While living in Laurel Canyon in the ‘70’s, I was recruited by my roommates and their girlfriends (two sisters who lived next door) to sign up for EST – Erhard Seminar Training – being offered in LA. Exuberant and almost fanatical couldn’t begin to describe their enthusiasm. They were die-hard converts, sure that EST was the answer to all of life’s problems, and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I signed up. I ended up in a large meeting room with about 300 other people, and we all paid a $300 non-refundable fee for the experience (which was a lot of money in those days, especially for me – a $5/hour recording engineer).
The timeline for this seminar was two back-to-back all-nighters, starting Friday evening and going straight through to late Sunday morning. I believe sleep-deprivation of this marathon arrangement was part of how or why this process was supposed to work. There is nothing like seeing and hearing something with one’s own eyes & ears, being there, so to speak. What I saw over those two & half long days were a couple of leaders walking back & forth on the stage and up & down the aisles, wearing headset microphones and explaining the EST system, with some interaction with the participants (us). It’s a common seminar layout now, but at the time it was the first I had seen it. The microphones made them seem loud (duh!) and their voices very important, which meant they were dispensing incredibly new and mind-changing knowledge. The goal of the training was to get “It”, the thing EST says will change your life.
What I noticed during those two long days was EST seemed to have borrowed some concepts & techniques from other movements I knew about. There was one section that was new, a gender-bender exercise in which women got on stage (in groups) and beat their chests and shouted, “Me Tarzan, King of the Jungle” to express manly feelings, and then the men would go up and do a dainty, “I’m a little teacup” to get in touch with their feminine side. It was during this exercise that the first of two dramatic scenes took place that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, even though it was over 40 years ago. The second of these changed my attitude and outlook on life, a real game-changer for me. But I’ll get to that in a second; the first drama was pure entertainment:
One of the men refused to go up with the male group to perform the “I’m a little tea cup” skit. This Israeli was a caricature of masculinity, his thick chest hair practically bursting through his tight, silk shirt. With his brawny build, I’m almost sure he was a tank driver in a recent Israeli war, and his voice & gestures matched. In the dead of night, this man bellowed, gestured and protested loudly for several hours that he would not go up on the stage and do the mock-feminine role play. Finally, it escalated with several dramatic mock walkout exits to the door, always returning from the brink (exit) to come back in and argue some more. When he was informed by the EST people that his $300 was non-refundable (if he left), it just added more fuel to the fire. I believe that this is inaccurate by California consumer law, but EST is one of those organizations that make its own rules – that’s part of their core belief systems. Regardless, he relented and we got to see this burly soldier perform the teacup dance.
The second incident is the one the formulated, for me, a belief systems that I still hold true to this day, through 911 and all the current controversy about police: During a sharing segment, a woman raised her hand and said she was trying to process and get through being raped on her way to her car after a graveyard shift at a hospital. She was an ER nurse who just finished an all-nighter and was attacked in the parking lot. The EST leader was using this example to show her that this was a break out moment; she had an opportunity to get “IT”, the essence of the EST philosophy: That she had CHOOSE to work a graveyard shift, therefore she had her part; created and choose to set up the circumstances of her own rape. If she could understand that, and accept the responsibility for her decisions and the unfortunate outcome, she would get “IT”, and allow her to transform her outlook on life.
She tried to argue her position, but it was futile, because the EST leader was on stage and, in this “learning moment” had to be right. Unlike the first example above, I did not find this humorous or entertaining, but I did find it enlightening. This woman is one of those heroes, like the first responders on September 11th at the World Trade Center. When the ambulance pulls up to the Emergency Room entrance at 3:00 in the morning, this woman and her follow ER doctors and nurses are there, awake & skilled; ready & able to save a dying person’s life.
Picture carrying your child in your arms, bloodied & broken, to the Emergency Room entrance after being hit by a car. Inside is a man with a floor polisher. He points silently to the sign on the front door: “CLOSED” “Hours: 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM” No. those doors are open, because of people like the ER nurse in the above EST exchange. That is the real IT! Not some made up “it” bellowed by some self-important EST trainer with a microphone. And thank God that she works all night on the graveyard shift, thank God for any or all of us. They are the heroes, and there is no “it” to get about that. Their dedication & service is the real IT.
We finished the EST training about 11:00 AM Sunday morning, after sitting through over 40 hours non-stop. The last three hours or so was dedicated to telling us that we were all so thrilled with this experience; that we would all go out to proselytize to our friends, neighbors and coworkers about the wonders of taking EST training. I didn’t feel that way at all, but I could see why my roommates had so much zeal in talking me into it. And I must congratulate EST for building in a recruiting and marketing system into the end of the training. Two things did change for me: The first is I have and never will become one of those nodding heads in any group setting; the second is a lifetime respect for the real heroes ready to assist us in the dead of night.