Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Have Relationships the Integral Narcissist Way

I'm sure I'll catch some sh!t for this, but somebody needs to say something - silence is collaboration.

Just saw this from the oh-so-forgiving folks at Integral Life:

The Future of Love

Contributors: Marc Gafni and Ken Wilber

Who doesn’t want to transform their love lives with husbands, wives, partners, family members, and friends? In this dialogue Ken and Mark explore "The Future of Love”, noting the many ways our hearts change and evolve with each stage of our evolution.

Isn't this kind of like Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, and [fill in the blank with your favorite fallen TV preacher] - narcissists all - talking about how to have a deep meaningful relationship?

I mean . . . really!?

Marc Gafni is a narcissistic, serial sexual manipulator who seems to have been welcomed back into the integral inner circle after fleeing Israel under threat of arrest a couple of years back (it seems no crime was committed, other than ethical violations that would adhere to, and disqualify, any respectable teacher). And here is Gafni, teaching on relationships and sexuality.


If Gafni were a therapist he would be barred from practice for life. If he were a priest, he would have been transferred to some remote Parrish in Siberia. If he were an athlete, he would have claimed sexual addiction and gotten some therapy.

But NO - Gafni is an integral teacher, so he gets a free pass.

What more reason could anyone need to ditch Wilber and this organization?


mark said...

Though I know many people who are pretty firmly on the side of supporting Gafni as an Integral teacher, I don't know where I stand. It's so hard for me to discern what's my personal reaction to a person like him (brillant and charismatic to the extreme!), and what is my detached, neutral evaluation of his speech and action ( I imagine this might be hard for a lot of people to achieve).

But as I've read your thoughts on this man over the years, I wonder if your view of him is unfair. Where do you draw your line with respect to who you are willing to learn from? I mean, every Buddhist teacher is generally a better expert on being unenlightened than being enlightened, yet we listen to them about how to become more enlightened ourselves.

People with mental illness often make GREAT counselors and therapists, just as people who have struggled with addiction often make good addictions counselors.

Now, one might have a different set of standards in the area of sexual offenses, but Gafni did not rape anyone (by any reasonable definition), nor did he prey on minors.

Anyway, I don't know if I want to listen to him talk about relationships, but I don't think it's so crazy to think that he might have some really amazing, beautiful things to say on the subject.

So might Bill Clinton, and Tiger might too in a few years. Of course, they also might not!

P.S. I would hardly call Gafni's journey a "free ride". He has "survived" a hailstorm of criticism.

PiALOGUE (Pi Dialogue) said...

You can not have a true narcissist in ANY position of power or leadership which INCLUDES "teaching" because they will DOMINATE the situation WITHOUT REGARD to the detrimental effects (abuse?) that they are having on people. You can't intellectualize spirituality because everyone learns differently. If a person does not understand psychology then they end up getting abused because psychology is highly complex and if a person is not sensitive to subtle "clues" then either they abuse people unconsciously or get abused and don't know why or how it is happening in order to "defend" themselves until it is too late.

Marsha Lucas, PhD said...

Personality disorders run deep, and (especially in cases of extremely bright people), run from the light quite adroitly.

Thanks for putting this out here.

John Wagnon, LPC Intern said...

Be careful. No one here is any situation to diagnose Ken or Gafni with a personality disorder.

To Mark's points about Gafni, actually he has been accused of abusing minors. No accusation, to my knowledge, has been proven. Some of them seem more credible than others.

If any of you would like to participate in a serious discussion about these issues, please contact me by email or through the Integral Ethical Challenges group on facebook.

Michael- said...

I have two (almost contradictory) things to say:

1. Isn't there something to be said for forgiveness? If 'integral' is anything, it's about taking a more mature stance with regards to all things human. (also if I recall he has had treatment and supervision during his 'recovery', so calling this a "free pass" is a bit off base)

2. I wouldn't listen to a word this guy has to say. I've been to his website and he seems like just another run-of-the-mill life coach, motivational speaker, or wisdom 'teacher'... I think ken-ber is just keeping his particular memes alive by supporting those semi-talented professionals who speak loudly the 'integral' Wilber-speak.

but i'm probably wrong on all accounts...


Pi PhD said...

Michael, true. Although, the concept of "forgiveness" may be a misnomer. Is it not the actual actions "of-the-moment" that define actual reality? Are not previous potentially misunderstood events possibly flawed and therefore "non-integral"?

I have been looking for some video of Gafni himself to see if there is anything "recent" that I might be able to personally evaluate. Does anyone have any such video links to offer that have Gafni "himself" talking?


John Wagnon, LPC Intern said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wagnon, LPC Intern said...

Hi Michael,

Of course we have to forgive - but forgiveness requires repentance and atonement. To my knowledge, Gafni has not had any treatment or supervision. He's had evaluations which produced reports that he offers as evidence of his essential innocence.

