I arrived in the movement after the death of my Grandmother. I was very close to her and her death had left a large void in me. For a long time I found solace by going on retreat – one or two weeks a year in the middle of the French countryside – and to seminars, also once or twice a year. Belonging to the outside circle of lambda participants, I didn't see what was going on in the leader's entourage. It didn't interest me. I was present on one or two occasions when the leader persevered to outdo “dissident” voices, by humiliating if not breaking them if need be, but the operation was conducted in such a way that nobody reacted. This was part of the “learning process”. But wasn't it also by fear, by approval or even by satisfaction or relief of seeing the sword fall wide? I remember being present at one of these moments and saying to myself that they were two adults, capable of sorting out their differences. With hindsight, I realize that this sapping process was widespread. It was a subtle method to turn an identity into a clean slate and to create a virgin terrain on which to build new beliefs, values, even new modes of thinking.
Having become close to some from the small circle of those who one way or another were rejected by the group, I saw how they suffered from having been banished by the movement and from feeling betrayed and mistaken. I saw a desire and a need to piece together scattered fragments, like the pieces of a puzzle, to understand what had actually happened. I saw the will to make contact again with those who had been excluded before them, and who, presented as mad or hysterical, had remained for years in their suffering, non-understanding, guilt and isolation. I saw a large part of their live change after these new illuminations of a reality skilfully concealed, dissimulated and transformed. I saw their courage, and you need it, to rethink their past, but also their future; their difficulty to re-appropriate their own identity after having realised on what a part of their life had been based for several years. I saw questions emerge: why? how? Doubts in relation to others, to themselves, but also in relation to beliefs and values, that had cemented their lives until then.
If I was more on the periphery, I was not spared these doubts, deceptions and mistrust. There are so many movements which claim to be spiritual but which are in fact an outlet for gurus' malaise.
I nevertheless suffered more from the leader's entourage than from the leader himself. From realising that people to whom I felt close, which whom I believed to have built a deep and sincere bond of friendship, had disappeared without any obvious reason. Had I become a pariah?
When someone that I believed to be a friend, to who I regularly lent the sofa in my sitting-room when he was in town, who had been entrusted with my thoughts and woes, with who I had spent hours discussing, philosophising and laughing, and all this over months if not years, disappeared from one day to the next, how not to feel wounded? When another apologised for not having been there in difficult moments just to obtain the confirmation of a suspicion concerning me, how not to ask oneself questions? What was the suspicion?
What piece of information was he trying to obtain? He wanted to know if I had had a relationship with one of the most faithful disciples – violently excluded from the group just after the beginning of our affair – without the authorisation of the “master”. Answer: yes, I had had this relationship. Yes, I had spent days and nights, shared my intimacy, in full intimacy, with him. He got his answer. He never contacted me again. However, we live in the same town. Did he file a rapport? Was his mission finished? How to then dare to confide in him, to trust him? How to believe in values which were dear to me such as respect, friendship, integrity, honesty, often brought up and “defended” in the group, when they are perverted to such as extent but the most faithful disciples? Not one member of the group has ever contacted me again, except once, to ask me to pay the money that I still owed. Perhaps it was only by chance. I don't know. I no longer counted on keeping contacts, except maybe with certain people who I had particularly esteemed. One of them, brimming with warmth and generosity, no longer responds to my messages. Why? I don't know.
No matter. I would jut like to be able to say what I feel to those who have hurt me, directly, but above all indirectly, by affecting close friends. To ask them how they live in peace when they have so betrayed their values. I would like my question to be heard. But is this possible?
Yes, I still feel bitter, sad, disappointed. I saw in this group of individuals led by an ideal and hoping to find answers to their questions or in any case, hoping to be able to reflect together on problems that went beyond their own personal interest. That was the least that I thought or wanted to believe. I saw people, still in the movement or who have left it, who were people of value. Some had been deeply wounded by life and had found meaning in the group. I am sad to see that the foundations of the group are made of such flimsy materials, and are in such contradiction with what it was trying to erect.
