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The Advanced Course - Day 1

The following is a synopsis of a typical advanced or second-level course offered by several training companies, most particularly those based on the Lifespring training.

Training begins at 10 AM and lasts well after midnight.

Welcome from the trainer and staff.

Creating Maximum Value for yourself and others in the training – Listen, Participate, Risk, Be on Time, Share, Be Honest with Yourself., Support Others

Relationship Check – Participants and staff are asked to report on any relationships with others in the room. Emphasis is made that deep secrets will be shared and that marriages or other intimate relationships could be at risk.

When asked if there were any relationships from before the training, we were asked to stand and turn to the person we had a relationship with and close our eyes and vote from 1-10 (bad to good) where our relationship was. Right away this caused tension, as the trainer then told them to open their eyes and see what the other had voted. In some cases the votes were the same, but the pairs that voted differently were made to stand and talk about the relationship in depth, it put up a wall between what was once 'ok' relationships, now there were no allegiances. It was very painful to some. In some cases one voted 10 while the other voted a 3. We spent a lot of time on this process.

Ground Rules and Medications- No alcohol, tobacco, drugs etc for duration of training unless prescribed. Get list of all prescribed medications from trainees.

Ground Rules included caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, chewing tobacco and drugs. Anyone who admitted to using was encouraged (it was a must as everyone had to tell what they were going to do) to quit or cut down - one thing I noticed, is that no matter how much someone agreed to cut back, the trainer always asked them to go lower. At this point there was a woman who obviously had a weight problem and admitted to drinking 6-8 cans of coke a day, the trainer spent about 20 minutes telling her how fat she was, how she was hiding stuff, how could she look at herself in the mirror, etc… The trainer even had someone bring in a can of coke later in the day to share with the group the number of calories in a can. Again, she was on the process for another 10 minutes.

Buddies – Individuals are paired with another as "buddies" for the course. Find the person you are least attracted to. Explain why. They are your "buddy" for the remainder of the course.

In both the trainings I was in, buddies were chosen by where you sat in the ARC. Starting from either end, if you didn't know the person across the arc from you, you were then matched up with that person. Then we were to sit in a dyad with our buddy and share something about us that no one knew. We then answer the same questions that we will use later in feedback - we took turns answering things like 'What I don't want you to know about me is…' 'What I am hiding from everyone is…' 'What I am afraid someone will find out about me is….' 'What I always wanted from my father and never got was….' We did not do this process with the larger group.


Form Small Groups

Bottom Line Issue – Participants are asked to identify their bottom line issue that they wish to work on in the course. If people have trouble finding it, they are grilled by the trainer until the issue is identified.

Feedback Arcs – Chairs are lined up in an arc and participants take their turn in front of the group for feedback from others. This is generally based on their outward appearance as to how they are showing up in front of others. Larger groups may break up into 2 or more smaller arcs.

In the session of 14 participants we broke into two arcs and in the larger 40 participant session that I staffed, we had 4 arcs going. A person would move from arc to arc until everyone had a chance at feedback.

The staff (4 staff in the 14 participant session and 6 staff in the 40 person session) would stand in the arcs also to make sure the persons giving feedback would not rip off the person receiving. We were suppose to keep the pace moving fast and to keep shooting stuff at the receiver so there wasn't a lull, we were told to go below the belt and really get to the core. We also were suppose to press the persons giving feedback to get deeper and uglier all in the loving effort not to rip them off.

Staff practiced this process before the training started and were coached at going deeper and deeper until we could see real emotion coming out of the person, we were coached on how to keep the momentum and not let up. We were coached on how to use our voice during the feedback and what to say to the feedback givers (in their ears) to goad them into saying something to the receiver.

