Essay

The Hollow Sink of Push-Button Enlightenment

By Duff McDuffee on November 13th, 2009

push for enlightenment

Due to a cease and desist letter sent from Bill Harris’s lawyer, I have edited this article on 12/22/2009 to be more clear regarding facts vs. opinions. Thanks for the feedback, Bill! (Although maybe next time a friendly email would be the best way to initially communicate your feedback.) UPDATE 12/28/2009: I actually haven’t received a cease and desist letter. I was confused and thought Harris’ email was a C&S letter, but then I heard from several people that such letters are delivered by certified mail or courier, and haven’t received anything in the mail or from a courier from Mr. Harris or his lawyer. UPDATE 12/29/2009: Harris has since emailed his C&D letter to me, which you can read here.

Bill Harris—star of popular New Age infomercial The Secret and former marketing partner of James Arthur Ray—is founder and CEO of the (in my opinion) manipulative marketing organization called Centerpointe Research Institute. His main product is the “Holosync” binaural beat meditation CDs, which I find very expensive compared to competitors products, and less effective as well.

While the name “Centerpointe Research Institute” makes it sound like this is a non-profit think tank, this organization is simply a for-profit business. Part of the “research” apparently includes that co-branding with killer gurus is good for business—at least until people die, at which point it’s most profitable to pretend like it never happened. Or at least that’s how it appears to me, given that Harris used to market products with James Arthur Ray, but since the “death lodge” incident of November 10th, 2009, Ray’s testimonial has disappeared from Holosync’s web page. But perhaps Bill Harris didn’t know Ray’s character, or perhaps no one could have predicted such an awful turn of events. But why not? Why did we all not see the signs?

Harris’ infamous tagline for Holosync is “meditate deeper than a Zen monk at the push of a button!” This is an exaggeration at best (in my opinion, based on using his product and in discussions with other Centerpointe customers), perhaps learned at the James Arthur Ray School of Hyperbole. Customer experiences (again—from me, friends, and other customers I’ve talked with) range from occasional deep meditation that fades as you adapt to the particular CD level, to subtle relaxation, to painful headaches and “overwhelm.” Ironically, Bill Harris—and his spiritual teacher Zen master Genpo Roshi—often complain about spiritual seekers who want quick results, avoiding responsibility for what he’s “attracted” through his avarice-focused marketing copy (again, this is what I’ve observed from reading Harris’ blog and email newsletter Mind Chatter, listening to talks of Harris and Roshi, etc. and from reading his marketing copy).

While typical meditation CDs cost about $15 and free binaural beat programs abound, Holosync can be yours all for the low, low price of $175 for the first CD and (if I remember correctly from when I was an Awakening Prologue customer) about $2,500+ for the 12 “advanced level” CDs—which are pushed on the unsuspecting customer with extremely manipulative (again, in my opinion and values) long-form sales letters sent to your home weekly. Since the effect of the CDs fades unless the “carrier frequency” is lowered, Harris hooks customers on getting an ever-stronger dose of his push-button Zen drug. (Harris has a different opinion of course, which is that each level pushes you to adapt to higher levels of chaos that are then integrated into higher orders of integrated complexity.)

Bill Harris’ long-form sales letter on his Centerpointe.com website is designed to give you your first hit for free, getting you into his sales cycle. The whole sales letter is geared to convince you to sign up for a “free” CD sample of his method. (UPDATE 12/29/2009: the other “call to action” on his sales page is to buy the 1st level of his program, Awakening Prologue, for $179.) But here’s the catch—as discussed in this excellent blog post from Mind Tweaks, Harris’ free sample uses the binaural beats to entrain your brain into a relaxed and suggestible state while he gives a sales pitch for his product! As the author at Mind Tweaks has written…

If the entrainment/suggestion combo doesn’t work, then no harm done, but the product itself is useless.

If the entrainment/hypnotic suggestion combo does work, then isn’t it unethical to use it in advertising the product?

