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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, a psychologist of religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY FRANK VISSER

What's Love
Got to Do with It

Love Guru Marc Gafni under Attack
after New York Times publications

Frank Visser

Marc Gafni: "I think that one of the things that I've learned a lot about over the years is to take more and more responsibility for my impact on people."
It's not the first time that Marc Gafni is associated with sexual abuse. Nor the second. Nor the third.

On December 25th, 2015, the New York Times published "A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past", a feature article written by Mark Oppenheimer. In this article, Marc Gafni was interviewed, as well as his supporters from various corners, about his "troubled past", a three decade long history of sexual abuse with women Gafni is accused of. A few days later, on December 29, 2015, Oppenheimer published a sequel called "Understanding the Marc Gafni Story, Part II, Talking to the friends and colleagues of a controversial ex-rabbi", in Tablet, an unorthodox Jewish magazine Oppenheimer is the editor of.

It's not the first time that Marc Gafni is associated with sexual abuse. Nor the second. Nor the third. In fact, this is a theme that comes up again and again in the many decades he has participated in religious Jewish and New Age/Integral spiritual groups, as Oppenheimers's articles have (again) made clear. (For an earlier report on Integral World see Be Scofields 2010 overview article on similar cases from the integral scene: "Integral Abuse", which gives more case details).

Upon the publication of the first article, the blogosphere spilled over with comments, both pro and con Gafni, reactivating debates that had raged a decade ago in the Integral scene about Gafni's fitness for being a spiritual leader in that community. Gafni is founder of the Center for Integral Wisdom, a think-tank "dedicated to partnering with leading thought leaders and change agents to transform and evolve the source code of culture through application of Integral principles." (from the CIW website's mission statement). He also played a prominent role at the recent "Success 3.0 Summit", which was hosted by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, at the Boulder Theater in 2014.

Center for Integral Wisdom
Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni on the Center for Integral Wisdom homepage.

The postings on Facebook, Twitter and various blogs about these New York Times publications spanned the whole spectrum of opinions usually aired when cases of sexual abuse are reported. There's a "male" view and a "female" view so to speak.

On the one hand, the female reporters are seen as victims of a "sexual predator" or "rapist"—these expressions are used in the case of Gafni—, and the sheer amount of reports is considered to be evidence for the crimes. At the other extreme, it is the male that is seen as the victim of "false accusations", of women that are trying to get even with their former lover. Where in the past women (and men) were never believed when they finally dared to report these crimes, in recent times it is often the women who are instantly believed, especially if they are seen as victims. More recent opinions see both as responsible for what happened, except of course when minors are involved with lover-boys—or lover-rabbi's (one of the reported victims of Gafni was 13, when he was a 19-year old rabbi).

The truth about these matters of sexual abuse if almost impossible to decide on for us outsiders. It is unlikely that it is a wholly black-and-white affair. That said, the very fact of the controversy around Gafni makes many within the integral culture feel that he isn't the ideal representative voice for communicating integral ideas to the world at large. After all, it doesn't happen that often that integral philosophy is mentioned at all in the mainstream media. Whenever that happens, it is painful and counter-productive for all parties involved that it is surrounded by so much controversy.

Don't Let This Happen Again...

A petition was started December 31, 2015, by rabbi David Ingber on change.org, called "Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again", explicitly urging Whole Food's CEO John Mackey (and seven other organizations that support Gafni) to separate his connection or funding for Gafni. In only a few days, about 2.500 have signed this petition, many from the Jewish community. Mackey has posted a note on his Whole Foods blog, in the context of a video on the shadow (of April 12, 2013), which has now been removed, saying that his involvement with Gafni is "strictly personal".

Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again

Gafni has played a prominent role in many Integral Spirituality seminars, where he taught about "The Three Stations of Love", among other things. When rumors of Gafni's reputation came to the surface, the connection between Gafni and Integral Institute was broken briefly, only to be repaired after the Integral Institute made an "independent" investigation of the reported cases of abuse by Gafni (broadly taking the "male" view). It was concluded that most accusations were false, but that Gafni did have "problematic aspects", for which he would enter therapy.

Ken Wilber commented on this episode on his blog in "Ken Wilber Statement on Marc Gafni and the Center for World Spirituality" (December 27, 2011):

Speaking personally, I feel that any shadow issues that Marc, (like most spiritual teachers), might have are now being actively and genuinely addressed. I repeat that I know very few spiritual teachers who have the guts to do this, and my hat, for one, is off to the gentleman.

In an earlier communication, "Ken Wilber's Response to the Marc Gafni Debacle" (October 7, 2011), he wrote in a similar forgiving tone:

Marc has some very positive capacities in each of these issues and he has some problematic factors in each of them as well, as most teachers do.

What strikes me as odd in all these communications, is that nobody seems to link this problematic area (of sexual relationships with women) with the topic of Gafni's expertise: Love! How on earth is it possible that someone is given the position of teacher, inspirator or even guru, specialized in the many aspects of love, when he has such a horrible track record when it comes to his own relationships? What has love got to do with it? It would be different if Gafni's area of expertise was the practice of meditation or the philosophy of Judaism, but when he so explicitly centers his teachings around the subject of love, shouldn't he be held to certain standards?

