Alternatives, A New Age Organization based at St James Church Piccadilly London
A Friendly Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily representative of the views of St James Church, my current employer and relevant third party.
This section describes my investigations into the New Age that were the outcome of experiences that I had relating to various encounters with the Alternatives Organization spread over a period of 10 years or so. It basically outlines the stages by which a certain fondness and affinity for this scene, seeming to represent a fresh spiritual outlook, transformed into a feeling of gradual disappointment and eventual distrust.
I first encountered the Alternatives organization in 1994 as I happened to know quite by chance the Son of one of its founders William Bloom, who at that time was a leading figure of the New Age movement in the UK. My friend would take me to their speaking venue at St James Church Piccadilly from time to time to hear the talks and also to meet some of the people involved. This was really my first introduction to the New Age at a time when I'm not sure I was even aware of the term 'New Age'. Back then I thought 'New Age' had something to do with what happens around the time of a person's birthday.
During these talk nights at Alternatives there would be a guest speaker who would talk for an hour or so. The attendance at these events would vary from a few dozen to several hundred people. Afterwards food would be served and everyone sat around or stood about socializing. The evening ended with a sing song. I found it all rather nice. Though some of the people, seemed to me, in my relative immaturity and naivety at this point in my life, a little 'airy fairy'. At the same time I did sympathize with many of the sentiments of the people I would meet and get to know in this scene. Especially ideas about Ecology and the Environment, Sustainable Living, Shamanism and various measures of Eastern Mysticism. This was a period of my life when I was also hanging out a lot with psychedelic types, hence the interest in Shamanism. Anyway I found the people there generally friendly and likable. The bond I felt for some of the people I became acquainted with perhaps helped prepare my mind for some quite hard core mystical ideas a little later on in my life.
So in the mid 90's I found myself visiting the Alternatives Organization at St James Church every now and then for a period of a year or so. After this time I had no contact or connection with Alternatives for about 7 years. Fast forward to early 2002 and things were very different, I was very different. In the intervening 7 years I had transformed from a narrow minded Scientific Materialist into a more open minded Mystical Idealist who believed that a person's real and true identity is God. Furthermore my goals in life were very different. Back in the mid 90's my overriding goal was to understand how the brain worked and to start a software company based on the things I learned. In contrast, at the start of 2002 my life's purpose was to communicate to the wider world this idea that Everyone is God and also the notion that the Prophecies contained in the worlds religions are really about present times and the world in which we are living today. It so happened that another friend of mine, who was sympathetic to what I was trying to do and who was also a volunteer at Alternatives, suggested that I come along to hear the talks and perhaps get some ideas. This I duly did and so from January 2002 up to April of 2003 I would spend most Monday evenings down at St James Church Piccadilly to help out with the Alternatives events and check out what the New Age had to say and how they were saying it. Over this time I managed to get a fair idea of some of the recurring themes and ideas that make up the diverse and disparate ideology of the New Age as presented by the Alternatives Organization.
Most of the talks I heard during this period were quite dreary and dull though there were also one or two gems and several more quite memorable presentations. Certain ideas would come up again and again. Often a speaker would relate some unpleasant life experience that happened to them and then the punch line of the entire talk would be that bad things happen to us to help us to get into a better situation in life. Quite true but not very profound. Another idea I'd encounter with some regularity was the assertion that there is no Enlightenment or the idea that everybody was already Enlightened, which really amounts to the same thing. But the real focus was self development and life improvement. 'How do I find a soul mate?', 'How to get rich?', 'How to stop worrying?' and generally 'How to get all the things that you want!'. I'll add that I would discover a recurring sentiment that was quite often expressed by the speakers I heard and also shared by more than a few of the Alternatives regulars. This was the notion that you help the world by working on yourself. Put another way, you make the Planet a better place by making your own life better. This was often accompanied by the belief that through this process of working on oneself, a supernatural 'energy' would radiate from ones being and automatically improve the lives of those around you. There were also talks that were more spiritual, mystical or prophetic but these were a small minority of what was on offer at Alternatives at st James Church on a Monday night.