There's also the question of responsibility. Many of us are connected to the integral community and still value those memes as well as valuing the people who are influenced by them. If there is reason to believe that teacher, coach, lecturer, writer may actually be dangerous, it is our responsibility to make an open eyed evaluation of that and determine the right action to take, if any. You seem content to just write off Gafni and write off Wilber. I'm not willing to wash my hands.

william harryman said...

Thanks to everyone who has shared their thoughts on this - to be clear, I am not in a position to diagnose MG or KW - I used the term narcissist as one done in popular culture, not as a DSM diagnosis - however, Marsha makes a good point: narcissists are very good at appearing NOT to be narcissists

anyway, here are some more thoughts on this, to clarify and deepen the context of this post:

so, here are the facts as I understand them: Gafni was caught having multiple sexual relationships with students (2006 or so) - one or more women filed charges, forcing Gafni to leave Israel - Wilber condemns Gafni's CONFESSED wrong-doing (KW's statement has since been removed from his blog, but it has been preserved here: and promises him treatment (Hamilton and Kempton, if I recall) - time passes, nothing is said - Gafni turns up in 2008 with a new blog, claiming his innocence and our misunderstanding of his "growing edge" lifestyle (

it's not that he violated nearly universal ethical guidelines for teacher/student relationships (which seem even MORE crucial for spiritual teachers), it's that he is unconventional and maybe should have been more conventional, but certainly he did nothing wrong

when Gafni returns, he has convinced many integral peeps to support him, especially Kempton, as well as a couple of the younger people associated with I-I - he begins working with iEvolve (which is why I do not support any of their work), and he is teaching on MASCULINITY and SEXUALITY!! - he is the last person who should be allowed to teach on these topics - hopefully, he is not in a position to seduce more women with his "charisma" and "charm"

there has been NO public addressing of the ethics violations, no sanctions, no "proof" of therapy or healing, no recognition that he actually violated ethics codes that would keep people in similar, licensed professions from EVER practicing again, and no formal addressing by KW or I-I of how and why Gafni has been re-admitted to the "inner circle"

forgiveness is great - I'm a big fan - but I also am a fan of accountability - in this case there has been none

that's my admittedly LESS than integral take on why I feel the way I do about this issue

I hope this conversation will continue - it's important


Anonymous said...

To Mark:
People who have mental illness only make GREAT therapists if they have done their own work. Otherwise they are dangerous - I am a therapist and have seen people harmed by therapists who have not continued to work on themselves.

I think Gafni is dangerous- his behavior is indicative of criminal thinking styles or at least someone unstable. Calling people at their homes to convince them of your innocence, is bizarre. I know individuals to whom he has done this continually and only stopped when threatened with harassment.

Yes, he can do what he wants, but people who are hurting are looking for support and may not have the ability to protect themselves. If he manipulated someone to have sex with her, then to the woman it will feel just like being raped.


william harryman said...

hey JP,

Thanks for your thoughts - I agree - and I was one of those people whom he called at home to convince me of his innocence, and he also had an I-I person he had swayed call me at home. That was when I KNEW without a doubt that he was not a healthy man.


Bob said...


I appreciate you posting this. It takes guts to challenge Integral Institute when you network with so many folks associated with I-I. Personally, I have moved from frustration to sadness about the direction Wilber has taken his Integral Enterprise. I'm struck with how many bright, independent-minded thinkers (like yourself) who used to endorse I-I are now distancing themselves from or outright rejecting the organization. But is anyone from I-I paying attention to this?

Teaming up with shady characters like Gafni and Andrew Cohen is just the last straw for many of us. And for those of us who are trying to introduce useful aspects of Wilber's model (like say, the Four Quadrants) into our respective professions, all this cult-vibe, inner-circle, horse-poop that I-I has gotten mired in lately is really undermining our efforts.

Frankly, I don't even know what Wilber has been up to lately, since one has to pay money to view and listen to his latest thoughts. If I-I would just dialogue openly with the world, perhaps we'd see Ken Wilber on ABC News debating guys like Sam Harris, instead of far weaker proponents of "Spirit" like Deepak Chopra.

What can you do, except keep the discussion going. Thanks!

william harryman said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I do network with many bright, wonderful people associated with I-I, and I respect them - hopefully they can respect my position on this, since, as you point out, there are many of us who once supported Wilber's project who now have walked away.

There is a lot of Wilber I use, especially in integral psychology - and there are lots of people expanding on his framework and taking it in new directions.

But yeah, if Wilber wasn't so insulated (and his health is certainly an issue), he might be the one debating Harris and Shermer.


John Wagnon, LPC Intern said...

