Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mr. Inadequate, II

And in the space of transformation, I get that I am the context in which the nexis of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, pictures, etc., which presents in various forms as "I am inadequate, and must hide it because if I don't by survival is threatened" exists.

It's all old programming. It's mechanical. And instead of resisting it, as I have been dong unconsciously for years, I'm simply willing to let it be. To express it. To talk about it with those who can understand what I'm saying.

I can have my future be about something other than this old shit.

Watching the Film and Discovering a Core Paradigm

I haven't posted on here in about 10 months. Perhaps it's because I'm so busy in the academic year; the summer months allow for more time for reflection and writing.

Last summer, I suggested that the Werner Erhard documentary TRANSFORMATION: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF WERNER ERHARD might be more of an "informercial" than a true histroical documentary, especially since much of the funding seems to have come, through Eagle Island Films, from people close to Werner .

I ordered it, of course, once it became available on DVD. It is a fantastic look at the best of Werner Erhard, especially his extraordinary work. It put me in touch with the power and excitement and sense of possibility and commitment that was so palpable when I was active with est and WE&A in the early 1980s.

And out of watching the video, something had opened for me, shifted for me, and I saw, really saw, how my life has been organized around a decision I made early in life that "I am inadequate." Inadequate physically, inadequate in my masculinity, inadequate musically, inadequate intellectually, inadequate this, inadequate that. No matter what I do, I end up "feeling" and believeing I'm inadequate. The covering it up with accomplishments, which never seem to fulfill my fantasy of them, and making my house a mess and my finances a mess, too.

It's kind of "I'm inadequate and need Dad to rescue me." That's how I got love from my Dad, by being needy, cause he loves to give help.

I've seen this on different levels before, but it hit me in a new way after experiencing the clips of Werner in the film. So as an opportunity to engage with a film in a way that can create an opportunity for transformation, this is an amazing gift.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Guru or Teacher?

Or both?

I read somewhere (in Ram Dass's Be Here Now? in Laurence Platt?) that the difference between a teacher and a guru is that a teacher teaches you stuff, and a guru is the teaching, is the energy you want to attain.

Americans are so afraid of gurus. That's part of the problem with Werner Erhard; he was/is a guru for so many people, and people are afraid of gurus. When there was lots of negative publicity about Werner, including the false charges and misrepresentations in the early 1990s, my father, who was quite frightened by the guru-disciple aspects of my relationship with Werner through his programs, was quite sweet and said, "remember the teacher is not the teaching." The question, of course, was had Werner turned out to be just a teacher and not a guru (in the best sense of the word)?

What is becoming clear to me that Werner is a guru, in the best sense of the word, of the west. I think it was an interview with Warren Bennis, although it could have been with someone else, where he said that after he met Werner, life started happening to him in a different way. There's an energy, a new perspective, a shift that happens. It happened for many of us. It really is true for me that since I did the est training 27 years ago, my life has happened differently.

Experiencing Werner as what people in India would call a guru doesn't mean that I think he's perfect, flawless, or that the he doesn't have the ability to be a total asshole. It doesn't mean that I "agree" with every aspect of his expression; it doesn't mean I think everything he has ever done is "right"; and it certainly doesn't mean that I believe any particular thing he has said. It really is that there's a way of being that I got through him. One can try to describe it, but the descriptions just give concepts, not access to the experience.

On "Werner Erhard" getting in the way of Werner Erhard

It is amazing to me how many buttons the name "Werner Erhard" can push, which illustrates for me the difficulty in sharing the things that have made a difference in my life and acknowledging the source. For example, I had the students in a college class I'm teaching read and discuss the truly stimulating talk Werner gave (hmm . . . I'm slipping into calling him "Werner" instead of "Erhard") at the Eranos Foundation. (Click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

We had a great time grappling together with Werner's "cosmic joke," which proposes that who we are in the present is determined not by our past, but by the future in to which we are living. We project our past into our imagined future, so the illusion is we are (inevitably) shaped by our past. It's a brilliant, brilliant, talk. Much of it is almost impossible to understand, which is the part of the point--the cosmic joke is a contemporary koan. Later in the talk, Werner uses the metaphor of a three-act play for one's life. The past is act one; the present era, act two; and the third is the future. The second act has to get you from the first to the third; it's the third act that determines, then, what happens in the second. We have the opportunity to consciously rewrite the third act, which determines how we live the second. The essential principles of Werner's paradigm of living are all there in the talk; it's a hologram for his work.

