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.
Very very well written. And as a student of WE and many others, we are very fortunate to have attracted his brilliance into our lives. Those who have a point of view about Werner and his work and have spectator points of view about it all …. well what can I say. Thanks you ..
Have you seen the Transformation movie?
I loved it… especially the DVD extra: If not now, when? It reminded me of what I’ve learned from Werner, and what I still am working on…
I just saw the DVD as well. I was concerned that the filmmaker chose to depict certain scenes from the training that could easily be misinterpreted by people who never did it, and confirm some of their presuppositions. Specifically, the scene in which Werner interacts with the girl who is invested in her “orphan” story–on the surface, in such a quick view of the interaction, out of context, it would be difficult for someone who never did the training to see what he was getting at, and people could easily think he was “blaming the victim.” Remember all the furor that came up when it was suggested that the “Jews were responsible for the Holocaust”?
In any event, you might be interested to know that my new book contains an extensive chapter on Werner and est that I think you’d enjoy. The book is called The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Adventures. You can read the prologue here to see if it grabs you:
I loved the “orphan girl” and thought it perfectly exemplified what Werner did. And the “old lady.” I gave my copy of the DVD to a friend who has not done the training or Landmark, and I’m looking forward to hearing her response to those scenes.
I went to one of the guest seminars. I’ll never forget that day. Everyone in the room had a daze in their eyes like they were brain washed. You could see it. My friend, sister and I are one of the ones that “had it out” with one of the speakers. The man was foul mouthed, hated God and thought it was funny that we believed in God. The speaker I spoke to was so full of hate. I actually saw the devil come out of him and stare into my face. I believe in the devil because of this now. This was definitely some kind of cult. I had to pull my friend out of it who was later glad he got out of it and thanked me. This man was evil.
You people can laugh all you want but this was evil stuff. I could actually point out people who took EST. I was working at a department store as a clerk and I told a man that he had taken EST. I could tell from his awkward stare. He said yes and started yelling at me. My manager had to come to my rescue. The man was so full of hate. People stay away from this stuff. Please.
Well, Mel, in a world that you see in black or white, godly or evil, est might feel pretty threatening to your comfort zone. Lucky for you, you don’t have to take the course!
And lucky for me, I did. I’ll be forever grateful for the way it’s opened my heart and mind.
Nice to read your delicious write up on the training. Taking the training was certainly an important moment for many of us. To this day I can’t quite imagine how Werner offered so much depth to so many people. Now, more than twenty years after doing the training I still benefit from it daily and think of it fondly.
Thanks Jerry. I recently read a book called “Made to Stick” by the Heath brothers. That’s what the est training was. Sticky.
Great description of the training. Thank You. I found the training to be one of the most beneficial things I did in my life, even now after 20 some years. I found this great website that is worth looking at with copies of Graduate Reviews and articles, as well as a blog of what people got out of the training.
Charlie – thanks for the link to the Erhard Seminars Training (reunion) website. I particularly loved the early TV interview w. Werner. He was/is one of the most amazing characters I’ve ever me.
soy mexicano participe en varios programes y siempre tuve la libertad de decidi e conocido muchos programas pero nada como landmark gracias hortencia gracias hugo por ser quienes son
My immediate family lived in Santa Cruz at the height of est and I took the Children’s Training in San Jose. Later, when est folded, I took courses at Summit which was very much a duplication of est with some variations. est was very for its’ time and yet, very much applicable in any time or space. Thank you Werner for your contribution to humanity.
What Werner and the work that surrounds him embody’s for me is: mastery, contribution, love and a world that works for everyone with no one left out.
Werner displays “walking the talk”, and inspires me to do the same. Had our paths not crossed, I would not have endeavoured to do so, in these ways.
Love that guy!
Thanks Valles, Matt, Miguel. Obviously Werner’s work transcended international boundaries. I now look back on it fondly the way I do childbirth – uncomfortable but birthing a great result!
37 years later, I can still remember driving home the fourth day of the training, stopping at an all night restaurant and reading the little brown book, laughing, crying and hardly tasting my food. I actually stopped there to prolong the wonderful awareness just a little bit longer. Well, I needn’t have worried; you can’t lose your own experience even if you want to–though I do manage some drama as the lifelong education continues. Like Werner said, “You just stepped off a cliff. Enjoy the ride.”
And, hey everyone: I know you know that I love you. What I want you to know is that I know you love me. (forgive me Werner, for butchering your words!)
Still riding, Sharon! Every day is a trip. Thanks for leaving your memory of the training. On that last night I remember doing the “Personality Profile” – bringing someone you don’t know into your awareness and describing him to the person who does know him. I was so astonished by the accuracy of what I saw that I did it TWICE.