Discovering the blog Témoignages de la Source (today Cobaltsaffron Retreat) was deeply moving for me as it reminded me of my own encounter with my trainers at the time: first of all, Sam and then Darrell, as well as the work I did with them. Two incidents occurred in the course of which I deem that my moral and physical integrity had come under attack.
The first incident happened in the countryside. Sam had invited his participants to walk barefoot. They trusted him. Part of the walk took us through one-foot deep mud mixed with cow droppings. Buried in this mixture was a sharp edge which made a cut one and a half inches long to the bone on my left ankle. Sam in no way wanted us to take care of it. Later, a doctor, surprised by such negligence, put in four stitches and prescribed me antibiotics to protect me from the bacteria contained in bovine faces.
Sometime afterwards, during a workshop with Darrell, I volunteered for a demonstration. I knew I would receive a slap, but not a slap the force of which might have burst my eardrum or caused retinal detachment. I now have one regret: I did not lodge a complaint with the police. In the light of what has happened since, my regrets have increased tenfold.
I consider that any work going by the name of “personal development” must always urge participants to say ‘no’ to proposals which do not suit them or which might damage them. I believe that no learning process should put a person in danger. It is important for a group facilitator to be extremely responsible, capable of detecting that delicate moment when a trusting learner is going too far. I personally would have wished for greater respect. Already in the past, through my upbringing, I had learned to cede my own power to those in authority. There still remained – I acknowledge that – some way for me to go in this regard. But the art of the good guide lies precisely in his or her wise way of making use of discernment honed by know-how and experience.
During these workshops, one part of me reacted, as earlier on, and I saw myself as being punished, convinced that Sam and Darrell were seeking to hurt us; the other part of me was seeking harmony with reality, unable to believe that these two guides might deliberately have sought to harm us or punish us.
What most upset me was the fact that neither the one nor the other was willing to acknowledge that they had gone too far, or even to reassure me, or show me the slightest compassion. What I heard from them was, “It's your problem”.
I can understand and forgive a lot, but to do so I have to be reassured of the honesty and integrity of my interlocutors or at least be given some space to acknowledge the way I lived those experiences, offered within the framework of workshops. In this respect, the years have not erased the pain which is still alive in me and that I wished to express here.
Some people can astutely manipulate words which gives them the power to penetrate anothers' mind and gradually weave a filter which turns the other away from his own life experience and interpretation. I lived that with Darrell Calkins.
I never participated in a full week-long retreat with Darrell, but took one week-end seminar with him and then many Saturday classes with Sam, one of Calkins' close disciples. I found there some personal development tools, intensity, and sometimes, as he used to say, grace. Some of the attitudes and behavior of the group members made me ill at ease: expulsion of other members, implicit rules underlying the teachings, violence used to establish his truth (THE TRUTH), and privileged relationships between Darrell and some members. But the way they used words soothed my uneasiness, brought me to place my doubts in a corner of my head, leaving more space for his speeches on life and personal development - which would connect me with a superior dimension.
His vocabulary slowly became more familiar. Weirdly enough, rather than naturally holding a dialogue with my own internal language, it collided with it. I found myself in situations where I recognized him in me, where I identified with his way of doing things perhaps more than with my own. It was if it was either his way or mine. His views were powerful, conquering and exclusive, mine were more nuanced.
When I decided to stop seeing the group, I had the feeling that their way of speaking had started to occupy too much space and that, if I had gone further, they would have extinguished a part of myself. I've needed some time to exorcise their words, to let them lose the meaning they were loaded with. Many of the ideas were nice, but instead of bringing us closer to ourselves, they created distance, narrowed sensitivity, and led us in one direction, toward power and radicalism.
Reading Les Temoignages de la Source's testimonies sadly confirms the malice of Darrell's group. I share this text with the desire to contribute to the value of confidence we all can have in ourselves, in our intuitions and the private personal words which build who we are.
