The COVID-19 lockdown in the Spring of 2020 attracted many newcomers to Leelanau County. Here they could frolic in our abundant outdoors and our national lakeshore without fear of the disease. Many took advantage of the ability to work remotely. Some craved anonymity.
Perhaps none of those transplants were as mysterious, and now as controversial, as Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, the Suttons Bay residents and relationship coach gurus behind Twin Flames Universe, which a December 2020 Vanity Fair article called “a sort of therapeutic-spiritual reality show.”
Last week the streaming service Netflix launched a scathing, three-part documentary series titled “Escaping Twin Flames,” which casts the Ayans’ online community as a cult whose leaders prey upon members and charge them thousands of dollars while pressing them into toxic relationships and manipulating their emotional and mental health struggles. The series is now the number 1 show on Netflix. Twin Flames has also attracted negative national press from Vice and Time magazine.
According to the narrative presented on Netflix and in Vice, the Ayans withheld money from Twin Flames members who worked for the organization and bilked coaches half their earnings; they pressured members of the online community to cut ties with their own families; they made members write essays on why Jeff wasn’t a cult leader, all while he claimed to have a special connection with God; they encouraged members to use the “mirror exercise” and blame themselves for a partner’s shortcomings; they dissuaded members who suffered from depression from seeking mental health, and one later took her own life; they told women in the community they were obligated to have sex with their “twin flame” partners even if they didn’t want to, and they pressured members to assume different genders in hopes of finding their “twin flame.”
And now they live here in Leelanau County after leaving Farmington Hills in early 2020. Jeff and Shaleia Ayan purchased a five-bedroom, luxury home with a swimming pool south of Suttons Bay on April 7, 2020, for $850,000. (The property is now worth nearly $1.4 million.) Their living room fireplace is reportedly flanked by $11,000 worth of amethyst, with which Shaleia regularly communes, according to Vanity Fair.
I really encourage you to read the rest of Jacob’s excellent reporting in the Glen Arbor Sun. Vanity Fair has a deep dive as weel, and I definitely recommend digging into the words of Leelanau clinical social worker and therapist Ann DelMariani words on the danger of spirituality cults:
“The Twin Flames Universe is an example of a trend that has become ubiquitous across the country, including right here in northern Michigan. As a licensed mental heath professional, with a responsibility to a very strict code of ethics, I am very concerned about the prevalence of untrained individuals and groups marketing ‘coaching’ to vulnerable people experiencing the emotional, somatic and relational consequences of complex trauma.
“The model is always similar: market to spaces populated with vulnerable and often traumatized individuals seeking help to address relational and emotional distress, make unrealistic guarantees, sprinkle spirituality as justification for extreme guru-style power differential, inaccurately disparage of and differentiate from traditional forms of mental heath treatment, utilize marketing and sales schemes (such as package deals, limited time offers, money back guarantees, client testimonials, pre-recorded virtual courses, tiered levels of access to practitioners, and leveled mastery labels and multi level pyramid scheme style advancement and ‘investment’ opportunities where the wealth and success of those on the highest rung of the hierarchical structure is flaunted as a promise to those who invest and reach the highest level of spiritual awakening and emotional healing.)”
Netflix Trailer for Escaping Twin Flames
Twin Flames Cult Leader Jeff and Shaleia Ayan in downtown Suttons Bay (via Instagram)