However in retrospect I can see that I definitely benefitted from sitting through all these talks. I probably sat through over 50 during this period which lasted about 16 months. Even the bad talks where the speaker was awful and the ideas I found disagreeable, often actually helped me to formulate my own material in response to the things that I heard. And it didn't matter whether a speaker was technically good or not because I would learn both from their mistakes and also from their example. All in all, this was a useful context for me to be in at that particular time when I was just starting public speaking. Anyway it was a cheap night out and I made friends with the other volunteers and also with some of the people who would pay to come hear the talks.
This state of affairs ended in the Spring of 2003 when I decided to quit being a member of the Alternatives team. I started to see a corrupt and rather self centered side to the New Age as represented by the Alternatives organization. I started to find that the whole scene was too concerned with money and selfish ends. And the behaviour of some of the directors I found a little too arrogant, at times obnoxious. Some of the practices I witnessed whilst a member of the Alternatives team I found, quite frankly, disturbing. Also the main director tried to make an ex-girlfriend a director to replace one of the three then current directors who had just past retiring age. This was an unpopular move and served as a factor which hastened the departure of several other of the people involved with Alternatives. And so during one of the team meetings I made clear my thoughts and said my peace. This did not go down very well at all but at the same time several of the other volunteers expressed their agreement with my views, though in a more hesitant way than I did. Anyway I said my goodbyes and that was that.
While my departure from the Alternatives organization was on not completely friendly terms at the same time I still held a level of respect for one of the directors, who did Clowning Workshops and is one of life's genuinely nice characters. Also I maintained a close relationship with several of the volunteers and retained a certain liking for some of the paid staff who worked for Alternatives. Anyway I moved on and so ended my second encounter with the New Age in London.
A year would pass without any involvement or contact with the Alternatives organization, except some regular socializing with friends who had remained as part of the team of volunteers. But it so transpired through an uncanny twist of fate, that a year later, almost to the day that I announced my departure from the Alternatives team, I found myself back at St James Church Piccadilly and back in touch with the Alternatives organization. But this time it was as an employee of St James Church working as a Verger. A Verger deals with the day to day running and maintenance of a church and I became part of a team of 4 vergers who made sure the place functioned smoothly. Put another way church vergers do everything that the priests don't do. Anyway this job would put me once again in close contact with the Alternatives organization as they had their office in the basement of the annex building situated next to the church, which also contained the offices and staff rooms used by the employees of St James church. And of course when I was working the late shift on a Monday night then this put me in the middle of the whole Alternatives scene, although this time I was not an unpaid volunteer but a paid member of the St James church staff who were completely separate from the Alternatives organization.
My first day at work was a Monday and coincided with the weekly Alternatives talk. It felt strange to be back but at the same time I could distinctly feel the hand of fate at work. It was by sheer chance that the job became available. One of the vergers had been involved in a serious motorbike accident and I just happened to be a friend of another one of the vergers who called me up and asked if I wanted to do the job. Also the timing of the vacancy, almost exactly a year after my previous departure from Alternatives, made it all seem more than a little synchronous. To cap it all off, the day previous to the verger job starting I was giving a talk to a Vegan Raw Food Group and on the way home a very synchronous experience happened where a strange homeless lady gave me a strange book, quite randomly, which was called 'Wai Wai', this being my name written twice. I saw this as a message from the Cosmic Intelligence. All in all, these uncanny synchronicities gave me a sense that there was a reason why the Universe had directed me back to revisit Alternatives and the New Age in London.
So I was back at St James Church. I reconciled the differences that I had with the members of the Alternatives organization whom I had previous contention and settled into my new job. I would come into contact with the directors of Alternatives and also their office staff on pretty much a daily basis. My relationship with them was once again friendly, though perhaps a little guarded, and the past was the past. However something would transpire a few months further down the line which would change this state of affairs.
