Picture the scene: you are in a room with more than a hundred adults. Sitting at one end, with a microphone in his hand, is a man with long white hair who is encouraging everybody to introduce themselves to each other. "Go up to somebody," he says, "and say one honest, true thing about them that strikes you immediately. Then have them do the same back to you. But before you do that," he goes on, "please take off all your clothes."
Welcome to the "most radical self-help workshop in the world", as this hip new 10-day residential retreat is dubbed. Led by the Birmingham-born life coach guru Paul Lowe, it is not a place for the shy and retiring. As well as being encouraged to voice compliments to each other, such as "you make my vagina tingle", discuss innermost feelings in intense, nude "sharing" circles and take part in sensual massage sessions, participants will also be invited, during the course of the workshop, to explore their sexuality with multiple partners (yes, actually in the workshop). In Lowe's eyes, you see, monogamy is one of those "ludicrous, unnatural social conventions that stand between you and spiritual enlightenment".
And if it sounds like a weird hippie sex cult or an excuse for free love -- well, it is. Hugging trees, banging bongo drums, unleashing the warrior within -- it's all back in vogue. If you are in the spiritual self-help loop, you will have heard of the Landmark Forum (with a reputation for cult-like motivational workshops), the Hoffman Process (where you bash baseball bats into cushions), even the Secret Science retreat (where you tread hot coals in the Atlas mountains). They are, in a way, the 21st-century version of Est. (Remember Est? The Ehard Seminars Training, a break-you-down-and-build-you-up workshop of the early 1980s, where you had to stand on a plinth in front of hundreds of people and point to all the bits of your body you hated most.)