Sunset Star 7 by Brian Sapere


Recruiting Methods


From A history and analysis of the Sharon Gans group, also known as "The Work"


March 2002
By former members of the Gans schools
Edited by Rick Ross


Teachers at the Gans schools never discuss the history of the group, and students who ask are often intimidated into never asking again. What is known is that Alex Horn established a group in northern California with his wife. Interestingly, one of Alex Horn's early students was supposedly Robert Burton who later created the "Fellowship of Friends," a group which has often been called a "cult" and has a sordid history of sex scandals, bad press and lawsuits.


Recruitment Techniques


Since the operations of the group are essentially a secret, the recruitment of new members is accomplished through the special efforts of the group's members.  Maintaining secrecy seems to be of paramount importance, so the recruitment process of new members involves the creation of elaborate ruses designed to earn the trust of potential recruits.  Recruitment is a five-step process, as "transmitted" or laid out by Sharon Gans.  All recruiters typically follow this process and are supervised by their "teachers."  The process involves "making friends" with strangers through a series of five meetings of ever-increasing intimacy that culminate in a special invitation to join the group.  If the potential recruit is interested, he or she must undergo one and/or sometime two interviews with one or more "teachers," before finally being given entrance.

Immediately disqualified, as candidates are blacks, gays, journalists and/or anyone with a close connection to law enforcement, the military or intelligence services.  Sharon Gans and her trusted teachers offer elaborate esoteric explanations for these restrictions, which group members sheepishly accept and hypocritically defend.

Recruiters most often keep an active list of at least 10 potential recruits at all times.  They may do this by going to public events, bars, diners, concerts, museums, bookstores, lectures, the theater and yoga classes.  Anywhere where they can strike up conversations with potential targets.  The goal of such conversation is to create a "connection" and get a phone number.

The person that is met then can go on the recruiter's list. At weekly recruiting meetings, recruiters report about their work.  Promising recruits are discussed, and suggestions are made as to how to implement the next step in the recruitment process.  Additionally, recruiters work in teams and/or with partners, and spend many hours each week on the phone in what are called "flash meetings" to "create energy" and organize their lives so that they can "make their aim" for the week.

This "line of work" as it is called, may become the defining activity of the recruiter's existence as they are pressured to find new "students."  This may easily occupy 20 hours a week; over and above other time devoted to various group activities.  Recruitment also requires the expenditure of personal money to cover transportation, babysitting fees, and the cost of participating in events around the city that recruiters would not otherwise attend.

The rest of the five-step meeting process, which takes place, usually at meals, is as follows:


  • Second meeting

Recruiters gear the conversation toward the potential recruit and find out the facts of that person's life.  Age, marital status, how much money they make, composition of their family, where they grew up, profession, etc.  This is done while revealing nothing in return.  Recruiters all have a service number they provide to potential recruits that is typically answered only by a recording, which does not divulge their last name, place of residence or employment.


  • Third meeting

Recruiters take the conversation into more personal territory.  They work to discover a potential recruit's personal "ache" or disappointments in life.  During this third meeting, another recruiter may "pass through" seemingly spontaneously and/or as if by accident.


  • Fourth meeting

Recruiters propound one of the basic tenets of the school and see how the potential recruit receives it.  This tenet states that all that is good and true in human history has been guided by the invisible work of esoteric "schools," which have been sustained by the "conscious" work of "conscious" people.  Recruiters then give examples of such invisible "school" work; and may cite Pythagoras, Plato, Shakespeare, Moses, Buddha, or even Jesus.  They are then claimed as conscious beings that are the products of the most successful "schools" in history.

The most skillful recruiters are able to give plausibility to the work of "schools" in history and then effectively bridge such conversation to the crucial question, which is the "aim" of the fourth meeting; "If there is such a school in existence today, would you be interested in studying there?"  An answer in the affirmative leads to the fifth meeting.