In around August of 2004, one of the members of the Alternatives team of volunteers decided to make formal complaints, addressed to the church, against the main director of the Alternatives organization. The volunteer, who happened to be female made the complaint of sexual discrimination and also detailed other perceived improprieties. She and her husband also described in some detail what they perceived as cult like aspects of the Alternatives organization. Prior to all this the lady in question confided to me that she felt bullied and harassed by the main director. Subsequently she left Alternatives and launched her actions which also included commencing legal proceedings. Though I sympathized with her predicament and agreed fully or partially with some of her assertions, at the same time I didn't want to get involved, due to the fact that I was now an employee of St James Church and didn't think it was an appropriate thing for me to join in with the hostilities. This I related to her and also to the Rector of St James (i.e. overall head of the Church).
However my self imposed state of detachment and relative tranquility was soon interrupted when one of the directors of Alternatives, during a long talk we had, that he'd instigated, tried rather foolishly and clumsily, to pressurize and manipulate me in order to try to get me involved in this untidy situation. It was known to them that I was on friendly terms with the lady in question and I guess his intent was to try to use me to influence her, and the outcome of proceedings in their favour. This totally went against my natural inclinations. The tactics employed by this director were dishonest and intimidatory. He started with a round of general character assassination. Then he tried to convince me that by being an employee of the church I was also an employee of Alternatives. The Rector and one of the Church wardens would confirm for me that this definitely was not the case and also that this would have been clear to any of the directors of Alternatives. Also at around this stage of the conversation this director twice asserted that he was a member of the PCC which stands for Parochial Church Council. It is of relevance here that the PCC makes decisions on the hiring and firing of church employees and that at the time I was on an initial six month probationary period after staring the new job. He certainly would have been aware of the situation. From what was said and the way it was said I believe the director was consciously taking advantage of this fact, in reminding me of his position on the Church Council. Whether or not this was so, in any event, I still saw this whole line of conversation as an flagrant abuse of power. He was clearly leveraging his position in the church governing body and, as stated earlier, telling lies about my employment situation, in order to try to force me to do what he wanted and gain power over me. I found all this to be completely odious.
Later on, as the conversation progressed, the director in question kept repeating several times how the lady's career would be damaged if she pursued her actions. The lady who had made the complaint, at the time, was an aspiring New Age author and public speaker. He repeatedly brought the conversation back to this point when it had wandered off a little and kept stressing how detrimental it would be for her aspirations unless she withdrew her complaints. The unspoken but clear implication was that actions would be taken to deliberately try to damage her career if she didn't comply and that I being an associate of the lady was meant to relay this to her; for at this point direct communications between her and the Alternatives organization had broken down. The influence that the Alternatives organization has over with the New Age scene in the UK is not inconsiderable so the threat was credible. However she continued with her course of action. I learned afterwards that as a result, endorsements for her work were withdrawn by other New Age authors who had previously recommended her. Also the lady subsequently found herself ostracized and doors had suddenly become closed to her. Despite this she was still able to launch herself as a New Age and Personal Development writer after securing a couple of publishing deals. Anyway, the upshot of what I had to listen to during this 'meeting' provoked in me a strong sense of disquiet and definitely made me very much less sympathetic to the cause of the directors of Alternatives.
After this incident, together with what I had experienced in the past, I couldn't help but see Alternatives in a more negative light. This was compounded by what I subsequently learned regarding the experiences that, a dozen or so, other people have had, in relation to some of the directors of Alternatives. These people included ex-volunteers, Alternatives office staff and also some church employees. A common pattern emerged, one of inconsideration, arrogance and selfishness. One of the Alternatives staff, a lady who was well acquainted with one of the directors, had told me in no uncertain terms that the bloke in question had 'A habit of treating people like servants'. I would encounter this sentiment repeatedly. Also some of the people in my immediate environment would remark at the way one of the directors of Alternatives would sometimes run rough shod over people, acting in a rather insensitive and self centered manner. As I got to know better the people around me I discovered that I was not alone in relation to the experiences I had with some of the directors of Alternatives. Two of them seemed to be quite proficient at generating negative feelings in others.
