Hijacking Natural Enlightenment

— A Critique of Brandon Bays' The Journey™
John Smith—03/2005
Our natural propensity for enlightenment and wholeness is easily hijacked by pseudo-spiritual teachers to promote themselves, their books and their workshops. In particular, The Journey is a modified NLP technique hijacked by Brandon Bays to sell as a New Age panacea.

IT IS HUMAN NATURE for us to become enlightened under certain conditions. It is human nature for us to feel peace and love, under the right circumstances. It is human nature for us to feel true inner consciousness and wakefulness, when obstacles to those states are removed. Close your eyes and go inside… it is human nature to feel good when we link with the breath, and open to spirit.

I know it is human nature because every truly wise man and woman throughout the history of the world has said so. The natural state of humankind is enlightened, but most of us have too much "stuff" covering that natural state to realize this fact. I myself have tasted snippets of spontaneous natural enlightenment, some when I was just a very small boy with no spiritual instruction or knowledge. So this human being that stares at us out of the mirror — this synergy of mind, body and spirit — has a natural propensity to realize an enlightened state.

If each of us is so intimately connected to an enlightened state, why is it that so few seem to reflect it? Why do we need teachers, gurus and often life's hard knocks to have any chance of realizing this potential? And why do most people seem to live their whole lives in anguish and frustration, never able to receive what is theirs already?

A seed needs the right conditions to fulfil its potential. Plant it in the dark, moist earth, give it water and time, and it will germinate and grow. But drop it on the proverbial "stony ground" and it will never develop. It is natural for us to find true inner happiness just as it is natural for seeds to grow under the right conditions. But just because it is natural does not mean that it is inevitable: like seeds, we need the right conditions to fulfil our nature, and much of modern society today is, unfortunately, a lot like stony ground.

This is why most of us need teachers in some form or other to show us how to realize our natural potential: modern secular living just does not tend to provide us with ideal germinating conditions. The right instruction from the right teacher at the right time can be invaluable for those with the spiritual calling. Throughout history, the path to inner fulfillment and realization has been largely been handed down person to person in the spiritual lineages and religions of this world. Today we also have readily available and inexpensive paperback books, television and the internet. The opportunity to realize our innate enlightenment has never been more present, and yet, paradoxically, modern life is filled with so many distractions that pull us from inner focus that this opportunity is rarely taken.

In an ideal world, we understand that we are all One, and we naturally help our other brothers and sisters as much as we can to attain what we have only attained because we may have been searching in this life before them. Or, perhaps, we are just acting as a reminder for them of their own true nature. This of course is the ideal: we intuitively know that we are all One in Spirit, and that all our actions and activities are ultimately there to support the One.

In real life, however, that ideal is unfortunately rarely met. Rather than understanding that all spiritual teaching is merely a mutual reminding that our true natural state is enlightened and awake, the teacher become the bestower of this natural state. What is our natural heritage becomes a gift from another, and as a consequence of this misperception we place that other person high on a pedestal because we associate him or her with the boundless happiness and fulfillment that we may uncover. We project our divinity exclusively onto another, rather than inwardly onto the collective, and in so doing we actually do All That Is or God a disservice.

I remember reading in one of Lawrence Van De Post's books about one of his many encounters with the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert. A family group of Bushmen had been traveling for many hundreds of miles and were in need of water when they stumbled into his camp. When he gave them water, each drank to his or her fill, and without a word of thanks, continued on their journey. Van De Post was insightful enough to understand that this was not ingratitude: helping another was so much a natural part of their society that thank you's were not necessary. If the situation had been reversed, without any question they would have given him their water also without any need or expectation of thanks. Their behaviour was not ingratitude; it was actually an affirmation of the interconnectedness and mutual help that was an integral part of their society.

And so it is with the spiritual path: sure, we can feel gratitude if we need to, but on deeper reflection we need to understand that all teachers are actually ourselves helping ourselves, and the focus of gratitude should be inwards, for this simple human being that we are is a tiny holographic piece of the whole of Creation; this interplay of blood and spirit is our closest link to God.

*          *          *

It happens every once in a while, and every time it does, I feel a little irritated. I can always tell when it arrives because the envelope is marked The Journey™. Inside is Brandon Bays' latest promotional literature for finding enlightenment… the Californian toothpaste-ad smile "one-fits-all" way.

Brandon Bays is a product of the American New Age and personal development circuit, which led her to becoming a trainer for the personal development guru, Tony Robbins. In 1992, she was diagnosed with a large tumour in her stomach, which turned her life upside-down. Instead of orthodox treatment, she was courageous enough to focus on healing herself emotionally, because in the alternative world, emotions are seen as potentially the primary cause of much physical illness.

To resolve the emotions she believed had caused her cancer, Bays underwent a series of psychological inner visualisation "journeys" that centred around an extension of Tad James' Master Time Line Therapy programme — a standard Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) technique. This work ended up dissolving her tumour within only a month and a half. After Bays fully recovered, she branded her version of time line therapy as The Journey™ and began marketing herself as a New Age guru (even giving satsangs) with an NLP technique to sell to the world so powerful that it can melt tumours in a matter of weeks. (Of course, she does not claim this directly, but it is certainly implied by her own story.)