The higher levels of Holosync include personalized affirmations recorded in your own voice, which Harris says are more effective using binaural beats because the binaurals make you more suggestible. Other proponents of brain entrainment technology also say that brain entrainment increases suggestibility.

“The Used Car Salesman of Spirituality”

Someone I know online called Harris “the used car salesman of spirituality,” and a former colleague of mine has taken a ride on what he said I think I recall him saying was Harris’ private jet—paid for by his push-button Zen customers. (UPDATE 12/29/2009: I’ve heard from another source that Harris does not in fact own a jet, but is a private pilot, so my first source was incorrect. UPDATE #2: An even more reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous has confirmed that Bill Harris owns an LLC that owns a plane, and this plane is chartered only for Bill Harris and his guests. Here is the plane records. Estimated operating costs are $250,000/year. UPDATE #3 on 9/5/2011: A reader emailed to clarify that the plane in question is not a jet but a single-engine propeller plane.)

Others see Harris as a personal development leader and spiritual teacher who has an “ability to explain difficult subjects in a way that makes them easy to understand.” I find it easy to understand (in retrospect after becoming one of his customers myself) that Bill Harris greatly exaggerates what his product can do (at least in my personal experience and in the reports of others I have talked to and read online) in an effort to sell it at unreasonably high prices (compared to competitors products like BWGen—a free binaural beat software program—and NeuroProgrammer 2, $45 brain entrainment software with many programs included), but this doesn’t seem to be something Harris can explain away easily. Instead, Harris viciously attacks anyone who criticizes his aggressive marketing, claiming that ““Selling spirituality” is not a problem.” (Indeed, his sending me a cease and desist letter as his first communication with me about this article is also an example of his approach that I’ve observed with dealing with unwanted feedback.) Questioning his marketing practices means you have an “anti-marketplace shadow,” which seems to imply that if we did all enough therapy, the whole world would become free-market libertarians! At least we can both agree with this statement from Harris:

The whole New Age movement, though, has a shitload of shadows about morality, integrity, money, race, political correctness, and a lot of other topics. That’s why many New Age people are immoral, out-of-integrity, poor, racist, and arragant [sic].

…although I think Mr. Harris doesn’t realize that he is the New Age. The movie The Secret epitomizes the New Age, making Bill Harris a New Age Superstar. (I should add that I too am part of the New Age in many ways as well, having read many personal development books, engaged in meditation, etc., although I don’t think “shadows” are things we can get rid of as long there is any “light.”)

Harris’ New Age marketing partner James Ray (who is fond of using Quantum Physics metaphors for teaching Midwestern soccer moms the secret to making ungodly sums of money) required that his Spiritual Warrior participants purchase “Awakening Prologue,” the first level of Harris’ Holosync program, at a cost of $175 each (according to page 7 of the Spiritual Warrior Participant guide and also this reporting from Cassandra Yorgey). This required purchase was in addition to the $9,695 price for the deadly 5-day workshop—not including room, board, travel, and the $250 Peruvian ponchos they were coerced into purchasing for their 36 hour dry fast in the desert. 65 people x $175 each = $11,375 for Mr. Harris direct from James Arthur Ray’s affiliate sales (assuming no discount and that every participant purchased a copy). Has Mr. Harris refunded the dead and injured spiritual warriors? Considering he’s removed evidence of his association with Ray from his website and has made no public comment (that I’m aware of), I sincerely doubt it. (There is a chance that Harris didn’t even know about these sales of course, but that seems unlikely to me given the mutual testimonials and previous affiliate marketing from Ray.)

UPDATE 12/31/2009: Holosync was a required purchase because it was on the schedule 3x/day, at least according to these new publically released photos of the Day 3 schedule for James Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event. I heard from one source recently that Harris recommends using Holosync for no more than 2x per day of 60 minutes, except at his own retreats. Did Harris approve of, disapprove of, or was he unaware of James Ray’s 3x/day protocol?

