Being There

Don't fasten your seat belts,
just be with the bumps

You are sitting in a room with two hundred strangers. You’re scared, really on edge. Something’s about to happen. You are going to confront some awful, hidden part of yourself and you may not like it. And you’re not prepared; it’s 8:30 Saturday morning and you didn’t sleep well last night.

Then you calm yourself. So many people come out likingi this thing, whatever it is. It can'’ be that bad. But then again, so many of the est graduates you’ve met have been insufferable monomaniacs. And the people here are not like you. They’re either hipper, or even more pathetic than you are.

Your revery is interrupted. The Forum Leader has assumed the stage. He’s impeccable well-groomed and well-dressed. He reminds you of the pictures you’ve seen of Werner Erhard. You look around, checking out the room’s dozen or so functionaries and notice something odd: the higher up in the hierarchy a person is, the more he resembles Werner. You’re thinking it’s Probably yet another of the insidious effects of long-term exposure to the whole est cult. Then you catch yourseif. You're pre-judging, aren't you? Ready to resist, daring them to get you. what are you so afraid of? what will you lose if this thing turns out to be good?

You hear the Forum leader open things up by asking whether anyone wants to share anything. A man in his fifties (whose name tag reads "Jack"), gets up angry. You're a little timid and you're struck by Jack's energy, his willingness to break the ice and buck the powers that be. Jack resents the obnoxious "pressure tactics" of the sales people that forced him here.

"Jack, watch your languaging" You wince at that word. "Were you actually 'forced' here?"

"Did they handcuff you?"


"Did they kidnap you?"

"No, but their pressure forced 'T)id you have to come? Were you able to say 'No'?"

'~ean, but the pressure was awnil. They just kept coming up to me at the introductory meeting I attended. They kept asking me to join, not taking no for an answer. They just kept giving me this hard sell: how wonderftil the Forum was, how terrible it would be if I didn't sign up. And of course I couldn't think about it. I had to register right there and then.... It was offensive."

You know what Jack's talking about. Some of those seminar assistants made Moonies seem laid back They made the whole damn thing seem like a Ponzi scheme.

"So they laid it out there for you and you said ~es.' You could have said 'No'."


"So nobody 'forced' you-You chose to be here."

'Yes, but it was excessive an..... their pressure."

"What showed up for you was 'pressure'."


"In your listening you heard 'pressure. By saying 'C'mon Jack, you really should register for the Forum,' they could have -been speaking 'love' and 'concern.' In this culture, Jack, in the culture that you are, what shows up for you when you are asked to enroll is 'sales gimmick' or 'pressure."'

Your wince fades into a look of beluddlement. You think, "Is this manipulation or bulishit or what?" You too thought all that sales stuff was insufferable . . . . Wasn’t it? Or did it just "show up" that way? "Note the distinction between what 'is' and what 'shows up,"' The leader continues. "Distinctions open up possibilities. if you tell a woman she's beautiful, you may be ~eaking 'love' or, at least, 'admiration' or 'appreciation.' But what shows up for her in her listening might only be 'manipulation' or 'seduction.' Or you maybe 4)eaking 'seduction' and, instead, 'love' may show up for her in her listening You've had that experience, haven't you, Jack?"

Jack nods. Something's happening. There's a ripple of giggles in the audience. Jack's starting to "get off of it" and other people are too.

'You say what the seminar people dicl was an 'is.' You say, 'It was pressure. like an identity. like 'that's~it-and-there's~no other~ossibility-so.don't.tell-meanything-ehe.' I say what they did showed up for your in your listening as 'pressure,' but in their ~eaking it may have been 'love.' Maybe. I'm saying, 'Maybe.' Not like an 'is,' but like a possibility. And when you speak possibility, things open up. Got it, Jack?"


Jack wears that little dazed and goofy smile you often see in cartoons when Cupid's arrow has struck home.

The leader asks if anybody else has anything they want to get off their chest. You sense he's inviting a challenge. In the interchanges that follow, you notice he sounds funny. You hear him say things like: "The Forum is a method of examination that we have invented of dealing with the heart of the matter of being alive. And just the questioning, the engaging, shows up as an empowerment in one's everyday being in the world. The Forum is not about answers, it's about questions."

And like that.

And you hear a lot of "likes." And, instead of straight declarative sentences, you hear a kind of sing-song question. sounding patter that entices you. It's as if a subtextual dialogue is being established between speaker and listener that is both engaging and off.putting. Even as the content is being conveyed by the words, the tone is asking you whether the words are being understood and, magically, at the same time, implying that, yes, they are.

"And it shows up-like an empowerment?" (are you following me? are you getting this?)-"like a commitment ?-to engage in a stand?" (Do you understand? do you hear? That when I reaise the tone at the ends of mny phrases? Like this? That is affecting? engaging? as if I'm directly communicating with you in a way that straight sentences io not? cannot?)

And that rhythmic voice. You don't ome across a delivery like this everyday. lie's either spit.ting out each in ~ di-dac-tic man-ner that ac-cen-tu-ates what he's say-mg or the nextminutehe'spermitsawholelotofwordstobespewedforthsothatyoudon'tevenknowhwhathe's.


