The Best Mistake I Ever Made

EST had given me the keys to the kingdom—while I myself was lost in it

I kept drowning in EST as it saved my life. EST, a transformational phenomenon in the '70s and '80s, blew my mind. People revealed the most horrific experiences during the two-weekend seminar. Secrets and shames were shared and supported with the utmost empathy. Coming from a repressed, Catholic family that communicated mostly through ridicule and criticism, I craved it.

I was getting so much out of EST, and grew dependent on the support. I witnessed personal transformations. Along with myself, so many people were "getting off it," a term used for pivoting away from the negative conclusions we have about ourselves or others, and finding positive ways to reframe our perspective so that it gave us energy and a feeling of possibility. We saw how righteousness destroys love.

People called loved ones they hadn't spoken to in years. I got up in front of 200 people and shared my own personal devastation: "In high school, my girlfriend got pregnant and we gave the baby up for adoption." I needed the acceptance of the people in EST because I didn't accept myself.

Even with all of that, I still didn't see how my core hunger to be famous was coming from guilt. All the same, EST was amazing. During the first weekend, I saw what a jerk I'd been with my father and realized how all he had done and the mistakes that he had made were made only out of devotion.

During a break, I called him, crying my eyes out as I said the words that had never been spoken in our house: "Dad, I love you." He would have been more comfortable if I were calling from jail. He said, "OK, OK."

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EST adamantly insisted that we brought guests, and would end each session asking how many guests we would promise to bring to the next session. This turned me off—which EST claimed was fear. My lack of guests was something I was lacking. I took courses to help me improve my ability to enroll guests.

When deciding whom to trust, myself or EST, I went with EST. It was the price of belonging. I loved being at EST. Everyone was filled with acceptance and inspiration, unlike my family members who always meant well, but instead seemed to push my buttons and find fault with me.

I constantly tried to "enroll" my family. I was like a Jehovah's Witness, only worse—I was already inside the house; they couldn't pretend not to be home. They were afraid I was losing myself in EST. Oh, yeah? I thought, Your fear is keeping you from taking EST!

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EST proposed that I—and I alone—create my life, my responses, my happiness or misery, yet I didn't see that every time someone blamed another person, I would make them wrong for blaming another person. I kept blaming people for blaming people. I was insufferable.

I couldn't watch a movie without thinking about how the characters' misfortunes would have been avoided if they had the tools of EST. It could solve everything. Even while I was listening to Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street," I chastised him: "Bob! Don't blame her for the way you feel. You want her to be you for just one day so she could know what a drag it is to see her?! Bob, you are creating that experience of her being a drag. You are the one giving her the power to bring you down. Stop it, Bob—stop playing the victim!"

I felt EST had given me the keys to the kingdom—while I myself was lost in it. I gave up one way of being righteous for another. When you have hundreds of people agreeing with you and supporting you, it's easy to be righteous.

We are all contradictory and often impossible to understand. We are as irrational as we are rational, as flawed as we are brilliant. Believing that you are the sole source of all that happens in your life cuts you off from being a humble ingredient to something much more than we can ever know. "Not knowing" is a difficult thing to live with, but it seems to be the most honest and humblest part of being human.

I left EST disillusioned. And I've come to appreciate being disillusioned; the truth is being served. The paradox is, I doubt I could see myself this clearly without having taken EST. It ultimately led me to understand what Jiddu Krishnamurti meant when he broke up his church by telling his followers: "We submit to authority because all of us have this inward demand to be safe, this urge to be secure. The one who is ceaselessly questioning, who has no authority, who does not follow any tradition, any book or teacher, becomes a light unto one's self. Truth is a pathless land, no one can lead you there."

I've been following him ever since.

Tags: well being

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