The New Age Movement in the Business World

by Richard Watring


The consciousness of American business is slowly, almost

imperceptibly being desensitized to the introduction of a New Age

philosophy into our culture.

In the larger culture, the New Age movement is gaining wider

exposure through the influence of people like actress Shirley MacLaine

(Out on a Limb, Dancing in the Light), Reverend Terry Cole Whittaker,

writers Norman Cousins (Human Options), Marilyn Ferguson (The Aquarian

Conspiracy), Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull), Hugh Prather,

Human Potential Leaders Jean Houston (The Possible Human), Michael

Murphy (Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance), Abraham Maslow (The

Farther Reaches of Human Nature), George Leonard (The Transformation -

A Guide to the Inevitable Changes of Humankind), Willis Harman (An

Incomplete Guide to the Future, Higher Creativity), and others.

This has not gone unnoticed by the media. The NEW YORK TIMES and

U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT have both devoted articles to the subject,

as have ABC's 20/20, The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Today Show, to

name a few.

In the business world, attention has been focused by the NEW YORK

TIMES (April 17, 1987 - Guru's Hired to Motivate Workers are Raising

Fears of Mind Control), The WASHINGTON POST (January 9, 1987 - Zen and

the Art of Making Money), NEWSWEEK (May 4, 1987 - Corporate Mind

Control), FORTUNE (July 6, 1987 - Merchants of Inspiration; and

November 23, 1987 - Trying to Bend Manager's Minds), and TRAINING

(September 1987 - what's New in the New Age?). Professional

conferences for Human Resource Development practitioners add important

exposure by featuring proponents of the movement such as Jean Houston,

Marilyn Ferguson and others.

In an editorial entitled "Who Put the Guru in Guru Mind

Control?", Jack Gordon of TRAINING hit the nail on the head: "There is

an implicit belief held by many in the HRD profession that their job

is nothing less than to self-actualize the American workforce." He

opined that this view is both preposterous and arrogant. On the other

hand, Patricia Galagan, editor of TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL

wrote that it is "the fear experienced in getting to that ambiguous

and unfamiliar place that sends the untransformed to their lawyers."

Whichever side you are on, the positions on both sides of the issue

seem to be solidifying.

In a series of letters to TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL, a

number of training professionals offered their views. For instance,

Paul Rondina of Digital Equipment wrote, "I see the training industry

being used to proselytize New Age religion under the deceptive

marketing of increased productivity, self-actualization and self-

improvement. As trainers, we must sound the alarm to this covert

missionary work." Doug Groothius, himself an expert on the New Age

movement offered, "Some practices ... induce a trance-like state

wherein one's critical faculties are suspended. Effective businesses

need sharpened minds, not dulled ones." Lea Deo of St. Lukes Hospital

of Kansas City wrote "spiritual encounters should not be disguised as

training." Carolyn Sorensen Balling of Amex Life Assurance offered,

"For a company to concentrate on developing the 'inner selves' of

their employees for the sake of higher performance seems

manipulative". Kevin Garvey, a consultant predicted "an array of

unprecedented lawsuits" and urged that "no corporation should blithely

incur this penalty."

But what is this movement that has attracted so much attention?

Briefly stated, the New Age Movement promotes a "personal

transformation" of spirit (usually referred to as consciousness)

through the use of certain techniques, often called

psychotechnologies. The movement suggests that humankind has the

ability and capacity to fully self-actualize (sometimes called

reaching Enlightenment or Inner-wisdom, Higher Self) and that this is

the goal of transformation. Inherent in the movement is the Eastern

philosophical view of monism, the belief that all of reality is

composed of the same essence, that there is no distinction to be made

between matter and spirit and that, therefore, humanity is connected

and individuals are extensions or manifestations of the whole. Under

this view of reality, there would be no separation between God and

Creation, since creation emanates from, and is made of, the same

"stuff" as God.

Because humanity's true destination is the realization that

humankind is divine, the movement promotes techniques that accelerate

the transformative process. Among these techniques are a number that

are being used with greater frequency in business. Business does not

usually admit to the promotion of transformation. Most often other

reasons are cited for the use of the technique. For instance,

meditative techniques are used as part of a Stress Management

strategy. Techniques recommended for their stress reduction value

include meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Self-Hypnosis, guided

imagery, yoga, and centering.

Some techniques are used to enhance creativity or the intuitive

process: Guided Imagery, Visualization, Silva Mind Control, Dianetics

and Focusing.

Certain techniques enhance self-regulation. Techniques that

assist in self-regulation include bio-feedback, hypnosis, self-

hypnosis and affirmation.

Certain techniques are used to encourage employees to accept a

greater share of responsibility for themselves and their company.

These include EST (newly called The Forum or Transformation

Technologies), Lifespring, D>M>A>, Actualizations and other human

potential seminar programs.

Some techniques are used to promote accelerated learning -

namely, Suggestology and Visualization. Others are used to improve

interpersonal skills, such as Neurolinguistic programming.

These motives, the reduction of stress, the enhancement of

creativity and intuitive processes, self-regulation and the acceptance

of responsibility, accelerated learning and the improvement of inter-

personal skills, are not bad, in and of themselves.

The danger, however, is with the techniques that are used to

achieve these ends. I have a number of very serious concerns

regarding the use of these types of personal development techniques.