  • Fifth meeting

Now the recruiter will tell the potential recruit about the existence of an "esoteric school" or a "school of inner development" that is open by invitation only.  Recruits are told there is a "tuition" that is arranged on an individual basis with the "teachers," and are then told about three rules, which they must agree to, which are silence, no drugs and no exchanging phone numbers or dating people in the group, for awhile anyway.  If the potential recruit is still interested in the school, an interview with a teacher is then arranged.

By this time, the potential recruit is convinced that he or she has stumbled upon an exclusive and miraculous answer to their prayers, and led to believe that the teacher(s) they will be meeting have special, spiritual accomplishments.  If the potential recruit is at a minimum sufficiently deferential at their interview, willing to suspend disbelief, abide by the rules, commit to going to eight consecutive classes and work with someone who will be assigned to them called a "sustainer," he or she is then admitted to "conduct an experiment."  That is, eight consecutive classes over a four week period.

There was a period of many years in which this process yielded not a single new "student."  But nevertheless this intensive work was maintained relentlessly, 12 months a year, with the possible exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This enormous expenditure of energy on something that appeared so unprofitable and unrewarding is hard to explain.  Unless it is understood what the recruiters forced themselves to believe.  That is, that they were being given the opportunity to engage in a "line of work" for the good of "school" that was the most difficult and spiritually valuable form of "work on oneself" available.

In recent years, in order to help the recruiting effort, the group has been mounting a periodic lecture series at the New York Film Academy.  This series is entitled "Yearning for Meaning in Our Lives," through this series members of the group give lectures with a spiritual bent on esoteric topics.  This might include discussions about pyramids, the Kabbalah, Celtic mythology etc.

Potential recruits are invited to the lecture series, which is the focus of yet another "line of work."  Not only are the lectures themselves the center for refining recruits, but lecturers are prepared to handle tough and hostile questions.  And they also will attempt to solicit further interest from unsuspecting audience members.

Everyone in the group is often told to put up flyers all over New York City to help fill the lecture hall for the series.  Because the group wants to maintain anonymity, it does not openly advertise.

It is a rather simple matter to be dropped as a potential recruit.  For example, if a potential recruit insists upon getting a direct phone number and/or verifying a recruiter's last name, they will be dropped.  Typically this is avoided by recruiters, who instead offer to meet someone at their workplace, apartment etc.  Recruiters often will have scripted answers ready for troubling questions, as they are well trained. But their insistence upon anonymity often puts off potential recruits and/or raises suspicion.



July 20, 2014

Chapter 2: How to “Join” a Cult

Repost on The Gentle Souls' Revolution blog


This spring, organizers of a literary event invited me to read a narrative version of Chapter 2, How to “Join” a Cult.  I have heard now repeatedly that no one “joins a cult”.  People join groups that speak to something in them.  Once in these groups, people discover that the presentation doesn’t fit the package.  Once in for a time, you might find yourself thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this … “


Sources tell me that “school” has whittled down the five-meeting recruitment process to three meetings.  The overall deception, and manipulation, however, remain the same.


On that note, here is the Chapter 2, How To “Join” a Cult rewrite:


Step-by-Step to Cult Membership for Lost Souls & Recruiters


You’ve always wanted to join a cult, but didn’t know how.  You could visit Scientology’s local branch office, but you’d prefer something a little more “private” — the smaller, more secretive, harder to find, cottage-industry cult — like, say, a “secret esoteric mystery school”.  This step-by-step guide will refine your vibrations to generate the “magnetic center” and attract the right recruiter to you.


You, on the other hand, are seeking lost souls for your secret cottage-industry cult.  It’s challenging — and sometimes dangerous — but your imperative mission to awaken sleeping humanity calls!  You must find and save lost souls; fellow soldiers who seek meaning and purpose; those who long to connect to something bigger than themselves; those who will join the effort to safeguard secret, society-saving, esoteric ideas; those who will surrender everything else to this higher purpose until the grave, or senility sets in … whatever happens first … at $350 a month.  To learn how to instantly recognize your devotees, bait your line and hook them every time, read on!