I would like to say at this point that I have met Bays and have had a personal one-on-one The Journey™ session with her. Whilst the method was not helpful to me at that time, I found her to be a hugely charismatic person with a beautiful heart. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she believes that she is doing good and that The Journey™ has potentially helped thousands of people over the last few years, and will, no doubt, help many more thousands in years to come.

The core of Brandon Bays' teachings is basically "just" a variation of time-line NLP techniques presented in a more spiritual and less psychological context. I say "just" in inverted commas because NLP is incredibly powerful and certainly produces results. It is powerful because the mind is powerful, not because NLP, The Journey™ or any other particular method is special or divinely derived. Ideally, for best results, NLP techniques need to be tailored to fit the person undergoing the therapy, but Bays presents The Journey™ as a one-fits-all method, with little regard to the different modalities or thinking methods of people. (When you are mass-marketing, tailoring techniques is just too complicated and time consuming, for you are wanting to reach the maximum number of people as quickly as possible.)

Bays presents her NLP technique with a spiritual, New Agey vocabulary, her huge personal charisma (or that of a chosen instructor), and in a loving, group setting. The combination is undeniably effective, with many participants at her workshops and retreats giving very enthusiastic and positive feedback. On the surface, it appears that she is empowering humanity to heal and clear their emotional bodies. However, the context in which she does this extracts a toll because she is effectively hijacking, for her own ends, the natural propensity of individuals under those conditions and with this focus to feel good and resolve issues. Miracles can literally happen, but not because miraculous techniques are used but rather because healing, resolution and enlightenment are a natural consequence when human beings do inner work and/or get together in open, loving and focused group situations. It is our natural propensity to become whole.

Of course, Bays' gives lip-service to this point by referring to her workshops as places were we "free ourselves", but she does so in the context of The Journey work as being essential to this natural process. Hers is not "A Journey", but "The Journey™". Bays' work becomes the mandatory intercessional step necessary for us to get in touch with our natural birth right, for at the end of the day, we must not forget that she is selling workshops, retreats, books and tapes that not only make her a very good income but that place her in an exalted standing with thousands of followers around the world. (Bays is now a star on the New Age scene.)

And like many a New Age guru, she has found nothing better for her abundance than to give "Abundance Workshops", which she urges her followers to participate in with the following words in her latest newsletter: "If your heart is feeling pulled I strongly recommend you take action now and call the Journey office to book your place… I can't wait to see you! Love, love, love, [heart] Brandon " (This seems to me to be blatant emotional manipulation — you can so clearly hear the "cha-ching" of the cash registers in the background.)

Brandon Bays hijacks our natural propensity to resolve issues when we give ourselves permission, and she combines this with a great deal of psychological "stroking" — she is frighteningly charismatic — to sell workshops, books and tapes. Whilst in doing so she may well help some people, she could effectively be stunting our collective spiritual evolution, for in hijacking the natural process of healing and enlightenment, and for trying to own a piece of it for herself (for whatever reason), she distances us from the miracle of our own being. The truth is that we don't need The Journey™ or Brandon Bays or NLP or expensive workshops and retreats to find wholeness; we just need honesty, the desire to change, the bravery to look inside ourselves, and each other, period.

Of course Bays is not alone in the way she hijacks our propensity to shine. There are thousands of teachers, gurus, religious leaders, clergy and priests who also hijack natural enlightenment for their own ends. Each also tries to own a piece, ascribing natural joy and ecstasy to their particular presence, teaching, technique or involvement. This hijacking happens with purely spiritual teachers as well. For example, a meditation master might initiate his followers into secret meditation techniques that brings them indescribable inner peace and happiness in exchange for payment or a donation. Once again, human enlightenment, which can be experienced from the earnest practice of most methods of meditation, has been hijacked and used to inflate the reputation of the "keeper of secrets" and to enhance his or her bank balance.

*          *          *

It is not only people that can hijack the natural process of enlightenment, but whole movements like the self-development movement. When we pursue a life devoted to Spirit, it is often said that we have a "spiritual calling". True spirituality is not something we can actively attain like another qualification or skills seminar. It is a calling from deep inside us — from our soul — and it is a call to authenticity. It is not a call to happiness, abundance, joy and fulfillment, although these are likely to arise on the spiritual path. We must remember that in the process of becoming authentic, especially when we first start, we often need to pass through areas in our psyche that are distinctly unhappy and wretched, areas that we need to face square on if we are to do our soul work properly. (Thomas Moore describes this perfectly in his book Dark Nights of the Soul.) Otherwise, we fall into the trap of what Chogyam Trungpa termed Spiritual Materialism, where spirituality becomes just another shiny achievement to add to our growing collection.

But wait a minute: almost every New Age teacher and guru these days is trying to sell spirituality as a path to happiness and fulfillment. The New Age has largely become self-development wrapped up in radiant spiritual clothing, with the facilitators presenting themselves as our new gurus and priests, complete with syrupy spiritual lingo. Bays' begins her newsletters with, "Namaste Dear One…" and, as I have mentioned, she gives "Satsangs". This can only be something that she has picked up from Hindu gurus and used, consciously or unconsciously, to present herself in the guru light (which is a very good marketing ploy!)