James Arthur Ray and Bill Harris, Two New Wage Gurus Supporting Each Other…Sorta

Before the James Ray Death Lodge, Bill Harris had a testimonial from James Arthur Ray on his sales page for Holosync, as you can see here in this cached version stored on the Internet Archive from August 4th, 2008 (scroll down about 1/3 and look on the right—the video in archive.org doesn’t work unfortunately). Here’s a quote from Ray’s testimonial:

“I can guarantee you whether you’re a beginner, or whether you’re advanced in that process or practice, [Centerpointe's] technology is absolutely phenomenal. I personally use it on a daily basis and it has helped me take my personal meditation practice to a whole new height.”

—James Ray
Star of the hit movie The Secret
World Famous Personal Growth Guru

With a guarantee like that from a suspected homicidal guru and master of hyperbole, it’s no wonder James Arthur Ray’s testimonial has mysteriously disappeared from the Centerpointe.com sales page.

Still on the web however is a video of Bill Harris giving a testimonial for Ray on James Ray’s YouTube channel. In this video, Harris calls James Arthur Ray “the genuine article” and a “master of many different disciplines,” and also emphasizes that Ray “knows how to make money”:

James Arthur Ray’s method of making money is to keep people in a large room for hours at a time with no breaks, using every tactic of coercive persuasion known to man to force people to buy his outrageously priced workshops. (To Harris’ credit, perhaps he didn’t know this when he partnered with Ray in selling Holosync…but then I wonder why Harris has been silent about this deadly event?) For $9,695, you could attend nearly 70 Holotropic Breathwork workshops (a powerful psychological technique Ray used without training or certification), and infinite sweat lodges—since Native Americans don’t charge for them. Now that’s what I call abundance!

The Training Liars Club: “Transforming Lies into Profit since 2001″

This video testimonial has the same background as the since-removed testimonial from Ray for Holosync. Both were likely filmed at a “Transformational Leadership Council” event, which should perhaps be renamed the “Training Liars Club,” given the misleading promises of its members and their marketing (again, in my opinion).

The TLC is an exclusive invite-only club for Selfish Help Gurus and New Wage Hustledorks who meet at exotic locations to stroke each others’ egos and scheme about co-marketing ideas (hat tip to Cosmic Connie for these great phrases—I highly recommend her blog Whirled Musings). The Secret was filmed at TLC event in Aspen, Colorado. This popular new age infomercial was carefully crafted to appear like a respectable documentary, and indeed fooled Oprah and many in the New Age marketing demographic. In The Secret James Ray claims the Universe works like Aladin’s Lamp. Ray has indeed mastered the “discipline” of oversimplifying life and conning people:

Like James Arthur Ray’s “the universe as genie,” Bill Harris advertises push-button enlightenment. Both appear to me to be magical wish-fulfillment promises, aimed at our childish desires to have it all.

Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame started TLC in 2001. In addition to James Ray and Bill Harris, TLC members include superstar personal development blogger Steve Pavlina, New Thought minister Michael Beckwith (also in The Secret), Hale Dwoskin (creator of the much marketed Sedona Method), John Gray of Mars and Venus fame (also in The Secret), Paul Scheele of the pushy marketing self-help organization Learning Strategies Corporation, and many more.

Notably, I haven’t yet been able to find even one of the “leaders” in this group that have come out in support of Ray’s victims, or have even communicated public concern or confusion about the “death lodge.” I’m guessing this is because many of these self help “leaders” lead similar workshops to Ray’s Spiritual Warrior, with similar risks and long waivers with “death clauses” (although with probably less ruthlessness). Anti-cult forums like Rick Ross have hundreds of horror stories from such “Large Group Awareness Trainings,” showing consistent patterns of psychosis, suicide, divorce, bankruptcy, and other negative side-effects from such seminars. LGAT seminar leaders and staff often abandon or throw out participants that are experiencing psychosis from the overly intense exercises and seminar structure. While this doesn’t always happen, it does seem to be a pretty consistent pattern amongst at least some small percentage of LGAT seminar participants (from what I’ve observed personally and from reading on forums like Rick Ross). While I wouldn’t want to eliminate the self-help seminar industry, I do think this is a major safety concern for participants that is rarely addressed in a responsible manner (with a few notable exceptions).

