Chris Majer motioned toward the large picture in his hilltop penthouse, framing a myriad of Christmas lights twinkling in the distance on the far side of Puget Sound. It was a raw December night, trying to snow, and Majer, who had just jetted back to Seattle from a quick business trip to Salt Lake City, was relishing the vacation he and his wife would begin the next morning. "Hawaii," he said.
Sipping from a can of diet Minute Maid orange juice, Majer, a muscular and affable man who fits all criteria for the Yuppie label, pointed to the freeway far below. During his student days at the University of Washington in the early 1970s, he said, he had led antiwar marches on that very stretch of highway.
But now, at thirty-six, Majer heads a glossy management training and motivation firm staffed by retired military officers, psychologists, physiologists, and MBAs. Just six years after he and a sports psychologist founded Sportsmind in 1981, Majer's company landed a two-part, $4 million contract with AT&T. The goal: Teach 3000 AT&T managers how to achieve peak human performance.
As I turned the conversation to New Age and what had made it so appealing to so many, Majer seemed a little uncomfortable, shifting in his overstuffed chair.
"The term New Age has been so bandied about that I'm not sure anyone knows what it means anymore," he began. "It
could mean anything from crystals to rainbow hair to anything that Jerry Falwell doesn't like." Allowing that his company wanted no part in New Age theological discussions, he nonetheless ventured a little Sportsmind philosophy.
What we do is to allow people to retouch that spiritual foundation within themselves . . . Much of this work is about spiritual stuff, but we don't ever say that because people start getting nervous when you talk about that. It's about the human spirit, the energy or human spirituality that is in us all. It's about touching that uniquely human capacity of feeling, a space of heart-felt concern, and from there creating futures and outcomes that we all want . . . .
Sure, there's the danger of Jim Jones and some of those "crazo-cult" things, but that's an over-reaction to some New Age stuff. So what if people want to commune with crystals, get guidance from rocks, consult channelers? What is it we're afraid of in all that?1
Sportsmind, as the name implies, began when Majer applied aspects of peak performance and team cohesion to the training of athletes, including the U.S. ski and rugby teams. But the company soon found a niche in training U.S. military personnel and corporate America. With more than 8000 graduates, Sportsmind has helped executives in hundreds of major companies to achieve high performance through a combination of motivation training, physical experiences, and focused energy.
"Our stance is that people are unlimited in their individual abilities, that as humans all of us are infinitely able to do anything we want . . . [and] that all of us desire to express a greater wholeness and to be consciously in charge of our lives," Majer explained. He added that typical programs for executives include relaxation and "centering" exercises, outdoor simulation games "which are a mirror of the way people live the rest of their lives," and modified martial arts.
The U.S. Army was so impressed with Sportsmind's success with athletes and corporate entities that it hired Majer to shape up listless troops. First there was a $50,000 training program in 1983 at Fort Hood, Texas, then a $350,000 program to train Green Berets. In both cases morale shot up and sick calls plunged.
"We amazed them . . . We pushed all sorts of boundaries of
human performance," Majer summed up, adding that meditation techniques helped military Special Forces stay hidden in enemy territory for long hours.
That wasn't the first time the government cooperated with transformation innovators, however. Research projects on meditation, biofeedback, psychic phenomena, and alternative medical approaches have been funded by the Department of Defense since the 1970s.2 Also, in the early 1980s officers at the Army War college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, did a study aimed at creating a New Age Army."3
According to participants, the study envisaged training soldiers in meditation, extrasensory skills, magic, and "neuro-linguistics," a hypnosis technique. Army officials later said the program had been canceled.
Another project, known as the First Earth Battalion, was the brainchild of an untraditional military think tank called the Delta Force. "The battalion, also called the Natural Guard, was projected to be a New Age militia of warrior monks attuned to resolving conflict through yoga, meditation and the martial arts . . . . Although the Delta Force is now out of commission, it did inject New Age ideas into the military."4
Sports psychologists have long known that visualizing an event in the controlled dream state summons body involvement at the deepest levels, and that imaging athletic skills before taking part in an event can result in superperformance. Bruce Ogilvie, the first psychologist to work with large numbers of athletes, often relies on the technique of self-talk, in which athletes "rescript the language they use in approaching other players, the racket or club, or even the ball."5
OMNI magazine interviewed a dozen top sports psychologists as well as some of the athletes who have excelled using their methods, then distilled their complex techniques into sixteen exercises which the editors listed under "Mind Control: How to Get It, How to Use It, How to Keep It." In addition to visualization, the techniques include stimulating right-brain alpha waves, generating flow states, and entering controlled dreams.6
For 160-pound, vegetarian, nonbodybuilder, spiritually adept Sri Chinmoy, meditation is said to provide a fountain of limitless strength. The 56-year-old Indian master, who has run "ultramarathons" and reputedly lifted elephants and
airplanes, also directs meditations for peace at the United Nations. One of his greatest feats was lifting 7,063 pounds with one arm.7 The lift was unofficial, however, and took place in his specially outfitted exercise room
Meditation techniques can be applied to any sport, and Vasanti Nienz, who in 1986 was the first German woman to swim the English Channel, has said that "someday meditation will be considered as essential to optimum performance as diet and training schedules."8
Physical and mental fitness and team cohesion. Unlimited abilities. Being in harmony with the universe. These are the staples of Sportsmind and a passel of other human potentials management organizations increasingly in demand by corporations that want to gain and hold the competitive edge.
