Representatives of some of the nation's largest corporations, including I.B.M., A.T.&T., and General Motors, met in New Mexico in July to discuss how meta-physics, the occult, and Hindu mysticism might help executives compete in the world marketplace.Here in San Francisco, a politically conservative research center foresees an eventual alliance of conservatives, leftists of the 1960's, and Americans with interests ranging from eastern mysticism and the occult to holistic medicine.
And this November, ABC-TV plans a five-hour miniseries, based on an auto-biography by the actress Shirley McLaine that delves deeply and seriously into reincarnation and the supernatural. These are strands in a
thread of alternative thought that scholars say is working its way increasingly into the nation's cultural, religious, social, economic, and political life.On one level, they say, it is evidenced by a surge in interest in new meta- physical religions, mediums, the occult, reincarnation, psychic healing, satanism, "spirit guides," and other aspects of supernatural belief.
At another level, the scholars site the spreading influence of psychological self-help and "human potential groups" that operate under names such as The Forum, Insight, Actualizations, Silva Mind Control, and Lifespring. These groups' programs for corporate employees attract millions of dollars a year.
Borrowing some spiritual concepts from asian religions, the programs try to transform clients' thought processes and make them better, more creative people.
On both levels, leaders contend they are ushering in what they call a New Age of understanding and intellectual ferment, as significant as the Renaissance. But critics of these groups that many are nothing more than cults, and that others subject unwitting participants to mind control.
Professor Rashky, a critic of the trend, describes it as a "most powerful social force in the country today. I think its as much a political movement as a religious movement," he says, "and its spreading into Business Management Theory and alot of other areas. If you look at it carefully you see it represents a complete rejection of judeo-christian and bedrock American values."
Some who have evaluated the trend attribute it partly to a loss of confidence in traditional western ideas and conventional ways of doing things, and to a willingness to try out anything new in search of a replacement.
"Why is business rushing in to look at everything from EST to firewalking?" asks Robert S. Callodson, a business consultant who is a retired Vice President of the Champion International Corporation. "The old ways of doing business aren't working anymore, and even the most intelligent of people feel that something's broke."
Although precepts vary from group to group, many argue that western man, partly because of scientific discoveries of recent centuries, has become disillusioned with the spiritual concepts he inherited. Many groups are
also critical of the world's current economic and social systems, saying they have ravaged the planet.
Most argue that mankind is at the threshold of "a great evolutionary leap of consciousness to new beliefs about many things" and that there is an energy or force in the universe that will lead to a happy, peaceful, perhaps united, new world (the sort of "force" at work in George Lucas' Star Wars films.)
The purpose of many of the groups is to transform the society to prepare for this "New Age." To get there, it is argued, men and women must first alter conventional ways of thinking and begin using areas of their minds they do
not normally use. They must enter "an altered state of consciousness" through the use of such types of psychological techniques as meditation, hypnosis, chanting, biofeedback, prolonged isolation, and the intervention of "spirit
guides," or ghosts.
Psychologists who have studied the process say that while participants are in this "altered state," leaders of the groups are able to implant new ideas and alter their thinking processes.
Participants in various new age groups say they often experience euphoria in the altered states and cited this as one reason for their popularity. "The drug of the 60's was LSD and marijuana," said Carrie Klinger, a 29-year
old resident of Washington State, who belonged to several New Age groups before becoming disillusioned. "I think the drug of the 80's is cosmic consciousness."
Reginald Alev, Executive Director of the Cult Awareness Network, a Chicago- based clearinghouse of information about cults, said "it's very sad what's going on. Most of the people who get involved in these New Age groups which
are growing all over the place are intelligent, altruistic, idealistic. They want to know the meaning of life, and someone comes along and tells them they have the answer. Then they're told they are the master of their own destiny, sort of an eastern version of Norman Vincent Peale, but they don't know they are being subjected to mind control."
Richard Wattring, Personnel Director of the Budget Rent-A-Car Corporation in Chicago, is seeking to arouse concern among his peers over how quickly Corporate America is embracing "pseudo-therapy programs." "I really think you're going down the wrong path in business when you deal with a person's spiritual being and attempt to manipulate his mind," he said.
Graduates of such programs and former cult members are often psychically scarred says Dr. Edwin Morse, a former member of the University of Wisconson's psychology faculty who now counsels such people in Madison. "These groups are using hypnotic procedures and people are not being told about it." Not only do leaders of some groups convince clients that they should sign up for expensive new seminars or workshops, it is asserted, many also use the hypnotic state to plant beliefs in their mind they are unaware of.
One concept commonly transmitted in these sessions by "human potential groups" is that because man is a deity equal to God he can do wrong, thus there is no sin, no reason for guilt in life.
The Ford Motor Company, Westinghouse, and the Calvin Klein Fashion House are among scores of major companies that have sent employees for training, according to "human potential organizations" such as Transformation Technologies, Lifespring, and Actualizations, all of which include techniques modelled to a greater or lesser extent after the techniques started by Werner Erhart, the founder of EST. "We teach new patterns of thinking," said Stuart Emory, chairman of Actualizations.
Kevin Garby, an author and researcher on New Age topics in Carlyle, Pennsylvania, cites an army recruiting slogan "Be All That You Can Be" as evidence of what he contends has been the significant influence of EST, Lifespring, and other New Age programs in certain quarters of the military. In the early 1980's, he said, officers at the Army War College in Carlyle, some of whom were graduates of EST, and were former members of The Radical Students For A Democratic Society, conducted a study aimed at creating a "New Age Army." The slogan, a derivative of the "You Create Your Own Reality" orthodoxy of New Age groups, grew out of this work.
The study, according to participants, also envisaged training soldiers in meditation, developing skills in extrasensory perception, magic, and in "neurolinguistic training," a hypnosis technique. Army officials say the program has been cancelled and its principle leaders have left the army. Mr. Garvy, however, contends that EST and Lifespring graduates continue to have influence in the army and other government agencies.
Politically, many in the New Age movement have said they tend to gravitate toward democrats like Edmund G. Brown, Jr., the former governer of California, and Senator Gary Hart of Colorado, but A. Lawrence Chickering, editorial director of the Institute For Contemporary Studies here, a conservative research organization, whose alumni include Attorney General Edwin Meese, and Defense Secretary Casper W. Weinberger, forsees the evolution of a New Age Right.
Mr. Chickering attributes the "rediscovery of conservatism" during the 1970's in part to the Esalen Institute, "because what they are trying to do is rediscover principles of order within a context of freedom." In time, he said, he expected the New Age Right to form an alliance with "some of the components of the New Left of the 1960's and others in the New Age movement."