Sunday, July 29, 2007

We, the est pests

Back to what was counterproductive (in my opinion) about the est and Werner Erhard and Associates culture of 1980-84, the period in which I was active.

The est training was where I first discovered many of my patterns and realized that I could take responsibility for the crap in my life and that I had the opportunity to be the source of my own sense of being loved and loving. And it was in experiences designed by Werner Erhard that I had these discoveries.

And they were all things that had been around for a long time. Werner Erhard did not invent unconditional love, self love, self-esteem, non-attachment to emotions, meditation and meditation-like experiences, etc. Many of us ran around talking about these things, though, as if Werner Erhard had somehow invented them. And as if they were only discoverable through Werner Erhard programs.

Werner has a unique ability, I would say a genius, for designing and leading experiential-learning programs. He is a great teacher and coach and facilitator. And we made it too much about the personality Werner Erhard (and by "we" I include everyone, including the personality Werner Erhard), to the point that the personality Werner Erhard became the greatest hindrance to the cause of personal, organizational, and social transformation.

I don't want to deny in any way the extraordinary and unique effectiveness of the est training and all the programs which followed it! But I also don't want to deny the unique obnoxiousness of many of the people who took the est training, were encouraged to share their experience with others, and didn't realize they had adopted a belief that these people "should" take the training and would be "better" for having done so.

The source of love and approval

As I noted in an earlier entry, I started this particular blog--and went back into therapy--in large measure to deal with a recurring pattern: I start a project with great promise (i.e., I have a great idea), I get a great deal of preliminary work done, make some great plans, and then when it comes to executing them, bringing them to fruition, I get paralyzed.

That's a pattern, that's not me. What I'm doing now is to let go of my resistance to the pattern and be OK that it is there, so I can look at what's underneath it, recreate it, and dissappear it. Ah, that's a nice, old-jargon way of describing what I'm doing. Let's try putting it another way.

I have a problem. In the past, I've dealt with the problem by abandoning the old project, feeling bad, and then after a while taking up a new project. What I've decided to do now is to love myself and accept myself as is, and, rather than avoiding the problem, stay in the midst of it.

Thus particular pattern is not uncommon among people who grew up in an alcoholic or other home environment that did not offer consisten, unconditional love. In my case, there were several dynamics:
  • My father could blow up and say horrible, damaging things at any time, with the least provocation. My sister and I both tend to feel horrible about ourselves, to internally treat ourselves the way our father did.
  • My mother rarely expressed anger. When she did, it was usually at my father. With me, anyway, she lavished huge amounts of praise on various accomplishments, praise that could be hyperbolic. At this point in my life, I know my mother loved me. Growing up, I felt that I was loved for all the incredible, wonderful things I was doing.
So I developed almost a split personality. On one hand, the worthless person who deserved these hugely hurtful emotional outbursts from my father, the person whose existence caused him misery because, as he told us so often, he had this huge financial burdens because of the family and so could not do what he wanted with his life.

This was also combined with and impacted my feelings of physical inadequacy.

Come to think of it, this effusive praise stuff from my mother also had a lot to do with my feelings of physical inadequacy. I developed a sense, made some sort of decision, that if I wasn't fantastic at something I was worthless.

I'm worthless except when I do something that gets lots and lots of praise. If I do something wrong, my father will hate me and my peers will laugh at and reject me. Unless I know it is something I will do fantastically well, it's best to hide.

Now what I learned from, discovered through, however you put it, Werner Erhard is that I don't have to be a victim. I have the opportunity to recognize that these are decisions I made as a child, to take responsibility for having made them, and to release them and/or be aware that they are thoughts/beliefs (accompanied by body sensations and emotions) that get triggered and that I can observe and be aware of and experience them and choose not to act out of them.

I went through a period of relaxed awareness this morning (i.e., meditation) and what came to me is that the root of my block is feeling unloved and that what I create, the object I create, must be perfect and unassailable and be impressive and adulation-inducing; if it can be criticized, it means I am horrible. And I will be revealed to be horrible, the horrible person my father saw me as.