You've heard similar sounds, but where? Then it hits you. From your friends who took est some time ago and came Out raving about it, wanting you to take it too, only they never could really quite explain why. They never could capture what the hell went on and how they were transformed.

Your friends used certain words in what felt like an enlightened way, words like "commitment" and "promise," and they spread nuggets of truth ("there is no point in waiting") like butter, but the essence of the est experience went uncaptured. Ml you were able to sense was that a generalized happiness had somehow been induced in them. It was as if they were religious initiates who had just acquired some inner faith. They had been locked up in a cloistered environment somewhere, shared something almost mystical that employed a lot of jargon, and they wound up turning you off And proselytism? like Jack said, Ohmigod, yes.

Now here you are at the Forum, hearing those buzzwords again and hoping that their meaning, the weightiness behind them, will "show up" for you through first-hand experience in a way that hearing them from est friends did not.

EST WAS THE Forum's precursor. You never took est and you never will-it was retired in 1984. The reason for its retirement? Well _ depending on your level of cynicism, either because its mission was accomplished or because a new marketing ploy was needed to spur sales. New, improved est-the Forum-made old est obsolete. if the change had occurred a year later we might today have "New Forum" and "est Classic." From what you've heard, it seems that the Forum (which "takes off where est left off') is milder than its predecessor, a little less militaristic. People got verbally abused in est; in the more philosophical Forum they don't. like est, the Forum lasts two weekends, but unlike est, where things had been heard to go on until three or four in the morning, the Forum -guarantees a closing time of no later than 1:00 a.m. each night. And unlike est, the Forum has frequent bathroom breaks Every two and a haif hours or so

constitutes a session. Each session is followed by a 30~minute break There is also one 90-minute evening meal break each day. The sessions are held in a large room containing nothing but a stage with -two chalkboards, a podium and director's chair, and 150 to 200 seated people who've paid 3525 (yes, 3525) each to be there.


all the other Forums?" asks Ashtar, an earnest, crisply articulate Indian. Even though Ashtar's having trouble, you quickly see, with the help of the Forum leader, how stupid his question is As the leader points out, "How could thi Forum possibly be the same as the other~ There are hundreds of different people here saying and doing their own separate things."

You think, "Can one baseball game be exactly the same as another? Can anythin be the same as anything else?" Yet, even as you silently mock the question, you note that a similar thought had passed through your own head. what are the other Forums like? what vital insight might we miss in this Forum that may be~ revealed in another one?

Suddenly, you sense what makes a stupid question stupid. It's when the question is seeking some kind of impossible certainty, some frame, -something to hold onto in this shapeles~ void that is the Forum. And you realize that this rule you've lust formulated- -"stupid questions are those which seek definitiveness about indefinite things" -itself stupid, a way of warding off the confusion.

Hey, you notice, you really can learn something from other people's sharing.

And as the leader and the questioner go on and on (he won't give Up: "But is the form of the Forum always the same?") you realize that even a stupid question is partly yours, and then you realize that even the stupid questions that aren't partly yours are partly yours because while you might not be asking that stupid question, you would certainly be asking your own stupid, certainty-seeking question.

And as you churn all this over, the stupid question evolves into more essential questions. "what are other Forums like?" becomes "what are other lives like?" "Can't I get out of this one?" and, finally "How can I know I'm living right, correctly, not missing something?" And the answers pop right out at you.... You can't. You can't know. This is it. You don't know what other Forums are like because at this time, in this place, with these people, this is the Forum, this is this life, which is your life and as you will be repeatedly reminded and realize, forget, understand, then forget again, then remember, then misplace: There is no dress rehearsal for life. This is it.

For the moment, you've gotten the idea ... whatever it may be. You feel triumphant. And then it vanishes, like a dream that was deeply, deeply felt, but whose detalis are only vaguely remembered on awakening.

Ashtar sits down, but he's still puzzled. "I don't think I've been able to say exactly what it is I want to ask" He won't let go. He won't open himself up, as Werner would say, quoting Camus, to the benign indifference of the universe.

"Great," says our Leader. "Be with that. You need to be with that for now." AS THE FORUM STARTSto take some amorphous shape and the leader asks us questions designed to open the "inquiry," people are slowly starting to reveal their faults, their fears. Sometimes such disclosures are appropriate to the question on the floor, usually not. We're each a tea kettle that starts to whistle in response to our own private flame. The leader is sometimes gentle, sometimes tough, but relentless in making the sharer come to a point of paradox or ambiguity in looking at his or her life.

