Spirit Crack: Practicing Anti-Narcissistic Activism for Better Religion
For now, I gotta call bullshit. But I'd love to see lotus grow from this shit.
Religion has a problem, and that problem is an endemic culture of narcissistic deflection and abuse.
My name is Zak Wear. I'm a 29 year-old campaign strategist and communications researcher. While I still have quite the ego, it's an increasingly vulnerable and self-aware one!
This page is the product of a social experiment called, "transparentZak." In this experiment, I practiced speaking out or writing with my exact, honest thoughts in the moment and posted the results on social media. As you can imagine, it got pretty intense, and today I'm not proud of a number of things I said! I'm not necessarily ashamed, either-- I just acknowledge. That's the point of letting go of one's attachments as a meditative practice. It's likely that as this protest evolves, the views I share here will continue changing.
I didn't identify as a meditator before starting transparentZak, but on February 28th I woke up to what meditators call Beginner's Mind and now I experience Beginner's Sunyata. In a word, Sunyata is a state of being continually connected to the present moment, without discursive thoughts about the past or future taking you for long rides. You can learn more here, at www.ctmeditation.com (updates coming.)
One of the results of doing transparentZak is my realization of how narcissistic abuse has influenced my life and our communities. By living in the Now I realized how narcissists gaslight and deflect in such ways to pull you out of the present moment/rationality. Most of the time a narcissistic personality is in a position of power will manipulate you with an appearance of calm and reason, because they're not even self-aware as they operate in such manners. This is also known as, "covert narcissism." One can only become aware of how this works by doing the research.
I strongly encourage readers to not just take my word for it. Please do your own research about narcissism, because this project will look at how religious leaders deflect personal responsibility/vulnerability. Watching Trump on TV is not enough to understand how narcissistic abuse works. One of the best books I've read so far is Empathy Trap by Dr. Jane McGregor. She breaks down the manners in which narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths use appeals to empathy as a tool to manipulate your perception and behavior.
My fiance's family have attended Spirit Rock for over 20 years and I genuinely looked forward to learning from their sangha. I reached out to Spirit Rock Meditation Center in the spirit of collaboration, to demonstrate how transparentZak worked, while also, "keeping it real" from my perspective at all times. Understandably, they treated me like a crazy person.
But there are some problems with how Spirit Rock responded to the situation, and their behaviors triggered me as an activist to start testing them for patterns of narcissistic behavior and deflection.
In my view, Spirit Rock staff responded with intellectual and moral dishonesty, rather than actually help someone who could have benefited from guidance. They filed a totally unecessary Temporary Restraining Order after I started protesting non-violently outside Spirit Rock (we settled for a no-contact agreement.) While the emails I sent them were unusual, and at this point I don't necessarily believe in all the statements I made to or about them, I never made any specific threats towards anyone at Spirit Rock. In my view, this serves another example of how narcissistic rich people in Marin County use legal systems to drive out undesireables as they preach progressivism and tolerance.
On Saturday, March 31st I attended a, "Mindfulness and Improv" class at Spirit Rock hosted by SR Board Member Nikki Mirghafori. During one of the exercises we were standing in a circle, and people were tasked with improvisationally passing on a gesture. I noticed that folks in the circle kept passing on, "crossed arms" to the next person, perhaps Nikki instructed them to do that while I wasn't paying attention. When it got to me, I chose to flip the crossed arms into a, "namaste" gesture to the next participant. Nikki stopped me, said, "That's not the game we're playing, Zak" and I admit to responding snarkily that I, "challenge" her game but also saying, "it's okay, we can talk about it later." When I tried passing on the gesture again, she tried stopping me again, and at that point I said I was going to just excuse myself from the game. From what I recall, Nikki tried pressing me into continuing the game, and I said, "then I sit down in protest" and sat down quietly in my chair. People seemed surprised, and one Spirit Rock member blurted out something along the lines of, "you won't accept the gift of the teachings?" and I responded, "I'm just being present" before assuring folks that everything's fine, and invited the next person in line to continue with the game. People continued playing for awhile and when the game was over, I rejoined the group.
This turn of events is what Nikki, and then Spirit Rock claims constituted a, "disruption" that merited kicking me off the campus.
A bit later during improv I felt a pang of empathetic pain and excused myself from the room. This makes sense because Nikki's activities were designed to stimulate mirror neurons, which can in turn stimulate pain in highly empathetic people. As I sat in the upstairs hall to cool off, a man approached me and asked if I wanted to take a walk with him. I said sure, I was eager to have and learn from conversations with folks.
He suggested I put my shoes on, and I said I was happy to walk barefoot outside (folks are required to take off shoes at Spirit Rock.) It got awkward, and his true intentions of escorting me off the premises came out. I explained that I was happy to leave if Spirit Rock sent me an email explaining the reason(s) why I was being asked to leave, or if I could speak to the administrator in charge. I made this request because my instincts were telling me that Spirit Rock was about let me leave, and pretend nothing happened.
Spirit Rock said no to my request of providing a record, and opted to call the police instead. As we sat in the tea room, I explained to them the unethical nature of trying to gaslight me into leaving the building, the immoral nature of using the police to solve this problem instead of real human to human communication about what was wrong from their perspective, and that it was wrong to force an activist to risk arrest in order to get a record of Spirit Rock as a corporation acting inappropriately, against their own stated values. Luckily, the Marin County Sherrif's deputy had a body camera, and I felt that camera recorded enough data about the situation for me to voluntarily leave without arrest.
Note the Spirit Rock Teacher Code of Ethics lacks a real consent policy or, "No means NO."
