It started last fall. A few of my clients in the health/wellness/spirituality realm would ask what seemed to be a casual question, "Hey, have you heard of Gabby Bernstein?" I'd answer, "Yeah, I vaguely know who she is, but I don't know much about her work. She's friends with Kris Carr right?"
And then would ensue a verbal rampage about this person, Gabby Bernstein, a seeming lightening rod for pure peer hatred.
The spewing usually sounds like some variation on this theme:
"I just don't resonate with anything she says."
"How did she do it?"
"I really can't stand her."
"Do you buy her addict story? 'Cuz I don't."
"She's really just good at marketing. Her content is all fluff."
"I wonder what Marianne Williamson really thinks about her..."
"Why is (fill in the blank with some other person in the yoga/wellness/coaching industry) friends with her?"
Or the strongest: "I HATE Gabby Bernstein."*
The Gabby Hate began in earnest when I moved to New York City. In this melting pot I've met a variety of women, made friends with some and taken on others as clients. A common denominator? Their universal and unmitigated distaste for and mistrust of Miss Gabrielle Bernstein. It seems that no matter what our dinner or tea time conversation, that seemingly inocuous question creeps in, "Do you know Gabby Bernstein?"
I can't escape it!
Shortly after the third (or fourth, or fifth) person laid her dislike bare, I had coffee with my friend who, unbeknownst to me, knew Gabby through some non-profit work seven or eight years ago. This was before Gabby was the Spirit Junkie, before the publicity, before the hatred. My friend told me about an event where Gabby, then in her early 20s, sat on a panel along with CEOs from several major international companies. Apparently Gabby dominated the panel, even though she clearly had significantly less experience in business/life than the other woman.
My friend offered her interpretation, "That's Gabby. It's just the way she is so there's no reason to hate her for it. Besides, she's gonna ride that hate train all the way to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List!"**
While I don't "resonate" with Gabby (I didn't engage with her material, blogs, books, videos until this week), I don't really have any strong emotional response to her work or to her personally.***
But I was curious why I seemed to be attracting Gabby Haters. Today I'm writing to figure out what she's representing to the peeps around me. What archetype does she embody that elicits such dramatic feeling? Perhaps in this phenomenon lies a lesson for me, and for my clients, colleagues and friends.
I first encountered Gabby when my mom forwarded me a New York Times article years ago about 20-something young woman who called herself a life coach and was hosting meditation classes and coaching workshops in her NYC apartment.
At the time, I had exited from my work in the fashion industry and training to be a coach. And I was a 20-something woman. I didn't retain much about the article other than the picture that accompanied it: young women gathered around a girl in a typical NYC flat.
I'm pretty sure I felt a twinge of envy then because I wanted to be coaching more than doing the consulting/sales/marketing work that was paying my bills. I didn't think much about Gabby Bernstein after that.
Fast forward just four years, and Gabby has churned out a couple of best-sellers, appeared on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday and has joined a vocal contingent of New York spirit/yoga peeps who are newly rabid fans of Kundalini yoga. She surrounds herself with a cross-promotional power team including Marie Forleo, Tara Stiles, the aforementioned Kris Carr, and Elena Brower. She does juice cleanses for weeks at a time (so confided her raw food chef to me at an event the other week***) and bases her teachings on the iconic spiritual text, A Course in Miracles, made popular by Marianne Williamson.
From my perspective, Gabby's really not doing anything much different from, say, Wayne Dyer, another spiritual guru who has made some of his life's work his modern interpretations of ancient sacred texts. Gabby's differential is that she chose a text whose author is still living.
Regardless, it's not unusual or suspect to help people understand, interact with and implement wisdom from sacred texts. In that, I have to say that the Gabby Haters need to lay off.
Not everyone was meant to write A Course in Miracles, the Tao or the Bible.
As for the accusations of self-promotion, I've found that a certain category of people are determined (less than destined) to pursue fame above all else. I suspect that Gabby is in that camp. Think Posh Spice, Bethenny Frankel, Beyonce even. Fame-hounding aside, they can still create desirable brands. (Think Victoria Beckham's super sharp dresses, Bethenny's Skinny Girl margaritas and pretty much everything Beyonce does.)
Fame is the end goal for a lot of people, and it doesn't make them bad. In Gabby's plan, it would appear that the spirituality guru brand is her vehicle. Again, that relentless pursuit of a goal is not an inherently evil thing. Each fame-seeker just has different values from the folks who are content outside the limelight.
I can't speak to the veracity of her addiction story, her personality or even the quality of her work.
Again, what is most interesting is, "Why the hatred? Why her?"
The first, most obvious reason is clear: envy of her success.
I believe that every person who criticizes Gabby also wants some part of what she has achieved. Envy is a human reaction and healthy, even.
It points us towards what we desire. I wrote a blog about how envy can be helpful for our growth here.
But I think something deeper is going on with the Gabby Haters. After envy, another turnoff could be tone. Most of the women I've encountered who let Gabby get to them have experienced their own trials, their own dark nights of the soul.
