Monday, 20 September 2010

Findhorn Foundation

The major centre for “alternative thought” in Britain is the Findhorn Foundation, located in Moray, north Scotland. Commencing on a caravan site in 1962, the Foundation is now an NGO, with an extension in CIFAL auspices, this addition denoting a role in the UN ecology programme. See CIFAL Findhorn and Critique of CIFAL Findhorn.

The Foundation has made several basic claims over the years, including that of dispensing a spiritual education. One of the numerous phrases in use after 2000 has been “a centre of spiritual service in co-creation with nature.” Critics have objected to the rather extravagant wordings. The phrase “personal and spiritual transformation” has also been in favour, a theme that is common in the alternative sector. Amongst the commercial promotions is “The Game of Transformation,” a novelty commencing in 1978, and for which the participant charges have been high. An additional detail is that a million decks of “Angel Cards” were sold by 2003.

By the year 2000, the Ecovillage project was underway, with much deference paid to the concept of sustainability (which was also sold in “workshops”).The factor of ecology (in the non-commercial sense) is not in dispute with critics, at least in my own case. See
Ecology: Club of Rome theme (2008) and Autobiographical (2010). [See also Climate Change Complexities, 2010.] Rather, it is the general ideological context of the Foundation, onto which the ecology interest was grafted, that remains the focus of disagreement. See Myth and Reality (2007). The influential “Experience Week,” carrying noticeable price tags, has for long comprised the introduction for beginners, encouraging interest in commercial workshops also provided by the annual programme. The affluent international clientele has numbered many Americans and Germans, though other nationalities are also represented.

Over many years, the Foundation promotional literature and online extension has evidenced a strong commercial component in what are known as “workshops.” See the ongoing Foundation programme at, and compare my
Findhorn Foundation Commercial Mysticism (2008). These workshop activities attested the strong influence of the Esalen model from the 1970s onwards. The concepts involved were largely in the field of alternative therapy, generally imported from America. The major manifestation of that trend occurred with the instance of Holotropic Breathwork (HB), a creation of Stanislav Grof during his Esalen phase (1973-1987). See Grof therapy and MAPS (2007).

HB workshops were conducted at the Foundation during the years 1989-1993, and under the auspices of Grof Transpersonal Training Inc. Despite the glorifying promotionalism, some paying clients experienced mishaps and problems that were suppressed. HB therapy was administered in the belief that spiritual benefits were occurring. HB workshops featured prolonged hyperventilation, to the accompaniment of “bodywork” and music. A common response of participants was screaming; there were also various other extreme manifestations of behaviour, such as vomiting and trauma.

Grof lore was not questioned by the Foundation personnel who sponsored the commercial workshops. Complaints of victims and local critics were viewed as a threat to the proclaimed Foundation mandate of being a “planetary village” and a leader in “raising consciousness.”

The Foundation management were obliged to suspend the HB workshops after five years of this activity. The Scottish Charities Office made a recommendation to that effect, after commissioning a professional report from the Pathology Department of Edinburgh University. The report gave warning in medical terms about the hazardous nature of the controversial HB activity.

No error was acknowledged by the Foundation staff. Instead, they censored and stigmatised a local British dissident who had legitimately complained at the discrepancies in clear evidence. That dissident was my mother, and so I am well acquainted with the relevant details. See my web articles
Criticism of New Age (2008) and Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation (2010). See also Letter of Kate Thomas to UNESCO (2007).

In 1996, a book was published locally (in Forres) that documented the fate of several dissidents. The Foundation responded by suppressing the book to a notable degree. Staff members ignored the contents, and in 2002 the prohibited work was declared on the web as being not worthy of a review. The Foundation management instigated this questionable development, and in the face of favourable reviews appearing in more responsible quarters (including ICSA). The book was entitled Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation, and the British author was ex-member Stephen J. Castro. Amongst other matters, Castro documented the problematic phase of Holotropic Breathwork, which was conveniently forgotten by the management. See further
Findhorn Foundation: Problems (2009).

The alternative philosophy of the Findhorn Foundation was superficial in the estimation of critics, despite the elaborate partisan attempts to portray all criticism as being a purely subjective matter, a projection of the critic’s own mind. Alternative therapy ignored criticism and dissidents, and instead gave lip service to the meaningless theme of “conflict resolution.”

