Reflections: Happy 10th Birthday, Sethnet!
(Originally published in Sethnet Journal 10th Anniversary Issue, Volume Forty Eight, October 2008)
“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” ~ The Grateful Dead
Looking back over the past decade, I continue to enjoy the adventures in consciousness Joanne and I agreed to pursue when we moved to Castaic, California to explore the Elias phenomenon (an authentic expansion of the Seth. See A Seth, Elias Comparative Overview, 2001) in January 1998.
Previously, I had been involved with online community building in my science museum work. So it was a natural move in May 1998 to volunteer to host the email list for Seth Network Int’l. Founders Lynda Dahl and Stan Ulkowski were all for it. We selected Onelist.com as a host since other conscious creation communities were using it to stake a foothold in cyberspace, and Sethnet opened its doors on October 1, 1998.
The dot.com boom was on, and the online community business saw merger after merger. Sethnet was grandfathered into eGroups.com, then Yahoo! Groups, where it spent many years. It was a lot of work to manage, as subscribers constantly needed help with the format and various ins and outs of using each new software platform. So I built a supporting website to help with that (see Appendix).
The initial rules of engagement, as laid down by Lynda and me, were simple. The idea was to engage “simple regard” for each other when posting. The list was self-organizing, meaning that it policed itself without much intervention on my part. Perhaps people were just so grateful, as I was, to have a place where birds of a feather could explore the Seth material, and communicate, share, explore, debate, and play.
One of the main characteristics of early Sethnet was a playfulness vibe (“if it’s not fun, then don’t do it”). There was also an air of experimentation. We held dream parties, and remote viewing tests. We did ice breaking – get to know you – activities. There was a sense of camaraderie, people volunteered information about where to buy used books, donated used books to each other, and posted quotes on various topics. We had Richard Kendall and Norm Friedman “visit” the list, and people asked questions, we sent them, and they answered.
Still, every now and Zen, someone would dive into the shadows and some flames would occur, but in 99% of the situations, it was just someone blowing off steam, and ultimately taking responsibility for their issues. The list would settle down and roll on.
In the early days I made it a point to individually greet every new subscriber who posted. It created an air of welcome and openness. I often used the metaphor that the list was like a beach – you never know what would come up each 24 hour cycle with the tides, and so the discussions ebbed and flowed according to their own natural rhythms. Many folks had expectations met; others didn’t, as everyone had unique issues and reasons for joining the fray.
Then, Stan passed away unexpectedly in February 1999, right as SNI was planning its second Elmira, NY conference. The list was only five months old, and Lynda announced she would shut down SNI after the June conference. Though she handed Sethnet over to me before its first anniversary, the list continued to grow in size and complexity.
In the process I intuitively learned to “splinter” various opposing energies off the list whenever strong personalities began to insist their interpretations were the only right ones, or demand things be run in ways that didn’t feel constructive to the whole list. There needs to be a certain focus and intention to guide the interactions, and when that changes you either refine and update it, or else simply splinter it off. It took me several years to perfect, and required constant feedback from subscribers.
Those who demanded changes were simply told in no uncertain terms to take their act elsewhere, start their own communities, and come back in a couple years with the benefit of actual experience and show us all how to make Sethnet better. In other words, I always took a constructive approach and sought the best advice on how to improve things on Sethnet.
Over the years a dozen Yahoo! lists splintered off of Sethnet. Most went the way of the dodo for various reasons, chief of which is that it takes nurturing energy to ground any group of people exploring the Seth Material, and a constructive system of checks and balances to promote growth and avoid stagnation. It also requires adequate knowledge of the material, which had grown to over thirty-five books by Jane, Seth, and Rob.
There’s an art to managing this process constructively, though feathers got ruffled, and egos got involved in the “my-way highway or else.” I always tried to take the temperature and feeling tone of the list into consideration when making these moves, seeking what the majority of subscribers were interested in exploring and learning about. As I often said, it was their list, not mine. My main function was to be “a guide at the side” in that respect.
But what led to these splintering actions were those strong personalities who wanted to create their own “ministry” – direction, flavor, angle, set of rules, or focus on a cult of personality to explore the Seth Material. And I continue to see nothing wrong with that. It’s all about vision, insight, and understanding one’s own purpose for being a “sage on the sage” and a “guide at the side,” and there needs to be room for a list owner to do both.