I remain optimistic on Wilber's work. I think we have to be careful to separate I-I and I-Life. They are not the same thing. Wilber is obviously, in some ways, the center and chief ideological influence on I-life, but he doesn't control it. It isn't his baby. I-life is not Wilber's intellectual project, its a way to popularize his ideas and I daresay its probably not that lucrative a venture when you get down to it. I-I is more interested in finding greater leverage - so the partnership with State of the World Forum, for instance. A critique of State of the World Forum would be a much more substantive critique of Wilber's philosophical application project than I-Life. I-I is intentionally a non-profit and separate from the for-profit I-Life so that the actions of I-I would not be driven by utilitarian and instrumental decisions more related to economics than ethics and ideas. So I-life is easy to critique as a consumerist venture because that's what it is, much as Sounds True, or any number of companies are.

Wilber's health is a major issue and it does seriously insulate him. The "inner circle" is necessarily quite small because he doesn't have the physical energy to deal with much - so he needs people who are up to speed on his ideas and needs to work with him. I remain hopeful that he will recover to the point that he can pick his writing projects back up and deal with these challenges with vigor.

In the meantime, of course, its "put not your faith in princes" or writers. Its my responsibility as someone who cares about the integral project to seek an adequate response to ethical challenges like Gafni's history.

Steve said...

You have a low opinion of Gafni's character, as do I, but what does he SAY in the audio in question that you disagree with?

I haven't listened to it, but I'm raising the issue of whether and to what degree we can separate the "integral" message from the messenger. If we don't like the messenger because, at least in part, he doesn't practice what he preaches, but we agree with the substance of the message, does that invalidate the message?

Should we ignore any message presented by a seriously flawed messenger and pay attention only to the messages of those who don't seem so flawed? I say "so flawed" because surely all of us are flawed to some extent. How flawed is TOO flawed to listen to?

John Wagnon, LPC Intern said...

Hi Nagarjuna,

I actually don't have *much* beef with Gafni's message. I've read one of his books and listened to some of his lectures. My primary criticism of his message is that it is very subjective-heavy and it is clearly composed for the green (and perhaps the integral) audience. I don't really consider his message to be that integral, this latest recording perhaps excepted.

I think the question is whether someone who has abused student relationships in the past, in a particularly non-integral way, and who has not dealt with that history adequately, be considered to a good choice to teach anyone about love and erotic spirituality, in an integral context. For instance, would anyone consider Bill Clinton qualified to expound on proper workplace relationships and marital fidelity? He may have good things to say, but unless he deal with his history adequately, he would not be a credible teacher. Similarly, you would not consider him a credible mentor for attractive young political science majors. Even if we were to say that Bill Clinton has dealt with that issue adequately in public, enough doubt would remain that if it were to suddenly come out that his new young intern was traveling with him everywhere and that he hadn't been home to see Madame Secretary in several weeks - the suspicion would be immediate and obvious.

So, Marc Gafni could be a credible teacher on love and spiritual eros if he deals with his history adequately. Even had he done so, one would be right to treat him with caution. My opinion is that he hasn't dealt with his history adequately and so I don't see how an institution can further his teaching career in good conscience.

The content of his teaching is interesting and perhaps even a little brilliant. It is unfortunately diluted by his history.

Pi PhD said...

What is the title and link of Gafni's latest audio that MC JDub referenced?


william harryman said...

Hi Nagarjuna,

I agree with MC JDub on all of what he said.

To me, in this piece, Wilber sets the agenda and Gafni looks more integral than he might on his own.

In general, I have read some of Gafni's work prior to the Israel incident and found him very intelligent and a little interesting, but not necessarily integral.

He apparently is VERY charming and charismatic, which explains how he can continue to perpetrate even in the presence of so many ethical violations. That combination of charm, charisma, and intelligence is VERY dangerous, especially in the apparent absence of ethical boundaries.

All of what MC JDub says about why Gafni should not be teaching on masculinity, the erotic, and healthy relationships echoes my own feelings.

There is one other point I want to make.

Gafni may have very valid teachings in terms of content, but the real issue is the energy of his personality. Think of it like this: Would you trust someone who says, "Yes, I feel your pain" while shaking his head from side to side (as one does in saying "NO")? The content of his message says one thing, but I suspect that the subtle non-verbal message says something else.

If Gafni only wrote articles and did audio teachings, there might not be an issue - but he teaches in public and more than likely has private students. This is where the REAL problem comes up.


william harryman said...


It's at the top, in the post you are commenting on.


Pi PhD said...

Okay, I listened to both the audio and video at this link:

Aside from my having a challenge listening to a lisp over a long period of time, in the video it appears that Gafni has an "emptiness" or total absence of emotion in his personality compared to Diane who seems so full of life. For me personally this represents a warning sign to pay attention to potential deception. No judgments, just a "warning sign" for me personally. Also, how many times do you hear, "Oh my God!" and do you think "THAT" represents anything in particular by itself? Like, why the limitation in creative expression? Why the "repetition"? For me this also signals a "programmed" response where he may have been brain-washed by some intense experience where the "real" him was replaced with an emotion-less version.

What do YOU think?