Step 1: Be Broken Hearted, Discontented and Constantly Questing:


Rain saturated Boston in spring, 2006.  Every day I stepped off the train into the latest deluge.  Jeff and I started dating in March.  For years we practiced tai chi with the same teacher.  One night we joined with classmates to hear music, after which we peeled off from the group and went to the nearest pub.  His blarney entertained me and — as was typical of me — I found the storyteller attractive; the dysfunction played out in the typical way with a new twist.


At the time, I was completing final projects and preparing to graduate from a writing program.  I was launching a new career — I hoped.  The new relationship raised additional hopes — after an unimpressive roster of failed romances, maybe I had found the one.  My life was beginning to turn around, I hoped.


But Jeff’s gifted gab started digressing into random and disconnected thoughts.  “Context, Jeff?”  I would tease him.  “If you want me to know what you’re talking about, context would help.”


One day, he abruptly disappeared and avoided my calls.  We were through, I figured.  But just as abruptly, he apologized.  We were circling Walden Pond — our break up locale — he took my hand and revealed that interactions between us were playing out in his head.  The storyteller had been spinning imaginary conversations — he was angry at me for things I had never said, in response to the things he had never told me.


This screaming siren should have sent me scrambling away at warp speed.  Nope.  With hope and a savior complex as my motivator, I gave our romance a second chance.  Predictably, disappearing-act round two began, with the heartwarming addition of Jeff's complaints flooding my email inbox.  I wrote back: don’t email me.  If you’ve something to say, call.  The stream accelerated into a relentless river of pressured, cruel and accusatory messages.  I blocked him, put pen to paper and wrote four sentences:




I need to end this.  Don’t contact me.
Sam has your stuff.  If you want it back, call him.





I sent the letter; the rain clouds burst.  I was drenched inside and out.


Step Two: Magical Grocery-Store Encounter


Remember lost souls are everywhere.  Stay awake during your day-to-day comings and goings!  Let your “aim” guide your every moment.  Your “Aim is your God”!  While shopping at Whole Foods, ask yourself who in here is longing for “freedom"?  Arm yourself with prepared questions, such as “who do you admire in history?”  Strike up a conversation, develop rapport, be positive, but don’t linger!  Keep it fast, friendly and upbeat; don’t give your new “friend” time to question – less is more.  Say, “I have to run, but I’ve really enjoyed talking to you!  We should get together sometime.  Can I get your phone number?”


Uncomfortable with the hidden agenda?  Remember, you are doing this poor soul-less, sleepwalking slob a favor by introducing him or her to “The Work”.  Only you are “awake” enough to sense his/her “magnetic center”.  Remember how “The Work improved your life!”  Once upon a time, someone was awake enough and bold enough to do this favor for you.


Don’t mention the expectation of lifelong tenure at $350 month; the eternally, exponentially expanding group demands; the alienation from friends and family outside the group.  In fact, don’t mention the group.  You are simply making a “new friend”.  Finally, for your safety, give your target recruit a pre-established answer phone — i.e. a voice mail.


Shortly before Jeff’s email onslaught, I attempted one last conversation: “If we are going to break up, let’s at least be adult about it; let’s have a summit,” I said.  “I’ll pick up some food.  Come over and we’ll talk.”  He agreed.


On summit night, I shopped at Whole Foods Market.  Waiting in the cashier’s line, I ruminated over my failures – 40-years old, temping for $15/hour, “career” aimless and amorphous, another failed relationship, blah, blah, blah.  Enveloped in self-pity, I was vaguely aware of the family behind me.  A pretty, dark-haired woman, pointed to a magazine cover and said to her daughter, “What do you think of that?”  Her daughter looked at the photo — a Zen garden — and rolled her eyes.  Then the woman asked me, “What do you think?”


Inside me something said, “What does she want?”  I dismissed that thought.  “It looks awesome,” I replied, wistfully.  The question felt strange, but the garden looked green and peaceful; beautiful and serene – a perfect contrast to my despair, unrest and discontent.  I wanted to crawl inside the magazine cover and sit in that garden.  Bing!  Cult recruitment was off and running.


