The physical and cultural landscape. The people. Then you throw in Tralee, which has its own thing. Killarney has its own thing. I am from an area in north Kerry which is all hurling.
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But the football and the jersey seems to bind what are very disparate places together. Maybe is there because it has to there to give the county a sense of a united identity. The Kerry players were recognisable because of their photographs. And then those games were epic. Those finals were the coming of age of the GAA. It burst on the public consciousness then that there was a national game here that could become a great sport and give brilliant occasions in its own right. Both teams had training camps even then.
It just so happened that Kerry won that final. And it was then, I think, that the Kerry tradition was forged. This was when it was still perfectly acceptable to stop into every pub on the way home. I remember we stopped off to watch the Sunday game and we took the coast road home and I remember looking across the Shannon and seeing the bonfires. It was only when we won in that I saw the full meaning of it. It was like Carnaval, or something. That was the moment that I understood how serious it was.
It was madness. It is easy to understand the confusion for any Kerry child born into a county already saturated in Gaelic football references and iconography and, of course, real flesh and blood heroes walking about the town and in the fields. They all have to make sense of this inheritance. In recent years, he has often found himself talking with friends, including Kerry team-mates about this why it matters so much to them all. I always say to people that Tinryland in Carlow was the most intense relationship with the GAA that I have encountered. We all knew about that as kids.
But for me, everything stems from that Civil war time. Those stories and yarns were really important to him. It is that unbelievable story of Con Brosnan allowing John Joe Sheehy to play in the Market fields, to run out of the crowd, tog out, play and go back into the crowd again when he was one of the most wanted me by the Free State army. If it is bigger than that, it is surely something. He is years-old and has seen countless Kerry games and played on the All-Ireland minor winning side of He was like a ballet dancer when he went up for the ball.
But he speaks for longest about Dowling from Ballylongford who, through a series of injuries and misfortunes missed out on ever receiving an All-Ireland medal.
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One of his most significant injuries occurred in the Polo Grounds in He was unconscious for about 10 days. Before he became a seminarian, Gaughan came up against Dowling at midfield several times in the north Kerry league. It was common practice at the time for competing midfielders to join hands for the throw in.
Fr Gaughan used to say Mass for Kerry teams on the night before finals in Dublin for about 12 years until about five years ago. It is a fact, I suppose. Another time, he began saying Mass only to be confronted with the Kerry squad seized by a fit of giggles. So I said right, from this time on we are standing right through the whole of the Mass. They were usually a bit nervous and subdued before finals. This weekend will be the 60th time that Kerry — team, followers, ghost of the ghost train, gripes and superstitions — will make the journey up to Dublin. His father told him that Mikey Sheehy had kicked a free and that a bit of scraw had landed where he sat.
I was a grown man and it was still there. Obviously, he went out onto the field. You aspire to win your next game with your under team. But you do get the sense of everything that has come before you and a sense that — this is important. Not long afterwards, he received a letter from John Moriarty. The Kerry native was by then a druidic figure: a brilliant mind and visionary who had walked away from academia to commune with the landscape and earth and to feel the wildness within his birth county. He was a mystic and lived beyond the usual confinements. But he was as loopy about the football team as the rest of them.
The second was from "the Master Jesus," talking about the importance of "tuning in. One gentleman wanted me to know he'd been doing Dr. King's dishes one night—this was back when the Master was still alive, "and quite virile"—and the Master suddenly entered the kitchen and transformed before his eyes into "a large, white ovoid shape," his "etheric body!
Keneipp said he wanted me to know that in addition to the Master being handsome and virile, he also had a good sense of humor. For example, one time, Dr. King was communicating with extraterrestrial beings who were in a spacecraft hovering over Bangladesh to help victims of a typhoon.
But then they realized they were needed in Washington to inspire politicians to help with the relief effort. They made the trip in three seconds flat. The Master later told Keneipp, "I think they may have exceeded the speed limit there. We all laughed, then Keneipp stood up, announced it was time to go, and led us to a different building on the grounds, where we enjoyed a champagne brunch. Over the course of May, I tried something New Age-y every day. I did Kundalini yoga with slender women in white turbans.
I did a juice cleanse and hallucinated a bean burrito on day three. I attended a "plant communication" workshop in Topanga Canyon, where I was taught how to engage in a long conversation with a bush. I took a walk with a "complexity coach" who treated patients while hiking. I did an afternoon spell session with a witch. I attended a Gnostic Mass in a strip mall where a woman sat nude on an altar while the rest of us accepted the Eucharist in front of her vagina—and afterward, the clergy served, per L.