Linda, a dishevelled, shaggy-haired,Woman in her early thirties who looks like she’s sill in her pajamas, gets up. She is in a kind of showdown who'll outwit and outshoot every new gunslinger in town who tries to challenge him. if Ashtar's question was stupid because it sought an unattainable certainty, linda appears stupid because she conveys the air of actually believing that she is certain of something.

linda has violated one of the cardinal rules of Forum Reality which we had to promise to obey at the start of things no notc-taking, no sleeping, no lateness to sessions, no shouting out. ifyou want to speak, you have to be recognized by the leader, stand, wait for the handmike to be brought to you, then blab. A few mm utes earlier linda, recognized, started talking, mike-less, from a sit ting position. Wh reminded of the rule she visibly bristled at the requirement and passed on the opportunity to contribute I that was fine with the Leader Now she's back She's been recognized again and is repeating her error talk mg without a mike while sitting 1)idn t we just go through this linda every I m tired The rule's stupid one can hear me I don't see why we have to act like we re in grade school." She knows she 5 right People don't give up when they kno they're right, do they?

"We've had some experience in running things like this. Over half a million people have taken the est training We ain't no 'guy in a diner' when it comes to doing this. We have found that in a large room, a mike helps everybody to hear. And everybody here should hear everything that's going on. We share your ~ sharing. We participate by listening to your ~eaking"

"So I'm tired. I forgot. what's the big deal about standing up?"

"what's possible here is possible only by obeying the rules. when the group is committed and does not break its promises, great possibilities can be realized. Imagine the committed action that could occur if we all came here on time. Instead, we had-" and he rattlcs off the statistics on today's latenesses. no shows, excuses, etc.

"when you act disobediently, in-di-vidu- ally, in defiance of the rules, you are not doing the Forum. when you don t stand, the LA ["Logistics Assistant" can t see you and doesn't know who to bring the mike to. You waste everybody's time.

He's right. You've noticed that the assistants, looking like earnest supplicants waiting to he flogged, seem confused when the intended mike-recipient is not standing. They cannot then rush the godhead microphone to the anointed speaker and bow before him, out of sight on bended knee.

linda is now smiling sheepishly. She 5 there. She acknowledges the reason for the rule and sees how it can actually make things run more smoothly.

"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you say that earlier. I didn't get much sleep last night I had to get up at 6:30 to get here."

'You realize, Linda, what you just said doesn't change a damn thing?"

what? He's doubled-back on her, not accepting her apology.

"whether you got no sleep or ten hours sleep or you're tired or awake or whatever sto?y you tell us, that story does not in the least change what happened.

what happened?

'You say you're 'tired' as if that changes something. But it doesn't. Getting up and waiting for the mike before you start talking changes things. Explaining why you didn't do that does not. 'why' is irrevelant. Note the distinction between presence and stoty." He draws a line down the center of the board writing one word on each half

"Explanations are in the domain of stoiy. Their aim is to get you off the hook. 'I'm late because the train broke down' is a story. 'I'm late' is being present to your own lateness. There's no cop-out in it

'You are responsible and can create possibilities by being present and making promises," he continues. 'You can empower yourself in the domain of commitment by living up to your promises. Thank you, linda."

linda sits. She's been chastized a little. Her demeanor is not quite as bright as when she understood why she was supposed to get up.

You see it, but you don't. You're confused. (It will not be the last time.) Explanations, he says, don't change things. You see that with the "late" business. But don't explanations change attitudes, feelings? Didn't his explanation of how standing up helps the mikedeliverer do his job faster and better change linda's outlook and how she'll behave in the future? Irritated befuddlement gnaws at you a little. stretches that leave lust about everybody not grounded in philosophy, or no longer interested in it, or both confused and irritated. The Leader asks questions like, "How do I know that's a wall?" "How do I know what's real?" "what is mind?" He conducts most of the dialogues and exchanges in a bullying, almost intentionally obfuscatory way. "I want to do violence to your everyday constructions of life," he warns. And you feel some violence. There is tension in the air.

"I invite you to investigate the possibility that your life may be used for something," he is saying over and over, and you're both a little uneasy and admiring. How carefully that phrase is constructed, how skillfully. Nobody~s telling you to do anything. You are "invited." No coercion, no certainty, no finality. Just look, stand in the question. Explore.

FOR ROUGHLY TWO eternities now the Leader's been trying to show you that You are the product of a culture that telis you that this is a chair." You feel hypnotized. Your sense of time shifts. It's no longer something linear, but a hazy fog in which past, present, and future are all co-existing. You feel like a F.O.W. 'Yes, I am that this is a chair." "The culture that I am is that You start to chant to yoursell~ following the leader's lead, sure, "Thoughts think me, don't think thoughts." "Thoughts think me, I don't think thoughts." But what is all this? what's all this stuff about "mind" and "the being that I am"? You feel that most of the people here are frustrated and angry and wondering what the fuck is going on and-Suddenly somebody cracks. A woman in her late twenties with electrffied blonde hair bolts up Out of the chair that she is. "This is bullshit," she shouts. "I can't believe I paid ~525 for this bulishit. what does any of this garbage have to do with my life? I came here to improve my life, to learn how to be happy. All this 'chair' stuff is pointless bulishit.

"I'm furious at Werner Erhard and you and I can't believe that people think this ridiculous nonsense means anything and I just wish I could get my money back" Some of us applaud furiously.

