What I’d like to look at here is the manner in which one form of the awareness path – the est Training – approached enlightenment – or what they came to call “transformation.”
If the purpose of life is enlightenment, then what makes a path a path is that it has led some to enlightenment and realistically promises to lead others there as well. Of all the forms that consciousness-raising took, the est Training held for me the most promise as an awareness path of any that I personally took part in.
In the end, the path I followed was a composite of the data of the est Training and the form of enlightenment intensives (EIs). est offered the explanation of the path and EIs offered the space in which to apply that data.
I’ll confine myself to developing est’s notions of enlightenment. But there was much more to its information than only what it said about enlightenment.
Werner Erhard pointed to two states of mind in which life was lived. One he called “unconscious awareness” and the other “conscious awareness.” The aim of the est Training was to assist an individual to move from the one to the other. He would draw the two sets of words on the black board, the first below the second, and then draw a line between the two. He would then talk about the differences between life lived below the line and life lived above it.
Below the line was unconscious awareness and unexperienced experience, and above the line was conscious awareness and experienced experience. (1) Below the line was distance; above the line was space. Below the line was stimulus-response and analysis; above the line was cause and description.
Communication below the line was based on attention, sympathy, and the exchange of agreed-upon symbols; above the line, it was based on harmonious and intentional experiencing and recreation of another’s experience. (2) Below the line what one did with things and experiences was changing their form; above the line one transformed them or changed their substance.
Everything about the awareness path is descriptive. Werner described what he called the dimensions of certainty, which related to the levels of experiencing from the least certain to the most. Climbing the ladder that these experiential states represented brought one from below the line to above the line. The dimensions went from being unconscious of something, to being at mystery about it, believing about it, perceiving it, thinking about it, doing something about it, and feeling it.
At this point one encountered the line between unconscious and conscious awareness. Above the line lay the states of observing or witnessing, not knowing, and natural knowing. (3) Natural knowing was the transformed state. It was enlivening, satisfying, spontaneous, and fully self-expressing. Unconscious awareness was none of these.
Most of us live our lives in unconscious awareness. As a matter of fact, life lived in conscious awareness for the majority of us may only be measured in minutes in a year; for some, mere seconds.
est Trainer Angelo d’Amelio explained the difference between change and transformation:
“There is a difference between change and transform. ‘Change’ means an alteration in form; ‘transform’ an alteration in substance. When you change something, you pass something through something; when you transform it, you pass something through nothing. ‘Nothing’ means you add nothing to the experience – no judgments, no expectations, nothing. That way you experience it and it disappears.” (4)
I’ve simply developed est’s notions of unconscious and conscious awareness here, but the various programs of the est Network were rich and varied and applied the core teachings to a number of aspects of life – communications, relationships, work, etc.
The est Training itself was based on Werner Erhard’s two experiences of enlightenment, one of which happened in 1963, which he lost, and the other in 1971, which he did not. He considered the 1963 event a peak experience and the 1971 event, according to his biographers, “a shift of the context in which he held all content and all process, including experience.” (5)
Werner described the 1971 experience in these words:
“What happened has no form. It was timeless, unbounded, ineffable, beyond language. There are no words attached to it, no emotions or feelings, no attitudes, no bodily sensations. What came from it, of course, formed itself into feelings and emotions and words, and finally into an altered process of life itself. But that is like saying that the hole in the sand looks like the stick that you made the hole with.
“Part of it was the realization that I knew nothing. I was aghast at that. For I had spent most of my life trying to learn things. I was sure that there was some one thing that I didn’t know, and that if I could find it out, I would be all right. I was sure that there was a secret, and I was determined to find it.
“Then this happened – and I realized that I knew nothing. I realized that everything I knew was skewed toward some end. I saw that the fundamental skew to all knowledge, and to unenlightened mind, is survival, or, as I put it then, success. All my knowledge up to then had been skewed toward success, toward making it, toward self-realization, toward all the goals, from material to mystic.