Lisa, a painter, and her husband, Josh, a writer like me, engaged me in conversation.  We shared consternation(s) about squeezing our passions between life’s obligations.  I complained about my boring and meaningless temp job.  The cashier frantically rang up items over our blather, as the line extended behind us.  They briefly pulled me out of my morass, so when Lisa said, “We should get together.”  I said, “Great.”  We exchanged information and parted ways.  I drove home to be blown off by my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend.


As my relationship unraveled, Lisa left messages persistently and patiently — undeterred by my slow response.  I was busy falling apart, after all.  I was busy letting Jeff shred my heart.  I was busy feeling old and lost and crappy.  I was busy weeping with the sky.


One day I was home.  The phone rang, I answered.  We scheduled a “meeting”.


Step Three: Five meetings


Pursue patiently, until you set up a meeting.  In the first two meetings  gather information — is your potential recruit employed?  What is his/her job?  How much money does he or she make?  Married or single?  Does he or she have children?  Does he or she long for purpose, question reality — have a “magnetic center”?  For “your safety and privacy” refrain from talking about yourself as much as possible.


In meetings three and four, insert “secret” esoteric ideas into conversations; do they spark interest?  If yes, tell the new recruit, you want to introduce him/her to a “friend”.  Your more experienced colleague will establish whether this recruit is appropriate.   We don’t want just any old lost soul; our recruits must have “magnetic center”.  They must be transitioning, or unsatisfied, vulnerable in some way.  Oh and, by the way, if said recruit works for law enforcement, military, or the media, your more experienced colleague will reject them.


Lisa and I took walks, drank coffee, wandered museums and met for lunch.  The magical new friendship felt like a divine intervention — orchestrated from above, right when I needed some hope.  She asked me a lot of questions and listened attentively.  I revealed more and more about my discontent with myself and my life.  She told me almost nothing about herself.  Generally, I tend to be a listener and ask questions, so the dynamic felt uncomfortable and yet I looked forward to our visits.


One day I said, “I don’t know what it is about you, Lisa.  I talk so much about myself.”


“That’s good, isn’t it?”  she asked.  “It’s different.”


“What about you?”  I asked.  “How did you meet your husband?”


She shifted in her chair, and looked down.  “We met in an acting class.  It’s hard to explain.”  She changed the subject.  It struck me as odd, but I followed her lead.  Five years later I would leave “school” and learn that many “schooled” couples “meet in an acting class”.


At the time, though, my need for validation overrode suspicions.  Lisa had a gentle presence and a great sense of humor.  We laughed a lot and discussed fascinating topics and global mysteries.  I wondered about the meaninglessness of my day-to-day existence: another failed relationship; empty temp job; a persistent and unending longing to pursue my songwriting and connect that art form to a passion – grabbing for the brass ring and always missing.  She appeared to understand without judgment and won my trust through her patience, kindness and ability to empathize.


“Is this all there is?”  I would (stereotypically) wonder out loud.  “There has to be more to life.”


At meeting 4, she popped the big question: “How would you like to meet other, like-minded people?  I get together with a group of friends on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  We discuss life’s big questions and ponder ideas.”


According to Lisa, people came and went.  They laughed a lot.  These ideas, she said, provide guidelines on how to live, tools if  you will.  Suspicion, curiosity and hope poked at me; but hope took the lead – maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally found something that can help me break out of a cycle of constant failings.  My self-judgment steam-rolled over lovely friendships, dysfunctional but loving family, musical and artistic passions and academic degrees from the Harvard Extension School, Lesley University and Hiram College.


This pervasive self-doubt and persistent longing for things that felt unattainable, namely musical and artistic pursuits, made me the perfect target for “school” – a win for the ambitious cult recruiter.


“Sure, why not.”  I replied.