"We gave you that chance," replies the leader. He's telling the truth. Alter the first hour or so he gave us the opportunity to leave and get a full refund. Was that six hours or three lifetimes ago?

'Yes, but that was before anything began. It wasn't fair. How was I to know that ail of this was just bulishit before it even started?" She's got a point. The leader's sort of holding the bag, repeating that she'd had her chance.

You have to admire her, so brave, letting it all hang out. But then you also have to find fault with her-maybe she's pre-judging the thing, prematurely mistrusting the advice of the friends who'd sent her.

At the break she becomes a minicelebrity, the first real rebel. She's congratulated. She has violently expressed our politely-hidden confusion and resentment. Another center of gravity has been established. The leader's spell, his string of arrogant Socratic victories, has been broken. Raw emotion has seemed to crack his hypnotic hold on the audience.

like sheep, we go back in alter the break, ready for more, our consciousness having been raised a little by our outspoken rebel, who thereafter remain sulkingly, self-righteously silent. Had her outbreak been intended somehow? Was the leader's arrogance designed to be infuriatingly impenetrable so as to produce just such an outburst? Questions like these float through your head.

"Stories' do not alter what happens," the Leader plods on. Explanations do not change things. W~ the ear hit the pedestrian does not change the fact that he was hit."

You argue to yourself that stories are relevant, at least in the "domain" of feelings. if you're hit intentionally by someone, you have a different "feeling" than if you are hit accidentally. Our Leader has us in a sticky morass. whatever it is, you can't see it, can't get through it. His answers feel like no answers; his philosophy, no philosophy. His questions, with their little extra English on them-"what is the nature of being for human beings?" -are endlessly repeated, never fully understood, never successfully answered. As the hours drag on you're weary and you sense the others in the group are too.

Now you're starting to feel that you re being swindled, that the "rigor," the alleged painful examination of difficult questions, is a farce. He's praising us for being confused, as if the confusion were hard-eamed; but maybe it's because he's a ~ poor teacher. Maybe it's because his presentation is muddled; philoso-babble. "I invite you to stand in the question," my ass. "I'm not saying what I'm saying is true; I'm committed to what I'm saying, but I'm not saying that it's true." "I invite -you to listen to your listening."

He's stern, then supportive, then sternly supportive, supportively stern but distant. He's been provocative, wily, an eel that won't be caught, a professo accuser, comedian, analyst, salesman father, friend, fellow inquirer. Right now, he's infuriating.

You are a wise-guy, no doubt about it and you like to heckle ("counterpuncher" ~ someone once called you) and do with jokes what he's trying to do here with solemnity. You want so badly to just shout out here and there some devastating one-liners. But there's a promise remember, a rigid rule of reality:

"Don't shout out." what's wrong with you? Can't you live up to your word? Can't you keep a commitment?

what's he saying now? That to the culture of their time, the Wright Brothers' idea was crazy. They worked on'~ all their stuff before anybody knew what ~ 747 was. You feel like your impulse to shout out is like the Wright Brothers urges, that the Forum's "don't shout out rule is as confining and anti-risk-taking as the rules of the world the Brothers Wright showed up in.

who's right? Do you break your promise in order to bring forth what you~ see as important (greater insight throu~ humor) or are you just ego~tripping? Yot see others tripping on their egos in their" own ways~seducers, explainers, wind-bags, mollifiers, fighters; maybe your ~ niithiir~~ are nothin~ more than asserting your own shtick -your "act," your "inauthenticity"-as far as you can. For now you decide to keep your promise. Besides, you're too afraid to take the risk: you might get kicked out.

HES GOTUS GOING over yet again the distinction between the two domains stories i e explanations, rationalizations, excuses, and "presence" i.e. factual statements that present reality (rather than "re~present it.) Jesus Christ, can't we move on to something? when do we leam how to cope with all these soap operas of life we've been listening to? when do we get relevant?

"Who's tired?" he asks and a young woman has volunteered to come onstage for an experiment, to see if she is really tired or whether she is telling a story. Distinctions, he reminds us, bring empowerment. They create possibilities.

"Where are you present to being tired?'~

"I just feel tired."

"No, I didn't ask that, Janet. listen to my question. W~ere are you present to being tired?"



"I just feel tired."

"Listen to the question. where are you -. present to being tired?"

"My whole body."

"Where in your body, Janet?"

"All over."

After a few minutes of this you start to itch and ache. You want to scream out loud. Will somebody tell this woman tha~ "where" denotes location, a ~e~flc location and the answer requires something specffic already. But nobody does. The Forum leader, sensing the group's impatience and disbelief, cautiot us, "This is good. Watch this." And he persists. Yes, he does persist. And you marvel. You're amazed that Janet hasn't learned from linda or the dozens of othe~ before her. You thought everybody had gotten this stuff by now. But she has to learn it herself. You marvel at her densit and at his persistence. He's not getting pissed. You would. He's going with it and he's finally making progress.

"My eyes are tired."


"Good, hut your eyes aren't 'tired'! 'Tired' is a story. Be 'present' to your eyes. what is actually happening in your eyes?"