Pete Saunders, head of Success Potentials Unlimited, a division of his non-profit psychic organization Free Soul, says the "psychic foot in the door" to corporate America has been stress management. "Business equated psychic with wierd . . . but they understood stress and . . . needed help with that. When they saw how effective our mental dynamics worked for stress they said 'Give us more.' So now you talk about psychic attunement and expanded mental states, and they say, 'How can I use that in my business?' "9
California Business magazine reported in 1986 that a survey of 500 company owners and presidents found that more than half had used some form of "consciousness-raising" technique.10 The figure squares with a 1984 survey conducted by Richard Watring, former personnel director of the Budget-Rent-a-Car Corporation in Chicago. His poll of 780 personnel directors showed that 45% had "seen or used" one or more psychotechnologies of consciousness-raising.11
In July 1986, representatives of some of the nation's largest corporations, including IBM, AT&T, and General Motors, met to "discuss how metaphysics, the occult and Hindu mysticism might help executives compete in the world market."12
One major petrochemical company provides regular workshops in stress management for its employees and hired a "faith healer to read auras of ailing employees and run her hands over their fields of energy."13 Other corporate giants
who have signed on New Age consultants include Procter & Gamble, TRW, and Polaroid.
Anna Wise of the Evolving Institute of Boulder, Colorado, reported that a Wall Street executive hired her to do a corporate brain profile of his forty employees "to determine what creative training programs each needed."14
And to increase efficiency, firms such as Merrill Lynch, Ford, Westinghouse, RCA, Boeing, Scott Paper, and Calvin Klein have sent employees to seminars conducted by groups like Innovation Associates, Lifespring, Energy Unlimited, and Transformational Technologies (a 1984 spinoff of Werner Erhard's est) to develop their "motivation for success."
By the end of 1987, Transformational Technologies had licensed fifty-eight small consulting firms for a $20,000 fee plus 8% of the gross selling Erhard techniques to dozens of Fortune 500 companies.15
These major New Age inroads into management training are not surprising in light of the popularity of courses like "Creativity in Business" taught by social psychologist Michael Ray at Stanford University's prestigious Graduate School of Business. Ray invokes Zen, yoga, and tarot cards and includes chanting, "dreamwork," and a discussion of the New Age Capitalist" in his class, which has a long waiting list.
Techniques of humanistic psychology and Eastern mysticism are often incorporated into management training in terms more acceptable to those who might be put off by New Age language. But even these often conjure their own glossary of arcane lingo.
And sometimes, as a corporate statement of principles worked out for Pacific Bell by consultants of New Age trainer Charles Krone attests, the alternate language can become downright "bafflegab." For example, the statement defined "interaction" as the "continuous ability to engage with the connectedness and relatedness that exists and potentially exists, which is essential for the creations necessary to maintain and enhance viability of ourselves and the organization of which we are a part."16
"I see training consultants employing the very same techniques that promote New Age transformation but for different reasons," Watring, the Budget-Rent-a-Car executive,
said in a telephone interview. "Meditation techniques are recommended for stress management, and visual imaging for improving intuitive faculties, creativity, and to get employees to accept greater responsibility for themselves . . . . But along with that come some side effects . . . . If you practice a New Age technique often enough with intensity you'll have this mystical experience . . . and accept the worldview beliefs that support it."
Elaine Smith, a pioneer in developing transformational techniques for businesses and the peace movement, said as much during a panel discussion on "Creativity in Business" given in San Francisco in the fall of 1987.
To help a CEO "connect with the level of consciousness where all truth exists, you don't have to teach him kundalini yoga," she explained, adding that "creative juices" can be tapped rather like slipping a drinking straw into a pool of creativity.
Another panelist, Brad Brodsky, publisher of a listing of New Age businesses called "Open Exchange," agreed, saying that trainers shouldn't initially use "certain phrases or concepts" and that they shouldn't make employees feel they are being indoctrinated into a form of "company religion."
Is religion an issue in corporate leadership development programs? It is and it isn't.
Chris Majer says that over a seven-year period, only one couple, who had "newly converted to some fundamentalist beliefs," declined to take a Sportsmind course.
However, hundreds of workers objected to a 1987 Pacific Bell training program called "Kroning," some on religious grounds, provoking a scolding of the company by the Public Utilities Commission. The watchdog agency found the program enormously expensive (at least $40 million) and recommended that $25 million of the cost be charged to stockholders instead of tacking it onto customer's phone bills. (About 15,000 of Pacific Bell's 67,000 employees took the Kroning program before the company halted it and ordered its own study.)
