Another basic tenet of the path of awareness is the existence and importance of choice. Choosing and experiencing our choice was stressed in encounter groups, awareness workshops, and the est Training. A lot of what didn’t work in society seemed to stem from victimization, false attribution of cause and manipulation.
If we are the space of everything/nothing or context, then we’d choose by simply choosing, for no reason. But getting to the place of seeing that often took work and meant going down through layers of resistance and denial. So few people in our society seemed willing to just choose and then be responsible for having chosen.
John Enright listed some of the pitfalls in making choices: choosing by default, choosing as an escape hatch, killing off the alternatives till only one “choice” remained, putting off choosing until we had “sufficient information” (we never did, according to John), and needing always to have equal and opposite choices from among which to choose. (1)
The est training would distinguish between a life lived at cause and a life lived at effect. Living at effect meant always attributing our choices to an outside factor or, internally, to our reasons, sensations, fears, hopes, worries, or various other elements of stimulus-response, which represented mis-identifications. These est called “false cause.”
I’d often be chided for taking notes. I’d end up, the trainers would say, with an enlightened notebook. But it’s that notebook I’m relying on now to recreate the lessons learned. Without being transmitted, any knowledge can be lost.
est would use a benevolent abrasiveness to get our attention and make us think. According to them, living our lives “at effect” meant that we were robots, machines, automatons, what Communication Workshop leader Jed Naylor called “an expanded rock, a high-powered dog.”
“You have a high power to rationalize, and you call it choice. You say what you say to me, and then you explain it. You have a large number of strings, and when you pull them or someone else pulls them you call it choice.” (2)
The Training would use pithy and catchy examples to drive the point home; for instance, on being at effect:
Angelo d’Amelio: “You are absolutely at effect. If you want to leave here today, use the door. You can’t be any more at effect than that. If you have choice, fly.” (3)
Ron Bynum: “You guys look at the clock in the morning to see how many hours sleep you got to see how you’re going to feel that day.” (4)
Hearing these examples, most people would chuckle because they were usually right on the mark. There was no doubt that John Enright and the est Training were high comedy and a great way to learn.
est saw human beings as “reasonable.” They made their choices and then they adduced a hundred reasons for them, instead of simply glorying in their Self-bestowed right to choose for no reason at all. Jed would say: “There is no end to the number of reasons you can have for things. You can tip the reasons scale either way – for doing something or for not doing something.” (5)
I certainly found that that was true.
“Your choice is not a result of your reasons. Your choice is a result of your choice. I do this because I do this, and for no reason at all. But you don’t choose; you decide. ‘Deciding’ has the same root as suicide, homicide, fratricide, infanticide.
“When you decide, you murder the alternatives. Then you have to supply yourself with reasons to prove your decision is right and the alternative is wrong. That’s why you get self-righteous about your decision, and won’t get off it even when everything else screams at you that your decision is not serving you.” (6)
According to Jed, we cannot stop having reasons but we need not make them the cause or basis of our choice.
“Have your reasons. But don’t make them responsible for your being here. Make yourself responsible because you said you’d be here, because you gave your word. Experience yourself being here self-determinedly, out of choice, out of your having put yourself here.” (7)
What shifts us from being at effect to being at cause, from deciding to choosing was what est called “transformation.” I’ll be speaking about transformation at much more length later, but here I simply want to say that transformation occurs when we contextualize, or perhaps recontextualize, our situation.
“Transformation occurs as a recontextualization – from a context where you are at the effect of ‘things’ to a context where you are the source (‘at cause’) of things. The heart of transformation is going from being at effect to being at cause.” (8)
“Knowing that you can choose, that you have the power to transform the quality of your life – at every moment, and in all circumstances – is what the est training is about. And that transformation can happen in an instant.” (9)
Perhaps the most difficult notion about being at cause, or choosing, was causing myself to be at effect or choosing to be at effect. According to Angelo d’Amelio, “when I cause myself to be at effect, I have choice; I allow it to be; I’ve contextualized it; I’ve accepted it.” (10)
Nothing needed to be a problem, if we didn’t let it run us or determine our choices. Angelo would say. “Run your problems; don’t let your problems run you. Run your life; don’t let your life run you. Run your body; don’t let your body run you. Be at cause with your life, rather than at effect.” (11)
Every program or movement I’ve been involved in seems to uses testimonials – opinions shared by people who have done the workshop and attest to its value. One person who attested to the usefulness of est was “Froggie,” a convict who really made the insights of the Training his own.
A statement attributed to Froggie seemed to typify the shift in one’s nature when one moved from being at the effect of everything to being at cause. Froggie said: “I used to serve time. Now time serves me.” (12) Extended in any direction, that about summed up the basic value in the growth movement of moving from decision to choice, at effect to at cause, or victimization to responsibility.
(1) Awareness, Responsibility and Communication Course, Cold Mountain Institute, April 15, 1976.
(2) est Communications Workshop Leader Jed Naylor, Oct. 1980
(3) est Trainer Angelo d’Amelio, Nov. 1979.
(4) est 6-Day Trainer Ron Bynum, 16 Nov. 1980.
(5) Jed Naylor, Oct. 1980.
(6) Loc. cit.
(7) Loc. cit.
(8) Questions people ask about the est Training. est, 1977, n.p.
(9) Loc. cit.
(10) est Trainer Angelo d’Amelio, Nov. 1979.
(11) Loc. cit.
(12) Convict named Froggie, in an est movie, 14 Jan. 1980.