But suddenly, it's gone again.

''They're just tired.''

"No. Be 'present' to your eyes." Then it's back: "My eyes itch." He's right. This is good, you're getting his point; you're having a breakthrough Almost every moment of your life-at least every moment when you're stuck you are telling yourself a story that is inhibiting you in some way. You see that in those moments you are telling yourself... nothing Nothing real anyway. At those moments you are not in ~ the domain of presence, you are not experiencing Being. "I am tired," you tell yourself. why? Habit, fear, boredom, whatever. who knows? who cares? "why" is irrelevant, anyway.

The interchange goes on. Janet flits in and out of Being, now responding to his questions, to her body, then lost in her head, unreachable.

Finally, the experiment is ending. Janet is realizing that she's been "rambling," her word for not listening, for not being present. She mumbles something few of us can hear.

"Say that again," says the leader excitedly.

"I've been doing that for 28 years "Yes, you have," he confffms. She steps back down into the audience accompanied by thunderous applause. The Leader is a magician. He's sawed Janet in half and put her back together right before our eyes. Your own eyes are getting wider.

"Do you see? Your stories about how terrible your father was, or how he died or how he was too rich or too poor are just.. . stories. But they are so strong they not only shield you from experience, they dictate it. 'I'm tired (therefore) I can't listen.' 'I'm shy (therefore), I can ask that woman out.' 'I'm a woman (therefore), I can't ask that man out

"Rather than ~erience reality, rather than simply be, you create life-inhibiting explanations for things, like Janet was doing up here. You create stories which reduce the possibilities of Being. You make up 'causes' as if you can ever know 'caiise' and you cut down on possibility. A possibility like: 'Just-because"’t-mean-I’m-tired-or-that-I-have-to-stop-paying-attention-to-what’s-going-on."

You are there. The power of the past can be broken, is broken. We are not pre-determined puppets whose lives are the way they are because of something that happened ten, 20, 30, 50 years ago. We keep choosing at every moment the story we choose to determine our life. We can change our choices. Oh God, this is great. You are ebullient.

"Next weekend you'll leam about the third domain: promise and commitment, about the power that is commitment."

But he's forced to give a preview when Bess gets up.

Bess is a diminutive, sophisticated woman who has already shared some things with the group that have been exceptionally frank and articulate, like her fantasies about literally dismembering her enemies.

Now she is having a problem with promise. She's going to go to her fffst audition in years this coming week She's scared, but she's going. She's even been persuaded to make a promise to go.

"And you promise to get the part," says the leader.

"I'll promise to show up for the audition, but how can I promise to get the part?"

"You just do."

"How can I pmmise that I'll be selected by another person? Isn't it beyond my power to make a promise like that? A promise that involves what somebody else will do?"

"when you promise to be on time and you take the train, isn't it beyond your power whether or not the train will break down and make you late?"

"But that's different."

"Is it?"

You think you see why it is. what if everyone who showed up for the audition made the same promise? All but one would have to break her promise. Does a promise in that situation have meaning?

"why not?" the Forum Leader would say.

You would argue: "But Socrates, isn't the purpose of promises to say what will definitely happen, not just to make them and break them? why make them if it's beyond your power to insure that they will come true?"

Now you're wondering, when is anything totally in your power? when can you insure a promise won't be broken? Is he just proposing self-delusional positive thinking? Or is it non-self-delusional? who knows? Can she pmmise to get the part and does such a promise make sense? You're woozy.


there's more eye contact, more smiling We're a team. Maybe part of it's due to ~e fact that we have a different Forum leader this weekend. Is it only your imagination, or does he show up for you as more cheerful and funnier, even if also less experienced?

But, God knows, you quickly learn that just because you feel okay doesn't mean there aren't some who are even mo miserable than they were a week ago And absent or late in defiance of th rules? How many? Twenty or so? You feel good about coming back You weathered some storm that others apparently could not. You feel a little sorry for the absentees.

Everyone wants to know about Bess. She's the clearest example of how the Forum might work in everyday life. Her audition has become our audition.

"Well, I went for the audition." You can hear it in her voice, she's proud. She faced her demons and showed up. The crowd roars. "And while I didn't get the part," (you notice a visceral feeling of relief in your stomach), "I did get a call back" The cheers of the crowd are background music for your confused jealousy. You must share your own inauthenticity with the group. The Leader calls on you.

"what showed up for me during Bess 5 sharing was my commitment, my 'thrown [automatic] commitment to resignation I felt myself hoping she'd be telling us that she'd made an effort, the Good Old College Try, but had failed. I wanted her not to get the part. Not 'cause I hated her," you turn to make that clear to Bess, "not 'cause I hated you, but because I hated the possibility of somebody eise succeeding. if they did, then maybe there was a possibility that I might. Then I'd actually have to try things. Do things Be alive. I wanted the Forum to be wrong I was huppy when you said you didn t get the part. while part of me would have liked you to have gotten the part, some other, darker, part of me was sad when there was still a possibility that you might." You sit down, proud of your public declaration of your shameful pettiness.