The month was full of surprises. Nothing was a waste of time. In A Course in Miracles , one of the core texts of the New Age movement, Helen Schucman wrote, "If you wish to be the author of reality, which is totally impossible anyway, you will insist on holding onto judgment. I just wish I didn't have to stick the word "nearly" in there.
I learned about Mastery in Transformational Training M. Two years ago, she was bursting to tell me about a "transformation workshop" she attended that changed her life. When I inquired how exactly, she refused to say; I needed to experience it for myself. From one user's comment: When more than one review for a "business" starts with "This is seriously NOT a cult!! The names and characteristics of some people mentioned in this article have been altered.
But the website is vague beyond that about what happens in the training. After I signed up, a telephone interview was required. It involved a lot of questions about my mental health. Soon it started to feel like upselling. I said it would be helpful to know a little more about what I'd be doing in these trainings. It's going to be uncomfortable. Can I count on you to participate? Which is how I came to arrive, with about other "trainees," at a Marriott hotel near LAX on a Wednesday evening for the start of five days of self-help boot camp.
I had told Sonja I was attending. She texted me on the morning of my first day, telling me to enjoy myself. For newcomers, M. We walked into a large ballroom to the sounds of "Change" by Tracy Chapman. We were every color, all ages. And as soon as we walked in, a bunch of M. In front of us, rows of chairs faced an empty stage. She told us she'd been doing these workshops around the world for 30 years. What did she say? That by enrolling in M. But how exactly? By experiencing a number of "breakthroughs," achievable with M. Doesn't technology need to have some scientific backing? Not in this case.
That said, according to Aunt Lydia, we should trust the process, because the technology was profound, no matter that she wouldn't tell us what it was. But we should trust her because it had worked for hundreds of thousands of people before us. So where is M. Mostly in the Advanced and Legacy courses, though we'd get a taste of it during our five days of Basic. The Advanced Training, assuming we wanted to continue—and we definitely, definitely would, Aunt Lydia insisted—would start a week after our Basic was done.
Nevertheless, "this has been working for over 40 years," she said, producing results "so priceless, so profound, they'd never have happened otherwise. Saying this made Aunt Lydia frown, choke up, and start to cry from her seat onstage. A man sitting next to me sniffled in response, as if by reflex.
If you had to estimate how many times Aunt Lydia choked up and nearly cried per day, causing other people around the room to choke up and nearly cry or begin crying One dozen times. So what was the subtext of the whole thing? That the Basic Training, as "technology," required us to enroll in M. After all, who wants to live a life of regrets? Over and over she insisted how valuable it was, how life-changing it could be, that if our minds weren't completely blown away—.
By the way, the whole "no regrets" thing?
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At one point Aunt Lydia invoked Henry David Thoreau as her inspiration, whose last words, she said, choking up, were "No regrets. Around the two-hour mark, I needed to take a piss. I stood up and walked discreetly to the exit. Aunt Lydia was explaining how we needed to approach the Basic as if our lives depended on it, then said loudly, with heavy sarcasm, "Or you can get up and leave and go to the bathroom. Staff members stared with alarm. I kept going toward the doors. Two of the staff moved toward me and I awkwardly squeezed between them.
In the restroom, it occurred to me that for all of Aunt Lydia's admonishments and hubris, the sanctimony invoked around the power of the curriculum—I'd somehow found my way into self-help's version of The Handmaid's Tale but with a lot more weeping. When I returned, Aunt Lydia was asking people to suggest ways that we could avoid participating in the training. But notice if you leave the room, you're making space for other people to leave the room. And you're…you're The second half of the evening continued after a short break.
About 20 minutes later, the music shifted loudly to Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra," better known as the theme from A Space Odyssey. People ran to their seats. During the final notes, Aunt Lydia strode to the stage. A dozen people were still walking in. She commanded them to stop. When asked during fact-checking, M. Aunt Lydia, the trainer, said, "The training processes are confidential, simply for the purpose of spontaneity for the participants.
Otherwise it is like a spoiler for a movie. It renders the exercise useless. For the next hour, Aunt Lydia explained a set of "ground rules" we needed to obey through Sunday. No tardiness. No phones. No "side-talking" with others, which meant no conversing unless instructed, and no saying "bless you" if someone sneezed. Also, no alcohol or drugs, and no eating or drinking at any time in the ballroom. People raised their hands; several wanted to be able to sip water for medical reasons. Aunt Lydia confronted them one at a time.