It is an open secret that the main director is against the church. He seemed to feel that Alternatives and the New Age were somehow superior to St James and what it had to offer. He didn't seem to be able to inhibit himself sometimes from making disparaging remarks about the church. It is testimony to what a tolerant place St James of Piccadilly really is. It represents the extreme Liberal end of a larger body that is itself widely seen as a rather Liberal institution i.e. the Church of England. This tolerance and openness shown to this particular director of Alternatives is in contrast to what boils down to a certain variety of New Age bigotry and disdain for an 'alternative' expression of spiritual life i.e. Anglican Christianity. In relation to this situation, it was once remarked that this director was 'Biting the hand that was feeding him'. This was in the sense that the Alternatives organization wouldn't exist without the generosity and tolerance of St James Church so it seemed incongruous that the said director should be in anyway antagonistic.
The main director of Alternatives is representative of the crassly commercial side to the New Age. He ran a workshop called 'Freeing the Spirit of Money', wrote a book called 'The Prosperity Game' and runs a semi regular series of meetings called 'The Prosperity Connection'. Now, the goal of showing people how to make money and generate wealth is a worthy one. Of course some people might see an incompatibility between worldly pursuits versus spiritual ones but this is less relevant to present discussion. However what I discovered in the course of things, was that the director in question, who seemed to possess the keys to great wealth and prosperity, was himself low income and not actually possessed of much financial resources. This was confirmed in a conversation I had with the accountant who managed the Alternatives organization's financial affairs.
It seems he started out his career as a New Age financial Guru, when he first came to Alternatives as a middle aged, unemployed man living with his Mother. From there he progressed to becoming a director of Alternatives earning a modest income and living on a council estate. Now, there is nothing wrong with being low income, of course not. However there is something a little ironic and inauthentic in a situation where a person who doesn't have very much money, is charging people good money in exchange for promising to show them how to get rich. Furthermore I learned that the said director had, at some point after coming to Alternatives, changed his surname from something perfectly respectable but ordinary sounding, into one with strong connotations of wealth, status and prestige. This highlights another aspect of the New Age which I'd frequently encounter. Sometimes the scene does very well on packaging, presentation and superficial appearances but is then completely lacking in authenticity or substance.
I managed to come across a few people who had done some of these 'get rich' workshops. I talked to 2 people who did the 'Freeing the Spirit of Money' workshop and their description of it was as something of a shambles with not much effort having gone into either the preparations or the actual workshop itself. The workshop seemed to have consisted of 'random exercises' or 'silly little exercises' with 'no explanations given', creating the impression that it, 'Looked like he was making it up as he was going along', leaving at least two of the attendees afterwards thinking 'What was that about?' and feeling 'Ripped off is an understatement'. Another person I met who attended several of the 'Prosperity Connection' meetings, expressed his eventual distancing himself from what he perceived as the crude obsession with money they represented. Certainly none of these people felt that they got their moneys worth. They probably would not be happy to learn that they actually had a significantly higher income and were therefore better at making money than the person they were paying to show them how to become more prosperous. There was only one person that these prosperity workshops would be making more prosperous and it wouldn't be one of them.
A rather depressing aspect of Alternatives is the sometimes lack of respect shown for personal boundaries, especially towards female volunteers and women office staff. One volunteer, an attractive young blonde, complained at the way the main director, somebody old enough to be her father, was constantly calling her up and texting her for no good reason and sometimes at peculiar times of the day. She cited an instance where she received 3 separate text messages from him before 9am in the morning. She also highlighted a couple of occasions where the said director asked her out for tea and also asked her to come to his house, as examples of his behaviour that she felt wasn't inside the 'clear and professional remit of the relationship [between them as volunteer and Director]'.
I remember that during the time I was a volunteer at Alternatives, there were two young ladies from Italy who were also part of the team. For a short while, over a period of a month or so, the main director would delight in coming up to one of them and say the Italian slang expression for men's genitalia in a rather provocative and very audible way. Most of the people would have been completely oblivious to what was going on. I would think to myself that this was no way to address a lady.