Some people have the need to follow a master, a leader, or a coach. OK, fine. But then we should try to check to see whether that person is a genuine master. The leader of Cobaltsaffron Retreat claims to have spent three years in a Japanese monastery. What does this mean even if we can prove it's true? Anyone can say anything. But we can check some things out: why did he leave The States? What is his documented professional training? Is he insured?
Who takes the trouble to research the leader of a seminar? Rather, we tend to trust a friend's opinion. Sam’s admiration for Darrell Calkins was astonishing. And my own first impressions about this man were positive; both his personality and his claim to giving his blood so that others could live a better life seemed genuine. Sam explained we had to enroll quickly in order not to miss out because who knows how long Darrell will live, being so exhausted and drained from his dedication to others.But Cobaltsaffron Retreat is nothing but a set of techniques taken from the New Age jumble still fashionable in the United States and subtly reshaped and orchestrated by Darrell Calkins.
During my first retreat, I was alert to the behavior of the other participants: submission, pride at being humiliated, adulation and fascination of the master, the hierarchical structure of the group, clichéd language, omertà law, loss of good judgment and common sense, infantilism…. and the growing dependency of the most vulnerable ones. And -- most frightening maybe -- the herd instinct that forbids automatically any dissidence or different opinion. I would later learn, and not without surprise, that several participants close to the master came from other movements such as Landmark Education (EST), Siddha Yoga, Miracle of Love, Rajneesh's (Osho) cult...all listed as sects by Associations of Cult Prevention.
What about the leader’s relationship with young women? I was bold enough to ask him directly about the power he exerted over the participants, some of whom were my friends. I had hoped to have a real exchange of viewpoints. I received three emails accusing me and other women of plotting against him… He wrote to me: I am reminded of Christian inquisition or the Nazis in their attempt to pass judgement, evoke rights and impose punishment without any application themselves of the morals they claimed to uphold. What did this great master mean? The cramped pages of absolutism -I am the one who knows- finally opened my eyes and made me fully understand the man who desperately refuses to acknowledge any self-contradiction. All of a sudden I was discredited. He even doubted that I could ever see the faults he saw in me. But for me, things finally fell into place: I saw him for who he was. The break-up with him and the group was unavoidable. And it was absolute hell and some close relations accused me of making him suffer and tried to make me doubt my capacity to judge and even think for myself.
In conclusion. A genuine master teaches his disciples how to manage without him. The leader of Cobaltsaffron Retreat does exactly the opposite. For more than 20 years, some of his disciples have followed him and have paid a lot of money. Today the disenchanted, more and more numerous, want to understand what happened to them. They want to get out of their isolation, they want to see things clearly and find again their autonomy.
It's been ten years. Ten years. The page has turned…but a dream continues to visit me. Reminding me of the man…of the situation…He was a leader, a guru. He gave retreats called ‘Retreat to the Source’ (now called Cobaltsaffron Retreat). But the source of what? The waters were polluted.
I remember physical exercises, warm-ups with background music playing loudly. One of my favorites consisted in throwing wildly fluttering candy wrappers between two partners. Also pseudo-philosophical conversations in the large living-room of the Château M. in the South of France, numerous examples of interesting animal behaviors as a way to look at life. There was underlying ideal of purity. And also the impression of being part of an elite group.
The others seemed to be sensitive persons looking for a fully-balanced, serene, growing life. Yes, the impression was of harmony, of sharing thoughts and experiences far from our daily, professional prisons, the obligation to make money or produce for its own sake.
Suddenly everything disappeared! This beautiful 'family' vanished! The intimate love story between the man and me, between the guru and the disciple, blew up -- brutally.
All at once there was a reversal, a denial of what really happened between us. The others just said I dared not challenge him… this being one of these words much used in the propaganda as something positive to do to the status quo: challenge.
Complete abandonment by the group -- all beautiful people I had liked. Abandonment of all those praised high-sounding values: awareness, research, integrity, compassion…I felt isolated, fear of being prosecuted, paranoia. Even fear of being killed. I felt he imposed all that on me.