And I remembered that I just need to love myself. My validation needs to be internal. As long as it is about doing something that will win me external love, my emotional life will be a roller coaster.

Ah ha! And what I discovered in Werner Erhard programs was that I can choose at any moment to love myself to be the source of my own acceptance and approval. And I will at times forget that, and then can remember it all over again.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Teacher or the Teaching?

Looking back at my experience with est and Werner Erhard and Associates, I see (at least) two things that worked in some ways yet were inevitably limiting in others.

As Erhard became increasingly famous, he grew extremely controversial--hence my use of the phrase "famous and infamous." It now seems generally accepted that he was the focus of a smear campaign by factions within the Church of Scientology, was attacked by evangelical Christian "anti-cult" groups, the IRS, and most damagingly by the sensationalistic program "Sixty Minutes." The Scientology efforts were unmasked; reputable cult experts agreed that est, WE&A, and its successor, Landmark Education were/are not cults; the IRS paid money to Erhard; and Sixty Minutes had to remove its piece from its archives.

By 1983 or 1984, I took a program which he and Fernando Flores had developed, which had to do with "communication for action," or something like that. The majority of the participants were est graduates, and it was rather openly acknowledged, at least among the est people, that Erhard's name was being seen as a growing liability. Some people wouldn't consider doing something openly associated with Werner Erhard.

In my last post, I wrote of the extraordinary impact the est training and other Erhard-designed programs has had on me, my marriage and post-marital relationship with my ex-wife, and on my relationship with my children and their lives. My experience is not unique; among people who took the training and, from what I've read, the Landmark Forum and associated courses, it is virtually ubiquitous.

All of us who were passionately involved held a conviction that this work offered an extraordinary possibility for others, for relationships, families, organizations, etc. This work had (has) the potential to make a profound difference in the world.

I will say unequivicollly that the est training worked. It was a highly effective vehicle for transforming participants' relationship to life. No question.

Yet the choice to deliver it through the vehicle of proprietary, for-profit workshops had/has a downside. And that is that proprietary, for-profit workshops alienate a lot of people.

So that's the first thing that works and is self-limiting, in my assessment.

The second is that Werner Erhard created, encouraged and/or allowed a culture within the business that was est, and then Werner Erhard and Associates, in which Erhard was seen as the source of transformation for the planet, and that trainers and seminar leaders, etc., intended to "re-create" Werner. Re-creating Werner Erhard the seminar leader, assimilating his attitudes, ways of communicating, etc., was extremely effective. It "works."

What was limiting in this is that it created a strong identification of the teachings with the teacher. I absolutely believe that est was not a cult. But it is undeniable, in my experience, that among many people associated with Erhard as staff members, volunteers, and participants, a personality cult. I don't know that what I am calling a personality cult is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. Another way to put it is that Werner Erhard, as seen in seminars and films shown at guest seminars, in sattelite presentations, etc., became a primary role model for many of us.

In some cultures, gurus are OK. I remember an audiotape of Erhard talking about a conversation an est graduate in India had with his father. As he was describing Erhard's role in his life, this graduate's father said, "Oh, I understand. You have found your guru."

In the West, guru-like figures become popular and then are torn down. And that happened with Werner Erhard.

The night of the infamous Sixty Minutes episode, my father, who had aways been uneasy, to say the least, with my est involvement, called me and said, quite lovingly, that I should remember that the teaching is not the teacher.

I had enough contact with people who knew Erhard personally, especially est trainers, to know that they knew that Erhard was fully human. On film that was shown in Guest Seminars on occasion was called "Today Is for the Championship," in which Werner learns to race cars as as an experiment in learning what makes organizations work. (OK, I know that it also sounds like a great way for Werner to get paid to fulfill and adolescent fantasy of racing cars, and maybe that was part of it.) In one scene, one of his support team absolutely chews Werner out, just screaming at him (recreating Werner for Werner, you might say). I forget that guy's name, but he led graduate seminars in the Baltimore/D.C. area for a while. He was very clear Werner was human.