In my experience, Nikki did not respect my desire to just excuse myself from her improv game, and instead I felt the need to sit down in, "protest" (which wasn't really a protest, if it were, then the police would have had to come get me in the classroom.) I had no intention of actually disrupting the workshop, I love improv and took classes at SF Leela in the past. I was there to learn, not be a doormat.
Apparently it never occurred to Spirit Rock that if they found my emails so threatening or disturbing, they could have declined my registration to Nikki's course and stopped me at the gate. Instead they continued playing the cat and mouse game with me, waiting for their opportunity to pounce on what they could call a, "disruption."
Ultimately, Spirit Rock failed these tests of modeling or using consent culture, or functioning like real, vulnerable, empathetic people. Between the emails, the workshop, I was looking for any indication of Spirit Rock using real, healthy human to human communication. Instead I got indicators that encouraged me to keep working to trigger narcissistic deflections.
Spirit Rock, If you don't like being described in this manner, then put your buddha where your mouth is and practice real hospitality, real right relationship with me as a neighbor, please. Stop playing the cat and mouse games, let's be real.
Otherwise it's valid to criticize your buddhist country club as such. You can't just push off criticism from a professional community organizer as simply, "slanderous rumor." It's my job to be skeptical, and your job to model healthy, human leadership, not narcissistic leadership that ignores the, "lower beings."
Narcissistic abuse thrives in cultures of secrecy so the purpetrators can have plausible deniability, and then later deflect criticism of their actions as over-sensitive or hysterical. This system appears well designed to protect the position of senior religious leaders.
I'll take time to occasionally protest outside of Spirit Rock to exert a little shame over the reality that I am mentally stable, and that SR admins should review their choices. In the videos I published, you'll notice patterns of, "pressured speech" and ideas bouncing around, which indicated possible mania. After being evaluated by an M.D. psychiatrist, it was found that daily cannabis use was to blame. I stopped using, the symptoms subsided. Now I'm a meditator and clean, after 5 years of cannabis addiction!
If you need some proof of my track record as a peaceful protestor, you can check out SF Chronicle's reporting of when I got assaulted by masked anarchists in Oakland for extinguishing their dumpster fire. I'm not proud of it happening, it set my life back for almost a year, I only consented to the reporting to shame the idiots who still go out there to, "smash the state." I responded with no violence then, even when it was an extremely dangerous situation. Watch the full video if you need to.
They may choose to continue acting like I'm a danger to them, or they could choose to welcome me back as an equal member of the wider buddhist community. It's up to them-- I'm not allowed on the Spirit Rock grounds. Until they choose to be rational and inclusive, I'll be out there doing my job as a professional activist, calling y'all hypocrites and blind followers.
Jack Kornfield preaches that, "Buddhist psychology starts by seeing the secret beauty behind the eyes of every being..." (fast forward to 4:20). I don't feel like he saw or honored my inherent dignity as a person, and instead just shut me out as a critic. Hopefully he realizes that radical acceptance, doing what he says he's about, is the exactly the thing that would have stopped my criticism, and that remains to be the case now.
Narcissists can't handle empaths who stand up for themselves. It's fairly simple for Spirit Rock to prove my criticisms out of place, and I'm more than willing to be proven wrong by being welcomed as a neighbor.
Demands of Spirit Rock (subject to change)
- For SRMC to participate in a full restorative justice process, one that allows both parties to directly mediate their feelings and concerns about what happened. I fully acknowledge the disrespectful and shocking nature to which I confronted SRMC, and that this informed how they responded.
- For SRMC to study consent culture and share resources with SRMC members and visitors on how to identify emotionally and psychologically-abusive behaviors.
At the end of the day, I'm excited to practice the art of anti-narcissistic activism, to mirror people for the Trump they have inside of them. I'm not doing this because I think I'm special or should be the center of attention.. the opposite, I think I'm a normal guy and anyone can do what I'm doing. Rather than sit home and watch the world die with Donald Trump as President, I choose to raise awareness about how narcissism exists in religious leadership and offer people the tools they need to be skeptical and if necessary, fight back.
Please feel free to pull over and talk to me! I'd love to hear about your journey, meditate with you, or answer any of your questions.
Thank you for your time.
Starr King School for the Ministry
Because I now realize the complex nature of covert/overt narcissistic abuse, I'm also protesting my former seminary, Starr King School for the Ministry for a refund of the tuition and fees I paid them for 2 years. As an elected student member of the Starr King Board of Trustees, I was threatened with expulsion for acting as a mediator with a whistleblower and refusing to disclose them as a source. The environment became so hostile, including the nature of a private meeting I had with the new President of the school (vicious devalue/discard-phase abuse,) I opted to leave the school and forget about ministry until later in life.
The expulsion threat was delivered verbally by a management consultant hired by the school to conduct a, "restorative justice process." It wasn't a real restorative justice process, it was branded as such to lure the cooperation of students, faculty and staff to collect information for the administration's investigation and eventual discard of people who protested the administration's actions, including faculty members who committed no wrongdoing. I remained silent about how the administration threatened/pushed me out since 2014 but now I'm fighting back. You can read the New York Times article, a UU World article, and UU World's followup about that situation.
Demands of Starr King School for the Ministry (subject to change)
- Refund all tuition and fees I have paid to Starr King School for the Ministry OR commit to paying my monthly student loan payments until the debt is paid.
- Dropping the other demands I made previously, I don't care about finishing my M.Div at SKSM or doing a restorative justice process with them at this point. I just want my money back.
transparentZak Original Documents
Since you read to the end, you're rewarded with links to the original transparentZak video/email series!