Open letter from a reader

Published on June 10, 2011 by      Print
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By Neville Harson

I just read the article about the “Cult of Positivity” on your website. I can’t tell you how happy –and relieved—I am to come across a site like this. Kudos to you for being the Wikileaks of the yoga community, as unpopular as that may be in that community. Bravo to you for taking a stand! And II think that what you are writing about on this site is much bigger than just the yoga community.

I lived in the Bay Area in the nineties and was on the fringes of various spiritual communities and the rave scene.

I moved to the Boston area from 1999-2001 and was involved with the contact improv/polyamory community. Then I came to Boulder and went to Naropa for three years (and one Psychology degree). I’m not claiming to be a representative voice for any of these communities, but in each place, I witnessed and heard about many occurrences that were—and I’ll put this diplomatically—less than enlightened behavior. In the last twenty years I’ve gone from being a spiritual seeker to calling myself “post-spiritual”; and in my more cyncial moments have grumbled that “Spiritual Community is neither.”

I have been wounded, and have seen friends be wounded and abused in similar ways, by people and communities calling themselves “spiritual.”

I’m not talking about bizarre cult brainwashing scenarios, but more subtle, almost invisible kinds of abuses, a number of which are mentioned in the articles on your website. Some of it is laughable (I especially liked the page about “words we loathe and abhor”), but some of it is definitely more serious. And, as you point out, to speak up often means you are cast out of the community (or worse—people pretend they still accept you when they really don’t). And so many people live in fear of speaking out.

The worlds I have moved in have been seemingly riddled with charlatans that mean well–spiritual writers who stalk women; meditation instructors who aren’t what they seem on the surface, especially when stressed; bliss ninnies who can’t deal with an expression of sadness or anger because “it brings their vibrational level down”; men who have pressured women into threesomes by telling them they were “spiritually uptight”; people trying to console friends with hurtful new-agisms like, “this must be your path” or “you attracted this to yourself”; liberals who identify so closely with their beliefs that they become rigid and unable to hold a dialogue with someone who holds a different opinion; and there are many others.

Sometimes I think this has all come about because we’re trying to filter eastern philosophies through a Judeo-Christian core, which includes a lot of guilt/shame and in-group vs. outsiders mentality. Then we combine that with the particularly American kind of semi-delusional optimism/narcissism, add a dash of western materialism and presto! You’ve got yourself a really sick system that looks, on the surface, to be incredibly healthy and even desireable!

Anyway, I could write much more about all this—I have thought about it a lot over the past few years, how it ties in with Jung’s concept of the Shadow, or Ken Wilber’s “spiritual bypassing” (I call it “Yoga Rage”), but for now I just wanted to say hello and thank you for creating this website.

I will refrain from saying Namaste,



About Neville Harson

Neville Harson is a Boulder-area therapist and advisor who works with creative people as well as the spiritually disenfranchised. Like Carl Jung, he believes that balance is a better goal than perfection. He is also a musician who believes in the power of the power chord and the value of silence. His theme song is The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Filed under: Soulless Hippies and Tagged:


  1. Amelia Catone says:

    i want to make virtual non-polyamoric love to this post!! three ways!

  2. Wendy Ness says:

    “What I see in other people is more-or-less correct if it only informs me, but it is definitely a projection if it strongly affects me emotionally. Thus if we are overly attached to somebody (or something) on the one hand, or if we emotionally avoid or HATE someone on the other, then we are respectively either shadow-hugging or shadow-boxing, and the quaternary dualism-repression-projection has most definitely occurred. The undoing of a projection represents a move or a shift “down” the spectrum of consciousness (from the Shadow to the Ego Level), for we are enlarging our area of identification by re-owning aspects of ourselves that we had previously alienated. And the first step, the primary step, IS ALWAYS TO REALIZE THAT WHAT WE THOUGHT THE ENVIRONMENT WAS MECHANICALLY DOING TO US IS REALLY SOMETHING WE ARE DOING TO OURSELVES—WE ARE RESPONSIBLE. ”

    Ken Wilbur

    • Chrissy says:

      While I agree that we are responsible for our feelings, in my humble opinion reaction is a part of the human condition. It doesn’t make us weaker and lesser minded, it serves to allow one to honor their boundaries….and heck sometimes stuff is just F’ed and from me, that warrants an ‘ oh no you did NOT’!

  3. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    I love the word “charlatans.” Must remember to use that more often. I also love this letter and am so excited that you sent it to us. Thanks for your wise, articulate, smartly critical P.O.V., Neville!

  4. YogaforCynics says:

    I would add that, in addition to filtering eastern philosophies through a Judeo-Christian core, there’s looking at those philosophies through the extremely un-critical lense of western romanticism (ironically, those who most eagerly disavow their western roots could not be more western in their idealized views of the east).

    • Neville Harson says:


      Good point! I always imagine other countries (that I’ve never been to) being more civil than the US, even though I know intellectually that’s not always the case. There’s a great book called Karma Cola that talks about how some unscrupulous Indian people took advantage of naive hippie idealism in the 60′s. I think some of that is still going on and it’s due to that western romanticization of other cultures that you speak of.

  5. vanessafiola says:

    Thanks for raising thoughtful questions about the nature of spiritual discord, e.g. “Sometimes I think this has all come about because we’re trying to filter eastern philosophies through a Judeo-Christian core, which includes a lot of guilt/shame and in-group vs. outsiders mentality…”

    I’ve often wonder the opposite question — why are so many Type As (w/ Judeo-Christian cores) (myself included), drawn to Eastern philosophies?

    • Neville Harson says:


      I find that people are often drawn to ideas and philosophies that balance them out in some way; like a self-regulating mechanism. I could see where “Type A’s” would be drawn to yoga as it is in some ways a stress reduction system involving controlled movement–very appealing to people like us who like to feel like we’re in control! And, by the way, I’m not saying that’s necessearily a bad thing…

  6. Chrissy says:

    Well written!
    Love this!

  7. adan says:

    can’t argue ’bout the value of balance, it’s one of my primary missions in life i think ;-)


  8. misa derhy says:

    Thanks so much for the article. I spent 4 years in India and I just felt there is something where East and West is just not meeting…and now I understand better! And…what s wrong with Namaste? :)

  9. Bob Weisenberg says:

    Hi, Neville.

    I have been fascinated and concerned about this very topic ever since I read Stripping the Gurus and other exposes.

    I hope you will continue to write about this here, and that Recovering Yogi will feature your blogs on their Elephant Yoga page. Sounds like you have a lot of good stories people need to hear.

    Bob Weisenberg
    Yoga Editor
    Elephant Journal

    • Neville Harson says:

      Hi Bob,
      Thanks for your comments. “Stripping the Gurus” looks like a good read. I am hoping the author gets into the psychology of imbalance in both gurus and followers–as well as illuminating the dynamics between gurus and their followers. The fact that guru figures can sometimes be abusive isn’t interesting to me, but WHERE that behavior comes from certainly is.

  10. What’s Too Woo? A New Take on New Age Flakiness. | elephant journal says:

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  11. Why R U Here? Explore the ?! @Yogging Heads Toronto. | elephant journal says:

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