The point I want to make is that, as he and he organizations he created and inspired discovered, a personality-centered culture in which the teachings are completely identified with the teacher is self-limiting and culturally alienating.

I don't know what the alternative was or is. Ultimately, there is a ripple effect that can be impossible to document. I dropped the jargon and stopped talking about Werner Erhard long ago, but my way of being and communicating has affected family and friends and students, in ways that impact people I don't meet, and they impact people who impact other people, and so on and so forth.

The radical personal breakthrough that comes from an intense workshop like the old est training or the current Landmark Forum? I don't know how else one could really have that experience except in a structured environment that is designed to bring one's defense mechanisms to the surface so one can observe them.

Werner Erhard and the jargon with which we spoke of him

I just returned from a short vacation with my ex-wife and children. The fact that my ex-wife and I can enjoy going on a vacation with our teenagers, and that all four of us enjoy each other's company, is unusual and wonderful.

There is no question in my mind that this would not be the case apart from the communication skills we developed and our ability to accept things as they are which we developed in the then-named est programs developed by Werner Erhard. There's absolutely no question. So I have undying appreciation and gratitude not only for Werner Erhard, but also for everyone else in the est/WE&A staff and the informal network of est graduates, especially people in the assisting program and participants in the graduate seminar programs.

This trip we just took included about four hours of driving in each direction. We shared with the kids as much as we could of our est experiences, and also gave them a crash course in early-198os est jargon:

"I want to acknowledge Werner Erhard for creating the space in which I can create the space that I can get that you feel bad that you were grumpy with your mother and I and I want you to know that I have the space for you to be where you are and I get that you are sorry and I want you to get that I absolutely forgive you and that I know that you know that I love you and I want you to get that I know that you love me."

Then I turned to my ex-wife, who was driving, and with wide eyes and a smile said, "Don't you just love Werner Erhard."

I had all of them laughing. I was kinda hoping I could get my ex-wife, who was almost crying, to wet her pants. (If she did, she didn't tell me.)

One of the challenges the enthusiasm of est graduates created for the work we were, and many of us still are, committed to, was that we did actually run around talking that way. It began to be addressed to some extent by the time I went my own way. But boy, did I (and others) turn a lot of people off.

The truth is that what the clich├ęd jargon represents are some deeply powerful truths.

My ex-wife and I have given each other "the space" to be who each other is. In other words, we have chosen to accept and value each other "as is." It turned out that it didn't work for us to love together. I'm much more consistently attracted to men than to women; being in a monogamous relationship with a woman was not something that I was able to make work for me, although that was my intention when we married. And I was totally open about my sexuality with her from the time we met. Being married to an increasingly-frustrated gay man did not work for her, nor did being in a sexually "open" marriage (which we did for a while).

Our decision to divorce was an act of love for each other, a freeing of each other.

In raising our children, my goal has been to offer them absolute acceptance and love, by accepting and loving them unconditionally. I've made a very clear distinction between my love for them and behaviors which I may or may not like. I used to say to them, "I love you when you have good behavior; I love you when you have bad behavior; I love you when you do what I want; I love you when you don't do what I want," etc.

So, to use the old jargon, I have "given them the space to be who they are."

And I have made it a practice to listen to and really hear whatever they have to say. I am aware, not only from Werner Erhard programs but from readings in humanistic psychology and elsewhere, that when I person feels truly heard it makes a difference. I don't try to talk my children, or others, into feeling different than they do. (Not that I don't screw up on this; when I discover I'm not listening in an accepting, validating way, I change modes, unless I'm in the midst of being emotionally upset myself.)

So I did give my son "the space" to express his feelings of guilt. My sense of the importance of that comes both from est programs and from humanistic psychology writings and trainings.

