NewDayNews Recovery Forum
My experience with est: Part 1
Date: Sunday, 7 May 2006, at 10:00 p.m.
I'm going to attempt to write about my experience with the large group awareness training (LGAT) called "est". I was deeply involved with this organization in the 80's, and often times on the ex-member boards I've brought it up. But, I've never written about it in detail.
One thing I do have to warn everyone about is that est was a verbally abusive environment. I don't think it would be possible to explain it without using some of the vulgar language that became common place when you were involved with est. It was excessive, and went on constantly. I don't know what the purpose of it was, but it was definately part of our indoctrination into est.
My Experience with est
At the end of high school in 1977 my girlfriend and I broke up, and I started a very intense and exclusive program at Los Angeles City College called “The Theatre Academy”. I auditioned along with hundreds of other former starts of high school plays, and was one of twenty-eight students selected. For the next two years, this is all I did. I didn’t date at all, and stayed completely focused on that program where I was constantly performing.
When it was over in the summer of 1979, I went looking for my old high school friends and together we formed a theatre group called “The Roadshow Players”. We were just a bunch of young adults with no money, so I decided we would travel places and perform for people. We became regulars in the L.A. Library summer reading programs.
Around this time, I started to get interested in dating again. I had stayed in contact with a girl I knew from high school, but never ended up dating, named Barbara. She lived several hours north of L.A. in San Luis Obispo. During the time I was in the Academy, we would write each other, and send audio tapes back and forth, which seemed quicker and easier than writing at the time, since nobody had email or computers in the late 70’s. Barbara was in a committed relationship with a guy named William. They lived together, and for all I knew they might get married one day. But, we still kept in touch and we both admitted an attraction to each other.
Out of the blue I got a tape from Barbara explaining that she had met some people who all lived together in a big house up in San Luis Obispo. A guy named Bruce who was in charge of the house, and he was a seminar leader for something called “est”.
She explained that Bruce had enrolled her in the est training and she would be taking it near L.A. where I lived over the next two weekends.
After she completed the training, Barbara called me on the phone all excited saying that est was one of the best things she had ever experienced. I asked her what it was, and she said that in order to participate, she had made an “agreement” to never disclose to anyone what happened in the training. She said she could “share” her experience, but not divulge the actual “data” that made up the training.
I was pretty confused, and had no idea what to think about this. Then she asked if I would come to her “post training” as her guest. It seemed very important to her that I do this, so I agreed. She told me that she had also invited another mutual friend named Bobby. I told her I’d pick Bobby up and we would come together and meet her there.
This wasn’t the only oddball thing that Barbara had invited me to. Some time prior to her leaving for San Luis Obispo she got into Amway, and had me come someplace to a big convention. She even paid for me to have a hotel room. I didn’t sign up to be an Amway distributor that night, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to sign up for est.
Wednesday night rolled around, and Bobby and I headed off to the post training, not quite sure what we were getting in to. Bobby seemed less interested than I was. We were just going for our friend to be supportive.
We arrived at the post training, and Barbara met us in the lobby. She was absolutely glowing with excitement. I had never really seen her that way. She had a big plastic nametag on that said her first name in large letters, and her last name in smaller ones. In one corner, it said “est and Education Corporation”. I noticed that every place it said est, the letters were always lower case, the letter “e” was small even at the start of a sentence.
The atmosphere was electric. Everyone all excited and hugging everybody else. I’m kind of stand offish, and this kind of thing just bothers me. People I didn’t know were just so friendly, it made me a bit queasy.
We went into the large hotel ballroom and found a seat. Barbara sat between Bobby and myself. Stopping once in a while to give a big wave and smile to others that had been in her training. It was strange to me that she had not known any of these people a couple of weeks ago, now she was almost more excited to see them than she was us.
The trainer came up on the platform, wearing a wireless microphone clipped to his shirt, pretty high tech for 1980.