During a return trip to London in a mini bus from an Alternatives day trip out to Glastonbury to see crop circles, I noticed the hand of another one of the directors resting on the thigh of young female volunteer. Clearly from the positioning of his fingers on her inner thigh there was a sexual intent. He would occasionally pat her thigh and this went on for most of the second half of the journey home. The young lady in question was someone who was recovering from alcohol problems and had left her home country to make a new start in London. This was probably the last thing she needed, somebody past retirement age trying to play New Age Grand-daddy Casanova with her.
In another incident one of the female office staff was bought and given to her a short skinny black dress and told to wear it at work by one or more of the directors. I happened to see her on the day she came to work in the dress. It looked great on her slender elegant frame but didn't look at all suitable for a working office environment. It would have looked more in context at a cocktail party or perhaps an up market sauna. I never got to learn how she felt about all this but all the same I had a strong feeling at the time, and still do, that she should not have been asked to do what she ultimately complied with. She once told me that she felt frustrated because the male directors wouldn't listen to her suggestions, which seemed especially strange because the intention was that she was hired as a secretary with the idea being that she would be gradually introduced into the role of becoming a future director of Alternatives. This was after the earlier fiasco when the main director tried to make an ex-girlfriend of his into a co-director. It seems the directors were more interested in the way she looked than in what she had to say. Anyway she left Alternatives.
Related to the issue of personal boundaries and something which also made some of the male volunteers, as well as a lot of the female ones, rather uncomfortable was what went on during the 'circle'. The 'circle' was an informal private gathering of all the Alternatives team after the Monday night talks when the audience had gone home. This consisted of all the Alternatives volunteers and directors present that evening, usually around 15 people or so, sat around in a circle on the carpet in front of the main Alter where the speaker had earlier given the talk. All the lights would be turned off and the only illumination would be from a single candle placed in the middle of the circle and some faint ambient light coming from the street outside. Anyway, the 'circle' would start off with matters relating to the talk and the nights happenings being discussed with the meeting being chaired by one of the directors. After this, more often than not, there would be various team building exercises. When the main director was in charge of the 'circle' and controlling the proceedings afterwards, things would sometimes get rather questionable.
On these occasions there would be a game of 'New Age follow my leader' where the main director would suggest for all the team to do something and then everyone else present would try to play along and obey the instruction. It started simply and innocuously enough, so for instance the main director might say 'Take a deep breath... hold... (pause) and release.' etc. and this was repeated several times. After this there was usually a little gentle physical contact with everyone perhaps being told to kiss the hand of the person to the left of them in the circle which was also quite inoffensive and rather charming. Then things would get a little more adventurous where everyone was told to lie down flat on the carpet facing up and then to make farm yard animal noises for a while. From there things would sometimes progress with the main director telling everybody to 'Make the sound of the best orgasm you've ever had'. Finally, on at least half a dozen or more occasions, I witnessed these proceedings culminating with the main director saying that everybody should, 'Touch at least three people inappropriately'. It was this that I found most problematic. Touch and body contact can be a very beautiful thing but only when all participants are fully and mutually willing. However in the dim light I could see on the faces of some of the women a real sense of unease and discomfort. At least one of the women would do their best to try to completely avoid this 'exercise' withdrawing a safe distance from some of the inappropriate groping and feeling going on. Several of the ladies expressed to me their understandable extreme dislike of being touched by strange men they hardly knew. One lady volunteer, who was a Reiki practitioner (a form of ancient healing involving gentle massage), raised her objections to one of the directors saying that she 'Worked with subtle energies' and that this inappropriate touching was having an adverse effect on her. After voicing her complaint she was told, words to the effect, that if she didn't like it then she was free to leave the team. She left soon after.
Through my public speaking events, I quite randomly met a lady who related to me how she too was effectively forced to leave the team for saying things during the Alternatives post talk 'Circle ceremony', that the directors didn't like. A pleasant lady and gentle soul but at the same time somebody not afraid to speak her mind, she reported that after giving her honest opinions during the, supposedly, open discussion in the 'circle'; the next day she was telephoned at her home by the main director and told not to be so non-conforming in her views. This made her feel a bit intimidated and somewhat harassed. Subsequently she started to experience feelings of being isolated and cold shouldered at the Alternatives events. This case together with some of the issues discussed a little earlier reflects, I believe, an unhealthy and inappropriate, in this context, preoccupation with power and control which some of the directors of Alternatives seemed to demonstrate.