“In the next instant – after I realized that I knew nothing – I realized that I knew everything. All the things that I had ever heard, and read, and all those hours of practice, suddenly fell into place. It was so stupidly, blindingly simple that I could not believe it. I saw that there were no hidden meanings, that everything was just that way that it is, and that I was already all right. All that knowledge that I had amassed just obscured the simplicity, the truth, the suchness, the thusness of it all.” (6)
As a result of this experience, Werner saw several things.
“I saw that everything was going to be all right. It was all right; it always had been all right; it always would be all right – no matter what happened. I didn’t just think this: suddenly I knew it. Not only was I no longer concerned about success; I was no longer concerned about achieving satisfaction. I was satisfied. I was no longer concerned with my reputation; I was concerned only with the truth.
“I realized that I was not my emotions or thoughts. I was not my ideas, my intellect, my perceptions, my beliefs. I was not what I did or accomplished or achieved. Or hadn’t achieved. I was not what I had done right – or what I had done wrong. I was not what I had been labeled – by myself or others. All these identifications cut me off from experience, from living. I was none of these.
“I was simply the space, the creator, the source of all that stuff. I experienced Self as Self in a direct and unmediated way. I didn’t just experience Self; I became Self. Suddenly I held all the information, the content, in my life in a new way, from a new mode, a new context. I knew it from my experience and not from having learned it. It was an unmistakeable recognition that I was, am, and always will be the source of my experience.
“Experience … is simply evidence that I am here. It is not who I am. I am who I am. It is as if the Self is the projector, and everything else is the movie. Before transformation, I could only recognize myself by seeing the movie, Now I saw that I am prior to or transcendent to all that.
“I no longer thought of myself as the person named Werner Erhard, the person who did all that stuff. I was no longer the person who had all the experiences I had as a child. I was not identified by my ‘false identity’ any more than by my ‘true identity.’ All identities were false.
“I suddenly saw myself on a level that had nothing to do with either Jack Rosenberg [his real name] or Werner Erhard [his name after a name change]. I saw that everything is just the way it is – and the way it isn’t. There was no longer any need to try to be Werner Erhard and try not to be Jack Rosenberg. Werner Erhard was a concept – just like Jack Rosenberg.
“Nor was I my Mind, patterned unconsciously, as it was, on identifies taken over from my mother and father. I was whole and complete as I was, and I now could accept the whole truth about myself. For I was its source. I found enlightenment, truth, and true self all at once.
“I had reached the end. It was all over for Werner Erhard.” (7)
Werner created the est Training to communicate the experience he had had that day and recreate it for another.
According to Werner:
“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)
“You and I possess within ourselves, at every moment of our lives, under all circumstances, the power to transform the quality of our lives.” (9)
“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.” (10)
I personally have never seen a better or more complete description of the process of enlightenment or transformation than I have in the writings of Werner Erhard. Transformation was indeed a recontextualization of things, a movement from being at effect to being at cause, and a shift in being from inexperienced experience and unconscious awareness to experienced experience and conscious awareness.
As a roadmap to conscious awareness, his descriptions of the way awareness worked were for me, and probably remain, one of the clearest formulations I’ve come across in spiritual literature and one of the most useful to western audiences. Whatever one may think about est or Werner, the man was a genius, in my view, and went on afterwards to work for the cause of peace in the world and do amazing things. I personally owe him more than I can repay and, no matter how many times I say that, I return to saying it again.
(Concluded next instalment.)
(1) est Communications Workshop Leader Jed Naylor discussing a model of awareness, Oct. 1980.
(2) Loc. cit.
(3) Loc. cit.
(4) est Trainer Angelo d’Amelio, Nov. 1979.
(5) W.W. Bartley, III, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man; the Founding of est. New York: Potter, 1978, 168.
(6) Ibid., 166-7.
(7) Ibid., 167-8.
(8) Questions people ask about the est Training. est, 1977, n.p.
(9) Loc. cit.
(10) Loc. cit.