By the point we'd heard a third and fourth person explain what sounded like a valid medical reason for needing to drink water—an older couple with respiratory issues—she seemed appalled. She turned to us, sneering, "I've honestly never had this happen before in a training. When a fourth person said she was on a special diet that required her to eat at precise times, Aunt Lydia started laughing and looked at us like, Who does she think she is?
The woman said she merely wanted to know when breaks would be scheduled so she could plan out her meals. Around midnight, we split into smaller groups with a staff member—all of them were there as volunteers, I later learned—who established times we'd be required to telephone the next morning to check in. I got home an hour later and fell asleep around 2; then my alarm went off at 5 for work.
At my appointed check-in time of a. Jon asked how my first day had gone. I wanted to tell him I couldn't believe people paid good money for this crap. I said something about how it seemed like Therapy with a side order of humiliation. I asked, If the training was good enough to be "technology," why was it kept a secret, in the city of self-promotion no less?
Who invented it anyway? Jon asked, "So where do you think these feelings came from? Jon said, "Well…," then thanked me for my honesty, which he said was integral to any M. One word that never appeared in Aunt Lydia's lectures was "lifespring. As a Large Group Awareness Training, as they're known amongst psychologists, Lifespring offered a five-day "Basic" training followed by an "Advanced" class, followed by a "Leadership" program, all part of a self-help curriculum.
While reporting a story on the group, Fisher learned that Lifespring's executives had known for years that some trainees experienced adverse reactions. The group's founder, John Hanley, told Fisher, "If a thousand people get benefit from the training, and one person is harmed, I'd can it. By the time the Washington Post story went to print, according to its reporting, about 35 trainees had sued Lifespring; six people had died. In one case that Lifespring settled, a man who couldn't swim was persuaded by his trainer to dive into a river to overcome his fear.
He drowned. Trainers told her the asthma was self-induced. Thanks to Lifespring's success, Hanley became a multimillionaire. Previous to Lifespring, Hanley committed a felony, Fisher discovered. In , Hanley and a partner were found guilty of mail fraud. In a separate case, the Wisconsin Justice Department sued him and others for running a pyramid scheme, unrelated to Lifespring, which Hanley paid to settle in Hanley denied responsibility and only paid up, he told the Post , because he didn't want to pay a lawyer.
Fast-forward to A Dutch woman named Margo Majdi, a Lifespring trainee and the owner of a beauty salon in Beverly Hills, purchased the rights to the trainings from Hanley. A publicist told her that Lifespring had gained a bad reputation by that point, and she should really consider changing the name. Majdi came up with M. On my second night in the basement, the subject was victimization, realizing how, why, and when we'd been victims in our lives and who victimized us.
But the lesson came with M. But mostly day two was about the ground rules again. After one break, to the bellowing strains of , several people returned late. Aunt Lydia read them the riot act. She singled out a woman I'll call Nadia. You, the one twirling your hair. That's some kind of survival tic you've picked up? Beginning on the second day of the training, we weren't allowed to take notes or use phones in the room. Any quotations are based on my recollection of my experience, as recorded in memos and notes I made during breaks and after sessions.
Nadia had an accent, maybe British. Aunt Lydia started to imitate it—she often did this when people had accents; she seemed to find it hilarious—while accusing Nadia of needing to be right. Nadia accused her of the same. The argument went on for two minutes while people in the audience squirmed, until a baffled Aunt Lydia gave Nadia the finger.
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Nadia gave her the finger right back. Toward the conclusion of their fight, Aunt Lydia yelled at us, How many of you think I'm a badass amazing super coach? Most hands went up. And how many of you think I'm some kind of obnoxious bitch? About 20 people, including me. For what it's worth, I heard that Nadia continued with M. I got back to bed again around 2 a. Other participants in the training also had day jobs, though many told me they'd taken the week off from work. Several were from out of town: a father-daughter pair from Oregon; a mother from Florida who told me her daughter had done M.
She wouldn't stop talking about it. I just wanted to see for myself what it was all about. Beyond the Advanced and LP courses, M. During my drive home that night, the main purpose of M. Majdi, Aunt Lydia, and whoever else a bunch of money, in a system where the biggest epiphanies were one class away. And surely, even more faucets of cash would be opened if they persuaded us to draft our friends and family to join.
Multiple people informed me that close to percent of trainees are referrals—M. The morning of day three, I had another check-in call scheduled for By the time it went through, the clock on my phone ticked over— Jon answered tersely, "You realize you just broke your promise. Throughout the training, people would stand up before the group and share their reason for being there. One story after another of trauma: abusive parents, sexual violence. At one point, we stood in two lines facing each other.