This is something which I would hear from people time and time again. On the one hand there was a problem that the directors had about listening to any of the suggestions of either the team members or office staff. One volunteer said that talking to the directors was like 'Talking to a wall'. Related to this is their seeming inability to register in any way objections presented to them about how things were going or about how their actions were impacting negatively upon people. On the other hand when somebody said something to them that can be seen as even slightly challenging then there would repeatedly be this process by which that person would find themselves as an isolated and excluded member of the team. Another lady described how after speaking her mind, the main director would, in her presence, talk about her in front of the other volunteers in a mocking tone and that her input to the team was no longer acknowledged. In a separate incident when another long standing team member voiced some of her concerns about how things were being run, in response, the main director later simply asked her, 'When are you leaving the team?'. Though she hadn't originally intended to leave she quit Alternatives shortly after.
In a sense it could be said that the management style at Alternatives tends toward the tyrannical, though in the weaker sense of the word. This situation derives firstly from the personalities of some of the directors; their insecurity, issues relating to control and at times paranoia. One of the directors was well known by volunteers, office staff and people who had been going to Alternatives for a long time, to have problems relating to issues of power. He is the same director who, as described earlier, 'Had a habit of treating people like servants', and others also described him as 'Dictatorial' and something of a 'Control freak'. One time during one of the monthly team meetings I attended, the main director told me he thought he heard unusual sounds on his telephone and spent much of the evening seeming worried and ruminating aloud that the security forces were spying on him. It was actually quite a pleasant contrast as sometimes the same director could be rather abrasive and boorish at these gatherings. Rather amusingly an ex-Alternatives volunteer related to me recently how the main director had told her that he used to work in a commercial environment where he was a really 'bad boss' who used to give other employees a hard time and, words to the effect, that he thought his New Age transformation had made him otherwise in his approach. How ironic I thought.
The problems to do with the management style of some of the directors of Alternatives and the adverse effect they seem to have had on a lot of people, probably also derives a lot from the freedom of self regulation and remarkable lack of oversight that they operate under. After the legal proceedings against Alternatives and the complaints that were brought to the attention of the church, described earlier, a complaints procedure for the volunteers was put in place, after pressure from the church. But the problem here is that this process is totally run by the directors themselves. So something of a non starter. Though to be fair, since after the time of these complaints which led to the court case, the directors involved do seem to act with a greater degree of circumspection than before.
Still on the topic of regulation and oversight, there also exists a board of trustees which comprises mainly previous directors of Alternatives and this body is supposed to provide, theoretically, another level of checks and balances. But the problem here is that firstly, the trustees are busy people who only meet with the directors 5 times a year or less and otherwise provide little or no input into the daily running of Alternatives. Secondly there is a problem of access. One volunteer who requested to speak to the trustees told me that the process was slow and difficult. Thirdly the chair of the board of trustees is effectively also a director of Alternatives therefore the supervisor is also the supervised. This anomalous situation has come about because although the said trustee-director is supposed to have been replaced by a new director, he none-the-less is still very much involved in the day to day running of things and is in very regular consultation with the other full time directors. The problem here is furthur compounded by the fact that this director in question is also the main liaison between Alternatives and the church. Because Alternatives depends on the good will of the church, this puts the said trustee-director in a certain position of power over the other trustees. To cap it all, he is also on the Parochial Church Council which makes decisions on the general running and organization of the church. This is certainly an unhealthy concentration of power in one individual and a situation that I discovered is open to abuse. Fourthly some of the trustees and the directors have such a friendly and intimate relationship with each other that any serious complaints made about the directors most likely wouldn't be believed anyway and even if they were found to be credible then they would probably be brushed under the carpet and the matter white washed over in order to protect the reputations of those concerned. Also another problem is that the trustees only source of information about what goes on in the Alternatives organization comes from the directors themselves, and so as a result they only have something of a somewhat censored perspective on things.
