Part 5--Description of the behavioral structure of the training

An excerpt from "The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment - Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization"

Published by St. Martin's Press/1993
By Philip Cushman
Note: The use of the term "Vitality Initial Training" refers to the Basic Training of a well-known LGAT.

Table of Contents


Part 1--Enlightenment in Two Weekends - The est Training
Part 2--Day 2 behavioral structure of the training
Part 3--Day 3 behavioral structure of the training
Part 4--Day 4 behavioral structure of the training
Part 5--Day 5 behavioral structure of the training
Part 6--Post-training interview & Post-training session


Day five



Day five, event one:

[COMMENT: The Sunday session seems to be directed more to the participants' future, both in their private lives and in their Vitality lives.]

Only 1 of 3 "behavior" subjects (33%) could remember the first exercise, which he reported as a dyad that deals with their homework list of the night before. Partner A asks "What do you want, how can you get it, and what will it mean?" Partner B answers. Then they switch. At some point participants are instructed to close their eyes and feel. "Let It Be" is played. Then they share.


Day five, event two:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that although the first exercise encouraged participants to talk about what they wanted and how to get it, the trainer now attacks that viewpoint. He argues that although most people think that what they have determines what they do and who they are ("have, do, be"), real security comes only from the "inside." The trick is to start with what you are, develop skills, and you will naturally -acquire the symbols you want ("be. do, have").

[COMMENT: This change between exercise one and exercise two appears to be an example of a well-planned set up. First the trainer encouraged participants to talk about their hopes and dreams, then he tells them their "frame of reference" is all wrong, and finally he tells them what's right. Subsequently, in the next exercise, he will develop an experiential exercise that will give participants an opportunity to (a) practice the trainer's frame of reference, and (b) then "prove" it.)

In the lecture the trainer explains that "intention" is the important concept. When you know who you are, you do what is necessary. All of life, participants are told, begins with "who you are" and is then distorted by a belief system: "Living is perfection just the way it is . . . . Life is a game." It is composed of setting goals ("going for it") and then enjoying the process of it ("letting go of it").

(This kind of philosophical discourse was rather difficult for 2 of 3 "behavioral" subjects (67%) to recall and satisfactorily understand. Eleven of 15 "experience" subjects (73%) couldn't actually explain these ideas or follow them to a conclusion, they just appeared to mouth the phrases. One "experience" subject reported being very impressed by this idea: "This is what life is all about, isn't it? Working for things, and then kicking back and enjoying the process." But then a friend said "No, I don't think those are my goals, to get things and then to enjoy the ride." She thought about this and she realized she really didn't agree with the trainer after all. She reported feeling confused and troubled by this realization that somehow she had been "influenced more than I realized."

Another "experience" subject had gotten very confused about the difference between who she is and what she has. She reported:

Somehow I got it reversed. What's outside determines what's inside. In other words if I look good, I am good. . . . I wanted to fit the image. . . . I drew this picture around me--a life of total image!

(COMMENT: Her confusion is certainly not a mystery. After listening to subjects describe their reactions to this exercise, it appears as though most participants do not understand the doctrine in any coherent fashion, nor can they describe it in their own words. It is little wonder the subject above was so confused. The ideas and the presentation itself are confusing, and the more confused people are the more they work at understanding. The more they work at understanding, the higher is their evaluation apprehension. The higher their evaluation apprehension, the more they blame themselves, and therefore the less they critically evaluate the content of the proposed idea.]


Day five, event three:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the next exercise, a role play, is an opportunity for participants to put into practice the above idea presented by the training. First the trainer defines what a consideration is: "a barrier that stops us from what we are going for in life." Then he forms participants into groups of six. One participant at a time presents an issue (e.g., a "what do you want"). Four other group members act out a specific "consideration." The last group member plays the role of coach for the first. The., the participant with the "I want" speaks up and all the considerations talk at once; they are to be as noisy and obnoxious as possible. They are instructed to stop only when the first participant acts in a "clear," %rounded" manner, handling the considerations one by one. Each member gets a turn.

