MARICOURT, QUE. -- "Get undressed." What? Fellow reporter Chantal Poirier and I can't believe our ears. But the 60 or so Raelians around us obey the seminar leader.
The "sensual meditation" session is mandatory for all new participants, a direct link to the "infinite," according to the seminar leader, Jean Gary.
For us, it was to be one of the most difficult moments of the two-week seminar.
Yet the activity had begun on a pleasant note. Our group is invited to lie on blankets in the sun, in a pretty clearing of the Raelian church's campground in the Eastern Townships.
Jean Gary picks up the microphone and asks us all to undress. Immediately.
We wonder if we will be sent away if we don't obey.
He says it's not as hard as we think. That it will speed up our evolution. That it's for "our own good."
Five or six participants refuse to give in: Chantal, myself, two other women and Benoit, a transvestite who refuses to part with a bra, false breasts, and his lace panties.
The meditation begins. It will focus on the five senses. Everyone lies on their back in silence and Rael's taped voice rings out from the speakers.
He asks that we touch our arms and shoulders -- and then our breasts.
"Caress your breasts well," says Rael's voice.
I'm very uncomfortable. Everyone obeys -- and, therefore, I do, too.
The voice asks us to sit down. "Massage your buttocks well. It's your body."
Then we have to touch our feet, knees, thighs, genitals and . . . anus.
At this point, Chantal and I become observers, hoping we don't get caught. I half-open my eyes. Everyone is following orders.
Away to one side, Jean Gary is talking quietly with other leaders.
Then the time comes for the snack. We have to lick and suck our skin for two excruciatingly long minutes.
This is just too much for me. But I want to hold out. Failing this mandatory exercise could jeopardize my chances of obtaining a "level" in the movement's structure.
Now for the sense of smell. We have to smell our underarms, rub our scalps and smell our fingers. And then our genitals once again.
Rael tells us to take the mirror that was given to us at the beginning and look closely at our behinds.
I want to die.
"To be totally in harmony, it is important to love all the parts of one's body, including this one," drones the voice.
The tension is at its peak. Their faces solemn, my neighbours spread their legs, looking as though they were accomplishing something important, something that could mark them forever.
Leaders take notes as they point to certain participants.
The meditation is over. Jean Gary explains we have just taken an important step in our personal development.