We need expertise based on direct experience with living the principles in the Seth Material combined with the ability to facilitate people’s explorations. I made it a point to have the best resources possible, including compilations of Seth exercises, Seth concepts, Seth/Jane books, channeling, a quotes database, etc. People explored compilations of material on the inner senses, laws of the inner universe, Seth’s creation myth, the families of consciousness, and more, all the while being able to dialogue about their own experiences with them.
We explored Seth’s map of All-That-Is and various practices in which to directly check it out for ourselves. No need for intermediaries. We each create our own lives, but never in a vacuum. So there’s simultaneous creation and co-creation as we dance together. It takes time and experience to muster the courage to explore by trial and error.
“This material is not for those who would deceive themselves with pretty, packaged, ribboned, truths – truths that are parceled out and cut apart so that you can digest them. That sort of material does serve a need, and there are many who give it and it is helpful for those who need it. This material demands more. It demands that you intellectually and intuitively expand it demands that you use your abilities.
“There are other ways far more difficult and you are not ready for those, but you are ready for the methods that I have given if you are willing to work. And yet by work, I mean a joyful endeavor, a spontaneous endeavor. You have simply to allow yourselves to be yourselves.” ~ ESP Class, October 21, 1969.
Put another way, we all have something to learn from Seth, we’re still unpacking his ideas some forty years later, and no one will ever have it all figured out. So there’s plenty of room for dialogue and debate. Thus, everyone’s welcome to voice their opinions and experiences as long as they stay on the constructive side, which by definition means to promote growth, development, value fulfillment and avoid stagnation. When the shadow side begins to dominate destructive opinions, flames, etc. result and they, by definition, are intended to hurt, main, destroy, and marginalize.
So there was a learning process during the first five years in which I began to understand the complexities of the social dynamics, power plays, well intended helpfulness, and so much more going on in the subtext of the email traffic on Sethnet. We averaged between 30-100+ posts per day. However, this created a high signal to noise ratio, and many people wanted more focused conversations, but didn’t know how to go about doing that without imposing rules that would constrain the very creative impulse at work and play on the list.
Again, there was consistent effort on my part to get feedback from the list on what it wanted. List focus – thread focus – was constantly revisited, as some wanted more detailed Seth-related threads, and others just enjoyed polite social banter that had little to do with Seth per se. I realized that there was room for both, but it took time. I used a new feature – polls – to get feedback from the list. These were a lot of work, but the results were always helpful in discerning feeling tone, direction, and needs of the group energy.
Moreover, once Yahoo! Groups grew so large that all members were subscribed to multiple groups, trolls started to use Sethnet for their own narcissistic agendas, feeding off the attention that their flames and titillations stirred up. Sumari can be quite the pot stirrers!
Some began to feed off the shadow projections, and became addicted to a steady diet of “shadow shit.” In the early days we said to just ignore what you didn’t like, and pay attention to what grabbed you. But the amount of shadow shit literally grew into a cesspool that couldn’t be ignored. There were calls for moderation, banning, as well as leave things alone. Some based on “Seth said,” some based on common sense.
By the summer of 2003 Sethnet had become a toxic mix of pathological personalities and well intended, loving, nurturing folks who couldn’t seem to create their own peaceful version of the list. Sethnet’s energetic gestalt teetered on chaos, and its ability to self-organize and self-correct became dysfunctional. I strongly considered leaving, but decided to facilitate the list’s need for new direction and focus.
During the process more people left, and new lists splintered off (some flowered, and some didn’t). A “great moderation debate” ensued during the summer of 2003. I used a set of polls, and worked tirelessly to communicate the results to the subscribers (see Appendix). This was a crucial time in the history of Sethnet, as it finally dawned on a slim majority of subscribers that there had to be limits imposed and enforced on the list.
The list voted to create a set of guidelines and use a group of moderators to enforce them via polls. I asked for volunteers, interviewed, and “hired” them in September, 2003. Though controversial, our subscriber list grew to over 1,300 by the summer of 2004, so we must have done something right! Besides people still had a choice to participate on other lists, but since Sethnet was the largest, in terms of subscribers and posts, it remained a focal point for the online community during this period.
Most complaints about imposing moderation on Sethnet turned out to involve people’s own issues with authority figures – corrupt authority figures. The key issue then became “who moderates the moderators?” In other words, what checks and balances were in place to prevent the abuse of authority? This is a legitimate and crucial question for any online community to adequately address. We did our best to communicate this as we developed and refined it, but the process was like driving down a road at 80 MPH while paving it.