I personally have seen people go through acute psychosis and mania and make really dumb major life changes after such weekend events—which are often encouraged by seminar leaders. In fact, Steve Pavlina says that his own recent “Conscious Growth Workshop” precipitated his separation from his wife Erin. Conscious growth in general often breaks up perfectly fine (and not so fine) committed relationships, something family therapists know but few seminar leaders seem to value or guard against. For instance, it is very common for seminar participants to hook up in hotel rooms during the workshop, having been blown wide open from the hundreds of hugs and sharing of intimate wounds with strangers (some meditation centers have rules against male-female interaction precisely because of this). (Again, this comes from my personal observations of attending workshops and speaking with those who have attended workshops.) These seminar teachers (that I’ve observed) almost never do followups, and when participants complain of negative side-effects they are usually scolded for “not taking 100% responsibility” (LGAT companies themselves almost never take responsibility). Further attempts at justice are met with high-powered legal teams, and settlements generally occur outside of court with gag orders to prevent bad PR. (I should mention that I don’t know anything specifically about Bill Harris’ seminars, and haven’t met anyone who’s attended.)

Bob Proctor, one of Ray’s mentors, is the only guru that has come out with any statement on the death lodge that I’m aware of, towing Ray’s PR line by saying “a lot of people are commenting about him [Ray] that don’t know him and weren’t there.” Nevermind the fact that many insiders who were there have made statements to the press about Ray’s apparently destructive and controlling sociopathic behavior that resulted in the deaths of 3 and injury of 18, and there at least three law suits pending in addition to the homicide investigation. Are these the kinds of “leaders” we want to be following? If some members of the TLC strongly disagree with James Ray’s behavior, they aren’t talking about it yet.

Does Holosync Even Work?

Holosync uses a simple protocol of brain entrainment using what are called binaural beats. There has been much discussion on brain entrainment forums as to whether Holosync’s protocol of decreasing frequency over time in low delta ranges actually works for it’s stated goals. Some have mentioned mild to extreme negative effects from listening to Holosync over time, a phenomenon Centerpointe refers to as “overwhelm,” and claimed to be a normal part of the process.

Michael Hutchison, author of Megabrain—a classic book on brain entrainment, biofeedback, and other mind hacking technologies—has been quoted as saying that the “overwhelm” that comes from listening to Holosync for the recommended 30-60 minutes a day is due to brain malfunction due to the ultra-low frequencies used (see this link). (UPDATE 12/30/2009: I found this link where someone has posted Bill Harris’ response to Hutchison’s claims about Holosync.) I am not a brain expert and can neither confirm nor deny this, but I do find it interesting. I know of at least one friend who uses Holosync who has said that the deeper levels are “really painful,” but he still continues to use it anyway. A competitor claims that the key to healing with sound is not low frequencies but high frequencies, and that in our modern world we are surrounded with rumbling low sounds that have damaged our hearing.

Some swear by Holosync of course, and perhaps they do experience meditation “deeper than a zen monk at the push of a button”—although no one I’ve personally talked to has claimed results in quite that language. Those whom I have talked with have usually expressed that aren’t quite sure if it works or not, but at least it gets them to meditate and relax more often. I think that’s a useful thing, but not worth multiple thousands of dollars in my opinion.

The more important question to me is why we tend to fall for short-cuts to enlightenment and success. Perhaps by exposing such gurus we can begin to see more clearly that success and the spiritual path really are hard work, take time, and don’t have any “secret” shortcuts.

Update 12/22/2009: I was just alerted to a Ning group that discusses Holosync. For more perspectives on this topic, you can go here.

Update: 12/30/2009: I found lots of other reviews and feedback on Holosync, both positive and negative. You can decide for yourself:

Also, check out this newly released image of the schedule for James Arthur Ray’s day 3 of the Spiritual Warrior Event. There are three 65 minute periods for Holosync meditation. What was James Ray’s relationship with Bill Harris and Centerpointe? Why won’t he talk about it like Stanislov Grof has talked about James Ray not being certified in Holotropic Breathwork?

