“You must be the change
you want to see in the world.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
“Non-violence, which is the quality of the heart,
cannot come by an appeal to the brain.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
“A man is but the product of his thoughts;
what he thinks, he becomes.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Soon after my positive experience at the est seminar, I learned that some of est’s intriguing ideas about how thoughts and habits influence our lives had been borrowed by Werner Erhard from another self-help seminar, Silva Mind Control. I learned too that the Silva program supposedly taught how to manifest a happier life using positive thinking, visualization, and self-hypnosis techniques; that it claimed to teach so-called right brain thinking to foster clairvoyance and intuitive access to higher intelligence. All of this greatly interested me, so I decided to enroll in a Silva workshop.
The Silva seminar turned out even more influential for me than est because it sparked amazing new spiritual experiences which shattered old beliefs and raised new questions about death and “reality”. In contrast to the hundreds at est trainings, there were less than twenty participants at the Silva program I attended.
The program began with the Silva teacher’s explanation of how our minds influence our lives. Conflating mind and brain, he emphasized that the mind becomes much more effective as it becomes more focused in deeper states, and he then taught how to go into right brain “alpha wave” states of consciousness through self-hypnosis techniques.
I don’t believe that Silva’s mind/brain analysis was accurate. But the Silva self-hypnosis and visualization techniques worked for me. They provided my first structured introduction to meditative states of awareness, in which I experienced extraordinary new glimpses of clairvoyance, visualization and inner communication of higher wisdom.
Here’s what happened.
Near the end of the four day Silva course, participants were asked to each write on separate small pieces of paper names of two people with medical problems or illnesses known to them. Each paper stated only the name and residence place of the sick person. Description of their illness was not written. The papers were then put together in a box, from which each participant – one at a time – randomly drew out two of the papers submitted by others. As we took turns at drawing out the papers we were asked to go into “an alpha state” and to diagnose each identified person’s illness.
When my turn came, I was first given the name of a man who lived in Denver, Colorado. I closed my eyes and immediately clearly visualized within a husky man with a crew cut, a bit over 6 feet tall. Then, with ‘x-ray vision’ I scanned his body and reported to the group that the only anomaly I observed was a white spot in the brain area, which did not appear to be a problem. Whereupon, I was told by the submitter of the Denver man’s name that I was exactly right; that this man had recently had a brain tumor removed. His head had been shaved for the surgery. So he now had a crew cut as the hair regrew. Apparently, the white spot I saw showed where the tumor had been excised.
Next, I was given the name of a woman living in Menlo Park, California. I found one problem which I called “sick blood”. The submitter of her name told me that she suffered from leukemia.
Until then I had never heard of medical intuitives or remote healers. So I was amazed at the accuracy of my results and those of some other participants. This remote visualization and diagnosis experience shattered my Newtonian preconceptions about the nature of our “reality” and I began wondering, “How was it possible for me to remotely see and diagnose complete strangers, especially when I had no medical training whatsoever?” And this question spurred my continuing search since then for new explanations of “reality”.
And soon after my remote diagnosis of strangers, I had another amazing Silva psychic experience. As the course progressed, we had been asked to visualize a perfectly peaceful sanctuary in a nature place or within an imagined structure; an inner place to which we could retreat at will to relieve stress and “recharge our batteries”. I visualized a beautiful room in a peaceful place.
On the last day of the seminar – ‘graduation day’ – we were asked to invite into our previously imagined retreat place an inner guide to counsel us about our problems and questions. It was suggested that we either visualize and invite presence of the wisest person we admired or, if we didn’t know of such a person, that we ask the universe to send our most appropriate inner guide. I couldn’t think of any wise person to visualize, so I invited the universe to send my most appropriate inner guide.
Thereupon, to my amazement, I clearly saw a little bald headed man wearing a white Indian dhoti. Mahatma Gandhi (who had been assassinated in 1948) appeared as my inner guide. Though I then knew very little about Gandhi, I clearly recognized him, and silently received his wise counsel about some of my questions. Gandhi thus appeared as my inner counselor, not only on conclusion of the Silva seminar but afterwards for a short period, whenever I invoked his presence while in “an alpha state” of consciousness.
Gandhi’s appearance raised deep questions for me about death and whether a person’s spirit or soul survives physical death. And I wondered why the universe had chosen Gandhi to counsel me.
Gradually, as my spiritual mystery story continued to unfold, I was given synchronistic answers these questions, which I will later share with you.
“Perfection is a state in which things are the way they are,
and are not the way they are not.
As you can see, this universe is perfect.”
~ Werner Erhard, est
Before the divorce, I had attempted to find answers to my new questions by reading articles and books about parapsychology and psychic phenomena, but not about religious mysticism or spirituality, of which I was still ignorant. But upon living alone as a single person with a new life style, I gradually expanded my quest to weekend seminars and lectures where for the first time I began being exposed to Eastern spiritual ideas. The first seminars, “est” and “Silva Mind Control”, incorporated perennial Eastern ideas into a Western self-help context, and were of significant help for me.