Afterwards, everyone shares. The trainer asks for a show of hands. He explains that "considerations are only as important as you think they are. You can handle them, or they can handle you." The trainer says he hates people who equivocate: "Either do whatever it takes, or give it up!" [COMMENT: "Consideration" is defined in the Random House Dictionary (1969) as (a) "careful thought," and (b) "something that is or is to be kept in mind in making a decision." The difference between Random House's and Vitality's definitions expresses Vitality's ideology: nothing external is a barrier to the enlightened person. If your limiting beliefs distort your intention, your considerations will block you; if your intention is clear, you can do anything. Perhaps the subject who got image and reality confused did so because Vitality's doctrine is confusing and paradoxical. The pressure Vitality puts on participants to accept the ideology is so great, and the encouragement to merge with the trainer or the organization is so appealing that it is inevitable that participants who say they get the training and accept the doctrine actually have only a superficial understanding. Their commitment and euphoria will be a product of psychological merging and a relief from the release of the pressure, not the joy of understanding something new.]


Day five, event four:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (672) reported that the lecture that follows the role playing is more informal than the other lectures. The trainer sits at the edge of the stage or wanders among the participants, who sit on the floor. The trainer shares more of himself in this setting, tells more personal anecdotes. The topic is relationships.

Consistent with Vitality's doctrine of "natural knowing," the trainer argues that the universe is "abundant'' in relationships. There is no need to become frightened and "sucky." Relationships are always available, but beliefs obscure them. The trainer advises participants to "surrender to what is already there." "Let go of a problem solving mentality. Don't demand change, just be there."

One "behavior" subject was struck in particular with one phrase: "See where the ladder leads, don't keep looking at the bad steps or the rotten wood."

[COMMENT: This idea appears to be part of the larger pattern that has been commented on earlier. The message of this metaphor, as applied to the training, may be: "don't be bothered by the authoritarian process, think about how transformed you're going to be!"] Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that a short dyad follows, which puts the ideas into practice. Both partners are instructed to simply acknowledge the other's point of view. neither arguing nor explaining.]


Day five, event five:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that the trainer then neatly segues into a new topic by remarking that individuals can transcend their frame of reference by committing to something "bigger than yourself." "Service," he lectures. "is the most advanced form of relationship. . . . To truly serve. persons must forget themselves. Giving is natural."

Then the trainer brings the staff forward. These are people who attend III Training and volunteer their time. Everyone claps and the song "Nobody Does It Better" is played on the sound system.

[COMMENT: The relationship lecture seems to emphasize the "naturalness" of relationships. again repeating the theme of regression and passivity. But another reason for this exercise becomes apparent when the trainer uses the theme of personal relationships to introduce and reward the staff. It is at this time in the training that the trainer begin to encourage participants to sign up for the next training in the series and become more involved with Vitality. It seems as though the whole tenor of the exercise has changed from lecture to recruitment. Earlier in the training participants had been encouraged to follow orders and not complain. Now they are being told that the "highest form of relationship" is to serve something "bigger than yourself." Question: What is bigger than yourself? Answer: Vitality. Question: How can you serve Vitality? Answer: The trainer introduces the Vitality staff.]

As day 5 progresses 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 15 of 15 "experience" subjects (100%) reported that the pressure to enroll in the II Training as soon as possible intensifies and becomes increasingly hard sell.


Day five, event six:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that at the meal break participants are instructed to form small groups and share intimately about a relationship.


Day five, event seven:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that when participants arrive back they go into a closed eye process that relates to an earlier guided imagery scene in the "workshop.'' After a body relaxation exercise participants are instructed to go to their workshop and work with their two imaginary "assistants" (one male, one female). The assistants lead the participant to "The Truth Door." Subjects report the trainer really plays this up. making it very dramatic. The participants ask questions of the Truth Room and the room answers. Questions are big questions about the future (e.g., "Who am I?" and "What will I do next in life?"). Then participants go back to the workshop, talk with and ;at help from their assistants regarding the future. The participants are instructed to say goodbye to the assistants, and leave the workshop. Then there is a large group sharing exercise.


Day five, event eight:

Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) described an exercise that demonstrated extra sensory perception.

[COMMENT: This exercise appears to be an attempt to demonstrate the ultimate power of the Vitality philosophy of "natural knowing."] The trainer announces that he will demonstrate how to use "natural knowing" to its fullest by appearing to "read" someone's mind. Participants are then encouraged to join with the trainer by demonstrating this skill themselves. They work in dyads, and are instructed to "set aside their mind" and go by intuition, "no matter how it sounds." The trainer "guarantees" that everyone can do it; the trick-is to listen to your first thoughts only.