If you really get into it, it's fucking unbelievable. Which is why I had my students read it. I'm so blown away by it I can't articulate it.

Of course, none of the students had heard of Werner, so they didn't have any Werner Erhard buttons pushed. I had them watch the trailer for Transformation: The Life and Work of Werner Erhard to get a flavor of the man.

It was earlier this evening when I began telling my next-door neighbor about it that I saw how the personality/reputation "Werner Erhard" gets in the way of Werner Erhard. My neighbor is a brilliant, wonderful woman. I was telling her about my class, and as soon as I mentioned the article, I saw her eyes roll, and she was rather dismissive.

Undeterred, I shared my enthusiasm, and when I got to the play metaphor, she started to get it. We had to overcome the source of it, though.

OK, she's from the west coast and old enough to have endured all the est-pestiness of 1970s and 1980s San Francisco. And I realized later that she is in a place of feeling victimized by the circumstances of her life. So it's natural that there was some resistance.

Last night, I spent a good deal of time looking through Laurence Platt's Conversations for Transformation, which I'd glanced at before. Laurence is so beautifully open in his acknowledgment of Werner, and he clearly isn't worried about coming across as a sycophant, a cultish true believer, or a plain-old hero-worshiper.
It works for me to love You as Source. Why? I don't know. It works, always, and it has never ever failed on that level. The courage to be as exposed as You are as Source is mind boggling to me. When You live that way my thankfulness and admiration pour out of me from a place so deep. I trust You completely. I experience You both as a Master and as a regular Joe like me. The fact that You are willing to be both and to let me experience You as both is awesome.
The fears of being perceived in the ways Laurence is unafraid of, or perhaps is simply willing to be perceived as, is real for me. It's frightening to me that on some level, to some extent, much of what he writes is true for me, too. I worry what people will think of me; and I worry that to much open acknowledgement of Werner Erhard will get in the way of sharing much of what I have to share.

Werner is not the only extraordinarily influential teacher/guru in my life. In so many ways, though, I see what a fundamental source he is for me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Taking Responsibility

One of the greatest things I discovered in my work in Erhard-designed programs, and in listening to Werner Erhard recordings (tapes which were widely available in the early 80s), is the capacity we have to take full responsibility.

For example, I'm playing a concert this evening, the first in two months after a summer off from performing. Taking responsibility for it being a good concert, one that allows me to be my artistic self, and that is also an enriching and enlivening experience for the audience, is an empowering stance.

It's quite different than the experience of "hoping" the concert will go well, of fearing it won't, of fighting the fear, of trying to play well, of trying to impress the audience, etc. And it is also powerful to know that it will be what it will be, and that my worth as a person is not dependent on how "well" it goes. It was the est training which gave me access in an experiential way to a kind of Zen-like detachment from the results, and to be able to notice all the extra-musical meanings I attached to my music making.

What I realized recently is that performing, and my skill on my instrument, has long been a way I tried to dominate and impress other people, to keep the from dominating me. It was a way of compensating for what I had decided was an inadequate self.

Therapists have helped me work much of this out. Dialogue is invaluable. And I know that non-attachment, awareness, etc., have been recognized and taught for centuries. I may have read about them before I did the est training. It was in the group experience, listening to others share, interacting with the trainer and others, that I actually discovered this capacity in an exestential way.

Monday, August 6, 2007

No reviews for the informercial--and what about all the good stuff?

Well, it seems that no newspaper in New York reviewed the "premiere" of Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard. Certainly not the New York Times, from which I was hoping for something.