Still, we – the first group of moderators – gradually evolved a governance system that remains in place to this day. We became a self-policing group who reviewed and voted on all moderation decisions and revisions to the guidelines; simple majority ruled. There are no unilateral actions, although moderators have the power and responsibility to interpret the spirit of the guidelines, when they are violated, and how to proceed. However, there is accountability for all decisions, and they are all documented.
Again, we discovered that 99% of the abusive situations could be nipped in the bud by private emails to discern the intent of the poster. If they don’t really give a shit, and are trolling for attention, they don’t respond. If they do, we dialogue and discern the problem and do our best to offer help.
We also discovered that Sethnet, specifically, is not a place for individual therapy. The list can function that way to a certain extent, but it is NOT a place to get professional help. So we gradually developed a list of conscious creation, Sethian therapists to recommend to people whose problems were become self-destructive or dangerous to others.
Remember that cartoon from the July 5, 1993 New Yorker when the Internet was brand new? It meant that people could take on all kinds of roles and personae as a mask to hide behind. It took us over five years to recognize various forms of pathology and interpersonal dysfunction that played out over and over on Sethnet until we put a stop to it. But we didn’t marginalize it, or sweep it under the rug. We finally understood that some people were out of balance, and in rare cases, seriously ill.
Things settled down by the summer of 2004, and the list moved on. Ironically, most Seth-based email lists had some form of moderation in place by that time, even those that claimed not to (which I call stealth moderation). During the fall, John McNally, one of the original moderators, created Sethnet Journal, picking up where Serge Grandbois left off with his short-lived Seth Journal (Serge’s attempt to continue Maude Cardwell’s Reality Change). But Serge’s journal was a print and subscription model, and John decided to make it a free ezine, and a monthly one at that, using the new blogging software that was becoming all the rage.
Four years later, Sethnet Journal is going strong with monthly articles, poetry, and art, along with notices for Seth-related websites, meeting groups, products, and services. All of this is done for free and on a volunteer basis. It has been an outreach project of love and service to the community, and I can’t thank John and all who’ve helped enough! They deserve a lot of credit and continued support (please send your articles, poems, artwork, notices, etc.).
During this time I also began to tire of Yahoo’s constant lack of technical support, and server problems that delayed emails, and even sent some into alternate realities never to be seen again. Paranoid subscribers even blamed the moderators, which is humorous only in hindsight. So in 2006 I created a new, custom version of the NewWorldView forums, which had been running in parallel since 2001, and moved Sethnet there. Besides, the NWV website had become home to best Seth, Jane Roberts, and conscious creation related resources on the web so it was a perfect match. The new forums launched on September 6, 2006 along with a newly updated NWV website. Sethnet was now part of the first Seth-based Internet portal!
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to transfer the subscriber list from Yahoo!, so there was yet another transition period, but over the last two years our subscriber list have grown to over 1540! So again, we must be doing something right! The Seth Material remains our gold standard, but we also explore Elias, Kris, Rose, and Ken Wilber as well. I learned early on that “Seth in a vacuum” produced Sethism, a fundamentalist strain of Seth based mostly on “Seth said” as validity claim.
Also, there was precarious lack of critical thinking and discernment toward what was missing from the Seth Material (for instance, the shadow, energy centers, and nonduality), meaning that it’s not a completed body of work, and yet the fundamentalists treated it as such. Pretzel logic ruled the day. The same is true with Elias, Kris, Rose, and Wilber. You can’t study them in isolated fashion or you begin to see a groupthink based on what amounts to quoting scripture as proof of truth claim. This is what led me to explore Ken Wilber’s integral approach and become an integralist (I earned an Integral Certificate from Wilber’s fledgling Integral Institute in August 2007).
So here we are ten years later, and what a long strange trip it continues to be! Moderators have come and gone, and even been fired for abusing their authority. New ones continue to volunteer and add their melodious voices to the mix. We continue to create a safe and nurturing environment where people can explore altered states and develop their psychic abilities.
Thus far I have focused on the politics of Sethnet as I think they are very important. There were many lessons learned that have value for those interested in growing their own online communities to the size and scope that have been at the heart of Lynda’s and my vision for Sethnet since day one. And let me be clear, even though Lynda was only involved for the first year, her work paved the way and strongly influenced Sethnet’s direction from day one.