She wanted to introduce me to a “friend” and then informed me of the first required deception, a.k.a. “clever insincerity”: “It is very important that you not tell anyone about this.  It’s private, just for you.


The secretiveness should have been a red light.  It was a red light.  I disregarded it.  The seductiveness of “privacy, just for me” outweighed my suspicions; besides that, I trusted her.


Step Four: Meeting Robert — “Just for Me”


At the fifth meeting, introduce the new recruit to Robert.  He will make the final call.


Torrents fell in sheets and buckets, again, when I met Lisa and a slightly round, very tan, bearded man named Robert at Pete’s Coffee.  I commented on the steady deluge hitting Boston that spring.


Robert replied, “It has been said that raindrops are angel’s tears, and that the angels are crying.”


Wow!  I’d been raining all spring — the thought of crying with angels cinched the deal — let the magic begin!  As we sipped lattes, Robert expounded on how each human — in purest form — is an “essence” visiting earth from the “starry world” – earth is not home.  We journey here, he said, to learn something about an essential weakness.  I heard those angel voices rise and saw sunbeams part the dark clouds of my  dirge.  Finally!  I’ve met others who could explain and understand my lifelong befuddlement and sense of not belonging to this world!


But Robert had moved on — he pontificated on other ideas — and I kept asking him, “What do you mean?”  He finally said — with a wee bit of exasperation leaking out — “Well, I’m trying to tell you.”  On looking back, I see that his entire rap was an introduction and exposition on the “ideas” to come.  I was unable to absorb all the new “knowledge”.  He was outlining the “school” experience, should I choose to accept the mission.


At one point in this final meeting, Lisa and I shared my post-Hurricane Katrina, disaster relief adventure with Robert.  In 2005, I joined with Scientologists and handed out bottled water and gallons of bleach in Mississippi.  I’d shared several crazy scenarios with Lisa previously, so we were laughing about something Scientology related.  Robert’s face darkened — his voice tightened as he said, “They don’t get it.”  Then he stopped himself.  He dismissed the conversation abruptly, as though swatting away a fly.  We followed his lead.


He asked me – as had Lisa – whether I’d like to meet “like-minded people” and try out a free “five-week experiment” called “school”.


“Does it have another name?”  I asked.
“No just ‘school’.”  He replied with a smile.
“Where do we meet?”  I asked.
“When we start a new class, we’ll let you know.”  He replied.
“Is there a cost?”  I asked.
“Look, if you decide to continue after the five-week experiment there’s a tuition fee.  It really depends on each student,” he said.
“O.k.,” I told him.  “I’ll try it.  All I can say is it feels right.”
“Great.  Just remember that it is critical to not tell anyone about this.  It’s private.  Just for you.”


Like Jeff’s quirky and odd behavior, I brushed past the flashing red lights  — the secrecy, or “privacy” as “school” likes to call it, was screaming step away from the cult recruiters, ma’am; it was all so seductive and special … “just for me.”


I didn’t tell anyone and I waited for the new class to begin – after all, what could a five-week experiment hurt?


sharon gans "the work"
Posted by jpenney
September 02, 2006


Year: 2000, or thereabouts


Cast of characters:


Beth – Redhead recruiter

Lisa – Brunette recruiter

Josh – my sustainer

Jerry – little unknown fat guy, leader when Robert was unavailable

Robert – big fat guy, leader


Act 1, scene 1:


Exterior, Lexington, MA. near depot square.


I am walking along the sidewalk and approached by Beth and Lisa.


They ask me "we have a funny question for you."


I appear interested.


They ask "what did you want to be as a child?"


I say "a scientist" – without hesitation.  I assume now that this is the quick test question.  Most people would appear suspicious.  I appeared open to the question, and in fact answered it without hesitation.  The misinterpretation is that this means I am weak-willed.  Maybe I am, but not weak enough for a cult.


They set up a meeting at Walden for the weekend, give me a phone number and go away.