In both sessions, the person receiving feedback was suppose to start off answering a question that the trainer threw out, a different question for each turn. For instance, before anyone began feedback, the person would say 'What I don't want you to find out about me is…' 'What I always wanted from my mother and never got was.' 'What I never told anyone was…' etc, you could tell by the reactions that the questions were given based on the persons standing in feedback, something that would really hurt them. They always ended their feedback with 'Thank you for caring enough about me to be honest.' Then the person who received the feedback was to sit in their chair and quickly write down as much as they could remember about the feedback. They were also quickly brought back into the session so that they may give further feedback to others. I remember in both training's that this caused friction between people, people didn't have an opportunity to ask questions about the feedback, why someone saw what they did.


For example, one of the first processes had all forty participants seated in an arc, assistants and facilitators standing behind them. One by one each participant took center stage and said, "My name is ______, and I'd like some feedback from my universe." All the participants stood, and delivered a barrage of negative comments. After delivering the "feedback," the participants sat down. The participant to whom all of this was directed then said, "What I heard was..." and then repeated as many of the negative epithets as he or she could remember.

Why negative? Because that's how the trainers set it up. "If we're here to grow," the trainer would say, "should we focus on the things that work in our life, or focus on the things that don't work?" We were convinced that we should focus on the things that didn't work. (There's another perfectly legitimate theory, never mentioned, that perhaps we should look at what is working and enhance it from the very beginning. This is, however, not the pattern used by Insight.)

When I stood before the group to receive my negative feedback, and as the negative comments came rolling in, dozens at a time, like waves of polluted water on an already oil-soaked beach, I gradually reverted to kindergarten. I remembered playing Farmer In The Dell. In this delightful game, the one child not chosen by at least one of the other students becomes "the cheese." The cheese must stand in the middle of the circle, while all the other students sing, in that tauntingly cruel way children do so well: "The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone . . . ." Receiving all this "loving" negative feedback during Insight, I felt like a particularly smelly bit of cheese. It seemed to go on forever. After repeating the negative feedback I remembered, I said what we all were instructed to say, "Thank you for caring enough to share that with me." At which point the group responded in unison, "We care, Peter." Thus, delivering negative feedback became associated with caring--the more devastating the feedback, the more you cared. If you could bring someone to tears with your feedback, you might get the Nobel Peace Prize.

We had plenty of time to qualify for the Nobel. In the next process we milled about, made one-on-one eye contact with each other, did not touch, and delivered all the negative feedback we had for the other person. The only response the other person could make was the obligatory, "Thank you for caring enough to share that with me." Roles switched, and the dumpee became the dumper. Such caring! (Peter McWilliams – Insight Advanced Course)


If the first course was a roller coaster ride, the advanced stage was like bungee-jumping. Twelve hours a day, five days straight. Relatives and old friends would later tell Karen she looked "dead behind the eyes." She was drained as much by the exercises as from the lack of sleep. In one session, she had to get up, stand in the middle of the circle ("feedback arcs," to the initiates) and submit to appraisal. "I experience you as ugly," one woman was told. "I experience you as fucked-up," someone else yelled out. Karen wondered: Why aren't they telling us why they're having us tear each other down like this? But by that point she was too cowed to ask. (Dirk Mathison – White Collar Cults)


At the end of the process the trainer explains the Living Mirror principle that what you see in others is only a reflection of what you see in yourself.

90 minute Dinner Break – Dinner is with a group of 2 buddy pairs.

Lifeboat Process – Participants are asked to close their eyes while the trainer guides them with a story about how they are all passengers on a sinking ship in shark-infested waters. The Lifeboat will only hold 5 people. Each participant is given a few minutes to stand in front of the group and explain why they should be chosen to be saved. After this, sticks are given out to the participants and they are to vote by giving sticks to the other people they think are worthy of being saved. Those who give away all their sticks are called "suicides" and berated by the trainer. After voting is complete the 5 who are saved sit in 5 chairs set up to be the Lifeboat. The ones not chosen are to each give last messages that they would like to have relayed to their love ones then they are guided through a drowning visualization and devoured by sharks.