When I became single again, est was well known and flourishing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was then aggressively being promoted as a self-help “training” offering participants exceptional opportunity to radically transform their lives. It had begun in San Francisco five years earlier with a seminar conducted by its charismatic and controversial founder Werner Erhard attended by several hundred people.
Werner had creatively crafted the est training by incorporating self-help ideas he eclectically gathered from various sources and by expressing them epigrammatically and dramatically in his own original est jargon. Est attracted participants by hyperbolically promising to disclose and to experientially teach them esoteric principles of living a happy life, thereby providing them “space” for “getting IT”, an allegedly transformative epiphany which Werner claimed to have experienced while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in March 1971.
So I was quite curious about est when I became single again. But still an uptight lawyer, I was reluctant to take the est training because of negative reports I’d heard about it and about Werner Erhard. Then Allen Chase, a childhood friend who – like me – was recently divorced, persuasively urged me to take the training by claiming to have been immensely helped by est. So I changed my mind and enrolled.
Thus, with lingering skepticism I attended a 1976 est training in Marin County, in a large hotel where I was joined by hundreds of others eager to “get IT” – the secret of a happy life. At the outset I had negative reactions and considerable resistance to what was happening.
The training was conducted in an hierarchical cult-like atmosphere by a man who talked like Werner, dressed like Werner, and appeared to be somewhat of a Werner clone. To present his ideas he often used a ‘Zen master stick approach’, which was sometimes harsh, profane, and authoritarian. All of this ‘turned me off’. Yet I remained interested and curious.
The trainer told us that the brain mostly functioned automatically as a self-perpetuating “tape” machine, pre-programmed to repeat over and over again the same mechanistic responses to similar situations facing people in their daily lives; that accordingly we’ve developed debilitating habits and beliefs, and have misidentified with the “voice in our head”. He promised us an opportunity to “be at cause, not effect” ; a chance to transcend these debilitating habits by “getting IT”, the alleged central truth of human existence.
Most of us had been lured to enroll by est promotions claiming that when you “got IT”, you got the secret of happiness. And on enrollment we had all signed confidentiality pledges against disclosing “IT”. So we all anxiously awaited our chance for a “getting IT” epiphany. Not until the final moments of the two weekend workshop did the trainer finally disclose “IT”.
AHAA! In est aphoristic jargon, “getting IT” meant realizing that: “What is, is, and what ain’t, ain’t.” ; that “the Truth is what’s so.”
Thus, getting “IT”, was the realization that one must accept “what is” in the present moment of your life; viz. to live happily accept yourself and everything and everyone in your life just as they are, without reflexively resisting or reacting to them, and “take responsibility” for all your responses, choices and actions.
Perhaps in gathering and formulating these ideas Werner was influenced by philosopher Alan Watts who (unknown to me) had taught them to small groups on his Sausalito houseboat prior to his death in 1974. For example, in a 1960 essay entitled “This is It”, Watt’s described the ‘enlightenment’ experience for which est later lured participants:
“To the individual thus enlightened it appears as a vivid and overwhelming certainty that the universe, precisely as it is at this moment, as a whole and in every one of its parts, is so completely right as to need no explanation or justification beyond what it simply is….the mind is so wonder-struck at the self-evident and self-sufficient fitness of things as they are, including what would ordinarily be thought the very worst, that it cannot find any word strong enough to express the perfection and beauty of the experience…The central core of the experience seems to be the conviction, or insight, that the immediate now, whatever its nature, is the goal and fulfillment of all living.”
Werner was less erudite in his presentations, but often more dramatically impactful, than was Dr. Watts. And his enigmatic illogical aphorisms motivated participants to reflect on important ideas about spiritual wisdom transcending “common wisdom”.
Retrospectively, I now see that Werner was astute in creating an extraordinary environment for the est trainings, because in that unusual environment participants were moved out of their habitual ways of thinking and experiencing the world – their left brain patterns – and thereby they were opened to seemingly illogical ‘right brain’ insights and experiences. That’s what happened to me.
After completing est, I remained annoyed and ‘turned off’ by est’s harsh, cult-like ambience and and hyperbolic promotions, but I felt that I had gotten considerable value for my large tuition payment. In fact, I was so glad that I had taken est that I soon urged my friends Dave Weiner and John Rubel to enroll.
The est training planted significant seeds for my spiritual evolution by presenting some important and intriguing ideas from perennial wisdom teachings – like disidentifying with the “voice in my head” and “acceptance of the present moment” – which were then new to me and which remain important after more than thirty years of experience, study and reflection.
Paradoxically, as I now “seek relief from belief” and gradually have winnowed and discarded as no longer useful many ideas and beliefs acquired and embraced since est, I realize that “IT” – acceptance of “what is” in the present moment – remains for me a core principle for living a happy life. And perhaps I was subconsciously influenced by Werner’s other wise teachings and aphorisms, which I didn’t then understand, or appreciate, like “Don’t change beliefs. Transform the believer.”