Even so despite this cosy arrangement, two of the more responsible trustees in recent years have called into question how the main director and senior director of Alternatives have been running things, and what happened to them is quite revealing. In 2007 one of the female trustees during a meeting that was convened as part of a working group to discuss the future of Alternatives, raised the issue of self interest with the main director, i.e. to imply that he was perhaps acting in a too self interested manner. In response the main director went on the attack and got aggressive and quite personal with her. This brought the meeting to a halt as she was left in tears. She quit being a trustee shortly after this incident which certain didn't encourage her to devote her time and energy to Alternatives. Some of the testimony brought to me by other women, made a lot more sense after I learned of this incident. If this was the way that female trustees were treated, who presumably ought to have had some level of standing in relation to the directors, then I could better understand and more sympathize with the reports that I'd received from some of the female Alternatives volunteers who would have been in a far less equal position.
Another trustee, this time male, who was once the main director of Alternatives during the 90s tried to introduce to changes in the way the organization went about its business, trying to make it more democratic and more open to other people's input, outside of the small clique of the directors and their friends. In other words, how Alternatives used to be before the current leadership took over. This initiative was launched in early 2008 but was strongly resisted by the directors so it really came to nothing. The said trustee though frustrated by the intrasigence of the main and senior director, nonetheless continued to provide his thoughtful and clear headed input into the trustee/director meetings. A little further down the line in a unsavoury power play initiated by the main and senior director at the end of 2009, they managed to oust the trustee who had previous challenged their absolute power. This trustee, a well known figure in the Personal Development scene and author of several highly regarded self help books, who is generally regarded as a 'nice guy' and a 'decent bloke' was 'quite hurt and aggrieved' by the selfish actions of the senior and main director. Once a close friend and colleague to the two principle directors, and somebody who had really helped the both of them in the past when they themselves were volunteers, and ironically somebody who had helped in the process of the main director getting his job, was certainly treated with a lack of empathy and due consideration.
As a result of the elimination of the two, more proactive, trustees just discussed what little checks and balances that existed in the Alternatives Organization at the trustee level was effectively removed.
Whilst working at St James Church I would sometimes ponder the situation at Alternatives. It is a job which provides for me a lot of time to think. I tried to understand what had happened to the organization over the years and how it had gradually transformed. I knew that there were superficial changes that occurred from the time I first encountered Alternatives in the mid 90s to the time of my return to this scene in early 2002. I noticed that in the audience, there would be far fewer colourful looking people about than there were in times past. i.e. really alternative people, either in appearance or behaviour. There seemed to be a certain eccentricity in a lot of the people who came to hear the talks in earlier times, whereas more recently the crowd seemed a lot more ordinary. There seemed to be a lot more, bored housewife looking, older women and timid looking blokes of various ages who had nothing better to do on a Monday night. From superficial appearances, the scene seemed a lot less 'alternative' and more run of the mill. Concerning the talks themselves there seemed to be a lot more emphasis on self development and getting ahead, either with or without the help of Spirit Guides and Angels.
So it was from the beginning of the period when the majority of the present directors took power that there began a pattern of intolerance, selfishness and petty power games that have left many people alienated and hurt. Over the years the main director together with another one of the directors, who is also the head of the board of trustees, have turned Alternatives from a generous gesture by the church, meant to serve the wider interests of London's alternative spiritual community and general public at large, into a vehicle for their own self gratification and the expression of their egos. They have effectively made the Alternatives organization into their own personal possession and private property. Something existing primarily for their own personal benefit, along with a small clique of close friends, to the exclusion of outsiders who may benefit and be benefited by the existence of the Alternatives organization. They, as a matter of course, have taken advantage of the power they enjoy over the New Age community and the facility granted to them by the church to further their own selfish ends, which includes promoting themselves, their own workshops, books and 'art works' of dubious value and sub standard quality. Towards the ends of financial gain, vanity, power and personal sense of self importance.
