Synthesization of Money and Mind

By Eric Schiller on November 3rd, 2009 1


It has now been nearly three weeks since James Arthur Ray reached the rank of level 60 cult leader after his “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge ceremony left three of his followers dead.  McDuffee wrote two excellent posts following the incident,  him and Theo have since gone on to face Ray personally at his event in Denver a few weeks ago, and was quoted in the New York Times in the process. Nevertheless these events have brought to the forefront the potential damaging consequences of the super-star personal development guru all over again.  This incident has caused many people to think about the persuasive processes utilized and technologies of the self that James Arthur Ray and other guru’s have so consistently offered to the masses.

There are a wide variety of assumptions that come into play when individuals find themselves involved in personal development.  They must trust that the guru knows what they are talking about, that they have their best intentions at heart, aren’t going to walk off the stage after five minutes of talking and so on.  However, the most pivotal and important assumption is the belief that understanding how technologies of the self-function translates directly into the ability to effectively use them in the world. This is where I split from most of the personal development paradigm.  I think that technologies of the self must be synthesized by the self in a subjective manner.

Printing Money and Other Exercises In Futility

Let us consider a revolutionary software company.  This software company has produced Windows software that promises to legally and perfectly print money for an ordinary ink-jet printer.  All it requires is a few parameters filled into the application, such as the amount of each bill, the total amount to be printed, and so on.  From the outset, this sounds quite fantastical, yet the messages of the marketers of the software are steadfast and absolutely positive that their software works as advertised.  The problem is that the software isn’t entirely compatible with everyone’s computer systems.  The developers seem to have had issues adapting it to a variety of hardware, including the printers, motherboards, processors etc. required to making it work.  As a result, when you purchase the software at the initially low price of $50, it doesn’t do such a great job of printing your money.  It has pictures of dinosaurs printed instead of dead presidents, or it has all the wrong colors, texture, or monetary institutions printed on it.

The software company realizes this, and continually works hard to make their software compatible with all hardware platforms.  Every so often they produce a new software patch, which promises to make the money printing software work for everyone.  Finally, the money has the correct look about it, yet it doesn’t quite feel like money.  It feels like regular office paper heavily saturated with ink, and doesn’t have the depth of real money.  Each time a new patch comes out, they charge for it, and since they are promising to get you closer and closer to the ability to print money once and for all, they are quite justified in charging more and more for their software patches.  First it is $500, then when that patch does not accurately and perfectly print money, they offer a second patch, which is a more “advanced” version that costs $5,000.  All the while, each and every patch the company produces fails to print money as promised.

Much like the never-ending steam of books, seminars, and “spiritual warrior retreats” of James Arthur Ray, no software patch will ever make the money printing software get it “right.” This is because it is impossible to print believable currency with an ink-jet printer.  Money is printed using highly proprietary processes which cannot be replicated with everyday consumer technology.  Yet the software company told you that it would work!  The problem here is that the software company was lying.  This is the problem with the personal development industry.  Gurus posit that you can achieve a great goal, and when their first product doesn’t work, they continually and consistently pedal products offering the same dream from new and interesting angles suggesting the first, second, and third products just weren’t quite enough for them to “get it.”  Freedom, money, power, and sexual gratification are on offer, vices that in the context of the money software analogy are downright ridiculous.

Ray-actualizing, Meta-programming, and You

Personal development gurus then, are offering mind software.  But in the realm of mind-software something is lost in translation, we are unable to run software written by another programmer properly and our hardware and operating systems just aren’t quite up to snuff to accomplish the feats that gurus promise.  In a sense I’m looking for more subjectivity, and less objectivity.  Personal development was once called “self-help” but has since largely shed this term because of negative cultural connotations.  However, the core of personal development should still be about personal cultivation, not following the maps of others.  I want to make a distinction between the software itself, and the programming language. I am advocating that as individuals we learn the programming language of the mind, instead of installing software of the self that do not account for our own personal, subjective experience of life. There is room then to interact with teachers of mental meta-programming.  It is obvious that this territory is currently very vague and requires a great deal more work.  What I’m suggesting is for an individual to self-actualize, not Ray-actualize, and that the source of your knowledge directly impacts your ability to synthesize end results.



