When is a time that you drank the Kool-Aid?

I think the only occasion in my life that could be considered “drinking the Kool-Aid” was my involvement with EST. EST stands for Erhard Seminars Training. We were also told that the seminars were called EST, because it is Latin for “it is”. EST was created in 1971 by Werner Erhard. It’s stated purpose was “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.”

It took place over two weekends and a few evenings. You were in a room with what was probably 200 participants. You listened to lectures that were punctuated by confrontations by EST trainer and other activities. These confrontations were designed to shock you out of the habitual role you were playing and into authenticity. They were trying to get you to stop your patterns of behavior that kept you stuck in dissatisfaction. They challenged you by only allowing you to use the bathroom at designated times that were hours apart.

The basic seminar wasn’t bad. It didn’t deliver on its promise though, but I did learn a few things, such as, I am responsible for my experience. I create my own suffering by trying to avoid my experience. Satisfaction comes when I experience my experience directly and completely. Life improves when I stop seeing myself as a victim. Compassion is realizing that someone is doing the best they can given the experiences they have had so far in life. The story I tell myself about what has happened to me keeps me stuck in a victim role. I use my story to avoid my experience.

These are important concepts that I didn’t fully understand or know how to implement until I spent 20 years working with psychotherapist and spiritual teacher, Marty Lowenthal.

For example, being responsible for one’s experience means that things happen in life. Many of these things are beyond our control. What we can control is the meaning we give the incident. It is what we tell ourselves about the incident that ultimately determines our experience.

An example of how I used this idea in my life is, my ex-wife was angry just about everyday. I could have let myself feel victimized by her. Based what Marty taught me, I chose to turn her anger into a spiritual practice. For more about this, see: What have you learned and applied to your life that has had the biggest positive impact?

One graduates from EST armed with new lingo which creates an in group of lingo users. Anyone who hasn’t taken the training, does not know the lingo and therefore is in the out group. Some examples of the lingo are “that’s your racket.” “Thanks for sharing.” “I got it.” “It’s what’s so” “drop it.” “your integrity is out.” “take responsibility” “make a difference” “the way I want my world to work” “how you show up.” “transform” “that’s just your story.”

It really began to get cultish when I chose to do some graduate seminars. In these seminars, you were pressured into bringing potential recruits to guest seminars. The guest seminars are where the potential recruits were pressured to take the training.

Another way it became cultish was when I chose to hang out with other EST graduates. We abused ideas from the training by using them to put down and manipulate each other. In other words, we were ESTholes.

If you used an excuse when dealing with EST trainers, you would get pounced on and analyzed. I finally learned that honesty and authenticity was the way to get respect and cooperation from the trainers. It was through honesty and authenticity that I finally extricated myself from the whole mess.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

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