The anti-cult bloggers (by the way, I personally do NOT think est, WE&A, or Landmark were/are a full-blown cult or cults) suggest that the Quad Cinema in the Village was actually rented for the weekend, and that, not surprisingly, the place was packed with Werner/Landmark fans. From what I've been reading, the film does sound more and more like an infomercial. And it's an infomercial I'd love to see, and I know I'll recognize a lot of folks in the film, and laugh at the inside jokes, etc. (It was late when I was surfing, and I didn't copy down links. But if you just Google the name of the film, and keeping wading through the links, you'll find plenty of stuff.)

If the theater was indeed rented, that may help explain the lack of reviews. And the anti-Landmark forces seem to have mounted a campaign to communicate their concerns about the evident quasi-self-produced nature of the film to as many critics as possible.

Still, it's unfortunate that it has not been assessed by a professional critic working from some journalistic standard. It's the same old story with Erhard/Landmark stuff: everything written about it comes from a strong point of view.

The anti-Landmark/Erhard bloggers write frequently of the Forum's "dangers," as if they are self-evident (which may seem to be the case within their subculture). But one thing I don't see them do is explain why it is that so very many people do not have an adverse reaction to it. If it really is so dangerous, why do so many people keep taking it? And volunteering? Why do so many people keep reporting it as such a powerful and positive experience?

I understand that some psychologically unstable people may take it and have an incident triggered by something that happens in the program. But psychologically unstable people are incidents waiting to happen. There are plenty of psychotic episodes happening every day, with almost no external provocation, among people who don't take the Forum. People have psychotic incidents at home, while shopping, in church, etc. Life is dangerous, especially to the psychologically unhealthy. I understand the Landmark organization is as clear as was the est and WE&A organizations that their programs are not substitutes for therapy nor are they designed for or appropriate for people in therapy, unless their therapist approves. I also understand that people with a weak sense of self may develop some sort of dependence on being associated with Landmark. And people become fanatically involved with churches, clubs, hobbies, and become celebrity groupies all the time.

The vast majority of we who took the the est training (and now Landmark) emerged not just unscathed, but healthier, happier, more empowered, and more free. Yes, I went through a phase of being highly absorbed, and, yes, I think the work will be served by broadening its modes of outreach and communication. The important thing is the possibilities people create for themselves from participating in these experiences.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Werner on . . . .

In my last post I mentioned the revised and updated One of the things I'm delighted about is that it has a number of writings and transcriptions of talks on the Work and Ideas page. As I mentioned, there are links to an abstract and pdf file of model of "Integrity" in busines situations Erhard co-presented at Harvard, a lengthy talk on personal and social transformation given at the Eranos Institute, and, in the left sidebar, talks on a number of issues he did back in the est days.

What bothered and still bothers many people about est and now Landmark are the manner of presentation--fairly large, very structured seminars (i.e., large group awareness trainings, or LGATs), with a confrontational trainer--and the emphasis on recruiting family, friends, and associates to participate. As I've been clear about, I continue to have issues with this latter aspect, and if I had to do all over again I'd have been less of an "est pest" 25 years ago.

These writings, however, give one the opportunity to engage with the ideas Erhard taught/teaches, separated from the LGAT experience and from the "share the training," pressure-others culture of an organization. As transcriptions of talks, they can be a bit hard to follow. They are, though, definitely followable, and well worth it.

Edit: It seems that much of this new disclosure of ideas and abstractions is due to the influence of the retired Harvard Business School Michael Jensen, who took the Landmark Forum in 1998 and became fascinated with it.
As practitioners, Landmark's managers were "totally uninterested in providing access to the model [meaning the mechanisms that underlay their successful techniques]," Jensen says. They were primarily interested in giving access to a powerful way of living with people rather than helping them understand. They had to give up this notion that understanding was the 'booby prize' -- that's the language they use." If people didn't understand [what was being accomplished]," according to Jensen, "they were going to wind up saying it was a cult, or brainwashing." He began to understand his task as "get[ting] them to change the way they operated to have a bigger impact."
This makes a lot of sense to me. Whatever valuable ideas and principles Erhard has articulated must be able to be separated from a particular style of delivery, particularly the LGAT format.