A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past

Mark Oppenheimer writes for the New York Times:

PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — In his home office overlooking Monterey Bay, Marc Gafni is trying to remake American spirituality. He reads, he writes, and he works to bring a little-known philosophy called integral theory into the mainstream of New Age.

Integral theory “is based on the understanding that evolution itself is an expression of a spiritual universal force of creation embodied in each one of us as us, as unique selves,” said the futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard, who described Mr. Gafni as a genuine leader of the movement.

The members of Mr. Gafni’s think tank, the Center for Integral Wisdom, and their projects are drawn from the worlds of medicine, yoga, meditation and the business-ethics movement known as “conscious capitalism.”

“We take the best of all the major disciplines of wisdom from the premodern period, the modern period and postmodern period,” Mr. Gafni said. “And we integrate them in a kind of renaissance project.”

A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni “a bold visionary.” He is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch. The Whole Foods website shows a seven-part video series of conversations between the two men.

The new media pioneer Arianna Huffington spoke, via teleconference, at Mr. Gafni’s invitation-only conference last year. The author John Gray has asked Mr. Gafni to help write a sequel to “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”

But the growing prominence of Mr. Gafni, 55, and his think tank has alarmed many Jewish leaders who know him as a former rabbi who was accused of sexually exploiting a high school freshman and who then moved to Israel to start a mystical community, only to lose it after having affairs with multiple followers…

Like Mr. Wilber, Adam Bellow, who is on the center’s board, said Mr. Gafni did not understand the charisma that he has been given. He said Mr. Gafni’s past had been exaggerated. But one Gafni supporter, the yoga instructor Sally Kempton, who is a member of his think tank, said Mr. Gafni was not someone “who young, susceptible women should take as their teacher.”

Mr. Gafni, who has divorced three times, said that any mistakes might have occurred because he was in denial about his polyamorous nature. “It’s kind of like being a gay guy in the ’50s,” he said. He now lives with his partner, Lori Galperin, a psychotherapist who is on the board of directors of Mr. Gafni’s center.

“I think that one of the things that I’ve learned a lot about over the years,” he said, “is to take more and more responsibility for my impact on people.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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