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15 responses to “Synthesization of Money and Mind”

  1. Excellent post Eric. The issue of not respecting subjectivity in personal development is an issue I've been feeling for years but I've heard very few people bring this up publicly as of now. Kudos!

    it's clear gurus often have SOME spark of SOMETHING…yet right now, almost all gurus expect us to (try to) drop previous understandings and frameworks and experiences we've had and simply "use" their total system or approach or mentality. They've taken their glimpse of wisdom and wrapped into an all inclusive yet incompatible software packages — we clearly don't work that way as I sense we're now discovering. Even worse is feeling that our "computers" are broken, NOT the guru's "software", and out of guilt, fear, or confusion roped into the ecosystem of the guru.

    It's not the guru is bad – I think it's an immaturity. I sense the next stage of maturity is teachers communicating in pieces or suggestions that the student is ENCOURAGED to customize, put aside, disagree with, and assemble themselves. It's not that even right now anyone holds a gun to our head, but emotionally we're castaways if we don't accept EVERYTHING a guru teaches — the term "purist follower" comes to mind…as if following so closely is a good thing.

    One thing I'll add is that I feel the subjective differences we have that aren't compatible with a teaching aren't flaws but actually gems that define our unique value/message to the world. I totally agree that self actualizing needs to own the concept of "self". Thanks much for bringing these points up.

    • EricSchiller says:


      I think the guru is somewhat at fault. If they were to offer subjectivity, they probably wouldn't be much of a guru or sustain any real power. As I said in another comment on this post, I think gurus are mostly a symptom, not a cause. I realize that most people are working on low level software of the mind, and need things to be explained in certain ways, but often times pop-personal development does not offer higher level technologies, and has a tendency to 'trap' people at certain levels of development.

  2. Ian says:

    I definitely think this is the right direction to approach these issues. These self development people work through their own issues, achieve some level of personal growth and success, and then turn around and try to offer those same solutions to others. Of course, the other people don't have the exact same issues as the "gurus", and so it just doesn't translate. Plus, the very presence of the "guru" him/herself skews the whole equation as well. It simply creates a different context.

    They 're just being sloppy, or, as @integralmath says, immature. Personal growth is, as you say, a subjective thing, and as such, must begin from right where that person is. Start from there, build down, tear up, it doesn't matter. There's no formula for success because there's no formula for what's stopping a person from success.

    What doesn't happen with these types of seminars, and what needs to, is a one-on-one meeting with the "guru". Maybe they do have good advice, and maybe they are capable of helping people, but each and every person they help needs to be approached as an experiment in compassion, starting over at step 1 for every new person. And it needs to be treated with the respect and caution it deserves, because they are doing a potentially dangerous thing.

    What it boils down to, is that there is no mass production methods for enlightenment/growth. Which, of course, means there's no way to make a mass profit off of it either.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by davidhodgson, Duff McDuffee. Duff McDuffee said: ericschiller New post up on Beyond Growth from @ericschiller: Synthesization of Money and Mind […]

  4. Tyler Prete says:


    While I completely agree with this, you're advocating something most people aren't looking for… a little something called "work." Adapting teachings and writing your own mental software is hard work, and so many people are looking to be spoon fed the easy answer. By all means, keep trying, but don't be surprised when people continue to choose cookie-cutter personal development, just as people continue to buy acai max weight loss pills instead of eating right and working out.

    • EricSchiller says:


      As a lightly alluded to in this post, I don't think the cookie cutter offerings really work. I for one am not concerned with saving people money, but instead the deep social problems that pop-personal development causes. Is James Arthur Ray a cause or a symptom? I think symptom, he filled a niche that our culture seemingly wanted. I don't for a second believe that absolves him of guilt, but it does describe why these gurus come to power.

      Thanks for the insight.

      • Tyler Prete says:

        Eric, I believe you more than lightly alluded to it. They don't work, and I am in complete agreement with that. I was just asserting something you no doubt already know, that most people are after shortcuts. And I believe it goes much deeper than pop-personal development causes. James Arthur Ray is primarily a symptom, I agree, but by asserting that the magic pill is real, that you'll walk away from his seminars with secret knowledge that will change your life forever, he's also part of the cause. He's a charlatan; they've been around as long as writing, and no doubt longer, and even then people were looking for magic pills. Think of them like drug dealers, they only profit by filling a supposed need. But by filling it, they increase and perpetuate the need, making massive profits off the dependency.