Ten years later, the same dream.
The more one invests time, trust, and energy to a sect, the more difficult it is to get out of it. Truth liberated me, and not the finding of a replacing ideology. I was lucky enough to hear truth after ten years, but better later than ever, I still could be in blindness, guilt and isolation… all the elements created little by little and kept in place by sect logic. It was not for lack of warning; my circle of uninvolved friends rightly worried about me becoming a fanatic. But the more they tried to warn me the more I refused to listen. It seems that the ‘trigger’ that marks the awakening is different for everybody. For me, the trigger was the truth.
Here is my story :
I was 26 years old. I first took a two days seminar and later was persuaded to take a six days retreat in France, then a second one despite the prohibitive price. The leader came to Paris for a class with the Parisian participants of this last retreat. Of course I rushed to it. Wasn't the Retreat to the Source true life in comparison to artificial society? At the end of the class, Darrell Calkins met me at the Jardin du Luxembourg. I was impressed, I was expecting advice or criticism, a continuation of the retreat. But no! He questioned me a lot, listened to me, and spoke about himself. We spoke for ten hours non-stop, eating together, eventually going back to where he was staying.
He was staying in Paris for some days. He made some discreet allusions about us, which at first I thought I was misunderstanding. Then, when he told me he would like to take a bath with me, I became disconcerted. But you are married ! He answered : Between my wife and I, it finished a long time ago. Anyway she knows that I am here with you and she accepts it, and without the kids we wouldn’t be together any longer. There followed a lot of conversations, arguments and hesitancy on my part and he went back home. Very quickly people will know I am with you, my friends will accept it, they know I don’t make mistakes, my true wife is you.
Early on he spoke to me about a young woman, about my age (who I had seen at a retreat), a fool who was hysterical and dramatic and who turned on him when he went to Paris to help her. He told me : I did have the feeling of a big love story with a young woman and I believed maybe it was her, but no, nothing happened with her. I have been faithful to my wife for ten years, but she doesn’t love me any longer. My great love is you, I was waiting for you, you make me feel again alive .
I trusted this man; after all, he was teaching integrity! Of course he couldn’t lie ! So we were a couple for two years. He came to Paris one to two weeks a month. He wanted to share an apartment with me but his wife wouldn't go along with it, so I assumed the rent alone, though I didn’t pay for any more seminars or retreats, only the travel expenses. In the meantime he spoke to me about the “Training”, the real basis of his work of which the retreats were only the first level. Elite followers committed themselves to his work to achieve the following goals : embodying human qualities at the highest levels, becoming a kind of 'warrior for good', fighting against the 'opposition’ inside oneself. One had to invest a lot of energy in the program, and stay in daily communication with the group via emails.
Only he, of course, had the ability to identify the true nature of someone! He presented people to the others in the Training as either somebody 'great' or as an 'enemy'. Once in the Training, you have to do physical exercises and work on particular qualities and themes. Naturally, you are expected to participate in all the seminars and retreats so as to help Darrell Calkins help others who, because of their ignorance and vulgarity, sucked his energy, killing him little by little because he is so much devoted to their evolution.
Here I am! Twice elected, twice the chosen one. I am offered a spot in the elite Training. If I agree, he will become my sponsor and I will become his true wife!
As time passes, more contradictions begin to appear. But I am not allowed to speak about them. If I do, I become, by definition, the opposition to him and his work. The promises change: we can not ever live together. Our love must remain secret, we would be misunderstood, condemned, his enemies would use our relationship against him. Then I become too demanding, I take too much energy from him – I who at the beginning regenerated him ! In sum, it is my fault that he comes to Paris less and less. Eventually, he stops coming, but never actually breaks-up with me. He says he will come back to me when I will be responsible for my own life. He publicly reproaches me for not committing myself more to the training. He says I am arrogant, foolish, lost. He manages to get away without leaving me all while making me feel guilty for the entire failure of our sublime love. He doesn’t believe any longer in us as a couple and goes back to his wife without having ever left her.
