A third tenet of the growth movement was that we are not a thing, but the space in which things arise. Werner Erhard described it well. He used the word “context” to denote a space or wholeness, as opposed to “content,” which was what arose in a context and was organized by it.
“Contexts are created by the Self, out of nothing. When you stop identifying yourself as a thing, as a position, and start experiencing your Self as the context, as the space, for your life – when you start experiencing that you are the context in which the content of your life occurs – you will automatically and necessarily experience responsibility for all the content in your space. You will experience that you are whole and complete and that you are aligned with other Selves, with the Self.
“When you experience your Self as space, you create contexts from which you can come into the world. One such context is the end of hunger and starvation on our planet within two decades.” (1)
Much of what Werner taught about ourselves became translated into huge, mind-expanding projects, which it appears may not have happened by the year 2000 but are undoubtedly destined to happen in the year 2012. In my view, he was way ahead of his time.
We often consider the biggest obstacle to being responsible for our lives to be our own ego. What we cannot be responsible for, we cannot experience fully and completely. What we can’t be responsible for, we cannot know as space. Werner found that he came to peace with his own ego when he could let it be.
“I saw that I had to take responsibility for my own ego, so that my transformation would not turn into just another ego trip. I had destroyed my previous  experience by holding it incorrectly – by believing it and being righteous about it. I was concerned that I might do that again.
“What resolved this worry was realizing that it is ultimate ego to suppose that you can function without ego. I saw that I could let my ego be, and that when I did so, it would let me be. It would not longer impede me. Instead of my ego’s running the show, I could run the show. It was a matter of my being willing to be at cause with my own ego, to hold it as something that belonged to me – not to resist it or try to get rid of it, not to prove that I didn’t have one, not fall into it, submit to it, or let it run me.” (2)
It makes no difference to say that we are space or to say that the Absolute God is a transcendental Void, a primal Nothingness. What characterized the growth movement of the Sixties and Seventies was that it took notions that were as old as the Perennial Philosophy and gave them a peculiarly Western spin and vocabulary. It now became fashionable to think of ourselves as space.
Another way of saying that, used in the est Training, was to say that we were everything/nothing. “Space” and “everything/nothing” were est codewords, as far as I’m concerned, for God, just as Krishnamurti’s codeword seemed to be “passive awareness.” Said est Trainer Rod Browning:
“Most people feel that who they are is what they (1) have, (2) do, and (3) are. They might get a better handle on things if they started the other way around. But, in actuality, who you are is not what you have, do, or are, or what you are, do, or have. It’s nothing, nowhere, or everything, everywhere. It’s the space in which things happen.” (3)
As I’ve said on other occasions, the truth will set you free. When Rod Browning acted out this statement that who we are is not the automatic robot we thought of as having, doing and being, but the space in which all of that arose, I, in the terms of the training, “got it,” or had a transformational experience of the truth of that remark. The truth, realized, had indeed set me free.
And then I lost it. Because it was equally true that life was in fact, as we said in those days, getting it and losing it, getting it and losing it. But what an exciting journey living life as a transformative experience was.
According to est, the source of our problems lay in misidentifying ourselves as the content of our lives rather than as the context. In the words of est Trainer Hal Isen:
“The source of the problem is misidentifying yourself as a thing or a point of view. You identify yourself as your body sensations, your point of view, your story, your considerations. Get the price you pay for that in terms of your aliveness, of your ability to enjoy life.” (4)
“You’re stuck with yourself as a conclusion, an assumption, a thing. The truth is, who you are is everything/nothing, the context for it all. You know what happens when you misidentify yourself with a concept? You resist. And it gets heavier. [That’s] the story of [your] life.” (5)
It was perhaps the est Training more than anything else that had me get, in the words of Trainer Ron Bynum, that: “You are that which will get your life to work. The point is that you need to trust yourself intimately.” (6)
The momentum of the awareness movement of these years, which began with the encounter groups of the Sixties and culminated for me in the est Training of the Seventies, was exactly this: to trust the Self intimately and implicitly; to know that the answers lay within; to seek with awareness and express with responsibility what was found therein; and to build on what I saw and learned day by day – or perhaps not to build, but, as we might have said then, to “disappear,” day by day.
The more we observed; the more we saw and accepted; the more disappeared. The growth movement pealed off layers and layers of withholding, character armoring, lies and manipulation. It paled off into spirituality and often provided the proof in our daily lives of much of what the masters of the East had said.
Disappearing more and more of our upsets and other unwanted conditions, letting go of ideas of ourselves as the content rather than the context, space, or everything/nothing, only bore out in our everyday experience what Lao Tzu taught thousands of years before:
“The Way is gained by daily loss,
Loss upon loss
Until at last comes rest.” (7)
(1) Werner Erhard, The End of Starvation: Creating an Idea Whose Time has Come. San Francisco: The Hunger Project, n.d., 18.
(2) Werner Erhard in W.W. Bartley, III. Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man; the Founding of est. New York: Potter, 1978, 169.
(3) est Trainer Ron Browning in the est Training, November 1979.
(4) est 6-Day Trainer Hal Isen, 15 Nov. 1980.
(5) Loc. cit.
(6) est 6-Day Trainer Ron Bynum, 17 Nov. 1980.
(7) Lao-Tzu, The Way of Life. The Tao Te Ching. trans. R.B. Blakney. New York, etc.: Avon, 1975, 101.