Aunt Lydia instructed us to hold up one finger for each promise we'd broken that week. Three for me: being late to the call with Jon; side-talking a couple times; a shot of tequila to wind down at night. Well, we were pitiful. No wonder our lives were crap: We were crap. I can't even tell you how pathetic this is. Several hands went up. People had jobs, people lived out of state, they needed exceptions.
Aunt Lydia questioned them one by one. She fumed at one point, People didn't use to have exceptions. You'd stay all night, and they'd have breakthrough after breakthrough. This was as close as Aunt Lydia ever came to acknowledging that M. One exercise that night, lights out, we kneeled on the ground while visualizing ourselves digging through a junkyard. The "garbage" was broken promises: promises that had been made to us by our family and friends; promises we'd made to them and ourselves.
Meanwhile, the staff played sappy songs by Cat Stevens and Whitney Houston at very loud volume to rock us weepy—they did this frequently to stoke our emotions—and on top of it all, Aunt Lydia would shout, Who promised to love you? Who promised to keep you safe?
Maybe you were abused as a child! Maybe you were sexually abused! Who broke their promise to you? Keep digging! Slowly but surely, young women bawled. Old men rocked in place. A personal trainer pounded the floor with clenched fists. I made the mistake of kneeling about six feet in front of Aunt Lydia, so anytime she yelled into the microphone, it almost split my ears. Though I also heard her, mid-choke-up, put the mic down at one point and chastise a staff member in a normal tone, something about the soundtrack.
Then she picked up the microphone and resumed her trembling "vulnerable" voice. So much was familiar: the trainer's humiliation of trainees; the hokey fantasies and weeping participants; an impression that the "technology" drained wallets by fiddling with exhausted minds. According to the article, Hanley, Lifespring's founder, got a D in the only psychology class he ever took. Marc Fisher is now a senior editor at the Post.
He'd heard about M. It's a time of tremendous dislocation in people's careers and the economies of families. It's a time of political polarization. It's a time of loss of community as a result of social media. It's only natural that people are craving the connections and the meaning that these programs promise. I asked Fisher what stood out in his memories from 30 years ago. And not just the willingness but the eagerness of people to be led and for someone to take authority over them. This is what you need to do to fix it. And then everything's going to be okay, or better'—that's pretty powerful.
At the end of day three, in semi-darkness, while volunteers blasted us with Tracy Chapman's "The Rape of the World"—M. Like the amount of pollution caused by single-use plastics; and how many shelter dogs are euthanized per year; and something about how many dogs get eaten by Chinese people? By that point Aunt Lydia had told us several times that she ran a dog rescue on the side—it seemed to explain the preponderance of canine-related statistics. Anyway, the world was cursed, humans were repulsive, and so behind closed doors near the airport, a dark room of repulsive, cursed humans cried softly, including me.
Several months after my training, I visited M. A white SUV gleamed in the driveway. A woman escorted me into her dining room, where we sat for an hour at a long table, surrounded by reflective surfaces. Majdi is in her mids. She'd had back surgery recently and was in a wheelchair. Still, her eyes were clear and tireless; her face glowed warmly as she spoke.
Behind her, in the kitchen, a pair of chandeliers shimmered from light coming in through a window. Majdi was born and raised in Holland. She moved to the United States in She did Lifespring for the first time ten years later, "and it was absolutely phenomenal. Majdi promptly retook the Basic Training, then jumped into the Advanced and Leadership courses, experiencing "one breakthrough after another. Majdi said she didn't change much about Lifespring besides the name.
She altered the Leadership Program, what M. And yes, it was part of LP that participants are expected to recruit outsiders to M. When I asked approximately how many people go through her trainings, she declined to answer, saying only that numbers were up, and they do around eleven Basic Trainings a year, plus the subsequent Advanced and LP courses, not to mention all of the other classes available.
And what did she hope newcomers like me would take away from the Basic?
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But if you start recognizing what's stopping you, you will break through to that and actually overcome your fear, and then you might just step into the next level. I asked Majdi to help me understand one of Lifespring's and M. You've been victimized in your life. But if I still constantly walk around being a victim, who has my power? But you know what I would say? That then again, it's how you choose to look at it. How you choose to look at everything in life. I can say, like, 'Well, you know…' I can say, like, 'I shouldn't have been there.
I asked if she was bothered by people calling M. Majdi laughed. Did I see anyone sitting on the floor worshipping her feet?
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