"Thank you for sharing that with us, says the leader solemnly.

AT ThE BREAK, FIVE people come up to you. You'd clearly struck some nerve, but which one?

"Are you an actor?" someone asks you and is surprised when you say no.

"You understand so clearly what an actor feels. You were so supportive of Bess. It was beautiful."

Bess herself comes to thank you for your sharing. "But I wanted you to fail" you stress. "Not you exactly, but everybody."

"Really?" she says from behind her giasses. "what showed up for me in my listening was your compassion and support."

You are truly shocked and then you remember: what shows up for people, even when you're at your lowest, most embarrassing, seffish level, is... what shows up for them. They listen to the speaking in their head more than the speaking from your mouth.


down? There's all this "hopeless" stuff again. We are being brainwashed, you think. The hidden, fore-ordained structure of the Forum must require us, at this time, to feel bad again. You want to mock things. You feel your flame is about to bring you to boil, to whistle a happy tune. The pressure's building and building Fuck it. You'll take the risk and tell a joke.

Several minutes of answer alter answe~ to the repeatedly repeated questio "what is the nature of the being that you are?" have left the room depressed With frw exceptions, the answers have been almost unbearably self-lacerating: I am i resignation," "I am secrecy," "I am failure,".. . an eater," ... unreliable etc You get up and, pausing, as if having to overcome a deep inner struggle to proclaim your ultimate seif~ announce quoting the Beatle song of the same name, "I am... the walrus."

Wave alter wave of laughter erupts. It shows up for you as grateful laughter. That awful somber mood has been shattered. You are afraid the Leader will get to you for that, examine why you told ~ a satirical joke, what you are avoiding But he seems to enjoy the joke himself. You are grateful. And you privately wonder yourseff why it was so important for you to make the group laugh. And you sknt the issue by noting that "why" is irrelevant. People's gratitude is enough of a "why." Several people call you The Walrus alter that. You feel connected.

YOU'VE BEEN abstracting out the ideas the Leader has been so tiresomely going on and on about. You understand. We "live into the _ past," rather than the present or the fliture, and our stories," our analyses, pictures, re-tellings, justify all of our bullshit and we accept them as gospel, rather than as what they are -stories the stories which prevent us from exploring possibilities.

Laughter, joy, sadness, terror, all emotions pass like clouds according to their own unknowable patterns. And right now, yet again, the patterns have called us back once more to "resignation." Only this time it feels like the ultimate blow-out.

The leader is calling on us to share an image of pain and loss that's unresolved for us, that's dictating our lives. And God there are stories. Almost everyone wants to share, to testify to their fear, their shame, their First Cause. These frozen moments in time come tumbling out, stories whose unbelievable staying power seem to dictate personalities, identities. People are the way they are, they say, because their family perished in the Holocaust, or their boyfriend committed suicide, or the neighborhood bully crushed their new Fisher-Price toy, their father always criticized them, or raped them, or died when they wer three or four or ten, or ran away.

And whenever anyone gets up, he or she is shaking, trembling. An awfully painful thing is about to be said and 200 people sit expectantly, reverently, feeling privileged to be eavesdropping, sharing, communicating, supporting the infinite complexity, yet underlying similarity, of being human.

"I had a dog-Suzie -who I loved a lot," recalls a woman in her fifties. 'One day I was walking Suzie, I was seven when a street dog came and jumped on top of her. They were fucking, hut I didn t know that. I was so scared. They squealed and tumbled around like crazy in th street and couldn't get separated. I ran upstairs to my mother, crying uncontrollably. I never saw Suzie again. Since then I've always been afraid of losing what I love. I felt responsible. I hold back because I may lose what I love. A few months ago I asked my mother 'whatever happened to Suzie?' She told me that alter she saw me crying so badly she gave Suzie away. She never wanted me to be that upset again."

"My parents told me never never go sledding on the hill behind Buruside Street." It's Frank talking, panting as he remembers. "It was too dangerous. I went ~ anyway and went down so fast I couldn't stop. I went over the cliff and miraculously was unhurt. Somebody called my father who came to get me and scolded me. I find it difficult to take risks today. I'm terrified of everything."

They keep spilling out, these private secrets and terrible traumas. They have such totemic force they feel as if they are worshipped-in each case, though, by a congregation of one: the critical things Bob, a 40-year-old cop, overheard his mother and teacher saying about him on Open School Night in fourth grade; the shame Wilt felt at being court-martialed and dishonorably discharged for his cowardice in Nam; how Pierre's father went to jail for five years for writing bad checks; how Chuck's mother walked into his bedroom one day while he had an erection.

The panoply of human misery. You are in awe of both people's resilience and their fragility. We all seem to be branded irrevocably, by some terribly painful event. But even though the scar never fully heals, we doggedly plug on, anyway.

And these primal images of fear and loss lead directly into the leader's explanation of upset.