I don't know Marc Gafni personally but once sat next to him on a forum at the Integral Theory Conference in 2010 (together with Jeff Salzman, Steve McIntosh, and Mark Forman), which was devoted to the topic of "The Future of Integral". Gafni glowingly spoke about the bright future that would be ahead of the integral community, in which love would play a central role, if I remember well. The audience was thrilled. I didn't share this enthusiasm at all, for it hindered sober assessment of the value of integral philosophy and could easily lead to delusional situations, in which integral philosophy would be seen as a new religion or an approach that could save the world. Needless to say, the audience was less then thrilled when I voiced my concerns. The panel was nicely balanced, with Salzman, McIntosh and Gafni being the spritual wing (Salzman even mentioned the possibility of an Integral Church), and me and Forman being the more "secular" psychological-scientific wing.

He spoke like a machine gun, firing his ideas to the audience leaving it very little pause for reflection.

During the panel session, I was struck by Gafni's talent to communicate integral concepts and inspire audiences, but also noticed a type of manic energy around him, which to my taste was rather unpleasant. He spoke like a machine gun, firing his ideas to the audience leaving it very little pause for reflection. Gafni's central teaching of the "Unique Self" also struck me as rather contrived. In the past, Andrew Cohen had made much of his doctrine of the "Authentic Self", which had a decidedly impersonal (Eastern) flavor and was linked to the notion of "evolutionary spirituality". Gafni, in contrast, promoted his (obviously Judeo-Christian) notion of human individuality and uniqueness, when it comes to self-realization.

Gafni has even written a book devoted to the two different models of spiritual development: Self in Integral Evolutionary Mysticism: Two Models and Why They Matter (Integral Publishers, 2014). One of the Integral World authors, Chris Dierkes, wrote "Unique Self, Authentic Self, and The Flavor of Embodied Enlightenment", an appreciative comparison of both views.

As readers of Integral World will know, Andrew Cohen stepped down as spiritual teacher in 2013, after his senior students had told him his approach was dysfunctional and authoritarian. He wrote an "Apology" to his students, past and present, and disappeared from the spiritual scene. Two years later he briefly resurfaced with another brief communication, "An Open Letter to All My Former Students Upon Return from my Sabbatical" (see my "Andrew Cohen's disappearing Act" and David Lane's "The Liberation of Andrew Cohen"). In this posting, now taken offline again, he showed some self-insight in that he had been "hiding in transcendence", neglecting the dimension of "vulnerable humanity" both in himself and others. Though I have never been a fan of Cohen's philosophy, I think this was a great gesture and a step in the right direction.

In my opinion, Gafni would do well to follow this example. His closest students and collaborators at the Center for Integral Wisdom, however, don't show any sign of being able to address this to Gafni, as far as I can tell. They see him as victim of a "pseudofeminist witch hunt", as Gafni is quoted as saying in the NYT article—for sure not a helpful approach to find a middle ground.

One can even say that all these mystical fabrications of Higher Selves, Unique Selves, Authentic Selves and True Selves are one big attempt to heal a split within one's personality. I am not pathologizing all of spirituality, but when these concepts form the core of psycho-spiritual systems, they often introduce more harm then good. Perhaps we should step down for a while put a moratorium on all these efforts at human transformation, and look at how we can really deal with life and its problems.

Unique spiritual selling points

It seems to me that teachers such as Gafni and Cohen put out their unique selling points to the spiritual market with their own particular variations of enlightenment. It is obviously important to be authentic in life, and to realize one's own unique contribution to it, but why would a guru context be necessary for this? And where does that leave us if the Authentic Guru turns out to be rather non-authentic, and the Love Guru doesn't know the first thing about sustaining a respectful and loving relationship? Shouldn't that make us reconsider this whole notion of human transformation?

Whenever the ties between Gafni and the integral world would be broken, I am sure he will surround himself by a group of devoted students, as he has done many times before. They will cherish the idea that their chosen guru has not been accepted by orthodox Judaism and even orthodox integralism—which makes him all the more attractive to some. The Center of Integral Wisdom recently released a new website, showing a long list of contributors, speakers and initiatives around the notion of Unique Self, including a publishing house and "activist think tank". (More information on the Unique Self paradigm and its applications can also be found on www.uniqueself.com.) It also shows a top-heavy organizational structure, including an Executive Board, a Board of Directors, an Advisory Board, an Advisory Council, and Staff & Directors. One is tempted to say: what could possible go wrong here? Rumor has it that not all people listed here are there by their own free choice.

On this website I spotted a video called "WOW Talk Dr. Marc Gafni 2014", where "WOW" stands for "Women in Wellness". It is ironic and perplexing that Gafni's pursues these topics giving his own personal history. The New York Times article gives Gafni the last word: "I think that one of the things that I've learned a lot about over the years is to take more and more responsibility for my impact on people." In my personal opinion this is both too flattering for Gafni and insulting to his many victims.

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So let each of us then go our own way, following our hearts, utilizing unbiased, multi-perspectival reason to the best of our abilities, and courageously speaking truth as best we can, regardless of whether or not that fits into "the world according to" any "enlightened" sage's authoritarian view of reality.
That may not be a flawless way of proceeding but, after all that we have seen herein, it couldn't get much worse.
—Geoffrey Falk, Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment, 2009

READ MORE IN THE NEWS:

RESPONSE FROM GAFNI'S ORGANIZATION





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