Spiritual Organizations and Lessons Learned in My Ill Spent Youth
In 2014 I was speaking with a doctor who was organizing a major spiritual retreat and educational facility in New England. Given our background together and knowing several people in common, when he asked for help I gladly gave it. Everyone I spoke to involved with the project was top of line, many of them well known within their professional disciplines, and recognized as authorities within their particular esoteric and spiritual areas of expertise. In short, a good group of people who can make things happen.
As part of my advice to my ‘new’ old friend, I suggest he contact an organization I was involved with during its start-up days, the New England Holistic Counselors Association, or NEHCA. NEHCA was based out of Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island. The organization was started in 1991 and was the brainchild of Dr. Jack Childs, Director of the Holistic Counseling Program at Salve Regina University. I served on NEHCA’s Public Relations Committee for two years writing press releases for events. The theme of the first annual conference was “Bringing Holism into the Mainstream” and our keynote speaker was Patricia Raskin, M.Ed., Director of Raskin Resources (Cheshire, Ct.). Raskin had recently authored her first book, Success, Your Dream and You – A Guide to Personal Marketing, which emphasized her “5P Formula” of Purpose, Planning, Passion, Persistence, and Patience as the cornerstones to success. The conference was held April 13th, and according to the press release we sent out, it took three years of planning to get off the ground.
At our second conference was a little less creative than I would have liked, recycling part of the previous year’s theme and was entitled, “Bringing Holism into the Mainstream: Becoming Bridge Builders” and our keynote speaker was Claudine Schneider, five-time elected Representative to the U.S. Congress from Rhode Island. Rep. Schnieder was asked to present because of her deeply personal interest in alternative therapies. An interest she developed after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in 1973. As part of her presentation Rep. Schnieder presented her views on the future of holism in not only healthcare, but also politics and business. The event was held on April 4, 1992, and once again, at the university campus.
I mention this because these were the halcyon days of the New Age Movement, when the sun always shone, even in the rain. In the greater Providence, Rhode Island area alone there were up to six New Age, Neo-Pagan, and herbalist shops with another half-dozen going from the boarder up to Boston. Several publications abound, one of which I cut my early writing teeth on, and despite the various witch wars, budding internet flame wars, emerging gnostic churches and their competitive lineages, and the explosion of Rosicrucian, Martinist, Templar, and irregular Masonic bodies, there was a general sense of optimism in the air – impending cataclysmic earth changes or UFO invasion aside that is.
We were flush with money even if we didn’t know it at the time. In fact, when I look back at events from those times, the price has remained very much the same as it is today. It was nothing to spend $10 to $25 for an evening lecture, or $50 to $150 for day. A weekend was anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more. My annual dues for the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC), Traditional Martinist Order (TMO), CIRCES, International College of Esoteric Studies (ICES), and Philosopher of Nature (LPN-PON), was around $700 or $800 a year. This was done while attending graduate school at night and working in grocery store during the day, and paying $650 a month for rent – more than our current mortgage twenty years later – but less than our health insurance (courtesy of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act).
The majority of things in life we cannot change, we can only change our perspective to them. This is something that in pushing ‘holism into the mainstream’ we have ignored. When we bring things into the mainstream, we bring them to their lowest common denominator: the idea, emotion, or object that the greatest number of people can understand and be willing to participate in. In holism, that mean healthcare. Healthcare is primarily physical health, although it gets extended to mental and emotional wellbeing as well – hence the idea of holism. A murky layer of ‘spirituality’ is laid over it somewhere – but is really the ‘feeling’ part taken to a level of multi-cultural or intellectual abstraction such as yoga, meditation, Feng Shui, and other shiny objects tied to string that catch our attention as part of the entire package of holistic. As long as it is ‘explainable’ AND safe, then holism is acceptable. When we take the same topic, be it Feng Shui, dream analysis, yoga, or Tibetan Buddhism and move many of the ideas associated with it from within its own context into areas that border on the non-rational, such as ghosts, demons, and the influence of the non-physical on physical life, we have crossed over into the realm of what is called in the West as paranormal.
Now this idea of what acceptable is critical, as within its own mainstream cultural context the idea of a ghost or demon in Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, or Tantric Yoga is normal. In its transplanted culture, it is paranormal, or ‘beyond normal’. This means simply that true holism can never become main stream until the entire cultural perspective is shifted to accept what it is about as normal. Until then, it is just watered down, bastardized, wishful thinking. Now, it can still have a positive effect. The fact that acupuncture is widely accepted in all therapeutic settings – from preventative medicine to treatment for addictions – is a testimony to its effectiveness.
But here we are only looking at what we like, and ignoring the rest. We are taking the outer most expression, and ignoring the deeper philosophical and with it, cultural context, which gave rise to these methods. In short, we do ourselves and the methods a disservice and grave injustice when we treat the idea of holism mechanically rather than contextually. This is ironic as it reduced what is supposed to be a ‘spiritual’ or non-physical modality to little more than a series of technical activities that anyone can learn regardless of their background or character.