Act 2, scene 1:


Exterior, Walden pond, summer


We sit and chat about basic stuff, they are probing for personal information and I give some.  It's less interesting than I had hoped.  I find out both women do something with art, one paints tiles, they both have kids, at least one is married.  They gather information from me about my job.  They now know my income, so they set up another meeting.


Act 3, scene 1:


Exterior, Walden, summer


Sit and chat, different questions, more probing, hints at "bigger things" in the world – they don't realize I've already gone beyond all the people they know in my questioning, research and understanding of the world and the creatures that inhabit it.   They think my interest and wonder is from ignorance, but they sense my feeling of superiority and interpret it as low self-esteem, so they suggest the idea of a school, and wouldn't it be interesting, etc.  But they hold back so there's something to talk about later, and they cut the meeting short (scarcity).


Act 4, scene 1:


Exterior, Walden, summer


Sit and chat, more directed conversation; the school comes up early and they start suggesting I join.  I'm a decisive person, and I've already figured out that I have nothing to lose by checking out these weirdos, so I say OK.  They suggest one more meeting to discuss it, we chat a little more but I can sense they are moving on, since their goal is accomplished.  I stall purposely now that I have something they want,  just to torture them a little.  I do the same thing to Jehovah's witnesses and Mormons.  I start enthusiastic and then waste as much of their time as possible.  We set up the last meeting.


Act 5, scene 1:


Interior, daytime, restaurant, Brookline


Only the redhead is here.  She is out of material, her purpose is accomplished, she has nothing to talk about because her mind is vacant except for "the work" and she is exhausted from her recruiting.  I can see it in her face, and I feel sorry for her because I know she's a helpless victim.  We eat and chat about the school; she gives me some information but basically puts me off.  Then we set up "the interview" with the teacher (Robert).  A little more chatting, then she has to pick up her (probably malnourished and neglected) child at day-care.


Act 6, scene 1:


Interior, Night, restaurant, Cambridge


We have set up a dinnertime meeting.  I arrive, the redhead is there but not the teacher – he is setting up the scene already, building the anticipation.  I sit with the redhead and talk a little, but she is distracted and uncomfortable like all salespeople who have an empty head full of self-hatred.  Robert arrives – about 6' tall, probably wearing lifts, black trench coat, black hair, dark complexion, beard.  I could be off in my description, but that's how I remember the guy.  Dramatic.  We sit in a corner booth, order some tea and bread or something.


He does a description of the school, how most people are asleep in life, etc.  Then he tries to control the conversation – I don't remember the exact content, but I'm a computer contractor; I've dealt with lots of recruiters, and I know when they're trying to get control of my responses, so that's what this guy is doing, controlling the conversation.  Then he pitches the experiment, and I say sure.  We drink some tea, then I waste some of his time just to piss him off (very passive-aggressive; those people hate that).  He gives me a phone number of my "sustainer", tells me to give him a call and to come to the first class that Friday (it could be Saturday, whatever).


Act 6, scene 2:


Night, Interior, house


I get home, call the sustainer, have a little chat with him, he digs for information and gets some, I learn a little about the school and he tells me about Pinocchio.  I make plans to get it and read it; there are some relaxation exercises to do and I try them out and find them interesting.  I don't know yet that this is part of "milieu control" but I know there's something intrusive about them so I don't hold myself to the recommended schedule.


Act 7, scene 1:


Day 1 of "school" – I'm actually thinking it would be interesting if this turns out to be a legitimate school.  If it isn't, I think maybe I'll make one that is.  I do the silence thing for 30 minutes before the scheduled time; I don't listen to the radio, etc.  I get to the place in Belmont, park, and go to the door – maybe it's locked? Someone shows up and opens it, there are a few people outside with me, we are all a little embarrassed but we go in.  The rest of this is out of order – I think we go into a small room, all the newbies, and sit around a small table and have a little introduction by the little fat guy, second-in-command.  We do some 2-person interactive stuff, probably to warm up, and a little public confession exercise.  Then, the people in the big room have finished doing their "secret chat" and we get to go out.  Typical pledge indoctrination, if you've ever been in a fraternity – it's a big special privilege to be allowed in the big room.  Luckily, I have absolute disdain for authority and find it absurd.  Anyway, we sit around a big rectangle of tables around the edge of the room and listen to people discuss vague pseudo-scientific bullshit, and then we give our first impressions.  I say "interesting", in essence – basically because I don't want to say anything because my thoughts are none of their business.


