x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The mantra machines: the science of the self-improvement gurus

You can do it! All you have to do is desire ... and with a thousand such trite phrases the gurus to the gullible promise us a brighter, more fulfilled 2014. Jonathan Gornall, though, is not a believer.

Gabrielle Bernstein, aka the Spirit Junkie, is the author of May Cause Miracles. Photos courtesy Hay House Publishers
Gabrielle Bernstein, aka the Spirit Junkie, is the author of May Cause Miracles. Photos courtesy Hay House Publishers

We meant well, we really did.

Shamed by the excesses of the past 12 months, we vowed that 2014 would be the year of self-improvement. We would exercise regularly, eat more healthily, even be nicer to those less fortunate and generally work on becoming all-round better humans.

And yet, just 10 days later, here we are – New Year’s resolutions abandoned like so much seasonal gift wrapping. If only there were something, or someone, that could save us from this soul-crushing annual cycle of hope and determination spiralling down into weakness and self-loathing ...

Well, you’re in luck. Meet Mastin Kipp and the new new-age gurus.

Kipp, a 30-year-old former LA music-industry narcissist, is founder of website The Daily Love (“A Place to Love and be Loved”).

Gurus to the gullible, Kipp & Co are the self-anointed high priests of religion-lite – superficial “spirituality”. They are peddlers of trite aphorisms and bumper-sticker wisdom easily swallowed by their self-centred followers, every one of whom is readily convinced that the one supreme being in the universe is them.

Visitors to Kipp’s website can sign up for his “Dose of love ... a free daily e-multi-vitamin for your soul!”, and it’s a doozy, offering deep thoughts such as “The future is FULL of amazing possibility!” and this self-awareness corker: “As I realise I am enough, I can give even more to the world”.

What Kipp really wants, of course, is for you to sign up to the latest online course from his Love Uni-Versity: “How to follow your bliss, a five-week journey to be the hero of your own life”, which starts online on January 27. For just US$147 (Dh540), he will help you “start the New Year off with an inspirational bang!”All exclamation marks are included.

Over at The Daily Love, they talk a lot about the “Uni-verse”. Why? Kipp explains: “Uni = one. Verse = song. Together, in all our own unique ways, we are all participating in One Song.”

Whether they know it or not, Kipp and his puddle-shallow pals are the children of The Secret, the 2006 “documentary” and spin-off self-help book that made unknown Australian TV writer Rhonda Byrne a multimillionaire. In the words of psychologist Jim Taylor, shaking his head in wonder on the Huffington Post, they all proved the truth of the snake-oil salesman’s maxim that “there’s one born every minute”.

Far more than one, actually. The Secret, spun out over 200-plus pages and served with generous helpings of sub-Dan Brown tosh, has sold 20 million copies in dozens of languages.

To save you the cover price, the big faux-ancient secret is that, thanks to the (entirely made up) Law of Attraction, if you think hard enough about something you desire, it will come to pass.

And that attractive-if-delusional proposition is, pretty much, “the secret” behind the success of Kipp & Co.

Take Kipp’s spiritual contemporary, Gabrielle Bernstein, aka the Spirit Junkie, dubbed “the Dalai Lama for the Gossip Girl set”, who promises to make you “the happiest person you know”.

“Simple, consistent shifts in our thinking and actions can lead to the miraculous in all aspects of our daily lives, including our relationships, finances, bodies and self-image,” gushes the Barbie-haired former PR executive, whose latest book, May Cause Miracles, is a New York Times bestseller.

Sign up for Gabby’s new seven-minute “guided meditations” and experience the profundity: “Allow yourself to become present in your experience of your feelings ... you are exactly where you need to be, experiencing exactly what you need to experience ...”

Better still, if you’re “ready to kick off 2014 in a whole new, bright, surprising way”, for just $197 (Dh723) you could sign up for Reignite, her new group intensive course that live-streams on January 20 and 27. “Don’t dance around the perimeter of the person you are here to be,” says Gabby. “This New Year, take the plunge! Launch the beautiful life you’ve been dreaming of.”