Firstly, most people who have grown up in a Western Judeo-

Christian tradition do not share the same view of reality as that

promoted by the New Age Movement. In order for the technique to be of

value, the individual must adopt the new view (often called paradigm-

shift) which underlies the change being sought. For this reason, one

sees increasing acceptance of beliefs in reincarnation, karma, monism

(or pantheism), synchronicity (the belief in the interconnectedness of

all life), metaphysics (the belief that the mind has the power to

influence forces within the universe which can change material

reality), cosmic unity, paranormal phenomena, out-of-body experiences,

and the like.

Secondly, most of the techniques described are either tantamount

to a hypnotic induction, or, their use renders the individual more

highly suggestible to hypnotic induction. Most people know what

hypnosis is, however, very few people know that the use of

affirmation, suggestology, neurolinguistic programming, some forms of

guided imagery, est and est-type human potential seminars employ some

of the same psychological dynamics as hypnosis. (Most lay persons are

not aware of the fact that hypnosis can be induced without a

relaxation suggestion - this is called active-alert hypnotic


Even those techniques that do not qualify as hypnotic induction

may ultimately facilitate the same result. Most meditative techniques

increase the level of "alpha" rhythms in the brain (so do chanting,

the repeating of a mantra and other spiritual exercises). People who

are in an alpha state are substantially more suggestible than those

who are not. Further, when people use certain meditative exercises,

they often experience the loss of self-identifying awareness and come

to experience a oneness with a wider consciousness, often called

cosmic or unitary consciousness. If this experience is reached while

the person is in this heightened state of suggestibility, they are

more susceptible to influence than if they were in a normal working

state. It's quite logical then that persons will be more inclined to

adopt the "belief" in a unitary reality because they have

"experienced" it while in a heightened state of suggestibility. This

would explain why so many are embracing an Eastern philosophy or

religious practice.

Thirdly, while it cannot be proven scientifically, many people

believe in the existence of a supernatural realm, one inhabited by

either angels or demons, departed spirits, or discarnate souls. Many

of the techniques being promoted involve encountering a person's

"inner wisdom" or "higher self" or "master teacher". This entity

encountered through Silva Mind Control and some forms of guided

imagery and visualization is often described as simply the

personification of our own psyche or sub-conscious. But, what if it

is not? If there really is a spiritual realm, then it is possible

that the entities which are encountered are not really part of our

self, but some other self. If so, then the promoters of these

techniques are really promoting a form of spiritism. Worse yet, some,

including Willis Harman, are encouraging the process of "channeling"

as a means toward higher creativity. What used to be considered

mediumship or occult correspondence is now being promoted as a benign

technique for transformation and human potential.

In his book, Higher Creativity , Harman poo-poos the issue of

whether or not the source of "illumination" is the self, or is apart

from the self. He wrote, "The fruits of the channeling phenomenon can

come to be appreciated and used to the benefit of humankind - leaving

open the issue of the ultimate nature of the channeling source ..."

This attitude must be strongly discouraged in favor of hard answers to

some very hard questions.

Four years ago, a survey was conducted among 9,000 Personnel

Directors regarding their exposure to a number of New Age techniques

as well as certain of their beliefs. Of the over 10% response,

roughly 45% had either used or seen used at least one of eleven New

Age psycho-technologies included in the survey. More surprising, 15%

believed that at least one of the eleven was beneficial in developing

human resources. The survey included meditation, biofeedback, Silva

Mind Control, T.M., visualization, hypnosis, focusing, est, Dianetics,

centering and yoga.

I am usually asked certain questions as I present my arguments

against the use of these techniques. Among them, "Aren't these

techniques beneficial to industry? Don't they really help a company

or employees in some way?" I cannot, and do not, argue against the

effectiveness of many of these techniques. Meditation probably does

reduce stress. Biofeedback most certainly is an effective tool for

self-regulation. Hypnotic induction can certainly be of therapeutic

value when administered properly. However, I do not think that the

potential benefits are worth the risks, as outlined earlier.

Another question I am often asked is, "Why are businesses rushing

to use these techniques?" Obviously, business is striving for

excellence in every respect. If business can gain a competitive

advantage by having their employees use New Age techniques, certainly

they will be open to it. I honestly believe that most business people

who promote these techniques are ignorant of the psychological and

spiritual dynamics involved, however, there are a small number who are

actively trying to promote transformation.

Another question I am often asked is, "Where do I see this going?

What is the likely outcome of the continued use of these techniques?"

I see two specific outcomes if business continues its use of these

techniques. First, I see the potential for religious discrimination

charges being filed by persons who suffer some adverse action at the

hands of their employer because they resisted the program or

technique. Secondly, I foresee serious liability damages being

awarded to persons who suffer psychological harm as a result of New

Age techniques. Some psychologists and sociologists consider many New

Age techniques to be a form of mind control. Already, many

individuals have sued a number of human potential or "new religious"

movements for psychological harm. Many individuals and anti-cult

groups consider these and other New Age groups to be "destructive

cults". If these groups are open to damage suits, it stands to reason

that the corporations that offer or encourage these same programs to

employees will become co-defendants in such suits.

Finally, I am often asked, "What difference does it really make?"

It makes a great deal of difference if you subscribe to a Christian

world and life view. The underlying view of reality and of the nature

of human beings of the New Age Movement stands in direct contrast to

the primary tenets of Orthodox Christianity.

Having said all that I've said, my concluding message is very

simple: Private corporations that are not church-affiliated should

neither attempt to change the basic belief systems of their employees

nor should they promote the use of techniques (i.e. altered

consciousness) that accelerate such change, and while spiritual growth

is important, corporations should not prescribe the methods whereby

employees grow spiritually. This is better left for those more

qualified than the Human Resource Development Department.

Computers for Christ - Chicago

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