Some awards are given out or something; someone does a presentation on sacred geometry or some bullshit, then we are assigned chapters in the books we've bought.  Oh yeah – we've been assigned to read a pamphlet about this Russian guy that the website talks about, and we discuss him a little.  The whole sitting in a rectangle thing is infused with inappropriate public exposure, the first step in milieu control as I will later discover.  I'm not doing any research on cults right now because my only decent computer is in my office, but later I will do lots of reading.


The meeting ends, we put away chairs and tables, I'm helpful; I find out there is a small blond lady who can't afford "tuition" so she helps by doing labor.  My first hint that there will actually be money asked for came in the beginning of the night in the small room, where it was revealed that there would be "voluntary" tuition on a sliding scale.  It's interesting that "sliding scale" means if you can't pay enough, you have to work for free.  These people suck.


I was just now (in 2006) reading a website about "the work" and remembered after reading it that the little fat guy used the word "asshole" frequently.  I remember thinking it was pretty effed up.


Act 8, scene 1:


My first class as a newbie, from the beginning.  We "get to" participate in the whole thing tonight – total manipulation – we do "movement" as an opener (more inappropriate public exposure).  The group is directed to dance around and do weird movements in the big room.  I do it because I choose to see what happens next, but I can see myself being pressured into it, if I had really cared about being in the school.  It is embarrassing, and it's inappropriate.  Not sexual, but intimate anyway.  We finish, we get out tables and chairs and set them up.  All in silence, in a room with 50 people you've never seen.  Very weird.  Milieu control.  Refreshments come out, I grab cookies and some soda.  Sit at the tables, Robert at the front.  Go around the room, give progress reports.


Robert begins criticizing, offering "help" – beginning the takeover of the thought process.  People are assigned to "help" each other.  The idea that we "choose" to "work on" things is introduced.  Reinforcement of this idea is ongoing.  We work our way around the tables, there is a presentation on some nutty subject or other.  There is discussion of the relaxation exercises, which is an attempt to extend the milieu control into our homes.


I lie, because fuck them.


The night ends in silence, we put away tables and chairs and drive home in silence.  It's interesting, the silence.  I make a note that I will use that tool for myself sometimes.  I stop at a pizza place to eat and chat with the restaurant owner to help ensure I don't fall under the spell.  A week goes by, it is class time again.


Act 9, scene 1:


Similar to last time.  Movement, inappropriate exposure, silence, chairs and tables, go around the room, milieu control, discussion of projects.  I have finished Pinocchio, time is come to choose a "work" – the first step at activity control.  I choose to do a headstand in Yoga.  This is not popular with Robert.  I figured as much, because it involves an influence outside "the work".  He tries to intimidate me out of it; I stick to my choice; he retains control with passive-aggressive acquiescence followed by suggestion that I'll do something different next time.  He can sense my resistance, because his plan requires total obedience at all times, and he is very sensitive to my unwillingness and rebellion.


They bullshit for a while, some pitiful stories are told; the meeting ends in silence, we clean up, we go home, I try silence.


Act 10, scene 1:


This time, Robert isn't here – the little fat guy runs the show, same old stuff.  Movement, set up, refreshments, bullshit, thought control, cleanup, silence.


etc., etc., etc. – I come late to a meeting at this point, because the movement is getting to me, they're boring me with this crap.


