Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

— A discernment guide for parents before fully jumping off the Indigo/crystal child cliff.
By George—08/2006
Having worked closely with New Age gurus, Campbell issues a warning that all that glitters is not gold, despite the heavy price tag, and that we must do our own spiritual work.

THERE'S NO SUCH THING as a free lunch. A fool and his money are soon parted. There is a sucker born every minute but hey, maybe you were the minute in between? If it sounds too good to be true…

Grandma's hyperbole? A little too close a walk down memory lane? Feel like your eyeballs are melting as you scream, "Stop, you sound like my mother!"

You betcha Vern. Why?

Because in November of 1978, 913 followers of the People's Temple in Northern Guyana drank a cyanide-laced fruit punch in an infamous act of mass suicide following the murder of a US Congressman on the airport tarmac. The cult leader feared a US military reprisal and ordered everyone to drink up or be shot. Slightly less than 200 fled in terror deep into the woods where some lived to tell the tale. Of the dead, 276 victims of the Jonestown massacre (named after their charismatic spiritual leader Jim Jones) were infants and children.

While the corporation making the sugary drink points out their product was not involved, "don't drink the Kool-Aid" or "he/she drank the Kool-Aid," is a term derisively used to explain the behaviours of someone acting contrary to expected norms and showing an unusual amount of devotion or adulation towards a person, teaching or charismatic/spiritual belief.

Many very smart and successful people reach a natural place of vulnerability in their lives where whatever worked before no longer seems to work in their life. Some call it a mid-life crisis and whatever the label, they look outside of themselves for finding some meaning and peace in their lives. They spend boatloads of money looking for the magic pill to help them feel better about themselves.

And then there are the bliss-ninnies. Those beautiful, always giddily happy people time forgot. They live a never ending Summer of Love fantasy in tie-dye, poverty, spiritual openness, great sex and the ultimate search for unity consciousness, enlightenment and Truth. They bounce from fad to fad, partner to partner and spiritual teacher to spiritual teacher, searching for the 24/7/365 high.

Somewhere in between comes the indigo/crystal movement where every child is just a poor, misunderstood spirit. Now I'm all for banning institutional drug pushers pumping kids full of Ritalin, letting kids experience things other than Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic, opening their creative potential and eliminating labels. What I object to is the use of this ultimate elitist spiritual label (like Gucci and DKNY) and using their kids to help them live out their own fantasies. This work is filled with the ultimate stage mother if you will, operating under a completely new kind of circus tent.

I recently saw a documentary programme about indigo children. Well, that was what was expected. It ended up being the story of one reasonably serious mother looking for answers and just not sure… while the other person was made to look certifiably crazy in her zeal to promote her own spiritual practice and daughter's powers. While I hope she had the highest of intentions, she was portrayed as an opportunist stage mother pimping her daughter on national telly. The rub is I'm not sure she got it that she was the joke.

The spiritual marketing world is full of people who start out with high intentions, and then they inhale a bit of success and spend the next 20 years trying to hold it all together, while remaining relevant and getting others to drink their Kool-Aid. With a charismatic onstage presence – many have theatrical or television backgrounds as former actors and actresses – they use group trance, hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming's positively embedded commands and the best can quite literally hold a room of 500 people at the end of their fingertip. They're skilled actors, likeable, charming, disarming, share their wounds (or at least a very polished re-enactment of them as part of the shtick) and are VERY believable.

Usually this charismatic person uses a variety of empathetic tools to disarm and lure you on board, there is deep structure to everything they say and they don't want or intend to hook everyone, only those most slavishly vulnerable and open. Because if your life is a mess and there is someone standing there holding the solution and 500 people in the palm of their hand, what chance does any one individual have?

A respected journalist friend attended a weekend New Age seminar and left before lunch the first day e-mailing the observation, "it was astonishing, I had never before seen so many emotionally wounded and damaged people together in one room."

Ka-ching! goes their cash register and by the second or third seminar, you're hooked for the duration. The number of people without resources (i.e. cash) is no hindrance because the charismatic person convinces you it is time to give yourself this gift and no matter whether or not you can afford it, you cannot afford not to come and you will somehow manifest the abundance you need to join this £1,000 course and the next £500 weekend and the next. Can't pay, come on the pleasure cruise, work in our office and hang out in this energy to pay off your debt.

When done, you have an empty wallet, great experiences in the seminar high and some even have nowhere to live or work. The embarrassment and shame is such that many prefer to just disappear than face family, business associates and friends, the common morning-after lament being, "if I'm so smart, how could I have been so stupid? or how could I not have seen this?" Well if Barnum did not say it he should have, "when a person with money meets a person with experience, the person with experience ends up with the money and the person with the money ends up with an experience."

The message is crafted and controlled with the image and appearance of substance more important than actual substance. Those not drinking the Kool-Aid, smiling goofily and having Kundalini experiences are ridiculed, outcast, whispered about to other disciples (or much, much worse) and nothing but their complete destruction and elimination from consciousness can afford to be tolerated.

