Last night I watched “Transformation: the Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard.” The film included scenes of the est training in San Francisco from the early 1970s and recent interviews with Werner, as well as with former well-known participants, observers and critics.
I “did the training” in early 1972 when Werner was still leading most of it. I also took several graduate seminars, the six-day course and a seminar leaders training program with him, so the film was very much déjà vu – and it brought home to me the enormity of Werner’s impact not only on my life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, but on the fabric of our culture today.
Although the training was brutal, in the sense that we were expected to stay in the room, fully alert and attentive to the proceedings for excruciatingly long hours without food or bathroom breaks, I found it riveting. Werner was the sharpest, most observant and articulate person I’d ever met. His (what I would call) dharma talks and his interactions with individual participants took my breath away.
Particularly his interactions with participants who complained or challenged him. His bullshit detector was acute and he’d drill down to the person’s main issue (or “racket”) in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds. And then he’d bear down one-on-one until suddenly you could see the light bulb come on and an astonished smile creep across the person’s face.
Busted. And everyone in the room could tell that something major had shifted.
For every individual he worked with, fifty or a hundred or three hundred more of us could insert our own version of racket and get a similar shift. Light bulbs popping all over the room.
My sense was that Werner never got into one of these tussles without being totally clear that the other person was capable of moving through it to the other side, where joy and freedom waited. Where someone else saw impasse, he saw possibility.
He wanted us to get out of our thinking mind and into direct experience so we would get that what is is, and what isn’t isn’t. (est in Latin means “it is”). Not until we accept what is (as opposed to what we wished it were or thought it should be) do we have the power of choice about our response.
What is isn’t good or bad, it just is. It’s a Taoist or Buddhist perspective translated for the westerner.
I’m not always there, but since this shift in perspective I’ve been able to weather life with much greater equanimity, greater tolerance, and greater respect for the unique gifts of others.
It’s not like I’ve achieved Samadhi… but most of the time I experience life with open arms. Again, thank you Werner.