They've done massive work and come out the other side. They're generally a decade older (or more) than Gabby and first read A Course in Miracles ages ago.
The generational and experiential differences might offer a key.
Gabby (and some of her peers, ahem Gwyneth, another lightning rod for hate) seems to offer a rather superficial spiritual journey: drink green juice! Say affirmations! Meditate! Do your Kundalini kriyas! You'll be spiritual, healthy, happy, coupled and oh yeah, mad skinny.
Perhaps that's all Gabby's readers want. Perhaps they want a sanitized and sane spiritual path whose outcomes are tangible and predictable and desirable and pretty much in alignment with the Western ideals of success and consumption.
That might be exactly what Gen Y prefers in their spiritual flavor-of-the month. Then we can dismiss the Gabby Hate phenomenon as largely a generation gap.
I also wouldn't be surprised if the Gabby Hate comes in part from the proprietary feelings many elder healers/intuitives/teachers have for their fave spiritual tools. Some of the older spirit peeps see the use of the ancient tools as a privilege, requiring a commitment to study and understanding as well as a dedication to weilding those tools with awareness and love.
But remember when Westerners started doing asana (yoga poses) while they ignored the other limbs of the practice? All kinds of yoga gurus were incensed. How dare the Americans co-opt the ancient system for mere physical gain?!
I, for one, have defended the practice of asana devoid of the rest of yoga as a reasonable way to encourage new devotees to adopt an overwhelmingly beneficial routine. Are Gabby's spiritual prescriptions too dissimilar from that? I think not.
One of my friends posits that Gabby could be a new soul. It's as if she's splashing around in the bathtub that is this existence and really reveling in the rubber ducky, soap crayons and bubble bath. (Meditation, green juice, and affirmations, respectively. Ha.) She invites others to join her, but really you can only play in the tub if you're under five- otherwise it's just plain creepy. With that theory, Gabby is a great person to teach Spirituality 101 to other young and searching souls. And all the old souls need to leave her the eff alone. She's not for them so there's no need for them to like/study with/follow her.
Another friend thinks Gabby could be an Enneagram 3- the Performer, Motivator, Achiever, Producer or Status Seeker. (If you're unfamiliar with the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual growth, I highly recommend Richard Rohr's book on it.) Famous threes who have dissipated include Elvis, Michael Jordan, and Lance Armstrong. (They are so attached to their image that they'll do anything to protect it.) Evolved/healthy threes include Tony Robbins, possibly Oprah Winfrey and Marianne Williamson herself.
From Enneagram.net of threes: "Your attention goes to performance, prestige and seeking status for approval. Hyper focused on your audience, you adapt to the expectations of others. You want to be the very image of success where ever you are and whatever you do."
So it may just be that some of the intuitives/coaches who react to Gabby pick up on this part of the three spectrum.
Ultimately, though, I'd like to paraphrase Phil Libin, the CEO of Evernote, who says that companies (in this case public figures) fall into two categories: those you partner with and those you ignore.
Methinks it'd be good for the Gabby Haters to make a decision: pursue partnership or withdraw attention.
And so it would appear that my friends, clients, colleagues (and I!) can learn some things from this interesting display of emotion towards someone who is, after all, a sister.
In every critical thought, in every gossipy tidbit, in every vitriolic proclamation, we affirm our own Not Enough. We're making ourselves feel significant by belittling someone else and tacitly agreeing with the Not Good Enough monster. We're building a (tenuous) connection with a new friend over our shared bond against another human being. In those moments we have forgotten that we are all connected. Indeed, I'm trying to purge the passive aggressive tone and vocabulary from this piece and actually understand what Gabby has to teach us (albeit without reading her books).
Yes, I do see some disconnects in the Gabby Bernstein universe, but she's never claimed to be perfect.
The Gabby Hatred is the epitome of dualistic thinking: that spiritual gurus are Good or Bad. That there exists a hierarchy (she has achieved more and is higher; I have achieved less and am lower). That there is a right way and a wrong way to be a spiritual teacher.
My goodness, it would appear that Gabby's very existence is prompting some very gifted healers, coaches and teachers to examine the junk that, even after so many years of practice, is still inside their (our) souls.
In that way, perhaps Gabby Bernstein is one of the best spiritual teachers of all.
We could just say thanks, make our Phil Libin decision and move on.
And the next time someone asks me if I have heard of Gabby Bernstein, I think I'll answer, "I have. It seems like she's reaching a lot of people with her work. More power to her."
*These comments came from my coaching clients/friends/strangers who ostensibly have been on their own spiritual journeys, some of them for many many decades. This kind of negativity is a real departure from their MO.
**My friend related this story after I told her the frequency with which people unburdened their Gabby Hatred on me. It was, in fact, before her book hit the NYT list.
***I did see her walking down my block not that long ago. I did not recognize her at first. I just thought it was a Rachel Zoe look-alike with super high heels on. Only after she passed by did I realize that she was the lady I'd seen on that book.
****See? I can't get away from her! Gabby is everywhere...like God perhaps? Simmer down- I'm totally kidding.