I am depressed. I must become better, make more effort, not ask anything of him. I must learn to love him unconditionally. So it is what I try to do, but now isolated from the group because I have been officially rejected from the Training. My life, which was built around the Training, the retreats, his visits to Paris, group emails is suddenly empty and cold. And he says it is all my fault. I keep going to some seminars and retreats, now paying for them. I get into debt. I try to be deserving of his love, but he is tough on me, he avoids me, I have been energetically banished.
Eight years later, another ex-disciple calls me and questions me. Did you have sex with Darrell? Because he told me that you two never actually had sex. I am surprised at this question because this person actually saw us sleeping together in Paris! Of course we were a couple! Then he tells me that Darrell had sex with the woman he denounced as a histrionic fool and with another woman right before her. Suddenly I understood that he had lied to me. To this other adept he lied too, to everybody he lied. If he lies then he is not what he pretends to be. That was the trigger… The truth is painful but it liberates.
Little by little, as we established links between ex-disciples and began putting together small pieces of the puzzle, triangulating, all of a sudden everything became clear, the pieces fell into place. The obviousness was confirmed by a cult specialist: It is a cult! Of course, we wanted to warn others, to prevent them from falling into the trap, or falling deeper. But I remembered how I had not heeded others' warnings. How to warn somebody who refuses to hear? It is all the more difficult when the guru applies the principle 'divide to reign', tossing out followers individually, so that they lick their wounds alone and in shame, unaware that everyone who went before them is doing the same.
We have been violently attacked, used. To his followers Darrell Calkins is sort of Christ -- those who do not unconditionally support him want to crucify him. It's like we are accused of doing witchcraft -- like fanatic priests did during the Inquisition. We have become the enemy, the opposition, Evil. An email from a current follower contained this revealing sentence: I don’t want to believe that Darrell would ever… So on one level he knows, but refuses to acknowledge that part of him knows. I understand, I was like them.
A question continues to haunt me: What if I had known the truth? If X had told me her story, would I have thought she was a fool? Would I have spared ten years of errant life? I will never know. I must accept to appear wrong in the opinion of the present followers, hoping only that my testimony will eventually help someone.
I joined the group through my friend Raoul, who often went on to me about the benefits of the teachings of Darrell Calkins at his seminars and retreats, and about how much good they would do me and how much they would contribute to my private and professional life.
Even before participating in my first seminar, my inner voice was resisting. I refused to write in despite the insistence of Raoul who told me I needed to let go, that it was normal to resist at first, that he also resisted.
What kept me from getting involved in these retreats and seminars at first was their price, plus the fact that they were held in English with no-one to translate, even though they were and still are held in France and Belgium, currently under the name"Cobaltsaffron Retreat".
I finally let myself be convinced. The followers are somewhat like a family. At each workshop I saw the same people and an occasional new member, and ties were made.
Training sessions and discussions in the big lounge of M.’s castle (it was in this magnificent place that the very costly seminars took place) were destined to an elite group with means (although the participants were far from being wealthy). All that took place there seemed rather positive at first, although several aspects awoke my inner voice...
The way Darrell Calkins treated certain followers disturbed me, like violent gestures and humiliation in front of the rest of the group, who takes sides with the “Leader” against the humiliated follower.
The “Leader” also has an elusive way of talking that only he and a few of his selected followers can understand. He lets them in on certain matters during morning meetings to which only they are invited.
I was among them. This elite group felt important in the eyes of the “Leader”, and they especially felt superior in the eyes of the other followers who were excluded from these meetings.
One day it was my turn, not that the “Leader” was harsh toward me, but I didn’t know what he was trying to do: he managed to turn my close friend Raoul against me, as well as another friend, Marie, who also came to the seminars through Raoul. I felt rejected, even long after the workshop, because I was so hurt by their attitudes and their taking sides with the “Leader”.