        • Dave Hatton says:

          I think that most people will come to a point that they realize that their isn't a short cut to their own personal growth. There will always be gurus who will say that they can fix your problems, but invariably, everyone finds out that no one really fixes our problems – eventually, we find that we have to fix them ourselves.

          All things happen for a reason. Something like this is helping people second-guess their trust in "gurus." It is making them wonder about alternatives. Yes, it was at the cost of lives, but all things happen in perfection. I have certainly learned something from my time with so-called gurus – that is while they may help lead me in the direction I need to move spiritually, I am the one who needs to make the eventual giant personal leap of going inward for my answers rather than looking for them somewhere outside of myself.

  5. […] One of my favourite blogs is Beyond Growth, by Duff McDuffee and Eric Shiller. They’re certainly not afraid to speak their mind, and indeed their goals are to critique, expand and explore the field of personal development. This keeps all the gurus and teachers responsible for what they say and do. A recent post: Synthesization of Money and Mind […]

  6. Barry Goss says:

    Simply, it's about syncing up common sense (like NOT fasting for 36-hours BEFORE getting into a sweat lodge) with critical-thinking. Like asking yourself: In my quest to learn the secrets of the ages, how far am I warping my reality and removing myself from grounded, practical living?

    Heather and I, in our work as past metaphysical investigators, have seen, so, so many spiritual enthusiast go over-board with their efforts.

    Always striving to "ascend" and "evolve" only sets people up to be DISCONTENT with their lives while they're here, on this physical plane. And, as evidenced by this event, it sets them up to get into dangerous situations.

  7. Evan says:

    Well, I'm in favour of the least work for the greatest results.

    The problem with the gurus I think is that they believe their experience works for all. Consider the phrase: It worked for me so it will for you (all of you). This certainly has integrity but its dangers as well.

    • Dave Hatton says:

      That is so true. It isn't until we realize that different things work for different people differently. That is why the ultimate "growth" needs to come from within. These people who were begging to get outside to get some air had an uncomfortable feeling inside that led them to do something that ultimately left them ostracized by their leader. We need to remember not to let that voice within be dominated by that voice of the "guru." Always trust the voice within. If their is confusion from within, then meditate on it till the confusion dissipates. It is okay to ask others for guidance, but the guidance MUST resonate from within. If it doesn't then do not trust it.

  8. Josh Roman says:

    I think your software + operating system analogy is 99% spot on (and I work in software product development.)

    Unlike the dominance of the Windows OS in personal computing, each and every one of us runs a different internal OS, based on multiple layers of code written through the years, all surrounding a "kernel" based on genetics and formative experiences too far back to remember. And to make it even more difficult, that OS is constantly being adapted based on current experience and emotion. (As an aside, I'm reading Vaillant's "Adaptation to Life" currently.)

    These days everyone – developer and Luddite alike – intuitively understands that Mac programs don't run on Windows, yet we expect that if we pay enough some guru will give us a secret program that will work on our own internal operating system.

    Based on my own personal experience and experimentation, it wasn't until I started doing some serious therapy (internal anthropology!) that I was able to even understand the concept of my internal OS and begin mapping its routines and sub-routines. While this self-exploration is a process that I expect to continue forever, it has already paid dividends in my ability to integrate what I know about personal development with my own capabilities and limitations and "refactor" some of my old programming into better outcomes.

    To further borrow terminology from software development (specifically the Agile world) I've realized that good facilitators and heuristics are more useful than great gurus and algorithms.

  9. Great post, Eric!

    > I am advocating that as individuals we learn the programming language of the mind, instead of installing software of the self that do not account for our own personal, subjective experience of life.

    I totally agree. I got consistently poor results (and exacerbated my problems) trying to "install software" from someone else. I've gotten consistently good results from learning to build and install my own upgrades (mostly using hypnosis and NLP).

    I regard gurus and guru-worship as inherently problematic. Seeking external authority for one's life, seeking to give up responsibility for oneself and one's life rather than embrace responsibility, giving up critical thinking in order to accept someone else's world view, are guaranteed to CREATE problems, regardless of the content of the teachings/practices/ideologies one embraces.

    Guru-teach — ANY — guru-teach is a fish: a limited meal that will run out. Learning the skills that make you resourceful in ANY circumstances can keep you fed for life.

  10. kevin chiles says:

    Hello! this site’s CSS is cracked in my Safari. I think you should fix it. great post tho.

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