"A little boy is crying. He's saying 'good-by' to his father at the airport. The boy wants to hug his father. The father feels the child is making too much of the separation and, fumbling with his hat, refuses, telling the boy to be quiet. The boy stifles his emotions.

"Later in life that moment can reappear as an 'upset.' Something in the present -a sight, a smell, maybe a place, an airport, an object, a hat-evokes the prior traumatic moment when the original 'shocking loss' coincided with an unexpressed emotion, and that prior loss is relived as fully and as painfully as it was originally experienced. We get stuck somewhere and never get fully unstuck. An upset gets us stuck again. Thus do we 'live into the past'.. - unless we choose not to."

The mood is awful/happy, sorry/grateful. Tears accompany the telling of these tales. Laughter heralds the recognition that something trans-psychological can free the tellers from their prisons of woe and resignation. The room is one.

WE HAVE BEEN staring at the blackboard for what seems forever. On it are written a few letters which have ~ been jotted down in passionate haste to represent several concepts: "I win/you lose," "I justify myself/I invalidate you" "I dominate you/you avoid my domination."

The leader's been telling us that everything in life breaks down to what's written on the board. There is nothing else. We are in a box we can't escape .Q.C from, no matter how hard we try. We're all tying to "look good," that's what life boils down to.

Foolishly, we try to argue. We offer examples of altruism we think do not fit into the box. But the leader is unrelenting in showing us how each such instance is but a house of cards that collapses into, "I win/you lose." After each deflected challenge, he points ~ back to the board, "This is it. That's everything. It's all pointless, meaningiess. We can't escape."

Our mood is deflated again. (The Forum's not about answers, it's about manic depression.) We try, but we can't escape his unstinting pessimism. You're .QC not even sure what "it" is anymore, or why "it" is "hopeless." "It" just is. And we should all frel hopeless now. Resigned like shit. And we do.

Then a giimmer of hope is permitted "There have been moments when we ve transcended our own sense of hopel -ness, the trap, the box of everyday life It's because of commitment, promises In those moments we are no longer slaves of the past. And at any moment we have the power to transform our lives, to create ourselves, through commitment."

"Commitment," he writes on the board. "Commitment," he reminds us, "is the third domain beyond presence and story. when you ~ commitment _ you actually create. You bring into being what was not there. You transcend what -you call your 'identity~ and what your emotions happen to be at any given moment.

'You're capable of more than you ever dreamed, but only by making commitments and following through on them History is filled with great men who have had great goals-Martin Luther King, Jr, -~ Gandhi -who made commitments and lived up to them, regardless of the state of their emotions at any given moment

"And 'promise,' 'commitment,' gets you out of the 'problem' box. like when a problem comes up: if we feel that the problem should not exist, if we feel we did something wrong that made the problem come up, if we look hack, then we are trapped in the box. But if we look at problems as an inevitable part of life we look at them as obstacles to overcome _ as opportunities, as possiblities."

You're seeing it some, hut you're not transfigured. You've lost it for some reason.

AT ThE BREAK, on your way for coffee, a woman asks you if you've "gotten it.', You sense a rarefied encounter is in the offing.

"No," you have to admit. "listen," she instructs you, a radiant smile on her face. "It's all meaningiess. Whatever you do, you're stuck in the box called 'I win/you lose.' You can't escape That's all there is. when you get that you get the freedom to make choices, make commitments, live an empowered life within the box. Don't you see?"

You confess you don't. You try to say the words over slowly, like a catechism or a syllogism and you realize it's hopeless The giow beaming off her comes from a visceral understanding. Merely getting the concepts down isn't enough.

Sne tries again. And you only half-listen because the other half is amused. Here was a woman who (was it three hours or three days ago, you've lost track of time again) was complaining about how dumb and unattractive she was. Now she is gleaming and pretty while you, Mr. Know -It-All, are still fumbling through the abc 5 of transformation.

"Got it?"

You apologize for your density and remind her it's time to go back in for the wrap up.

You're glad for her, but you're starting to feel depressed because that go-and get 'em mood is not hers alone. The room seems on fire. Everyone's gotten it, you think, and you are left behind. Are they all hypnotized? A few hours ago they all felt bad and resigned, lost in their childhood traumas. Now, suddenly, they're all manic.

THE ROOM IS alive with promises, determination, commitments. People are promising to break up a relationship, start a relationship, alter a relationship; to redouble their efforts on the job, quit a job, change careers. At one moment you're thinking that they're right:

anything is possible, all is well if you simply commit yourself to goals. The next moment you're saying to yourself: "Fuck this guy. Fuck this bullshit. Ml these people are being hypnotized, brain-washed. Nothing's happened here except the manipulation of our moods."

"I just had a breakthrough," someone announces to the group. People are having them like babies, and having to proclaim them. Sometimes you are moved by the sharer, sometimes not. It's funny but "I'm going to teach myself goif~" may be more moving than "I'm going to tell my dying father how much I love him."

People are in tears, choking up, sometimes for no discernible reason.

"I love you all, I just wanted you to know that."

"I'm going to teach myself how to play golf."