Observers noticed that for many years the American “channelled” book known as A Course in Miracles was conspicuous in the activities of Cluny Hill College, the Foundation therapy centre in Forres. A major sentiment was forgiveness, which never applied to dissidents. Unconditional love was another of the unconvincing themes in circulation.

The more literate subscribers to this curriculum were known to read books by Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, and Fritjof Capra. The general partisan consumption was fed with numerous fads and doubtful menus varying from Aleister Crowley magic to the discourses of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. The Foundation bookshop was criticised by a female dissident who was not permitted to gain any democratic hearing.

The Findhorn Foundation College arose from the decline of Cluny Hill College, which suffered diverse vicissitudes at the time of severe economic debts incurred by the Foundation in the late 1990s. The experiment known as FCIE (Findhorn College of International Education) was disastrous, quickly terminating after enrolled American students rebelled at the curriculum in 1996.

In recent years, the
Findhorn Foundation College has shown a tendency to modify some of the “holistic” emphases in terms of an advertised “academic” ballast. An operative phrase is now “integrating academic and experiential learning.” Critical analysts have concluded that the presumed “spiritual education” still encounters difficulties in professedly holistic demonstrations.

The major female dissident eventually commenced a solicitor confrontation with the Foundation in 2008. This episode has been documented online. The responses of the Foundation management have been widely considered to be deficient, and to an extreme degree. See my
Letter to Robert Walter MP (2008). The management even attempted to deny the membership record of the dissident (Jean Shepherd, alias Kate Thomas), a ruse which was unsuccessful. See Denial of Membership (2010). Alternative “spiritual” education remains a suspect factor.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
September 20th 2010

ENTRY no. 32

Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Integral Studies

The subject of integral studies is associated with the Indian mystic Aurobindo Ghose (entry no. 30), though substantially developed and elaborated by American enthusiasts. The conception of integralism originated in Aurobindo’s theme of “Integral Yoga,” which was favoured at Esalen. The concept was subsequently adopted, though with various innovations, by exponents of transpersonal psychology.

Haridas Chaudhuri (1913-1975) was a Bengali disciple of Aurobindo who became active and influential in America. He helped to establish the American Academy of Asian Studies, an alternative enterprise whose students included the two subsequent co-founders of the Esalen Institute (namely Michael Murphy and Richard Price).

In later years, Chaudhuri created the California Institute of Asian Studies, still strongly linked to Aurobindo teaching. After his death, in 1980 the name of that organisation was changed to the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), an alteration stated to signify the emerging globalism of outlook and a more extensive East-West synthesis. CIIS is based in San Francisco, and is a private institution, including what is known as the School of Consciousness and Transformation.

CIIS advertises academic programmes and dispenses degrees that include the PhD and MA. There are also public programmes which feature a wide array of “workshops,” the activities including yoga and “self-discovery and healing.” In addition, an activity in therapy here encompasses what is called Integral Counselling.

Despite the promotionalism, criticisms have been lodged. Sceptics say that the “new age” orientation of CIIS is demonstrated by emphases on transformation, therapy, workshop activity, and other dimensions of the project. Further, an online Open Letter makes the accusation: “It appears that at CIIS, faculty simply put on academic rank and titles similar to kindergartners donning academic regalia, with no need for actual promotion processes or scholarly achievement.”

Probably the two most famous names to date on the CIIS faculty are Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas. Dr. Grof (image above) is known for his controversial holotropic theories and “cartography of the human psyche,” based upon his activities in LSD psychotherapy. See Grof, Psychology of the Future (2000). Cf. Grof Therapy and MAPS (2007). Professor Tarnas is known for his book The Passion of the Western Mind (1991), and his more recent emphasis on astrology in Cosmos and Psyche (2006). Cf. my web article Psychology, Richard Tarnas, and Holistic Confusion.

The content of an East-West synthesis is in question. In some respects at least, CIIS has adapted the popular Esalen model of “transformation” in an academic format. That model misses out too much of the Western heritage, and has also bypassed Eastern philosophy to a substantial extent.

