'People think we are some kind of sinister cult'

The Daily Telegraph/March 21, 2001

At an Insight Seminar, they give you a label with your name written on it in large capitals and insist that you wear it. I had arrived at a north London hotel to be shown into a large conference room furnished with a hideous carpet. There were about 100 people of every age, size and class: elderly matriarchs, hippy-looking twenty- somethings and City gents in suits.

I'd heard that John Cleese and Terence Stamp had taken the course, but the week I chose seemed to be conspicuously lacking in celebrities. Shame. I'd have been happy sitting next to Terence Stamp.

On an overhead screen were the words: "Participate in Your Experience and Experience Your Participation." I had another quick look round to confirm my suspicion that I was with a bunch of lonely sad people with no lives, and then I started to chat merrily to the victim on the chair next to mine. I wasn't expecting much from these Californian dudes.

A sophisticated American woman in a silk suit entered. "Welcome to Insight Seminars," she said, smiling. Already I disliked her. "So, have you had a look around?" she asked. "You know they told you it was rude to stare? Well, we invite you to stare. Have a look at all the other people in here.

They are a weird bunch, aren't they?" I'd already decided that.

"As you look around," she continued, smiling, "notice what decisions you are making about people which ones look interesting and which ones don't" I hadn't noticed any interesting ones.

"People sometimes think we are here to brainwash you," she continued. "We are just here to present some ideas to you that we hope will be effective for your life. If you like them, use them, if you don't, fair enough. Other people think we are some kind of sinister cult." Yes! yes! "Cults usually have a religious leader who wants you to follow them," she grinned.

"I'm taking this seminar - and I'm saying now, please don't follow me because I'm going back to America next week and my house is full."

Four sentences appeared on the wall from the overhead projector:

I'm willing to be open with you

I'm not willing to be open with you

I'm not sure if I'm willing to be open with you

I don't wish to say if I'm willing to be open with you

Our first exercise was to walk around the room and, as we met a new person, we were told to say one of the sentences to them. This was easy. I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings by saying that I didn't want to be open with them, so I just walked around the room, smiled and repeated: "I'm willing to be open with you," without really thinking about it.

Then the American said: "Please stop. Close your eyes. Now, I want you to consider whether there is a deeper level of honesty that you could go to."

A man approached who looked very keen. "I'm not willing to be open with you," I said. He looked crestfallen. "I'm willing to be open with you," he said, and bravely tried not to look dejected.

Then a strident-looking woman walked up to me. "I'm not willing to be open with you," she said. I thought: "Well, she has a problem." I contemplated my reply. "I don't wish to say if I'm willing or not," I said. But was that what I really felt or just the sweetness of revenge?

The next exercise was simple. Everybody in the room was to mingle and this time we were told to look into each other's eyes and say, quite simply: "The inner beauty I see in you is" and then tell them the qualities that it was possible to discern just by looking at them.

An overweight man with a spotty nose and BO stood in front of me. But instead of allowing myself to think: "Why don't you get some exercise and wash more often?" I said to him: "The inner beauty I see in you is" and then I looked at him. He was obviously spilling over with a desire to love and be loved.

I could tell that he was loyal and hard-working and had a deep kindness. When I told him this, his eyes filled with tears. He had been told how to reply. They give you the answer because the standard response would normally be: "If you knew me better you wouldn't say all those nice things."

So, to ensure that we hear the good things, he is just allowed to say: "I know."

But I was very worried. I was on an Insight course and I was having fun. They had a phrase here: "Everyone does the best they can with the knowledge and understanding and awareness that they have at the time." The first time they put that on the wall, a rather overweight businessman shouted: "Rubbish. My mother didn't love me the best she could."

I thought about the people in my life whom I resented. Had my ex- husband done the best he could with the knowledge and awareness and understanding that he'd had at the time he left me? Yes. And it had been brave of him to leave and to seek out a life for himself where he could be happier.

I realised I had just had a good thought about my ex-husband. This seminar really had achieved the miraculous. Either that or they had not only washed my brain, they had bleached it.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.