The word transformation came into vogue as a personal and social phenomenon in the 1970s principally through the success and notoriety of Werner Erhard, a friend I have admired and worked with for a decade. His est training touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and generated numerous books and a couple of films. The ‘training’ was a four-day intensive immersion into a smorgasbord of experiential exercises and intense lectures punctuated with engaging ‘coaching’ conversations with participants. The whole thing was great theater as 150 or so people confronted their ‘story’ and self-imposed limitations. By the end of the program, there was a powerful ‘transformation’ in the way most people observed and experienced their lives. It was authentic, for most was lasting, and made a genuine difference in the lives of a lot us in those days. What happened to the training and to Werner is another story, but its and his legacy live in what can now be asserted as a fact — at every moment, every human being has the possibility of transforming their life and how they relate to their circumstances.
It has been almost 20 years since I have seen Werner or spent any time with people associated with his organization. We’ve grown apart, though with fond memories. As I have undertaken this project to begin blogging and talking about growing older as a possibility, I am reminded often of how vigorously people in the training would argue against the whole idea of transformation. “What-you-say-cannot-be-true-because-if-it-is then-everything-I-have-been-doing-and-what-I-believe-must-be-wrong!” The leader would explain that was not necessarily the case, since transformation is simply a different context, a different relationship with our circumstances. He or she would explain that when we ‘adopt’ a new paradigm, we don’t negate or invalidate the old one any more than Einstein negated or invalidated Newton. It is just another way to look at the world. Which worldview you choose is a function of what you want and what you are committed to creating.
I am reflecting on all this because I am hearing a lot of people arguing with the possibility that growing older can be positive to the very end. They keep telling me to be realistic and give me all sorts of examples to prove the best years are behind us. The ‘stars’ of growing older—the Jack LaLanne’s or George Burns’ or Maggie Smith’s of the world—are put up as exceptions that prove the rule.
What I am seeing is that we need to bring back the idea that we have a choice. We can age as a continuation and extension of the same mindset and ‘way of being’ that served us for a long time (including the common sense ideas of our prevailing culture about aging). Or we can undertake to transform our experience of living for the rest of our lives — we can reinvent ourselves and approach the future in an entirely different context than we normally would have available.
The official ‘purpose’ of the est training was “to transform our experience of living so that the problems and situations we have been trying to change or have been putting up with clear up just in the process of life itself.” It worked for most people. What if that were the purpose of retirement and making the transition into the last half or last third of life?
Now that would be something to look forward to.