Here the forty participants were the only passengers on a boat that was sinking. The one lifeboat would only hold five passengers. Which five of the forty were to be saved? For a couple of hours, we were allowed to thrash it out amongst ourselves, and decided to draw lots.

Then we did it the trainers' way. This involved having five "live" votes. Each participant went around a circle consisting of all the other participants, looked each participant in the eyes, and saying either, "You live" or "You die." Nothing else. This meant you had to look at least thirty-five people in the eye and say, "You die." It also meant that a significant number of the forty were likely to look you in the eye and say, "You die." A favorite trainer question: "Did you save a `live' vote for yourself?" Those who failed to were "processed" by a trainer until they wished the boat would hurry up and sink so they could drown and get it all over with. When done with this "You die" voting process, the five people who were chosen to live sit in five chairs set up as the lifeboat, and the rest of the people, seated on the floor, go through a long, grisly guided meditation in which they drown. As they die, they lie back, and are dead. (Peter McWilliams – Insight Advanced)


Both my experiences about lifeboat had the participants share what they would do in the situations. Many of the people stood and said that they would take their chances and let someone else go in their place. Someone younger, or with kids.

The lights are dropped down very, very low (maybe 75%) and everyone stands in a circle. A staff member will take a person around the circle and make sure that the person choosing (whether or not someone in the circle lives or dies) that they look the person in the eye while they vote and they say loud and clear either 'YOU GO' or 'YOU DON'T GO'. The person choosing has 4 popsicle sticks (we each had 3 in the 14 participant session) if they choose someone to GO, then they give the person a popsicle stick, if the person gets a popsicle stick - they are to yell out very, very, loud so everyone in the room knows - 'JIM GOES!" The person goes all the way around the room and votes on everyone, when they get back to their place in line they must the state whether or not they will go on the lifeboat. If they saved themselves a popsicle stick they yell 'JOHN GOES' if they didn't save themselves a popsicle stick they must yell 'JOHN DOESN'T GO'

The staff, during this time is either taking a person around the circle or standing behind the circle and making comments - 'It is so easy to kill this person off' 'Look how selfish you are that you are going to take this mother from her children' 'This person has barely had time to live and you have lived for so long, now you are just going to kill them' 'This persons life is already a tragedy, let's just add to her families grief and kill her off too.' 'Why would you save this person, all he did was father 3 children and leave them alone with only a single mom to take care of them' 'Why save this person, they would kill you off if you had the chance' The staff has been keeping mental notes about each person and knows what buttons to push - there is very much crying and emotion. It is very stressful. The one thing that is a fact, is that you don't win no matter what your choose for yourself or others. There is music playing through out the process - I can't recall what it was - I think that Desperado was one of the songs and there were maybe two others that they continued to loop.

During the 14 participant session - one person went all the way around the room and would not vote - he threw his sticks on the floor and said he refused to be a part of the decision on who lived and who didn't - he was really admonished for this. The trainer screamed at him 'You fucking arrogant asshole' who do you think you are that you can just ......I don't recall the argument she used. He got reamed for about 15 minutes, it was very very harsh. It was brought up several times later in the workshop as an example of how arrogant and self centered we all are.

This was a very emotional process. I still have people asking me why I said certain things (when I was staffing) that were really painful to them during that process. And I only know that I was coached to say the thing that would create the biggest reaction, I feel sad and sick about it, but I guess based on results that I did a very good job.


In another exercise, everyone was given five Straws to distribute to people they thought worthy of being "saved" on a lifeboat. The five with the most straws would "survive." Karen made it aboard the lifeboat, only to be ridiculed by the seminar leader for not having saved a straw for herself. My God, she thought. There's no winning here. (Dirk Mathison – White Collar Cults)

At the end John Denver's song "I Want to Live" is played. (I want to live, I want to grow, I want to see, I want to know, I want to share what I can give...)


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