I have also loved hearing the stories over the years from those who enjoyed some part of their time on Sethnet, and now NewWorldView. So I’d like to finish with one about Leolonie Elliott, whom I just met at the Colorado Seth Conference, because her story is symbolic of the power that a healthy online community has to help, heal, and nurture folks during difficult times. Leolonie is one of those delightful personalities that always had something positive to say and offered her thoughts in helpfulness on the old Yahoo! Sethnet. It turned out that she was also going through a very difficult time of major life changes and depression. Sethnet literally served as her guiding light for months during that difficult time. To make a long story short, she eventually met her current partner, Ronnie Allen, through the list when she made a trip to Colorado, and now works in a job she loves (hospice care), dances, and pursues other creative endeavors.
Stories like this make the vagaries of managing Sethnet over the last decade worthwhile. Seeing those lovely smiles reminded me, once again, why I invest so much of my creative energy in the NWV forums. They really help people, because they are properly designed and managed to allow anyone to explore the Seth material in a safe and nurturing environment that promotes growth, creativity, and fulfillment.
Sethnet remains our flagship forum, and is complemented by the Inner Visions Journal (focus on dreams, autotyping, and channeling), Kosmic Cocktail Lounge (general anything goes), and NAGEW (focus on creative writing). We are going to add a Rose forum in the coming weeks, and so we go, riding the waves of consciousness, exploring the “unknown” reality, and boldly going where few have gone before.
Thank you one and all. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. It continues to be a learning experience, and I look forward to another ten years of exploring Seth’s ideas, and helping our international community to grow. I invite you to contribute to the forums, journal, and website in whatever way floats yer boat!
In love and service,
Appendix I – Props
- There are many people to thank, most importantly the 5,000-plus subscribers who have come through and contributed over 110,000 posts. This list is for YOU!
- Seth, Jane, Rob, and Laurel for making the Seth Material available.
- Stan Ulkowski and Lynda Dahl for all their work with Seth Network Int’l.
- Volunteer moderators: John McNally, Augustina Blake, Billie Petty, Serge Grandbois, Jim Ferrigno, Don Johnson, Sean Foreman, Carmen Silvers, and Nardine Neilson.
- Sethnet Journal: John McNally (chief editor) and Kristen Fox (graphics) for consistently producing a quality ezine every month for over four years. And to everyone who continues to contribute their creative expressions.
- Finally, to Joanne, my love and light, high desert Rose, and eternal Muse for working a day job all these years that gave me the freedom to explore the Seth Material in such depth. Sethnet would not exist without your love and support!
Appendix II – History
Here are additional links from NWV (Events => Past Events) that flesh out the history of Sethnet in greater detail:
Sethnet’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) ~ many ask the same questions over and over. Great for new and old subscribers!
The Sethnet Email List Survival Guide ~ get the most out of this email list!
Richard Kendall’s January 18, 1999 Visit ~ Richard shares his perspective on attending Jane Roberts’s ESP class.
Norman Friedman’s May 18, 1999 Visit ~ Norman shares his perspective on Seth and Quantum mechanics.
Online photo album June 1999 ~ pictures taken by Rodney Davidson at the Sethnet Conference, Elmira, NY.
- Page #1
- Page #2
- Page #3
- Page #4
- Page #5
Paintings by Robert F. Butts June 1999 ~ more pictures taken by Rodney Davidson at the Sethnet Conference, Elmira, NY.
- Page #1
- Page #2
- Page #3 [Includes the famous portrait of Seth beckoning].
SethNet Group Dream 1 September 1999 ~ pages created by Annette Shacklett of the Labor Day Dream Party, Sept. 4, 5 & 6.
Remote Viewing Exercise March/April 2000 ~ Frank Webster’s fun idea, similar to what Jane and her ESP Class used to do.
A Letter from Rob Butts to Sethnet October 2000 ~ Rob’s reply to Annette Shacklett’s invitation to attend the Halloween Dream Party.
The Focus of this List ~ some thoughts from April/May 1999 on how to keep this list focused.
List Focus and Guidelines Revisited ~ a March/April 2001 interactive poll.
List Focus and Guidelines Revisited ~ a July/September 2003 interactive poll.
A Brief, Probable History of Sethnet ~ what/who gave birth to this group and why?
Sethnet Speaks, January 2006 ~ compiled by Paul M. Helfrich.
Welcome! September 2006 ~ intro to the new Sethnet on NWV by Paul M. Helfrich.