I was recently told by a friendly connection who works for the Alternatives Organization that in the Memorandum and Articles of Association of Alternatives Trust, their official name, it says that the directors should not use the organization for their own self interests! I found this hilarious and told the person who told me so and whom didn't disagree with me at all.
Over the years I learned that Alternatives is an organization of contradictions. On the one hand they call themselves a trust but are in fact a Private Limited Company. They call themselves 'a non-profit making organization' but charge money at any and every conceivable opportunity and at least one of the directors is clearly in it to make as much profit as he can. Approximately £5000 is the sum paid by Alternatives to use the church throughout the year for all their talks, which works out at just over £100 a talk, a truly nominal sum considering the capacity and prime location of the venue. Together with the fact that Alternatives charges £10 admission fee per head and have regular audience sizes that range around 200 people or so and also not uncommonly filling the church to its 600+ capacity. And if we include their income from workshops and sale of merchandise, then clearly a significant profit is being made by someone. I was told by a person in the good postition to know, in no uncertain terms, that Alternatives Ltd are 'very secretive' about their accounts. Which is appropriate for a commercial operation pretending to be a non-profit making organization.
Another inherent contradiction about Alternatives is that they are an organization who are supposed to teach others that 'A better way of living is possible' but yet some of the directors themselves need to teach themselves a better code of personal conduct. And the biggest contradiction of all is that a scene that is supposed to revere the Goddess and Divine Feminine, in the behaviour of some of its directors, sometimes fail to show some women a basic level of respect, particularly those who are intelligent, out spoken, assertive or otherwise in their own power. To be fair, it's easy for a woman to get on within the Alternatives organization. That is especially true if any woman acts in a sycophantic or generally agreeable manner towards the directors; and also doesn't openly object to the occasional sexually orientated advances of some of the directors and also generally doesn't act in a way that is challenging.
A positive development that occurred in the past year or so, is the appointment of a female director of Alternatives. A very pleasant and likable character, she seems to have added a level of sensitivity and socialization that was previously lacking in the leadership of the Alternatives organization, at the level of the directors. However the path by which she was allowed to become a director is revealing. Like the lady before her, mentioned earlier, she was first hired as a secretary and slowly allowed to take on the role of director. This contrasts with how the directors were appointed before the time of the current management, when directors, both male and female, emerged and were selected from the team of volunteers. The male directors currently in charge, who were themselves volunteers, needed a female director but also someone they could first control within a subordinate position and who they felt safe wouldn't challenge their power. The hope is that in the future the lady in question may come into her own power.
In the ancient spiritual literature of the vedic tradition it states that 'As is the Microcosm so is the Macrocosm'. I used to think that perhaps the Microcosm that is Alternatives is somehow a perfect reflection of the wider Macrocosm that is the World New Age Movement. In a simple and more trivial sense this is true, in that absolutely every single big name and significant figure in the world of New Age has given a talk at Alternatives at St James Church Piccadilly. Everybody from Ram Dass, Fritjof Capra, James Redfield to Donald Neale Walsch, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. So indeed superficially Alternatives is a reliable mirror of the world wide New Age movement by virtue of its being the foremost speaking event for the New Age in the UK.
However I don't like to think that what I experienced and learned about what happens at Alternatives behind the scenes is in any way a reflection of world wide New Age spirituality. That would be a very sad state of affairs indeed. Instead what I do believe is that some of what goes on at Alternatives is certainly a microcosm and reflection of things that go on in the work place and various organizations generally. This has to do with issues of power and what happens when power isn't checked. It has to do with what people sometimes do when proper checks and balances are not put into place and where there is a lack of adequate over sight. It has to do with the processes by which people gain power and then try to maintain and consolidate that power; and entrench themselves in their positions to the exclusion of any influence outside of a small core clique. And it has to do with what happens when unsound and ungrounded personalities take charge of organizations and are put into a position of power over other people, particularly those who are young, vulnerable and/or suggestible.
It is for these reasons and from what I've learned over the years either through personal experience and/or from the testimony of other people, who have been directly involved with the Alternatives organization, that I believe something has gone very wrong with the New Age scene based at St James Church Piccadilly London.