Assessment of the Philosophical Significance of The est Training

by Hubert Dreyfus

“In the course of the training it became progressively clear to me that the experience underlying the training and the conceptualization of this experience have deep affinities with the phenomena presented and analyzed in Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time.”

“…It is directly manifest in the training that est embodies a powerful and coherent truth which transforms the quality of the lives of those who experience it. Moreover, this truth contains radically new insights into the nature of human beings.”


est: A Philosophical Assessment

Michael E. Zimmerman
March, 1982

Est: A Philosophical Assessment

The purpose of this report is to provide a philosophical assessment of est training. I first took the training in New Orleans in January, 1981, and reviewed it as an observer in Sacramento in February, 1982.
My analysis of the training is guided by my understanding of the philosophy Of Martin Heidegger, existential psychotherapy, and Eastern religions. The following appraisal arises not only from my theoretical training as a philosopher, however, but also from my own personal experience. This report is by no means exhaustive; much more could have been said about the topics covered below. Moreover, many more
issues could have been dealt with. Because of my own philosophical expertise and personal interest, however, I chose to focus my attention on those aspects of the training that bear on the topic of authenticity. I hope that this report will prove to be of some help in resolving whatever problems remain in what is already an excellent training.

My analysis of the training addresses itself, in part, to four questions posed by Jack Mantos:

1) Can the authenticity of the training be established more directly and explicitly at the start of the training?

2) How can one speak more effectively of the Self as emptiness or nothingness?

3) How is one to understand the notion of resoluteness i.e., the notion that the authentic Self takes a stand on itself as the context of contexts?

4) Is there too much subjectivism in the idea that we “create” our own experience?

Answers to these questions will be found in the body of the text, a summary of which follows.

Summary of Findings:

1) The “authenticity” of the training may be more firmly established initially if the trainer explicitly asserts that the trainer and support team are prepared to enter into agreement with the trainees. The agreement would be that everyone give 100% of himself or herself to the training.

2) There is a tendency to speak as if the training will provide more “satisfaction” in life, but if satisfaction is made the goal by trainees, they will never find it. Satisfaction ensues; it cannot
be pursued. At times, the training conveys the impression that the reason for keeping one’s agreements is to gain satisfaction. Such a utilitarian view of behavior is inimitable to the fundamentally sound view, expressed elsewhere in the training, that the key is to act impeccably: from this, everything else–including satisfaction as well as unhappiness–follows.

3) More explicit treatment of death, and the attendant phenomena of anxiety and guilt, are needed to provide a more complete account of human existence. Anxiety is constriction of the self that occurs in
the face of the disclosure of mortality, but only such disclosure enables us to make the leap from mechanicalness or inauthenticity to aliveness or authenticity. Guilt is the ontological self-corrective
that reminds a person that he or he is failing to repay the loan of life by experiencing everything there is to experience. Guilt and anxiety call the individual to the resolution or decision to live.

4) Resoluteness refers to the decision of the individual to experience whatever there is to experience. Resoluteness (Entschlossenheit) is authentic openness or disclosedness (Erschlossenheit). The decision in favor of being openness is a free choice to be the freedom that we already are, ultimaletly, freedom is not a human possession, but instead the openness or no-thingness into which we are thrown. Human existence or Dasein constitutes the clearing or openness in which the Being of beings manifests itself.

5) While the training currently makes some reference to time and temporality, a more thorough discussion is probably in order. Such a discussion would show that the leap from inauthenticity to authenticity
involves a transformation in temporality: from linearity to the circling temporality called eternity or “Now.” Linear time arises from the constriction of human openness to that of the ego/mind, which reveals things merely as objects to be exploited for human ends. Circular or eternal time arises when human existence opens up and lets beings be just what they are.

6) The training needs to define more .carefully what it means by the notion that I am responsible for all my’ experience.’ that :r am God in my universe. Apparently derived in part from Hindu doctrines of Atman or the Transcendental Self, this conception of responsibility is too easily confused with more ordinary notions. The notion that I somehow create my experience is metaphysical speculation that cannot be verified. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to redefine creating. Instead of speaking of creating as a kind of producing or making, we could say that creating is a letting-be. The former notion of creating
is masculine and typically Western, while the latter is feminine and more in line with Eastern views of reality. We could then say that I am responsible for all of my experience in the sense that I am called
on to experience whatever it is that manifests itself within the openness that I call me.” The true “I,” of course, is not ego/mind but the temporal-historical clearing called Dasein.

7) While the training speaks of everything/nothing, Heidegger speaks of Being/nothingness. Although what both parties mean by nothingness or nothing is similar, they differ considerably on what they mean Being and everything. For Heidegger, Being does not mean the totality of things, but the presencing or self-manifesting of beings. To identify Being with every thing to make a category-mistake.

8) Although the training currently emphasizes the importance of participating and sharing with other human beings, the implicit idea of the training is that we humans should share ourselves with all
beings. Hence, the Hunger Project should naturally lead into the Planet Project designed to save the earth from environmental destruction.

9) Heidegger claimed that everything great happens from within a heritage or tradition. Perhaps it is time for est to acknowledge that it is part of the great wisdom traditions of East and West. One goal of est would then be to empower people to revitalize their own traditions.

10) Miscellaneous Observations.

11) Conclusion.
12) Appendices.
A) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Heidegger’s ‘Existentialism’
B) Michael E. Zimmerman, “Towards a Heideggerean Ethos
for Radical Environmentalism.”

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