Update 1/3/2009: Required listening! Interview with James “Death” Ray and Bill “Push-Button Enlightenment” Harris, still on the JamesRay.com servers. Quote:

“I’ve known James Ray for a while now, and he is a really, really remarkable person.” ~Bill Harris

Again, I must ask, why hasn’t Bill Harris said anything publicly about James Arthur Ray, post-death-lodge?

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157 Responses to “The Hollow Sink of Push-Button Enlightenment”

  1. [...] traffic for the “tim ferriss scam” keyword phrase in his blog post title). Unlike Bill “Push-Button Zen” Harris, Ferriss is much more PR savvy and understands that fighting legit criticism is bad for business, [...]

  2. De la Selva says:

    Wow, sounds like some people would rather critique others than take responsibility for their own lives, choices and spiritual growth. I'm familiar with Bill Harris, holosync and both his spiritual and marketing path and though I know it's unpopular for the two to be aligned I don't believe he deserves this backlash for the thirty years he has spent pioneering this field and helping facilitate positive changes in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who are happy to use his technology. These insults are unwarranted and I'd like to remind that they even offer a free refund within a year for disbelievers.

  3. Binaural Beats and Isochronic Tones are advanced brainwave recordings that specific frequencies broadcasted in such a way that the mind experiences a Shift In Consciousness within minutes! http://www.binauralbeats4meditation.info

  4. First of all, as a fellow web publisher, I applaud your stand against this Internet bully. There are so many quacks out there peddling their wares. We need to counter all the misinformation and lies with solid skeptical inquires. As for biofeedback training, where my interests lie, this form of treatment has clinically proven results. But as you may imagine, the field of biofeedback research hardly make miraculous claims…
    My recent post Biofeedback For Mac

    • Yea, biofeedback definitely works. It's no "deeper than a zen monk at the push of a button" though, more like "watch this screen while you concentrate on taking control of aspects of your autonomic nervous system very patiently over many hours of practice."

      As far as biofeedback devices go, I personally found "Wild Divine" pretty boring and would rather just meditate than play a very slow video game, but enjoyed playing with the EmWave from HeartMath.

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  20. JohnT says:

    I'm amazed at the amount of space and energy taken by people trashing someone else's product (i.e. Holosync). If you don't like the product and you think you're able to do better, may I suggest that Duff spend his energy creating a product that, in his opinion, does help people using binaural beats or any other technology you choose. It's sounds to me like Duff is ranting because he didn't feel he got value for his money. Well obviously enough people have gotten value from using Holosync in order that Centrepoint is still a viable concern. I would also question where Duff is in his life now and in the past when he purchased Holosynce if he was hoping to overcome a lifetime of issues in a couple of weeks without any work on his part. I would suggest spend your energy improving yourself and possibly providing a product or service that can help others and leave Holosync to the vagaries of the marketplace. Here's wishing you well.

    • Hi John, thanks for taking the space and energy to read and comment here at Beyond Growth.

      Thank you for your suggestion to spend my energy creating a product. I am working on several already.

      I was ranting in part because I feel I did not get value for my money, yes. More importantly, I was ranting because Mr. Harris supported a psychopath in killing 3 people and didn't take responsibility for his part in promoting Mr. Ray's activities. (James Arthur Ray has since been convicted of the felony negligent homicide and is awaiting sentencing: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20504662,…

      At the time I wrote this article, none of his marketing partners like Bill Harris had made any public comment. I was angry that such teachers of personal responsibility and enlightenment acted with such irresponsibility and lack of integrity and felt a duty to speak out about it—even when threatened with a SLAPP law suit by Mr. Harris.

      John, I would suggest you spend YOUR time fighting for some just cause, speaking out about something you feel nobody is talking about that needs to be said—regardless of the potential negative consequences to you. I suggest you take a moral stand for something you feel is important, something that could possibly save lives and divert people away from manipulative, self-serving individuals and towards pro-social, community-oriented activities. Wishing you well as well.

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