Integral for the Masses

Integral for the Masses / June 2006

Keith BellamyProtecting the Integral Crown Jewels – a leadership responsibility for those pursuing an Integral path?

“Isn’t life a bitch?” the tall bald-headed one from Boulder, Colorado responded to a question that I put to him when he was visiting with a group of us from the New York Integral Community a few weeks back. Little was I to know how that answer was likely to rebound and bite me in the butt, with spades, in so short a period of time. Events over the past seven to ten days have convinced me of the depth of that answer in ways that I never thought possible at the time.

That evening in New York was like an oasis in the midst of a flat land desert. All who attended had a variety of intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs refreshed, and quite frankly we wanted more.

Whilst I would like to think that it was an act of serendipity, I have to admit that it was by pure accident that I happened to discover that Rabbi Marc Gafni was coming to town. Acting on the premise, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” we approached him to come and undertake a similar session to that which Ken Wilber had led, and he said yes. As a catalyst for bringing a number of individuals from across the greater New York area together on a Sunday evening filled me with just a little apprehension.

I needn’t have worried. We were treated to an exquisite evening of learning and insights into all manner of subjects. Rabbi Gafni put on a masterful performance that pulled not only from the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition that is his personal path but also from a number of equally important cultures and traditions. His mix of humour with a sprinkling of integral flavourings left most in the room highly charged and prepared to take on our challenges in the so-called “real world” with greater fervour than had previously been the case. When a number of us from the New York Integral Salon met up 48 hours later, we were still gushing from the experience that we had encountered with an amazingly remarkable teacher.

However, the glow was quickly replaced with a feeling of deep despondency as we became aware of the fact that allegations had been made against Rabbi Marc by a number of students and staff members of his community in Tel Aviv. A blog entry from Ken Wilber confirmed not only the fact that these allegations had been made, but also there was a substantial element of truth in some of the allegations. Whilst I have no doubt that Ken’s intentions were of the highest quality, they sparked a response, some of which were counter to the objectives that I believe he was attempting to achieve.

Now, I must hasten to add that it is not my intention to delve into these allegations and how they might or might not have transpired. I have far too few facts available to me, and even if I was better informed I would not want to lower the debate in this column to that which one comes to expect from the tabloid press. What has intrigued me over this whole affair has been the response and reaction of the communities in which Marc Gafni was so visibly active and engaged.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The news of the allegations and Ken Wilber’s blog absolutely pole-axed me and had me walking around in a state of despondency for several days. Life had suddenly become the bitch that I mentioned earlier. Sure I had been instrumental in bringing Rabbi Gafni to talk with us in New York; I had written an effusive and gushing review of the evening that we had spent with him. “Why,” I kept asking myself, “can’t I just get over it?” Had I been seduced by his words of wisdom and unable to admit that I had so completely misjudged the man? That didn’t feel like the answer to me.

Like Charlie Brown, I had my own personal rain cloud following me around for the next few days. I was sharp and terse with those who are close to me. I tended to send out slightly barbed and acerbic emails (for which I apologise wholeheartedly). This whole episode really presented itself as one of life’s gifts for personal learning. Eventually, it dawned on me that the burden I was carrying was not with the action that Rabbi Gafni was alleged to have committed (although I do not condone the purported behaviours in any way). No it was the response of the two communities that he so actively participated in that troubled me.

Prior to meeting with Marc Gafni in the flesh, so to speak, I was aware of his teaching through his books and the highlights of his sessions on the Integral Naked website. It was obvious from those sessions that he was a highly educated and highly skillful purveyor of wisdom. Of all of those who parleyed with Ken Wilber, Rabbi Marc was the one that I felt could match intellects with the Sage of Boulder. What the books and the images on my computer screen never managed to pass across was the charisma that emanated when the Rabbi was in full flow.

And that made me wonder as to why high decibel warning bells weren’t going off in Tel Aviv and at the Integral Spiritual Center. One doesn’t have to look too far into history to find the effects of mixing highly charismatic spiritual teachers with vulnerable disciples. Surely these communities were filled with enlightened members who should have been able to recognize the threats that existed, and have been able to take appropriate actions before the brown stuff hit the fan.

The speed of the response from both communities brought the words of the Bard of Stratford upon Avon to mind, “Methinks they doth protest too loudly!” A great deal of pain and suffering surfaced when the allegations became public knowledge. It was clear that both Bayit Chadash in Tel Aviv, and the Integral Institute in Boulder, Colorado moved to suspend Marc from teaching whilst the allegations were investigated. But they both went much further and sought to put a great deal of clear water between themselves and the alleged perpetrator.

The senior members of Bayit Chadash gave an ultimatum to their CEO that either Marc Gafni be dismissed or else they would all resign en masse! They were effectively saying that they would, ostrich-like, stick their collective heads in the sand, thereby excising the metaphorical tumor by denying that there was anything wrong with their own community and that there had been no breakdown of communal responsibility along the way. Quite honestly, such action really sucks, in my opinion at least.

