Marcus Weston might not be what you’d expect a Kabbalah teacher to look like. He began his career in global cash-management at Citibank and had spent every moment of his three year degree frustrated “for the sole reason that I couldn’t wait to hit the big wide world and start making money”.
So, what led to the career transformation, with a focus on helping others rather than himself, and how has he led other business people to follow suit?
“I always had a delusional quality; first in banking, then in business, that I could change the world,” he explained. “In the beginning, this sounded unashamedly materialistic and belligerent.”
He said something “quite personal” happened to him, transforming his desire to hold a billion pounds into a “deeper craving to help a billion people”. Once this change in motivation crystallised, Weston promptly had a conversation with his now ex-business partner and left the firm.
His first job in Kabbalah was in the LA warehouse, where he spent three years learning intensively from Rabbi Berg, who helped popularise the practice in the 70s. It was something of a transformative experience for him. “The best way to picture my three year experience is to imagine leaving the city – 24/7, boom, bust and hustle – and flying off to Tibet to study one on one with the Dalai Lama for three years,” he said.
He now works at the London Centre, which arrived in the capital in 1998.
“When I came to a free introductory talk about 16 years ago the classes were tiny,” Weston said. The centre now sees around 1,000 people studying weekly, making use of its open-door policy. “It touches every type of person from every walk of life, but I have seen a particular surge in business people,” Weston said. “People desiring to get ahead, looking for an edge.”
While Madonna and other celebrities oversaw Kabbalah’s steep rise to public prominence in the 90s, many had viewed it as a fad, soon to be passed over for the next alternative spiritual practice to provide people with a way to navigate through the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Yet, it’s evidently still popular – though its significance to business people is perhaps more unexpected.
Weston thinks Kabbalah can be a route to “greater success from a deeper core of self” and with more people increasingly concerned with doing business the right way, it can provide entrepreneurs and CEOs a way to do “better business from a better place with real values”.
He said more people are asking questions such as: “Does winning always mean someone has to lose? How can I make a real difference? Do you have to sell out to be successful?”
This, coupled with the ongoing struggle to find a career which is both fruitful and worthwhile – one which an individual actually enjoys doing, has meant more business people have turned to Kabbalah to try and find answers.
Piers Adam, owner of nightclubs Mahiki and Whisky Mist and serial entrepreneur Jamie True – who made an estimated £15m from the sale of app Grapple – are just two proponents of the practice, who just happen to be successful business people too.
The courses run at the London Centre claim to help unlock people’s potential and this can take many different forms.
For some of those who have taken up Kabbalah studies, Weston said it’s simply “a great tool to give them an extra gear at work”, while for others it holds more gravitas – “it’s really a lifeline”.
“They come having tried other studies, paths or life-coaching and they usually fall short not going deep enough,” he said.
Weston thinks the practice’s profound quality can help people meet their “real” selves, which is the reason it “usually attracts the stronger-minded and more ambitious types”.
He recounted a recent example of a student who was in the midst of “quite a sizeable deal” and was able to diffuse a significant confrontation and turn the situation around on the spot to both parties’ advantage. “The key is getting to understand the Ego – the false self that we present, pretend and project to others,” Weston believes.
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The student was prone to frustration when challenged and said he would usually have killed the deal on the spot in order to prove a point, but Kabbalah classes had helped him catch himself.
When considering that Kabbalah is an esoteric discipline and school of thought, originally developed within the scope of Jewish thought (though traditional practitioners believe its earliest origins pre-date world religions), that places an emphasis on personal growth, it is not that surprising to see why it has become a draw for business people.
It may seem intangible and farfetched for sceptics, but Weston says he sees enough personal changes on a daily basis to feel he is genuinely sensing “a positive change through all of society”.
The way Weston speaks, it’s hard to believe he was a high-flying banker before turning his back on the corporate world. “I’ve still not met anyone as cynical as I was before I took my first Kabbalah class back in the day,” he said wryly.
“The student base at the Centre is generally professional and intelligent – so whether people come to the free introductory classes out of intrigue, scepticism, openness, desire or recommendation, at the end of the day, for the more mindful public to stay in classes, you’ve got to deliver quality and practical tools that anyone from any background can use to see a life improvement.”
He goes so far as to say that he thinks the merging of spirituality and business will be “the trend that all business will move in”, and that much of the trouble comes from public perception of the word “spiritual” in the UK. “It just means mindful and transformative.”
“We demonstrate to companies and people that studying Kabbalah is in no way religious or airy-fairy but rather a practical set of insights and ideas to manifest change, which in businesses means greater profitability and productivity at work.”