Acknowledging that he knows I love him, and that I know he loves me, well, that came straight from an Erhard aphorism booklet we got at the end of the training.

Jargon gets in the way. Jargon triggers feelings of exclusion among those who don't "own" the jargon. Jargon makes it appear to some that the users of the jargon have become part of something cult-like.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Beyond fear to . . .

The experience of fear has dissipated quite a bit. Just letting things be is powerful. I have had strong memories come up. And I'm getting more good sleep, which is always important.

Now what is there, blocking me in this writing project, is indecision and perfectionism. And a sense that what I started nearly four years ago, when I applied for a fellowship from the university to work on the book, isn't there any longer. The desire to write a book, I mean.

I know I can take the 300+ pages I have written, cut some stuff out, and have at least an OK book. What I want, though, is a wonderful book that people will actually want to read.

That, of course, takes me back into tailoring what I'm writing to some imagined audience. It's important when writing to know who you audience is, we're taught.

I notice thoughts of "I should show the academic heavyweights that I can write as well as them."

And, "I can't write in too casual a manner."

And I've made several false (?) starts.

I have thoughts that it is overwhelming, that it is more than I can do, that I have asked myself to do too much.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Letting the Fear of Rejection and Failure Just Be There

Back to what started all this in the first place: the stuff that gets triggered when I start a big project, one I know I have the skills for, such as selling some instruments online. I realize it is also the stuff that gets in the way of other things. Right now especially aware of making an offer to play somewhere, like a nursing home, and (believe it or not) getting my hair cut in a barber shop rather than by a hair stylist in a low-priced salon in a strip mall, Wal-Mart, etc. As a matter of fact, I have stuff come up about getting my hair cut at all.

It hit me today: it's all about a fear of rejection. That I'll be told I'm not good enough, that I'll be humiliated, made fun of, etc. That I will be in some horrible trouble. That I will be cast out.

Hmmm. Gay man, child of an alcoholic who was often emotionally abusive and by whom I felt unloved while growing up, especially as a teenager, who was physically weak and uncoordinated compared to other boys, who was teased and ridiculed and frequently felt embarrassment, shame and humiliation, and who decided he was inferior.

How could it be that this kid would grow up into someone who a fear of rejection and failure come up when he takes on something new?

Now this is where my (never met in person) friend Werner Erhard comes in. What I got way back when is that if I let this be, if I don't resist it, I don't have to be run by it. I can allow myself to re-experience and release (or "dissapear") the emotional charge of the traumatizing experiences. And, meanwhile, I know that "I" am not those feelings. "I" am bigger than that.

Right now, I'm letting memories and feelings come up, not stuffing them down, not disowning them. I'm open to experiencing them, and, as Werner put it way back when, "completing" the experience.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Not quite what I expected

My goodness.

Writing that last post--which I had expected to be about something else entirely--brought me back to 1984 and this pivotal time in my life. And how in so many ways I hid myself--stayed in the classical music world (especially the classical music education world), married a woman when the honest part of me knew I was gay (so did she, but that's another story), and essentially acted out a life which would earn me the approval of my parents, the approval I so much wanted.

And I had a strong belief that my sexual attraction to men, which was and is mixed with feelings of envy and of often feeling quite feminine, was something I could "choose" to replace.

What I really wanted to do was work that made a true difference in the quality of life for other people, knowing that making a difference is the biggest way to have a difference made in one's life. You experience love by giving it.

Then I went pretty unconscious about the whole business.

And no wonder I have continued to dislike so much about being a college music professor, and to have a constant sense of wanting to be doing something else, of being an actor playing a part.

This is all coming up as a result of choosing/deciding to just observe what is going on with me, and not try to change or fix it.

Why I Walked Away, Part I

When I was active in what was then called "est," I purchased every audiotape of Erhard tha was available from first "est, and educational corporation," and then "Werner Erhard and Associates" and "The Centers Network." Unfortunately, they are all lost or, stored in a garage, the audiotape it self has deteriorated.