The leader usually has expert henchmen and women who are closest to but distant enough to be in the inner circle and live a monk-like life of service to the guru. They also give the guru Watergate-style plausible deniability by doing the dirty work so the leader's hands stay clean. Their lives are put on hold as every phone call and whim of the guru, regardless of time of day, is more important than life itself. I once sat at the head table as a new age guru was thanking dozens of volunteers in a speech before dinner. At table level there was a frantic shuffling of entrée plates as her PA shovelled broccoli from the guru's plate and replaced it with the other tasty portion of her own entrée. When I raised an eyebrow to silently ask, "what's that all about?" The non-verbal reply mouthed back was, "she doesn't like broccoli." For the first time in their lives they are needed and that is their narcotic.

Modern spirituality, from indigo kids to seeing auras and everything in between, has become the ultimate pleasure cruise where one can jump from buffet table to buffet table looking for pleasure without ever confronting the real issue in their lives. Selling books and seminars is the ballgame, get 'em in and keep 'em hooked until they move on exhausted, but not until they have bought everything.

I know this because for 25 years I rode that E-ticket ride, bought a library of books, attended countless seminars, chanted, meditated, fire-walked, freed my inner child, found my inner lover, raged at the past and jumped full-on into whatever the latest and greatest trend was.

And I was never satisfied with just hearing the message from the stage. I dove into the deep end of the pool, met with and ultimately got to know many of these teachers with their hair down. It was there I saw the darker side of their addiction; from the spiritual poetess refusing to show up because the organizer booked her into a 4-star vs. 5 hotel and sent a taxi instead of a limo… to the famous mind body spirit medical Dr. pitching a hissy fit on the cell phone to his PA because his rented treadmill had not preceded his arrival to the hotel suite. 20+-years ago a well-known New York Times best-selling author of millions of books (who has re-invented himself to stay on top of that list in now his fourth decade in the biz) spent three hours lecturing my bank's business team on: pureness of body and mind, you are what you eat, etc… The first thing he asked me coming off stage were, "hey, do you think you can you find me a beer?" and then proceeded to hit on one of the more attractive female managers. I should have known then something might be amiss. Instead the charismatic power made me want to run away and join the circus to be just like him.

My first indication should have been the ability to see how much of my own power I and so many others gave these people through the admiration of who they were, their powerful and witty teachings and thinking they were their message.

And that's what they believe at some level until called on it. For many of these speakers, the brighter their stage light glowed, the darker the shadow was they needed to run away from. Simply, they seemed to busily teach what they themselves most needed to learn.

Their tragic flaw was they convinced themselves and others from the stage they were their message without ever feeling compelled to live it. They possess great power over many who attend their workshops and seminars yet outside of the glare of the public eye, it was stunning to see how few practised what they preached or walked their talk in their daily lives and running of their "business(es)."

As a businessman I was sure there was more to life than the continual pursuit of money, power and toys so I spent countless dollars and hours reading books seeking a path to greater understanding and, who knows, maybe even enlightenment. Three years ago, my wife and I joined the day-to-day operations of a new-age spiritual company that seemed to have a message that felt in alignment with how we wanted to live our business and personal life.

Watching the inner financial and 'business' workings of this "business," it became clear this was a cult of personality. We saw a "spiritual" business filled with duality. On the one hand the process work contained some of the best healing tools any therapist could imagine using. The healing and awakening of many delegates was quite deep and my own clearing was sharper than ever thought possible. Through this work I was reunited with my adult children and an entire family was brought together for the first time earlier this year for my mother's 75th birthday.

And yet on the other hand, I grew increasingly restless watching the company's leaders' over-the-top 1st Class lifestyles and a seeming inability to either see a problem or live their talk. To control people was the main goal and you did that by standard childish control dramas, pointing to behaviours, withholding love and attention, making an example of, in short, classic abuser behaviour to keep everyone in line.

Along the way our eyes opened and we discovered much of the giddy happy talk about things like "finding source," "living in this truth and freedom" and "being true to truth," outside of the actual process work, was little more than a salve to make one feel better. It was a form of spiritual pabulum to temporarily fill an empty stomach/soul. Its real purpose was to help continue to avoid waking up because that would mean independence and the strength to find one's own his way.

The company's motto was "be true to truth." It became clear that meant SPIN the story of truth we want the outside world to see, call it marketing and keep that image intact regardless.

It was clear that to walk my own talk, I would have to fire the guru and walk. Many people eventually tire of seminar formulae and the dependent nature of these guru wannabees. All they want are answers. Just help make the pain go away so I can find some time for myself and peace in my life. There is a burning yearning inside us all to find happiness and we look outside of ourselves through this new age spirituality for answers. We eventually discovered that everything we looked for outside of ourselves was already there inside of us.

There are times when deep process work to clear deep emotional wounds helps and there are times it can become an addiction itself to avoid the real issues. There are times when it's fun to hang out with folks and meditate and have a good time hugging and chanting and there probably is a middle path of taking the tools and finding your own way. Only you will know if it resonates. Somewhere there is just a need to get on with life and walk YOUR path.

In the 2nd season of The West Wing, the President's key advisor Josh is diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after being shot during an assassination attempt. The psychiatrist tells him that for some reason, music is a trigger and in his head he equates it with sirens from the time of the shooting. As Josh realizes this he says, "so… whenever I hear music, this is going to happen?" The doctor replies, "no." When Josh asks "why not," the doctor says simply, "because we get better."

You already have the answers inside of you. Fire the guru. Real answers are rarely found idolising someone else. They come when you take the tools and do what you need to do to free yourself.

Enquiring minds may want to know. Discerning minds sharpen themselves and cut through spiritual arrogance and spiritual outrageousness.