Another event also disturbed me. At the end of one seminar, the “Leader” lifted me up in his arms and tried to kiss me on the lips to say goodbye to me. I had the reflex to back my head away, shocked by this behavior. My friend Raoul said it was just a friendly gesture, that I shouldn’t see it as anything inappropriate.
Certain events that followed made me understand that my inner voice was right, for which I’m grateful. I learned that the “Leader” had intimate relations with several followers, two of whom I know, two women who are still deeply wounded and suffer sequels after all these years.
Darrell formally denied these allegations in front of the other participants who caught wind of the rumors. He twists the truth, with his wife as an accomplice, affirming that these girls want to do him harm, that he’s the victim, that they’re crazy.
What’s worse is that the group believes him and he gets away with it unharmed!
Some followers have now opened their eyes, while others, like my friend, are still in the “Leader’s” grip.
Thanks to my inner voice that kept me from getting swept away by the seminars, I managed to keep a distance and I haven’t given any sign of life to the “Leader”. They didn’t have any serious consequences for me, but they did nevertheless alter my friendships with Raoul and Marie.
I joined one of Darrell Calkins’ weekend workshops in Brussels some years ago. I was in the middle of a creative process and hoped to be inspired by him. But on the contrary I had to protect myself. I was disturbed by his arrogance, his vulgar language and the way he violently abused music by playing it – for me - extremely loud. I felt my creative process threatened and did not arrive the next day. It is outrageous that people like Darrell Calkins set themselves up as spiritual teachers. For me he is only one of the charlatans of spiritualism of our time.
If you're considering attending an event with Darrell Calkins, be warned.
Underneath the charisma and eloquence lies a man who hungers for psychological control. He runs his seminar, called Retreat to the Source (now Cobaltsaffron Retreat), playing the part of a non-master master who does spiritual work that is so cutting-edge that it is barely comprehensible even to the spiritual elite. His small inner circle share unspoken winks that they are in the presence of a modern day blue-jean wearing Krishnamurti or even Christ-figure. Further mysteries are alluded to if one is ever ready. The trouble is, he's clever and forceful enough to always stay a step ahead. This keeps the master/seeker dynamic, dominance and submission, forever in place. Tellingly, he has no personal friends outside his circle of paying attendees. And although he is a big proponent of the idea that harmony and diversity of opinion should not be mutually exclusive, disagreeing with his perspective is to invite eventual vilification.
To appear unconcerned with adulation, he shrugs, “I'm just a man.” But in private, he frequently complains about the lack of respect he gets. He often comes off as arrogant, though argues that he is misunderstood, that his is the confidence born from the humility of a completely clear conscience. Those without sufficient humility are unable to judge who is humble and who is not. In his world-view, criticizing him for being arrogant is to be truly arrogant.
He's a sharp observer of human nature. And his vivisections of other peoples' faults are certainly impressive. But because he believes he has no blind-spots whatsoever, he's unable to apply that same razor to himself – let alone tolerate it from others. This hypocritical delusion destroys the foundation of his work, which is that he himself is a bastion of humility and integrity, even perhaps, the “last true one.”
A few examples of the “paradoxes”: He sleeps with his female students, weaves a web of lies around that fact, and then blames them entirely when the relationships go sour – all while passionately arguing the value of integrity in relating. He told me that his move to France from the United States was motivated by tax-evasion charges. The “interview” on his website was a two month-long email exchange between him and a supporter, allowing plenty of time to script answers.
He suffers from that most common (and historically dangerous) delusion of grandeur: believing he is beyond self-interest.
Because some silences are the beginning of complicity
and can lead gullible and vulnerable people to catastrophe.
Because it is my moral duty to show solidarity
with those who seem in danger as I was personally;
Concerning the man who teaches to come clean,
but only spreads his suffering around him.
Only action can release,
already providing some additional light on these group sessions supposedly unique.
He is a specialist in society's perversions because he knows how he is!...
The leader of Cobaltsaffron Retreat deliberately exacerbates fear, jealousy, suspicion, guilt, and blood thirsty competition among the people who work with him.