I also purchased every book I came across about Erhard and "the training." When I distanced myself from Erhard's programs, as they were morphing from "the est training" and associated seminars to "The Forum" and its programs, I began ignoring my books, and eventually gave away, sold, or lost all of them. In the last few months, I've been rebuilding that collection, via the used-book sellers at Amazon.com and Ebay. (I find it useful to check both places; the best price can be at either one.)

Why did I distance myself?

As I remember, what I really wanted at that time was to become an est trainer. I love ideas; the way the Erhard programs applied simply-articulated abstractions to real-life situations, and the way people in the programs and organization were committed to putting ideas into action, was tremendously appealing. It was a dilemma for me, though. I loved being a musician, and in my assessment I had not yet accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish.

Many people who joined the staff of est, aec or WE&A were in a place in their lives where they felt ready to let go of their prior profession. One of the most wonderful people I met in organization became the director of the Washington, D.C. "center." She had been a marvelous concert pianist; we attended the same conservatory, where she had studied with the the institutions most famous and sought-after piano teacher, Leon Fleisher. It was, and is, incredibly difficult to win a space in Fleisher's class.

It's hard to imagine that someone with that level of aptitude and accomplishment could walk away from a musical career, but she did. She was "complete" with the piano, she told me. She had discovered that she had been playing the piano to accomplish something else in her life. I don't remember exactly what; I think it had to do with pleasing/impressing her parents, and perhaps herself. After taking the est training, she no longer felt she had to prove anything to anybody, and she just wasn't interested in the piano any longer.

Here I was, about 24, at a crossroads. I had an ongoing dialogue with her. She stressed to me that she was truly "complete" with the piano in her life and had let go. My experience was that I wasn't.

It wasn't as simple as that. I had two visions: one was joining the WE&A staff with a goal of becoming a trainer and living as an unconflictedly, openly gay man. The other was to continue a life as a cellist, marry my fiance (who was totally aware of my gay-leaning bisexuality), and with her pursue a career in music.

One of the central ideas in est was that we create our own experience. In my understanding, at least (reinforced by many others), the notion was that one could choose to create any condition in life. My wife-to-be, who had also taken the training, and I "chose to create" a life in which we would be married. While I had previously come to terms with my attraction to men, I had, based primarily on my interpreation of writings by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden, to think of that attraction as, for lack of a better word, a symptom of feelings of being inadequately masculine and envious of "better," more muscular bodies.

To make a long story short, I thought I could create, and was creating, a straight self. I also longed to be married, and much more than I realized, for acceptance and approval from my parents, especially my father. Both my parents were horrified by my homosexuality.

So it was an all-or-nothing situation for me. To have been genuinely authentic at that point in my life, I would have accepted myself as I was, allowed my parents to have whatever points of view they had, and gone to work for Werner Erhard. While I loved and love music, there was--and is--so much ego involved in my playing (something I will go into more detail later on) that I now honestly think staying in music was more about proving something to myself than what I really wanted to do. And I knew I couldn't remain associated with est programs, to continue to grow as an honest, open person dedicated to promoting the notion that people are fine the way they are, and continue living this life I wanted to create.

There were other factors, having to do with genuine discomfort with aspects of the WE&A organization and aspects of the recruiting/enrollment culture as well. But in many ways it was ultimately about a desire to be a married straight man and to be a fuly-accepted part of my family.

There's a passage in the Bible in which Jesus tells a young man that he cannot say goodbye to his parents if he wants to follow him. Werner Erhard is definitely not Jesus; whoever he is, I wasn't able, or willing, to leave my parents behind.

Great Man or Con Man?

Was Werner Erhard a great leader, a selflessly giving, loving, inspiring man? Or was he an egomaniac obsessed with becoming famous, infatuated with the trappings of success, compensating for deep insecurities? Was he for real, or was he a con man?

This I know: he was (and I imagine still is) an extraordinary workshop facilitator, a great teacher, and a great trainer of other workshop facilitators.