I have been asked what my own position is with regard to integral studies, in view of my citizen project of private research at Cambridge University Library (CUL) commencing in 1981. I will accordingly make some observations here.

My concept of intercultural and interdisciplinary study does not extend to “workshops” and therapy, which have been known to create serious confusion in the public mind, and even amongst academics. My citizen version of (interdisciplinary) anthropography, in the preliminary presentation Meaning in Anthropos (1991), adhered to annotation procedures of research and commentary, and did not feature the distractions.

In some respects, I am allergic to words like transformation. Such words were incessant catchphrases at the Findhorn Foundation during the 1990s. As a neighbouring outsider to that organisation (living in Forres), I had the long-term opportunity to observe how the Foundation therapists and “focalisers” maintained the stigma and suppression of my mother. See Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation. They entertained presumptions to numerous abilities, such as holistic expertise, counselling, conflict resolution, love in action, unconditional love, the alchemy of peace, feminism and rights for contemporary women, attunement, empowerment, forgiveness, and the game of transformation. All this merely comprised the facade for commercial roles and delusions of grandeur.

Aurobindo can be absolved of any responsibility for the transmission of American counselling and transformation pretensions to Britain. Even during the 1980s, there was very little of his teaching visible in the entrepreneurial industry catering for a new age clientele. Integral Yoga was of limited usage for any commercial operation, though Aurobindo themes for long remained a preferred jargon in some transpersonal circles. A complication is that “he made an unfortunate prediction in The Life Divine about ‘a race of gnostic spiritual beings.’ ” See Aurobindo and Esalen (2008). The prediction confused Esalen “new spirituality.” See also Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals, 2004, pp. 159-60.

One of the Esalen founders (Richard Price) discovered that the permissive ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was far more ominous than he had been led to believe. This was in the late 1970s, when Esalen had become the breeding ground for so many fads and crazes. NeoReichian therapies could cause physical injuries, even while the deceptive presiding message was one of liberation and transformation. “Price himself is said to have suffered a broken arm while being locked up for an hour in a room with eight people armed with wooden weapons; even Esalen could become rational under severe stress” (ibid., p. 60).

Yet the shocks and drawbacks could not prevent the integralist (and transpersonalist) Ken Wilber from eulogising the American gurus Adi Da Samraj and Andrew Cohen, entities who were viewed by critics as predatory. See Perennial Philosophy (2008). Wilber’s version of integral studies has come under fire from various discontented former enthusiasts. See I have reviewed some relevant arguments at Ken Wilber and Integralism (2009). Wilber has commenced his own Integral Institute, often viewed as a rival to CIIS. See Wilber, Integral Spirituality (2007).

My own format in Pointed Observations (2005) was substantially critical of the alternative trends represented by Jung, Grof, Wilber, Bache, the Findhorn Foundation, and others. Some readers noticed that I preferred David Hume, Spinoza, and the vintage Club of Rome phase to the contested trends. For many years I had been resistant to the sceptical philosophy of Hume (and still am in many basic respects), though he was rational by comparison with problems of pseudo-transformation.

Having studied at CUL, I have been sensitive to some of the concerns expressed by academics about bogus credentials, which have unfortunately existed in the new age. Because of such factors, I downgraded my career profile in the last chapter of Pointed Observations, which was entitled Citizen Initiative. “People often do look at the author data to be convinced of a scintillating career with due status honours. Do not buy this book, therefore, as you will be disappointed on that account” (page 351).

Some academics approved this gesture. The relevant passage was subsequently abused by an American sectarian blogger (allegedly paid by a Californian cult leader) as presumed proof that I am incapable of study, having left school at the age of fifteen. See Hate Campaign Blogs (2010). Perhaps only in America are there such extremes of cultist hate campaign. See also my Autobiographical Reflections (2010).

In the face of controversial integral studies, new age “transformation,” cultweb, and other problems, I will here quote from the same chapter abovecited:

“The incentive on the part of citizens to dispute or query official and public matters, and to extend educational horizons, might be described as a democratic prerogative. That incentive may involve supplying information frequently neglected” (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, p. 343 lines 3-6).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
September 9th 2010

ENTRY no. 31

Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.