The key to success in this game, as Gabby and every new-age guru knows, lies in being all things to all people. So “in this video I talk about how we can be spiritual without giving up things like fabulous shoes or other material goods. ...”

The Dalai Lama, Bernstein ain‘t.

Miracles is a word that crops up a lot around these people, some of whom, including Bernstein, were “students” (they mean readers) of a previous generation’s self-help classic.

A Course in Miracles, a New Age take on Christianity first published in 1976 and condemned by many as a false revelation, was supposedly “scribed” by Helen Schucman, an American psychologist who claimed to have received its words of wisdom over a seven-year period of “distinct and clear dictation from an inner voice”.

Thankfully, the voice had tipped her off at the outset to the need to grab a pen and some paper by kicking off with the words “this is a course in miracles, please take notes”.

Another devotee of The Course who managed to transform its core messages into a thriving business model is Marianne Williamson, a doyenne of the self-help crowd and the woman that Bernstein, for one, cites as her mentor and “divine teacher”.

An inspirational speaker and the author of a dozen books, Williamson is a little more actually God-focused than some of her younger pretenders, but alongside the practical guides to prayer there is still plenty of room for the materialistic.

In The Law of Divine Compensation, for instance, she revealed “the spiritual principles that help us overcome financial stress and unleash the divine power of abundance”. And one can only imagine what Schucman and her ghostwriter might have made of Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss — 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever.

Don’t laugh. If the best-selling books and the millions of virtual followers aren’t sufficiently sobering, these people could soon be running the world. Under the campaign slogan “Create anew”, Williamson has announced she is running for US congress this year.

In California’s 33rd congressional district, an area embracing Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Santa Monica, home to the world’s greatest concentration of Kundalini yoga studios, she is surely a shoo-in.

Williamson might find life in the House of Representatives a touch less convivial than life as a big fish in the small pool of self-help shamanism, in which mutual backslapping and incestuous cross-promotion is the name of the game.

She endorses Bernstein, Kipp and Kris Carr, the Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor author, who in turn endorses Marie “I’m here to make you rich” Forleo. Forleo also gets a shout-out from Bernstein, as does Danielle LaPorte, the Canadian author of The Desire Map.

Oprah Winfrey, of course, endorses them all, which might be all you need to know about Kipp & Co.

It was on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, a celebration of all things spiritually alternative, that Kipp described his drug-fuelled fall from grace (in which grace equated to “my own house in the Hollywood Hills, BMW, A-list celebrity friends, dream job in the music business”), followed by a satisfyingly brief, if hardly biblically arduous, journey to self-enlightenment.

“In one week,” he told Oprah, “my life fell apart.”

Actually, it didn’t really, but in this business the wake-up call, followed by instant revelation and redemption, is obligatory. Kipp had split up with his girlfriend and was staying in her parents’ pool house (“a Hollywood cell”) when, to top it all, “my lower back went out and I got gout. All in one week.” Dude.

Presumably the pool house had Wi-Fi, because Kipp was already running The Daily Love, and that, he told Oprah, is when he got his big break. TV personality Kim Kardashian tweeted “I feel so inspired when I read tweets from @TheDailyLove. They make me feel lovey [sic] and positive!”

Overnight, The Daily Love went from 1,000 to 10,000 followers. “It was like this confirmation of God going, ‘I got you’,” said Kipp. Oprah nodded, knowingly.

Serial sceptic Barbara Ehrenreich interviewed a lot of inspirational speakers for her 2009 book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, and she had a four-letter word for what they were peddling.

The message she kept hearing, she later said, was “you can have whatever you want, so long as you focus your thoughts on it, as long as you really, really want it. And I think that’s nuts, frankly.”

For Jim Taylor, the psychologist who pegged The Secret author Rhonda Byrne as “the latest in a long history of shakedown artists, from the snake-oil salesmen of the Old West to the grifters of the early 20th century to the motivational speakers of today”, the most remarkable thing about the self-help gurus was not their “outlandish claims [and] absurd assertions”, but the fact that “so many people accept [their] blather as gospel”.

So, nuts or gospel? This new year, why not take a walk on the wide-eyed side and judge for yourself? All major credit cards accepted.

weekend@thenational.ae

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