As a community committed to Jewish renewal, they need only look to one of the great pillars of their own tradition that their behaviour was inappropriate. The Talmud teaches that nobody can be accused of a Capital crime (and as I understand the allegations, they would have been considered as a such in the days of the Talmudic Scholars), unless at least two individuals had warned the potential perpetrator that what he or she was doing was of such a serious nature to warrant capital charges being laid at their feet. Furthermore, the individual could only have been found guilty of any such charges if two witnesses had actually seen them being executed.

This wisdom has been misinterpreted through the ages as a charter for leniency, which if taken literally it could well be. Yet this couldn’t be further from what was intended. This sagacity effectively mobilized the community to ensure that it took on the responsibility for ensuring that the misguided within the community did not allow themselves to be placed in effective danger. When interpreted correctly, these nuggets of wisdom allowed the collective immune system to be invoked within the community keeping it and its members healthy.

Why did two upstanding individuals in the Bayit Chadash community not warn Marc Gafni of the errors of his ways? Similarly, why were those who became willing victims in this sordid affair not receive similar advice? An opportunity clearly arose in this community for leadership to emerge not just by those who had titular responsibility, but also amongst the membership that might have nipped this issue in the bud. Instead, they chose to offer up a sacrifice to absolve their own consciences.

A great opportunity was missed to do the right thing as attention shifted to doing things right. I believe that the challenge facing this community in the near future is far greater than those who sought to excise Marc Gafni realise, and that the potential damage done to the Jewish renewal movement stems more from their lack of leadership than necessarily from Gafni’s indiscretions.

The reaction from the Integral Institute was different yet in its own way, I believe, flawed. In this case, Ken Wilber donned the mantle and regalia of the Grand Pooh-Bah of the Integral community and pronounced to the waiting masses that Marc Gafni would be suspended from the teaching faculty at the Integral Institute. An absolutely appropriate decision. Allegations had been made, and it would be inappropriate for anybody to continue as if nothing had happened.

If Ken had stopped there, he would have been absolutely following the Zen maxim of less being more. Perhaps he could have gone just a little further to allude to the fact that actions were to be taken to help resolve the issues at hand and that more news would be forthcoming when appropriate. But no, Wilber then proceeded to inform us that he was acting as both judge and executioner in this case. He informed us that Gafni had a pathology and that he (Wilber that is) was instructing a therapist to take responsibility to “fix” this problem. Wilber was appointing a board to oversee Marc’s progress.

Just like the six million dollar man, Integral Institute had the technology and could rebuild the damaged Rabbi and give him super-powers in the future! Talk about bolting the stable door after the horse had left. Was there really nobody in that enlightened community that could not have used their advanced lines of development to see the impending problem and have intervened beforehand to help reduce the suffering and pain that ultimately arose?

I have to wonder whether Ken happened to have Brittney Spears’ “Oops, I did it again!” playing in the background as he wrote his blog? His track record of recommending spiritual leaders whose ethical and moral lines of development fall outside of the boundaries of expected or tolerated behaviours is second to none. Yet I do not believe that this should be held against Wilber and has helped many students to make breakthroughs that otherwise might never have happened.

Yet it bordered on hypocrisy when he adopted the holier than thou stance that came through in his initial pronouncement. When this was followed up with supporting emails claiming that the position presented was a clear example of Integral Ethics at play! I wanted to scream, “Will somebody tell the emperor to put some ruddy clothes on please?” Ken was attempting to protect the Institution that he was building and under the guise of wanting to help Marc placed him out to dry. Talk about Pre/Trans Fallacy, it is good to know that it can happen to even the most enlightened.

M. Scott Peck, a populariser of the benefits of therapy wrote in “A Road Less Traveled” that although an individual might visit a therapist regularly, it does not mean that they are necessarily in therapy. By hijacking the process that is being imposed upon Marc Gafni, Wilber has effectively placed him in a no-win situation. If this wonderful teacher is to ever reclaim a position of trust he needed to be seen to be embracing the therapeutic process unequivocally. Abdicating that responsibility or having it forced upon him serves him not one iota.

I cannot believe that Wilber or those who surround him at the Integral Institute are not aware of this. The fact that they have acted this way suggests, that they too, like Bayit Chadash are more interested in applying balm to their own wounds than helping Marc. Were they rushed into posting a position that they might regret later? I have no way of knowing. But again an opportunity for true integrally-informed leadership seems to have been lost.

Marc Gafni was a bright star in the Integral firmament that has dimmed in recent days. He was, I believe, a jewel that needed to be taken care of by those of us who aspire to an integrally-informed, if not integral, life. The line between saint and sinner is a very fine one and the higher one rises, the further it is possible to fall. Those of us in this emergent integral community have a role to play and we failed to live up to what is expected of us.

Whilst it is essential that we act with compassion for all who were hurt or affected by this turn of events, it is equally important that we all step back and reflect upon what we either individually or collectively might have done to help avoid these circumstances arising in the first place. If we fail to do that, then we will have let a golden opportunity pass us by.