Week 8 – Act ?  scene 1:


Movement, set up, refreshments; this time all new people are taken aside one by one.  Interesting they do this at the beginning and not the end.  It must be to maintain the sequence, plus put pressure on the newbies; I'd like to read the studies on this.  The pitch for cash, from Robert himself.  I say no thanks.  He tries to manipulate with vague statements intended to induce guilt.  I remember this one: "What you're afraid of happening isn't going to happen."  He was trying to impart the idea that somehow he knew what I was afraid of.  Of course he did know what I was afraid of – he just misunderstood my fear.  I was afraid of people getting sucked into this, but I was much more afraid of him taking my money when I knew he was just a nutty asshole.  So I said "later" and took a hike, and went someplace really, really noisy to get all the silence out of my head.  Then I went and told every single one of my friends about these kooks so they would hopefully never get sucked in by them.


Oh yeah – at some point, I was invited to a presentation, I think it was on Newbury Street, I remember columns in the foyer, I'm sure it's a famous building but I can't quite remember where it was.  It was that nutty harmonious circle stuff.  Idiotic, but interesting in its effects on the attendees.


I guess I'll remember little tidbits here and there.


Every once in a while I think about calling Josh and seeing what he says. But then I don't.


That's my experience with "the work" – some details omitted or forgotten.


Glad to finally lay it out there in writing.





From Wikipedia


Milieu control is a term popularized by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton to describe tactics that control environment and human communication through the use of social pressure and group language; such tactics may include dogma, protocols, innuendo, slang, and pronunciation, which enables group members to identify other members, or to promote cognitive changes in individuals.  Lifton originally used "milieu control" to describe brainwashing and mind control, but the term has since been applied to other contexts.


Milieu control involves the control of communication within a group environment, that also may (or may not) result in a significant degree of isolation from surrounding society.  When non-group members, or outsiders, are considered or potentially labeled as less valuable without basis for stated group-supported and group-reinforced prejudice, group members may have a tendency to then consider themselves as intellectually superior, which can limit alternate points of view, thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in which group members automatically begin to devalue others and the intellect of others that are separate from their group, without logical rationale for doing so.  Additionally, Milieu control "includes other techniques to restrict members' contact with the outside world and to be able to make critical, rational, judgments about information."



Description of the behavioral structure of the training


An excerpt from "The Politics of Transformation: Recruitment – Indoctrination Processes In a Mass Marathon Psychology Organization"
By Philip Cushman, Ph.D.


[Note: “Vitality” was substituted for the name of a well-known large group awareness or mass marathon training.]


This section of the results chapter presents a linear, behavioral description of the structure of the Initial Training.  This task is undertaken because, in a restrictive milieu, the milieu is the single most influential element in the field.  Therefore, it is imperative that the structure of the training be described in detail.


In the case of mass marathon psychology organizations, the milieu is primarily composed of the behavioral structure the controlling organization imposes on the participants . . .


 Day One—event one (excerpt)


He [the trainer] then begins the laborious chore of explaining and getting participants to comply with Vitality's ground rules.  This is a crucial process, since his unwavering goal is to achieve a total, unquestioning compliance with the rules from each of the participants.  If participants are not willing to comply completely with the rules they are not allowed to continue in the training.  This process usually takes the rest of the night.

The trainer explains each of the rules, and participants can ask questions or make statements about the rules and ask to be granted exemptions from a specific rule.  In order to speak they must strictly comply with the rules, which means they must not speak until recognized by the trainer, and then they must stand and speak through the microphone.  Then, when the participant is finished with the exchange, the other participants must applaud.  This is the general procedure for the large group share exercises, which go on throughout the training.  The trainer rarely grants any exceptions.

Three of 3 "behavior" subjects (100%) reported that some participants were abused and humiliated during this procedure.  The trainer would curse, call them derisive names, attack their personality, and make fun of them.  Primarily, the trainer would maintain that their specific question, disagreement, or concern was irrelevant to him and was an indication of their poor psychological functioning.  In fact, he interpreted their attendance itself as an admission of guilt:

"You're here because your life isn't working.  Your life isn't working because you're scared shitless of committing, just like you're scared shitless right now of committing to the rules."