Now back to the New England Holistic Counselors Association and why it matters.
You see, in 2013, the last time when I went to see how NECHA was doing the only information I was able to find was two years old – not completely uncommon for volunteer organizations. Six months later when I went to see if anything was updated, their website was down, and their listing in Guidestar (the ‘go to’ website for research on non-profit organizations) stated that they had failed to file an IRS 990 Form for three years in a row, and were considered inactive and no longer in existence.
As such, an organization I was involved with in its earliest of days after birth, had failed to live more than twenty years. Why this is I do not know. All I know is that the enthusiasm, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of being an organization that could make big changes in the therapeutic community, the profession, the region, and by extension – the world – didn’t happen. It failed. Now, the reasons for this are not known to me, and I have tried to find out, but it may be a sore spot. For myself though, I saw a warning sign in the very beginning.
It was literally a sign; it was our logo – a green and blue device that looked like a modified Yin-Yang symbol. Given that our membership was over ninety percent female at that time, it was no surprise that the Elements of Water and Air would be so heavily emphasized. I voice my concerns about their not being enough “Earth and Fire” in it, but I am not sure that was even understood. In the end, the imbalance won out, and like water and air, the organization simply slipped away with time. In fact, I am sure that if it were not for me mentioning it, none of you would have even heard of it, despite the very prestigious, even glorious settings of its origins in Newport, Rhode Island.
The message here is simple: good intentions are not enough. Even after you back up those intentions with solid action, continued action is required, long after the enthusiasm of ‘saving the world’ has long vanished. Which leads me to the next few points that dominate contemporary spirituality, those are: 1) enthusiasm, 2) saving the world, 3) organizational life span.
Or in reverse order, the life span of an organization is directly proportional the degree of enthusiasm brought to the organization’s mission. The degree to which this mission can actually be achieved is irrelevant, what matters is that regular, measurable, incremental advances be made. Once the advances stop, the enthusiasm begins to wane, and the life blood of the organization begins to slip away.
To prevent this from happening in esoteric movements the use of degrees or grades is widely used. Here, each degree is said to represent a rung on the ladder of inner advancement, or more realistically, to symbolically represent one’s advancement while acting as a means of delivering a specific set of teachings, with each set of teachings linked to those before and after it like a rung on a ladder. This works particularly well when it is believed that the ‘true secrets’ of the group are in the higher degrees. It also provides a means of keeping members involved and affiliated when very often they may have left the organization years earlier. In AMORC the Ninth Degree was originally the highest they conferred. Then the Twelfth Degree was added, and with it, the Tenth and Eleventh. Originally the Twelfth Degree consisted of about two years’ worth of lessons. It later became about ten years or roughly larger than the entire period of time it took to get to it in the first place. For those who completed the Twelfth Degree the Planes were added. These went on for several more years and were essentially a review of prior material. Those members who persevered and made tremendous contributions to the organization were also given an honorary Thirteenth Degree XIII, or the degree reserved for the organization’s leader – the Imperator.
While it may seem like a pyramid scheme (no pun intended), the main problems facing every organization are the same regardless of whether it is the Boy Scouts or the Illuminati, and they are: getting people in, getting them to participate, getting them to stay, and avoiding problems along the way.
Now each of these steps is more difficult than the previous one. It is easier to get people in the door than it is to get them to stay, or return. Getting them to return is easier than getting them to participate; and getting participation over the long-term is easier than getting them to do all of that without personalizing problems and getting involved in organizational politics – all in the name of the mission while completely losing sight of it.
What does this have to do with NECHA? Simple: for an organization to fail to file its IRS 990 Form for three years in a row it had to be dead in the water to begin with. That means, that no matter how many breathing people were on its board, there is a good chance they were all that was left of a once thriving organization, or, the members were not in communication with the leaders. In short, nearly everyone at the top was asleep at the wheel. This happed to two local non-profits near me, one of which I served on the board on until resigning as a result of it losing its non-profit status and the President, Treasurer and a sitting board member failed to inform the rest of us. As you can tell, it is not that simple: the personal and political relationships between the leaders were complex and a clear conflict of interest with their roles as volunteer leaders of the non-profit. Yet, they were the only ones that showed up, so they got to call the shots, and shut down anyone else who disagreed – despite what they were doing was blatantly illegal. Is this the same as NEHCA? I doubt it. But I am sure that at the end, only the true believers where showing up and the talent pool got shallow. In short, you do not forget to file your taxes three years in a row – you simply stop caring.
In upcoming posts we will explore the role of ‘spiritual burnout’ or the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ in and collective paths – what it is and how to overcome it, the importance of service or why it is not all about you, and the place of egregores and why they are an essential part of the journey.
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