He said that it must be clear to us by now that our friends had been through the experience of a lifetime. All of the trainees clapped excitedly as if the trainer had just revealed a cure for cancer. He explained that the est training was about experiencing that last quarter inch. That our lives were already whole and complete, but, that most people feel that there is something else. Of course, est was exactly what was missing from our lives.
He asked if anybody wanted to “share”. Hands shot up. He picked a middle aged man. As someone ran a wired hand microphone down the aisle and kneeled in front of the man, Barbara leaned into us and said, “He’s from Afghanistan!”. This was during the time when the Soviet Union had invaded that country. The man was all excited talking in and accent I could barely understand, except he suddenly shouted into the microphone, “AND LET’S KICK THE SHIT OUT OF THOSE FUCKING RUSSIANS!!!”. The room exploded in applause. Nobody seemed to have a problem with the vulgar language. Everyone seemed to approve.
Then he did something unexpected. He told us that our friends were going to complete their post training, and that we were going to spend some time learning more about est from some specially trained people. We were asked to stand up and follow our guest seminar leader to another room.
I felt kind of ripped off and strange that I was being separated from the person who invited me there, and talked about how important it was for me to come. I was thinking that by being in the post training, I might figure out just what she was so excited about. Instead, Bobby and I headed off to another smaller room with the other disturbed looking friends and loved ones.
The seminar leader welcomed us into the room and asked us to take the front-most center-most seat. Bobby and I sat together, arms folded looking a bit pissed off.
The seminar leader was just as happy and excited as everybody else at est. He asked if anybody wanted to “share” about what they thought about being in the training room with our friends. Someone stood up and said that she thought that we would get more time to be with our friends. The seminar leader quickly shot back, “I got that”. With that, he changed the subject, and started telling us about the benefits of the est training.
He explained the following, which I will type from memory, but it is a statement that is so burned in, that after 26 years I can remember it almost word for word: “The purpose of the est training is to transform your ability to experience living, so that situations you have been putting up with, or have been trying to change, clear up, just in the process of life itself”.
After reading this to us, he looked up at us like he had just announced the arrival of the second coming of Jesus Christ. We all just kind of looked back at him.
It sounded like a lot of words to me. A lot of words that he then went over and over, explaining what each phrase meant. I still didn’t “get it”.
Then announced it was time for a break. Bobby and I got up and milled around the room. I noticed that Barbara’s nametag had blue lines at the top and bottom, but the seminar leader and the trainer had gold lines at the top and bottom. Someone with one of those gold badges walked up to me, and another person walked up to Bobby.
I can’t even remember if this person was male or female, but I remember being asked right out, “I’m here to enroll you in the training”. I answered back that I had not decided to take the training. “I got that”, the person said back, looking into my eyes. “Why?”. I fumbled around for some words, and what came out was that I had just finished school and it was really too expensive. “I got that! And, what I also get from talking to you is that you probably use your relationship with money to avoid doing other things you might otherwise find value in.”. It wasn’t said like a question, it was like a statement from a judge. I felt kind of offended, but it was actually true.
I told the est person that I would take some information home with me and make a decision later. “I got that!”, the est person said.
Bobby walked up and said, “I just signed up! Did you sign up?”. “Hell no! What are you nuts?”. It didn’t phase him. It was like he was one of them all of a sudden. “Think of what we could do with Roadshow Players if we all took this!”. I just kind of looked back at him wondering exactly what he was imagining with that comment.
The seminar ended and we met up with Barbara again who invited us out for coffee. I thought she was going to pee her pants when Bobby told her he signed up. She looked at me and said, “And you?”. I just told her that I had the information and wanted to learn more about it before I made a decision. She told me, “People don’t decide to take the training, the chose it”.
As the night wore on, she gushed all over Bobby’s decision to take est, and told him that the training starts when you sign up, and that he was going to go through some strange “spaces” over the next few days, and she would be calling him to “support” him through all of that, and that she would be at his graduation.
We said our goodbyes to Barbara, who had to drive back up to San Luis Obispo that night. I gave Bobby a ride home, and he was still very happy with his decision.
I was more sure than ever I would never get involved with est.