Thursday, September 5, 2013

What Is Is, What Isn't Isn't

My late night documentary viewing has introduced me to some interesting people. From Ayn Rand to Che Guevara to Roman Polanski, there is no shortage of odd, extreme or passionate people intent on leaving their mark on the world. Last night I was introduced to a man named Werner Erhard and his famed "est Training" from the '70's and '80's. Of course I'd heard of it, growing up in hippie-flower child Los Angeles, but I didn't really know anything about it. While he lacked formal training in psychology, theology and philosophy, Erhard never the less bundled his own version of how the world worked and set out to sell it in a 60-hour seminar intent on leaving the participants "transformed." He helped a lot of people, pissed off more than his fair share, fed starving people via The Hunger Project and fled the country when his checkered past came back to haunt him. Yeah, I think he fits into the interesting category.

I struggled to grasp the essence of this "est" movement as he stood in the middle of a hotel banquet room yelling at a woman about how she wanted to be an orphan. See she was an orphan, grew up in an orphanage, and introduced herself that way. It seemed a mean and callous response. Life hurts and we all develop a way to survive it based on our own hurt. The past is the past and our experiences are our experiences. Which was precisely Erhard's point. After he said "what is is and what isn't isn't" a dozen times it finally clicked. The woman's perception of herself as an orphan defined her well into adulthood. She was clearly no longer a little girl sitting in a room wondering why nobody loved her. Except she was. It may have been a woman's body talking, but that hurt and who she became to survive her circumstances was still defining her life. The choice was hers, did she want to continue to be an orphan the rest of her life or did she want to be a human being and go do something worthwhile with the rest of her life?

The allure was clear. Don't we all want to view our lives objectively and free of emotion? What is is. Getting mad or living reactively doesn't make it untrue or change anything. Don't we all want to walk away from the painful past and live in the truth and freedom of our own creation? What isn't isn't. So stop trying to make it be what is. I can certainly identify with being stuck in the past. Identifying myself by what I have endured, survived, been battered around by. And I am certainly looking for a way out of the mire currently sucking up my days and nights. So est has given me some food for thought. I know it's never as simple as making a decision and willing it into existence. Change is hard and takes a lot of work and determination. Simply setting down my past and walking into a great unknown future isn't realistic. Is it?

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