Although the company claimed that productivity increased by nearly a fourth after employeees were Kroned, several disgruntled Bell workers said that the exercises were, in fact, mind control sessions based on the teachings of Georges
Gurdjieff, a controversial Russian mystic.17 One called Kroning "a mental dress code."18
New Age human potentials training "may prove to be a livelier First Amendment workplace issue in the next few years than traditional questions such as the right to take off on the Sabbath of your choice," predicts John J. Reilly.19 In another widely reported incident, a car dealership sales manager in Tacoma, Washington, was fired because he refused to complete a course called "New Age Thinking to Increase Dealership Profitablity." In a lawsuit, Steven Hiatt claimed that the course, offered by The Pacific Institute of Seattle, emphasized the concept of self-will rather than God's will.
Pacific Institute materials are confusing on that point, though the program's originator, Louis Tice, a former high school football coach of Roman Catholic background, has denied that Pacific has any New Age connections.
"It's just good old common sense," Tice says of the training materials.
The Tice materials used for Rockwell aerospace employees approvingly quote William Penn: "Man must choose to be ruled by God or he's destined to be ruled by a tyrant and then might makes right."
But on another page in the same manual is this trainee affirmation: "I choose to treat myself with dignity and proceed to move toward full love, wisdom, freedom and joy, knowing that I am the authority over me" (emphasis added). The Tice manual for Rockwell relies heavily on self-image psychology and says that the campus is "conveniently located inside yourself."20
Tice, an internationally known educator and author who charges $8,000 a lecture, numbers among his clients General Motors, the Internal Revenue Service, the Central Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, and many fire and police departments. And during 1987, Pacific Institute turned $20 million in sales.21
Tice tells trainees to frequently repeat positive self-talk slogans such as "I am a super salesperson and grow every day in every way"; "If it's going to be, it's up to me"; and "Imagination times vividness equals reality on the subconscious level." The courses, like Krone training, create an
insider's vocabulary with key concepts such as "scotomas . . . cultural trances . . . flat worlds," "lock on-lock out," and "reticular activating."
The Anaheim, California, chapter's ten-hour management program for Rockwell titled "New Age Thinking" was retitled "Investment in Excellence" in October 1987 perhaps because of bad publicity the New Age label had attracted in some management quarters.22
Ron Zemke, senior editor of Training magazine, assessed New Age efforts to transform people on an organization-wide basis:
If we're talking techniques that claim to work miracles on large groups of people and a philosophy of life that insists on the growth of the individual as well as the success of the organization, we're talking motherhood and apple pie. If that's the New Age, who could object? . . .
The good news, apparently, is that some evolving procedures psychotechnologies, if you like may be effective tools for making fundamental changes in people's attitudes and thinking. The bad news is . . . well, the same as the good news: Meditation and guided imagery and Suggestopedia and affirmations may indeed be effective tools for changing people.23
In other words, the problem may be not that New Age psychotechnologies don't work, but that they work all too well.
Chapter 17 || Table of Contents
1. Chris Majer, interview with author, Seattle, Wash., 21 December 1987.
2. Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy, Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980s (Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1980), 23637.
3. Robert Lindsey, "New Age Invades American Way of Life," International Herald Tribune, 3 October 1986.
4. Karen Hoyt et al., New Age Rage (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1987), 99; Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy, 347.
5. Mark Teich and Giselle Dodeles, "Mind Control: How to Get It, How to Use It, How to Keep It," OMNI (October 1987): 54.
6. Ibid., 5360.
7. George Craig McMillan, "Laya Yoga and Enlightenment," Life Times Magazine, no. 3, 4445.
8. "Personal Best: Mind over Muscle," Women's Sports & Fitness Magazine (May 1987): 60.
9. "Zen and the Art of Making Money," Washington Post, 9 January 1987.
10. Lindsay, "New Age Invades American Way of Life."
11. Richard L. Watring, "Transcendental Management" (1984), an abstract of "A Study of the Emergence of New Age Concepts in Human Resources Development," 45.
12. New York Times, 28 September 1986, pt. B
13. Otto Friedrich et al., "New Age Harmonies" (cover story), TIME, 7 December 1987, 6263.
14. "A User's Manual to the Brain, Mind and Spirit," OMNI WholeMind Newsletter (October 1987): 127.
15. Jeremy Main, "Trying to Bend Managers' Minds," Fortune Magazine, 23 November 1987, 96.
16. Ibid., 100.
17. Anetta Miller and Pamela Abramson, "Corporate Mind Control," Newsweek, 4 May 1987, 39.
18. "Management Training Gets Too Personal for Some at UC," San Francisco Chronicle, 23 March 1987.
19. John J. Reilly, "New Age, New Rage," This World, A Journal of Religion and Public Life (Winter 1988): 122.
20. Louis Tice, New Age Training for Achieving Your Potential (Seattle: Pacific Institute, 1980).
21. "CBS Evening News," 4 February 1988.
22. Rockwell News (Anaheim ed.), 12 October 1987.
23. Ron Zemke, "What's New in the New Age?" (cover story), Training Magazine (September 1987): 2533.
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