[COMMENT: In this way participants psychologically merge with the trainer by sharing his power. Mind reading is an interesting metaphor to use at this moment in the training; it is merging made concrete. If the trainer can read your mind, nothing is hidden from him, no barrier can keep him out. Even the most secret of individual places can be merged. Mind reading thus becomes the ultimate in the technology of merging.]

One "experience" subject in particular was overwhelmed with this exercise. He was certain he could read minds."I wasn't guessing, I knew! This was mind blowing! I had a greater sense of my own power. It made me focus on my potential. . . . I am a very powerful person."


Day five, event nine:

After the excitement from the "mind reading" exercise quiets. the trainer returns to the topic of Vitality and the Initial Training experience.

[COMMENT: This appears to become a continuous recruitment pitch that increases in intensity. One "experience" subject remembered a very poignant moment: "Then the trainer said 'The training is about to end--no, the training is about to begin.' I just broke down and cried when he said that." Thirteen of 15 "experience" subjects (86%) remember the trainer encouraging them, and telling them they will feel "down" after the training, but "that's ok."]

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer encourages participants to relate to people who are Vitality graduates and to continue to be involved in the organization. One "behavior" subject remembered the trainer saying, "You can take Vitality as far as you want to go." Another "behavior" subject remembered the trainer saying "continued growth is all there is." It was at this Point that 3 of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 10 of 15 "experience" subjects (67%) began to get resentful: "I felt like all we were getting at this point is one big sales pitch. . . . Sure I liked the training and I thought I'd like to do another sometime, but I hated the increasing hard sell." Five of 15 "experience" subjects (33%) remembered this as a time of increasing happiness: "He just kept talking and talking about growth and what we got out of the training, and I just wanted to tell all my friends about it. I thought if everyone took the training the world would be a much better place."

By this time the trainer is recruiting quite explicitly: "Start with the II Training. . . I want you to do III" Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants are by this time familiar with his use of harsh slogans, and he uses this same style as he recruits them for II: "Are you afraid of II? That's tough! The only way to it is through it!''

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the trainer also instructs participants in the art of recruiting: "Share what you have found with your friends. I want each person here to bring friends to a guest event and to the post-training. Don't keep this to yourselves. Allow them to do the training by sharing with them."

[COMMENT: Fourteen of 15 "experience" subjects (93%) used these same words by subjects to describe their "personal" style of recruitment. Subjects claimed they did not "push" or coerce potential recruits: "I just allowed them to do the training, if they thought it was a good idea. "


Day five, event ten:

Then, after the pressure to enroll and recruit, the trainer leads the group in the last ceremony before graduation. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that participants are led in a guided imagery exercise to the "workshop" and are told to "open" themselves up from the top of their head to their crotch: "Let the energy flow through you to the middle of the room." They are instructed to feel "connected" to everyone in the room. They are instructed to open their eyes, and silently, without touching, walk to one person. make eye contact, and "share your energy." They are told to do this with several different people. "Love Song" plays over the sound system.

[COMMENT: At this moment the training appears to be building to an ultimate merging climax. Two of 3 "behavior" subjects (67%) reported that the sexual overtones of the last exercise were quite explicit.


Day five, event eleven:

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) and 14 of 15 "experience'' subjects (93%) reported that much of the graduation exercise is a blur. They remember the trainer talking, telling them they created this training, and in fact they are the source of Vitality. "Vitality is as powerful as you will make it, it depends on you." Then the relatives or recruiters of the participants are led in while the participants stand with their eyes closed. They open their eyes and their loved ones are standing opposite them, usually holding flowers or a balloon purchased from Vitality. Fifteen of 15 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that the emotional impact is tremendous. The trainer says "Goodnight, and welcome home!'' Then the music starts blaring loud rock and roll, and everybody dances. Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (1002) and 15 of 13 "experience'' subjects (100%) reported that everyone is very high, people are hugging and kissing and dancing. The party lasts for a long time. One "experience" subject remarked "people kind of lose themselves in the release of it all. It's pretty overwhelming."


Table of Contents


Part 1--Enlightenment in Two Weekends - The est Training
Part 2--Day 2 behavioral structure of the training
Part 3--Day 3 behavioral structure of the training
Part 4--Day 4 behavioral structure of the training
Part 5--Day 5 behavioral structure of the training
Part 6--Post-training interview & Post-training session

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