In which the universe hoodwinks me into being trained by Werner Erhard himself.
I took est (officially Erhard Seminars Training, but known to us graduates simply as “the training”) in the early 80s. I’m surprised I didn’t encounter it much earlier, since I moved to San Francisco in 1974 in an experimental frame of mind and San Francisco was home base for est. I bumped into the Scientology crew downtown one night and signed up for their beginners’ class just to find out what it was all about. I enjoyed the class, but that organization had so many layers of bureaucracy, it made the IRS look streamlined. I also spent some time at one of the Synanon enclaves in the East Bay, since the first friend I made in the City was an ex-junkie. (Synanon was an alternative drug rehab community founded by Chuck Dederich, a former alcoholic.) But I don’t recall ever running into anyone around that time who was involved in est.
A friend in Michigan had taken the training, however, and would not shut up about how amazing it was and how I should take it, too. I was tired of hearing about it, so on one of my visits, I agreed to go with him to a guest seminar if he agreed that regardless of whether I decided to take the training or not he would stop talking to me about it. We had a two-hour drive to Detroit where the seminar was being held. On the way, I had to listen to a series of cassette tapes of talks given by Werner Erhard. I hated the sound of Werner’s voice so much that my mind was made up: there was no way I was going to take the training.
As it turned out, the man who led the guest seminar (Les?) had a very low key and matter-of-fact demeanor. He was the anti-Werner Erhard, if you will. What he said made sense and sounded like something I could benefit from. Est was supposed to “transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with clear up just in the process of life itself.” Sign me up. But wait a sec. It turned out that although Werner had not been involved in leading trainings for a while, rumor had it he was going to lead the next scheduled training in San Francisco. So no, do not sign me up for that one. What else do you have? The next available training in my neck of the woods was in the East Bay.
WHAT WAS I THINKING?
So, yes, I enrolled in a training in Berkeley, which involved a considerably longer commute, just so I could avoid Werner Erhard—the founder of the training I was enrolling in. Absurd as they were, my efforts turned out to be for naught.
The est training consisted of two weekends (all day Saturday and all day Sunday) and three Wednesday evening sessions in between the two weekends. The Wednesday evening before the first training weekend, my partner and I, along with a couple hundred other trainees, trooped into the ballroom where the training would be held. I glanced at the staff in the back of the room, and although I had never seen a picture of the man, I said to my partner—and these were my exact words— “Fuck. That’s Werner.” Which it was.
I got over my resistance to Werner. The man is very charming and disarming, as well as relentless. He’s generally typed as a 3, which seems right on. Although I hated the training itself, that didn’t have anything to do with Werner (other than the fact that he created it). What I didn’t like was having to sit in a chair hour after hour listening to other people talk. You could say I resisted that. And I resisted being confronted with my own stuff, which you’re pretty much forced to confront while you’re sitting in a chair hour after hour unable to escape or even converse with the person seated next to you.
It’s true that you were not allowed to go to the restroom except during the very infrequent official breaks. On the first day of the training, I got into a conversation with someone during the first break and failed to make use of the restroom before we were ushered back into the training room. Five hours till the next opportunity. Herb Caen, who was a long-time columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, once included an anecdote about a woman who asked a clerk in a downtown San Francisco department store to direct her to the ladies room. The clerk said there were no restrooms on the premises. The customer asked what the clerk did when she needed to use the restroom. The clerk said, “I took est. I don’t have to use the restroom.” My friends today will tell you that I can go longer than anyone else they know without needing to stop for a bathroom break. That has been so valuable I think it was worth the price of the training.
But that’s not all I got.
Next time: Part 2, in which I am apparently recognized as an 8, even though none of us has heard of the Enneagram yet.
- What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part II – Authenticity) (thecustomerblog.co.uk)
- Toward a World That Works for Everyone (the2012scenario.com)