And as is the case with every human being, he is fully human. He may well have been obsessed with being famous, and clearly he openly relished the experience of material wealth.

What if it is not an "either or" situation? What if he is both a extraordinary messenger and a deeply flawed human being? Every great-artist musician I've known has also been a real asshole at times. I'll expand on this later.

One thing I want to make clear: this is neither an homage to or attack on Erhard. It's a memoir and current journal, neither puff piece(s) not unfair smears. My initial purpose is to sort out the impact these experiences I had in my early 20s have on me today, and to make fuller use of them. What have I gotten from my investment of time and energy a quarter-century ago? And what more can I be getting from them now?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ready for a miracle in my relationship with money

My finances right now are fucked. I am definitely ready for a breakthrough.

Here's the situation:
  • $36,000 in credit card debt
  • need $10-12,000 to pay for restoration (under way) of valuable string instrument
  • $8000-9000 for my son's college expenses for the next for years
You can definitely describe this as something I'm putting up with and trying to change. "The purpose of the est training," the brochures said, "is to transform your ability to experience living so that situations you have been putting up with or trying to change clear up, just in the process of life itself." And the more I try to change it, the worse it seems to get. "What you resist, persists," was a constant est catch phrase. Putting up with, ignoring, being in denial about, etc., are all forms of "putting up with." It's a way of resisting, of trying to change, rather than letting something be and transcending it. This situation sure is persisting!

In one graduate seminar I took, we were told there were three basic principles of est:
  • you are perfect the way you are
  • you have barriers to experiencing that perfection
  • re-creation causes dissappearance
These "barriers" are (as I understood it) the psychological/philosophical blocks we have "created." Central to est was the notion that we "create" our own experience--the entirety of it. Yet the word "create" has a strong connotation of conscious intention. Many of our self-defeating patterns, defense mechanisms, etc., are not the result of a conscious decision. Their power comes from the way they lurk in the unconscious background, controlling us without our realizing it.

This idea that everyone creates his or her own experience was often misunderstood. What seemed so clear in the training was impossible for many of us to explain to the uninitiated. "Do you really think my father created his own cancer?" was the testy response from a friend to whom I was explaining this new insight. I got stuck, there, of course.

Now it seems clear that the answer is, "not consciously."

Whatever is going on with me I am willing to say I created. But what the hell did I create? That's not yet clear. So I'd say I inadvertently created it. I am positive I did not consciously, purposely, put myself in this financial position. There is no question, though, that I put myself here.

Instead of ignoring what I am interpreting as a problem and sweeping it under a mental rug, instead of trying to invent yet another practical solution, I'm going to let it just be, so I can see what the hell is going on.

Here are the patterns I find myself repeating:
  • shame, shame, shame--shame about my debt, shame about my income
  • shame about creating a business
  • that shame getting in the way of valid business ideas I develop
I'm a musician--a performer and a college music teacher. I had a wonderful idea: get a sales tax license, purchase instruments wholesale, put them in excellent condition, and sell them on the web, with excellent photos and video. I bought a number of instruments--most of them on credit (which explains about half the credit card debt).

Then I froze.

Lots of shame feelings, embarrassment at what colleagues might think, came up. Projecting that people will think I'm bad for wanting to make money, and for mixing being a teacher and an instrument dealer.

Meanwhile, debts mount, and I have three cellos, a violin, and several bows. I have placed two of the cellos on consignment with "real dealers," but they have yet to sell.

I have every skill needed to make this--and other projects--work.

I also have a habit of not keeping track of my spending and consequently spending a bit more than I make each month. This already led to a past bankruptcy, and I don't want to do that again! That bankruptcy was a wonderful thing for me: a chance for a fresh start. And now I've gone and fucked things up again.

So it's readily apparent that I am creating this. And that there is something driving this behavior.

This time I want to observe what's going on, to let it be, to allow whatever's there to come into my consiciousness so I can experience it and release/transcend it.