Thursday, June 02, 2005

"Either I'm Crazy Or..."

A Behind The Scenes Look At Andrew Cohen's Black Or White Logic

By Stas M.

[Note: The following article is by a former long-term and close “senior” student of Andrew Cohen, who was known in Cohen’s community as “Ernest.” His previous contribution to this blog is Letter From A Senior Student.]

“Here it comes”, I thought to myself. As a longtime student of Andrew Cohen I heard him utter these words many times over the years. And now I found myself sitting with a handful of others, in anticipation, waiting again to see where his broad, sweeping logic would take us.

“Either I’m crazy…or there’s something so pure, so absolutely good about me that brings out the devil in people who get close to me. And I can’t help it, but my function is to purify everyone around me from ego.” Andrew made this bold statement on a mild summer evening in August 2002 at a rustic, but elegant restaurant-villa in the village of Tourettes-sur-Loup, Southern France, where with his inner circle of senior students he was celebrating the successful conclusion of the retreat he had just given in nearby Les Courmettes. At our guru's words the table fell silent, save for a few murmured “ummms” and nods of assent.

There was a somber note to the occasion, because at this retreat Andrew had been putting tremendous pressure on his women students to give up what he considered their female “personal perspective” for “the sake of the whole.” As a result, yet another of his close, longtime people, a leader among his “formal” women students had “crashed and burned,” dramatically leaving the retreat (and Andrew) under the intense psychological and emotional pressure. This pressure included being videotaped in a small room as I and another student berated her, at Andrew’s request, for betraying him and for responding to criticism with what Andrew considered a “demonic” expression on her face. (At the time, Andrew was obsessed with trying to capture the “smile of the ego” or the face of the “devil” on video. Andrew had a number of such videos made of students being interrogated and humiliated.) These kinds of extreme, anger-fueled tactics had been used by Andrew for some years to try to “crack” someone’s ego, but lately he had given it a name – he was calling it "evolutionary tension." Those with leadership responsibilities were especially susceptible to Andrew's displeasure and wrathful imposition of such “tension” when they didn't measure up to his expectations. The result was nearly always the same –- sooner or later they would leave. It was at difficult and tragic moments like this that our guru would resort to his flawed black or white, “either-or” argument.

“Either I’m crazy…or…” was designed to force us to complete the Aristotelian logic in our heads -–“our guru is definitely not crazy, therefore…what he’s doing is obviously completely and cosmically right.” And so our response was: “Yes, Andrew we’re with you no matter what!” It had to be. The logic dictated it, since it was never really a matter for serious consideration that our teacher may in fact BE “crazy.” For to entertain the possibility that our guru might actually be crazy, or even just flawed, would be to cast doubt on what we had given years of our lives to, the validity of our cherished spiritual experiences, and even our own judgment and sanity, as well.

It had been hard to ignore the steady stream of committed students in responsible positions exiting the ranks each year--a fact that might have given another teacher pause for self-reflection and re-assessment. Yet for our guru, the pain, devastation and leaving of his students were only proof of the sanctity of his mission. He would often gather together his remaining troops and once again trot out the “either-or” argument. Then there would be Andrew’s scathing assessment of the student who left--the disparagement and erasure from our lives of one or more of our former compatriots and friends (now “traitors”) in “the revolution”.

Andrew’s trashing of this person would have already happened at least a few times prior to his or her departure, while they were still there, present and struggling to deal with the pressure being put on them from all sides. These were the "meetings" where one or more committed students on the hot seat were severely criticized, screamed at and insulted by Andrew in front of the others. Generally, most of these gatherings were held in his office in the Foxhollow compound or in his living room. Still, on more than a few occasions, we would be called to a local bar, where we’d find Andrew sternly sitting at a table, like the Godfather, next to his right-hand person of the moment, greeting us with "I called you here because I have to get drunk first before I can talk to you!'" Then the usual bullying would ensue without inhibitions.

However, Andrew's special "either I'm crazy or…" speech would normally be reserved for meetings after the bloodbath, when the student in question had been kicked out or had left in an emotionally and spiritually crushed state. (See Susan Bridle's article A Legacy of Scorched Earth.) He would then speak retrospectively to the remaining faithful in an attempt to explain the recent painful events. This would allow Andrew, once again, to gain reassurance from us, his devotees, that we understood the "context." Here the "context" meant basically that anything goes in the name of liberation, and that no matter what, Andrew's judgment must be trusted. Remember, “either I’m crazy or...”! Andrew would also remind us that ego death is not for wimps. "Right?...Right!" We would then acknowledge to him that we understood how the collective force of ego is against him at every turn, and that, yet again, he is being let down and betrayed by even his closest people only because he is such a purifying “force for goodness.” In effect, we would be tapping into the primary myth of our lives with Andrew, and as "Greek chorus" in this tragedy, would "sing" to him: “No, Andrew, of course you are not crazy, you are a living Buddha!”

It is important to see that there is no middle ground in Andrew's argument. That is, either he is insane or he is a prophetic vehicle for an absolutely perfect cosmic unfolding of consciousness, divinely inspired and guided by universal principles of evolution. Otherwise, his actions might have to be judged by the same shared standards of human decency we mere mortals apply to vet out narcissistic and even abusive behavior toward each other. His many punitive actions with his students (including the kinds of emotional, psychological, financial and even physical abuses documented on this blog) are supposed to be seen in the context of coming from someone who has no “shadow,” hidden agendas or blind spots, and who is thus only serving as an agent for the evolutionary needs of the student. Andrew and his apologists have criticized this blog precisely for failing to give this "context" to his actions. For without this “context” of an unquestioning shared belief in Andrew as enlightened agent for the cosmic "guru principle", his actions would be seen for what they are, as dangerously misguided, harmful, and self-serving.

There is a truism, expressed humorously by the Italians: “tutti pazzi”— we’re all a little crazy! Yet, it appears to be impossible for Andrew to even consider that he might have some faults, blind spots, a shadow like the rest of us. Having been a close student of Andrew over the years, it seems to me that what is at stake for him in this regard is nothing less than his absolute conviction in the cosmic rightness of his mission, and his confidence in his infallibility and the efficacy of his methods. But, I believe, it is exactly this grandiose position that is Andrew’s madness. This is borne out by the harm he has caused many of his students by imposing on them his brand of “evolutionary tension.” It seems that because he is so busy constantly trying to convince everyone (and perhaps himself, as well) that he is not crazy, his ability to clearly and consistently manifest real wisdom and compassion has been severely hampered. And, as evidenced on this blog, this is a real danger to those who might enter into relationship with him as spiritual mentor and authority.

By recognizing the thinking which underpins everything Andrew does, there is the hope that those who are or have been involved with him as teacher can see through his “either-or” framework to a more inclusive and real picture of Andrew as a human being like everyone else. They might even dare to openly question and test what he says and does against their own experience and values, and consider the possibility that real freedom must include our shadows, flaws and imperfections. Then the question “What is enlightenment?” would become subtler (and more complex), and could be pursued in an open-ended way, free from Andrew’s dangerously closed, authoritarian and self-serving “logic.”

Originally published January 11, 2006
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: "Either I'm Crazy Or..."

posted by the Editors