Spirituality has become a weekend workshop with Hollywood smiles and heavy price tags. It is an unfortunate fact that many (most?) modern spiritual seekers are being bamboozled into pursuing a glorified form of self-development rather than the humble path of authenticity. They are looking to become better people, rather than more real people; they are trying to add another line to their spiritual résumé rather than take away the résumé altogether — which is true spiritual development. And in trying to be "better than" they actually deny who they are in the present. They deny their divinity. They are looking to see how to make their dreams come true, rather than waiting to see, with an open mind, where their authenticity leads them, and which dreams it demands they reify. "Thy Will Be Done" is not a part of their vocabulary; rather "My Will Be Done" becomes the New Age mantra of reality creation.

This is not a criticism of self-development or the New Age movement per se: self-development certainly has its place in our lives and can make a huge difference to our happiness and fulfillment. What I am criticising is self-development masquerading as spiritual development. Modern self-development techniques such as NLP and EFT are extremely powerful and have the potential to completely change our lives in a very short time indeed. The problem with them is that they are almost too effective and easy to execute — no longer do we need years of expensive one to one therapy to make profound psychological changes in our lives.

So if you are in the self-development business, how do you keep clients coming back? Simple — you present yourself as a spiritual teacher, not just a facilitator with a useful psychological technique, but a guru always with new wisdom to teach. As a spiritual leader you are now free to run expensive workshops on all areas of life because you are now the source of divine wisdom and grace. The fact that your central teaching may just be a modified version of someone else's NLP or EFT technique does not seem to register with your growing band of loyal followers who are likely to blindly take any workshop you care to throw at them, just for the chance of developing further under the gaze of their guru.

These powerful psychological techniques can then be easily presented as the power of the practitioner himself, or his particular workshops and retreats. In the competitive and lucrative marketplace of spirituality and self-development, it would be naïve indeed for us hold the view that just because an individual or a particular technique is helping some people, that that individual or technique is therefore beneficial overall. The price for any change is paid in loyalty and devotion to the guru that made it all possible, and in the long-term this is decidedly unhealthy for our spiritual growth which requires that we let go of all such crutches for our development.

I have mentioned that Brandon Bays' background was as a personal-development facilitator with Tony Robins. We have seen how her The Journey™ technique is just repackaged NLP (a useful method to reprogram our psychological states). And yet, her promotional literature shows that she is presenting herself as a spiritual authority complete with offerings of "Satsang" and even "No Ego" workshops, and ends each newletter with the Hindu greating Namaste. And unfortunately what Bays is doing reflects an overall drift of the self-development movements towards a pseudo-spirituality to try to milk the increasing number of people who are having genuine calls to the spiritual path.

What happens when a genuine spiritual seeker gets caught up in the "spiritual" self-development movements? He or she ends up drinking the brackish water that never satisfies true inner thirst. The package seems perfect, the words are the right words, the sentiments appear deep and profound, there is beauty and light everywhere, but at its core it has no soul. It can take a while for a true spiritual seeker to realize that this 2-dimensional simulation of sparkling lights will never satisfy the inner call.

*          *          *

Imagine a world that acknowledges that enlightenment and the resolution of all conflict and imbalance is innate in each individual; a world that makes no attempt to hijack divine grace. That would be a world in which we would not need workshops, or gurus, or Hollywood-looking teachers, or abundance weekends to realize that all we need is right here inside. We don't need them to be complete or to be authentic. We ourselves hold the key to unlock our own potential, although in a material world everyone seems to be trying to convince us to buy another key… a larger key, a more attractive key, a more profound key or a shinier key. But it will always be the wrong key, period. Only the key that comes from inside our own being can fit our lock.

What does it mean for a "key" to come from the inside of our being? It means that only our own inner processes will guide us through the process of becoming whole once again. It means that pat one-fits-all answers and psychological techniques are not going to be of much long-term use to us because each of us is as unique as our fingerprint. True inner work is just that… it requires work and effort. It cannot be bought at a weekend workshop. It requires us to do something that no other human being on the face of this planet has ever done, and that is to create an utterly unique path to our own wholeness. We can pick up advice, tips and techniques along the way to help us, but in the end, we have to do the work ourselves. In the spirit of Jung, we have to make our darkness conscious, and that requires us to be honest and authentic in how we deal with ourselves and the thoughts, dreams and emotions that arise from our self.

So the whole thing comes down to authenticity. When we are living authentically, we plant the seed of natural enlightenment in the soil of our soul. When we focus on techniques and teachers, that seed is never planted, or if it has been, any shoots will quickly wither and die. It is not that teachers and techniques cannot be useful, but we must always make our own inner lives the focus of our spiritual work. Unfortunately, there are many commercially minded men and women out there who are desperate for us to focus on them and their technique so that they can sell us their workshops, retreats, books and CDs. These are the hijackers of enlightenment; and these are the individuals we must run a mile from if we want any chance to taste the true inner freedom that is our birthright.