowledge — the ability to (with some objectivity) observe and reflect on one's own behavior--and a sense of humor about oneself and others allows for greater independence in general, and increased freedom of thought in particular. Most cults discourage self-reflective thought (it is too "intellectual," "egotistical," "nonspiritual," "negative," and/or "selfish") in favor of "feeling" or "listening to the heart." In contrast, nontotalitarian groups are characterized by open questioning of authority and leadership.
• Think back to situations in which you have felt pressured or covertly influenced. How did it feel? In retrospect, what were some possible warning signs (e.g. disorientation, confusion, anxiety, guilt, sadness, embarassment) that a deception was about to occur? These signs can be "warning bells" to protect against future deceptions.
• What is intimacy? What does it mean to be a friend? Do true and lasting friendships come instantly, or are they built, sometimes in struggle and/or pain? What is love? When is love unconditional? Is it possible to be completely open, or to love instantly, or completely, or equally? Think back to the past in order to begin to answer these questions.
• Be familiar with trance experience; know what hypnosis feels like and experience a variety of inductions. Again, these feelings can serve as an "early warning system," as clues that one has been in hypnosis. Hypnosis can then serve as an alternative explanation for "mystical" or "psychic" experiences that may have been manipulated. No two people feel exactly the same under hypnosis; everyone has a unique response.
• Recall previous experiences with deception (e.g. magic shows). Be aware that people are in general easily fooled, and that most if not all "supernatural powers" are easily reproduced by magicians/illusionists. The world is full of mysteries, but what seems to be impossible to explain does not necessarily mean it can not be explained by conventional logic or "mundane" science. Remember how impossible many magic tricks appear to be! What if the magician claimed to be a prophet, and that his "powers" were in fact "gifts from God" and thus proof of divine status? Absurd, perhaps, but it is the rare mystic or cult leader who can perform more than the most basic "mind reading" tricks, yet they continue to attract followers who are convinced of their guru's "divine nature."
With the advent of electronic mass media and telecommunications, we are experiencing an explosive escalation in the amount of information that is available at any given moment. Moreover, this information is available instantaneously, at the turn of a dial or the flick of a switch, and it is typically available in great amounts. In communications, we know that with every increase in the volume and flow of information, there is a subsequent increase in the transmission of "noise" ("information" that is erroneous, irrelevant or simply invalid). As consumers of ever-increasing amounts of information, we will be hard-pressed to tune out the "noise" in order to receive and integrate that information that is in fact "meaningful."
While the systematic use of manipulative communication and social coercion ("brainwashing") has existed for thousands of years, a number of factors have in the past few decades converged to forge, for the first time ever, mass-marketed, readily-available and, in many cases, highly lucrative technologies of conversion. If, as many researchers now suggest, we consider heightened suggestibility to be the central phenomenon underlying the construct "hypnosis," then any technique or tool that, as a direct or indirect result of its employment, results in increased suggestibility can be thought of as "hypnotic." As our understanding of hypnotic communication and our ability to subtly influence behavior increases, it may become the obligation of the professional persuader (the hypnotist, the psychotherapist) to assist clients to develop their resistance to manipulative groups and individuals.
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