Beth Green balances her chi in an online video at Livingwithreality.com/lifeforce.
The middle-aged woman in the video sits serenely in front of a red curtain. As synthesized new-age music fades, she presses her palms together and turns to the Buddha statute resting on a wire-frame table to her left.
“We bow to the universe,” she says, turning to the camera. “We bow to one another.”
She opens her legs and instructs the viewer to place two fingers on either side of the groin.
“Let the energy rise through this focused point,” she says as she upturns the palm of her free hand. Suddenly, it seems like the video stream has frozen. Beth Green is holding impossibly still.
This is the Wednesday edition of the LifeForce “inner workout,” a seven-day video program broadcast online. Green is the founder of The Stream, a nonprofit organization based in Bonsall, a North County hamlet. Green's been practicing, teaching and counseling clients with her brand of enlightenment for more than 20 years, but recently the organization has begun expanding its profile: videos of lectures and LifeForce instruction; downloadable books; a social-media campaign; workshops on everything from “food” issues to sexuality; and “Camp Aware,” a program for children.
Green is also an unpaid columnist for San Diego News Network (SDNN.com), which included a three-part series in December titled “E-mails from Jesus.” Written in first person, Green's columns channel God, or, in her words “The Source,” through what she calls the “Christ Consciousness.”
She says “The Source” told her, verbally, to pitch the columns, and when she finished each one, she knew her words were not her own but, rather, divinely inspired.
“What happened was I got this inner message: ‘You're going to write an e-mail from Jesus.' And I said ‘OK,'” Green says. “I wrote that first blog and I knew I was in a higher state of consciousness and my brain was vibrating, and when I finished it, I thought, I could not have written this.”
Green continues to write for SDNN, but now in her own voice.
“At first, I did it through what appeared to be the intermediary of metaphor,” she tells CityBeat in a phone interview about the columns. “These people—Jesus, the Buddha—had the capacity to connect to a higher frequency. What I heard when I finished [the columns] is, ‘You can do this now, Beth.' I had become attuned and trained to go to that higher level of consciousness.”
She says she does not compare herself to the Buddha or Jesus Christ, but her statements do make cult experts wary.
“Such messianic pretensions are often employed by would-be ‘cult' leaders,” Rick Ross, who often testifies in court as an expert witness on cults, says via e-mail. “This illustrates that her supernatural claims and related pronouncements appear to be the defining elements of the group, which is a common criteria frequently associated with ‘cult' groups.”
Ross would not classify The Stream as a cult before speaking to members who have left the group. Instead, he describes The Stream as a “personality-driven group,” an organization that relies on the guidance of a single charismatic leader.
But Green says it's not about her.
“To get into a discussion of who I am can take away from what's important, which is the state of humanity and the pain we're in and what can we do together to help ourselves heal and perhaps to save our planet as we know it,” she says.
A review of The Stream's nonprofit filings with the Internal Revenue Service confirm that Green is the sole financial beneficiary of the group's income from workshops and book sales. During the last two years, The Stream has collected more than $160,000 from its followers, virtually all of which went to Green as a private contractor. She is not formally listed in the IRS forms; those who are listed report no income from the organization and are required to pay full price for workshops.
Green doesn't see a problem with this relationship.
“The reason it goes to me is because I do all the workshops,” says Green, an author and musician. “If there was someone else, then they would get the money.”
Green says the nonprofit's bylaws specify that, rather than voting, board decisions are made by “intuitive consensus.” Green describes herself as the only member of the organization able to access the highest levels of consciousness, and during a recent open house, Green sat in a center-stage chair of reverence behind each speaker as they addressed the audience. This raises many concerns for Joe Szimhart, a cult-information specialist who himself escaped from a new-age cult in 1980.
“I'm sure she would defer humbly by saying she's only the facilitator, a co-creator with everyone else, but in the end, she's the one that benefits the most from the money; she's the one people turn to for advice,” Szimhart says. “She's the hinge on which the door turns, so, by all intents and purposes, the cult leader. By calling this a cult I'm not saying this is harmful or not, but the fact that it's an organization that surrounds one person and is devoted to her ideas qualifies it as a kind of a cult.”
While Green and The Stream appear to comply with all legal requirements, Szimhart cautions that “the harm in most cults is what goes on behind the curtain, the backstage reality.” Nevertheless, he doesn't doubt members feel an immediate benefit from Green's teachings.
“It's kind of like having that first hit of heroin; you've gone to heaven, but now where do you go from that? If you keep taking heroin, you'll destroy your life,” he says. “Is this group another form of heroin or is it really sophisticated enough to guide a person in all the complexities that are going to come up? Or are they going to ask for more money or workshops, which is what I'm guessing with this group.”
Green would argue that many of The Stream's materials are free, and her followers have stepped up to take over many elements of running the organization. Yet, without Green, the organization could hardly exist.
According to records filed with the San Diego County Assessor's Office, during the summer, Green purchased a $750,000 house on Leprechaun Lane in Bonsall. She resides in a single room and maintains an office in the dining room, though The Stream pays rent on the lushly landscaped “sanctuary”—dubbed “Streamhaven.” Green supplements her income by renting out the house she owns next door to Todd Benton, a member of The Stream's board and a business consultant who provides monthly telephone coaching.
Green says The Source directly told her to purchase the properties, first by naming the exact street, then later instructing her to walk to the neighboring property in the rain. A former socialist political organizer, Green says she never thought she would live in such comfort.
Members of The Stream rise up through a 21-level system at a cost of $370 per one-level seminar, with supplementary courses for as much as $145. In addition, the organization offers daily free call-in support through a teleconferencing service. The Stream is also state-approved to provide continued-education classes to nurses and behavioral-health professionals, though Green openly admits she's had no formal training (though members of her organization do include registered nurses and accredited marriage counselors). State regulations also typically bar courses that “focus on self-improvement, changes in attitude, self-therapy, self-awareness, weight loss, and yoga.” The California Department of Consumer Affairs could not provide The Stream's application materials before CityBeat's deadline.
In any event, a course plan would be irrelevant; Green says she never knows what she's going to say until she opens her mouth or begins typing.
“I've never planned anything in advance,” she says. “I don't know what I'm going to do until after I do it.”
SDNN managing editor William Yelles points to the positive comments received on Green's post as examples of the success of the column. On further research, however, CityBeat determined that most of the comments were written by directors of The Stream.
“The bottom line from my perspective is that we try to provide a forum for all kinds of viewpoints in the community,” Yelles says. “I don't consider her a cult leader at all. They're a small group who meet at her house. They may seem a little kooky, but it's harmless.”
Writer's Note: I have edited this post to correct a factual error. I erred when I originally stated that the workshops at Streamhaven cost as much $145. They actually cost more than double that. According to The Stream's one-page schedule of "Living with Reality" seminars, there are currently 16 "levels"of classes available, with the first costing $385 because it includes a copy of founder Beth Green's book. Subsequent classes, a level each, cost $370 each. "Combo workshops," which cover two levels, cost $530. Green says that she has designed 21 levels of course, which, using these numbers, would cost a grand total of $7,700. The $145 seminars involving issues such as "Men and Sex" are supplementary sessions.
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