– Marc Gafni’s friends, colleagues, and supporters, speak out in support of Marc Gafni, for the sake of restoring integrity. This response by Laura Halsted on Demonizing Marc Gafni & Shadow Projections was first posted as a comment to the Center for Integral Wisdom statement on centerforintegralwisdom.org. You can read the statement below or listen to the audio. –
In the ten years I’ve known Marc Gafni, I have been struck by how people like to make him a topic of conversation. There’s an electric quality in Gafni that fascinates some people, and inevitably creates envy and disapproval in others. Wherever there is envy, there is the desire to find fault. So people get together and gossip about Marc. They look for reasons why he appears so charismatic, why his ideas can galvanize a room full of people, why his workshops open people’s hearts. And then they look for reasons to believe that his gifts are manipulative or tricky or maybe even evidence of ‘occult manipulation’. They might critique his audaciousness, or his evangelical style of speaking, or the fact that he has had lovers. They might cite moments where he said something that revealed personal ambition, or when he just claimed more space than other people, or seemed to offer intimacy in a way that promised deeper friendship but didn’t pan out.
To look for flaws in outsize personalities is normal, of course. To resent lovers and ex-partners who move on, is equally common. So is projecting one’s own disowned shadow, one’s unlived life. Who among us has not disliked someone else for expressing aspects of ourselves that we fear or dislike? Or for golden shadow qualities that we wish we had the courage to live?
Now, however, the shadow projection has gone way too far. A good man is being literally demonized, painted in colors designed to make his life and work impossible.
As other commentators on this thread have noted, the so-called ”Gafni Affair,” like the persecution and trial of Albert Dreyfus, is in many ways a well-organized and deliberate takedown. It is supported by a group of well-intentioned people with legitimate concerns about charismatic teachers, but also by some whose motives have less to do with truth than with revenge, envy, the desire to tell a dramatic story, and inevitably, shadow projection. In this latter group are some teachers scapegoating a peer for qualities they have disowned, or have suffered from in their own teachers, and now project onto Marc. There are some who have honest critiques of Gafni’s work or lifestyle but whose concerns are being co-opted as part of the demonizing narrative. There are rejected lovers avenging themselves on a former partner, or joining with a couple of other former lovers to recast playful acts in intimate moments as ‘abusive’. You also, inevitably, find dozens of people who never met Gafni (or who know him only slightly) signing onto petitions, assuming that when so many people are saying it, it MUST be true–just as hundreds of thousands of people signed on to the made-up ‘birther’ controversy that claimed Obama to have been born in Kenya.
Here’s what I have come to know about Marc Gafni. He is a genuine visionary, a lover of people, a brilliant, funny, friendly, eccentric and deeply kind-hearted man. He is also sexually unconventional, takes up a lot of space in any room he enters, and has the kind of persuasiveness and charisma that makes some people love him and infuriates others. Some of the latter are having a field day on the Internet, using Gafni’s perceived and imagined flaws to justify their desire to remove him from the Jewish and Integral conversations. Two isolated incidents from his long-ago youth are mischaracterized, turned into a meme, and falsely cited as grounds for believing him to have a ‘long history of sexually abusing underage girls.’ A former collaborator with whom he shared ideas now accuses him of plagiarism. People with no clinical credentials string together rumors and use words from the DSM to pathologize him. Others concede his good qualities in order to sound credible when they denounce him for—what? Not having had a teacher. (Unlike the many contemporary spiritual leaders who claim transmission from a sage who died before they were born?) Synthesizing ideas. (Is there a teacher or thinker who doesn’t?) Being attractive to women and having not always been faithful to one woman. (Are we really going to pretend that male spiritual teachers are generally celibates or faithful husbands?) Having a ‘suspiciously’ outsized level of charisma and persuasiveness. (Have we come to the point where a man’s verbal skills and ability to kindle spiritual experience in others are considered ‘occult manipulation,’ as one writer absurdly suggested?)
To give some examples of the tactics being employed: A teacher, who was not one of the leading speakers at a Gafni-organized event that took place a few years ago, writes about how much better the energy felt at a related event where Gafni was not present. What he neglects to mention was that he himself had taken Gafni’s place as a lead speaker in this other event. Is it surprising that it felt better to him? A ‘journalist’ who has never met Gafni states in a piece in an online magazine: “He is not like other people. He has no conscience.” On what basis does she make this claim? Does a writer who offers her own conjectures as fact deserve to be called a journalist—or a person of conscience?
What causes people to pathologize Marc? I believe that his primary ‘sin’ is an abundance of life-force. His energy is boundless, exuberant, overflowing—and sometimes too big for certain rooms. He creates communities and intimate engagements that sometimes seem to promise more than they can possibly fulfill. He is a persuasive arguer, which can be challenging to people less comfortable with debate. He has a powerful presence, yet is unconnected to any institution, so he is vulnerable to attack from institutional actors. He has, at times in his life, been openly polyamorous. He is ambitious and often over-the-top. His very largeness evokes both false idealization and false demonization. Yet, anyone who knows him well and who looks at him without envy, projection or other agendas would see that, besides intellectual brilliance and relational abilities, his real gift is a genuinely open and loving heart.
In the midst of this firestorm of attack, sane voices need to stop and discern the difference between fact and rumor, to weigh truth and fiction, and to allow this man to continue doing his ground-breaking work, even as he does the soul-searching character work that is required of every one of us.