People just seem like they have to get up and speac Some are bursting, either with joy or tears; others stumble and stammer. The breakthroughs you like most are those marked by humility. People who proudly proclaim their discoveries seem to be filled with bulishit. But your own resistance is growing; the distance between you and the group is increasing.

Your cynicism is buttressed by the reappearance of the marketing/sales aspect of the Network, Interspersed between the joyous proclamations and promises of the transformed are first hints, then statements, then speeches from the leader about the need to spread the Forum gospel, to get guests to come to Tuesday night's final session, to have them enroll in the Forum, to have us enroll in Network seminars, the Hunger Project, the Six-Day, anything. It seems like an endless Chinese menu with each item requiring us to give money.

Then life, in the form of a rebel, breaks in again.

The Leader is coaching us on how to entice guests to Tuesday night's introduction to the Forum. He's gotten some of us to volunteer to be "players," people who "go for the limit," who will each commit to bringing five, six, a dozen people on Tuesday night. You feel nauseated. It all sounds so ridiculous, this joy, this disproportionate childlike enthusiasm about what seems like a purely money-making activity. The leader recognizes Ron.

"Shouldn't we be getting a commission for bringing people?"

"what are you doing, Ron?"

"This is just a sales meeting now. We're just generating money for Erhard and his organization. This has nothing to do with the Forum. Shouldn't we get a piece?"

'You won't believe me Ron, because you're filled with suspicion, but bringing people Thesday night is doing the Forum. And besides, alter all the expenses, rent, printing, travelling, all those things, there is no profit to Werner or the Network."

"Are there financial statements?"


"Have you seen them?"


what's going on here? Our leader's on the defensive for the first time, no longer the Benevolent Transformer, but the target of an investigation.

"Can we see them?"


No? No?!! Haven't they learned from Nixon? Say "yes," dammit, and no one will be suspicious, no one will know what the damn things mean anyway. "Bluff your way through," you want to advise. (You're now, paradoxically enough, on the Network's side.)

But our Fearless leader is suddenly, inexplicably, fearful. His face now transformed from beatific to incensed, he charges into Ron like a drill sergeant:

"Are you married, Ron?"

"what's that got to do with it?"

"Are you married?"


"How is it?" where's he going with this? Something's off, you don't like it.

"How~s what?"

'Your marriage."

"My marriage? Good and bad."

"It's bad, huh?"

You're feeling a lot of what seems like uncalled-for venom spilling off the leader.

"It's up and down, like everyone else's." You're admiring Ron. He's not buckling under what feels like the hardest, rudest most est-like assault of the Forum.

"Don't give me that 'everyone else."' People start crying out, "No, no. Stop." It's like a boxing match where one fighter is punching wildly alter the other has held up his hands. There's something terribly out of whack The incredible good will is oozing out. The balloon is losing air.

"why can't we see the statements," pipes up businessman Harvey, up until then quiet.

'You didn't say a goddam thing during the whole Forum," says the leader turning on Harvey. "Now you're getting up to question things. You know your whole life is like this."

"No, we're just asking-"

'You're shitting in the space," cries the leader. 'You're shitting in the spac

The enthusiasm, the harmony in the room has vanished. People have that aimless, panicked look you see in photos of crowds alter an assassination.

And you start feeling good. You cannot deny it, but you feel good. Something that had been riding along unexpressed, had bubbled up and had to be confronted You're once again a part of the group in a way you hadn't been for hours. And you have to admit it: you love the disappoint ment. You love the inexplicable and contemptible behavior of the leader He is not God You like doubting this, because believing it might be too trouble some for your own good. what a shithead you arc.

The leader finally regains his composure. His cutest, most puppet like mannerisms reappear and, shifting tactics goading gently, he gets some gooiy smile out of Ron.

'You'd have this doubt, Ron, even if the Forum were free," he says, and joyously pointing to Ron's slight grin yells, "That s you. That's the real Ron." Ron's smile broadens. (The hopeless cynic Harvey goes unreclaimed.) "That's the Ron who wants to come out and who's beaten down by suspicion. There he is."

The few minutes left that night are anticlimactic. The group's once-buoyant spirit remains fractured.

TUESDAY NIGHT. Every awful, manipulative, money-hungry aspect of the thing comes back at you. (But you're almost comically ambivalent. You've brought a guest, telling her it wakes you up to being alive. She enrolls that night.) And in the midst of the worst, most shameless, unabashed sales pitches, amidst the most exuberant and mawkish declarations of breakthroughs and commitments and insights and re-dedications and selfcongratulations, in the midst of the most unabated onslaught of everything fatuous and offensive you ever sensed or feared about Werner, est, the Forum, the Network, there again, goddamit, is, undeniably, a magical moment.

You suddenly want to share.

But all the sharing time has been allocated and we're all going to have to leave. You're not going to get the chance to say what you want to say.

You hate being a pig and a windbag (well, you hate it a little, anyway) but goddam it, you're commiting yoursei{ you've got something you want to share, the semi-cynic wants to testify. It's Bess's audition, only you're Bess and you feel empowered, yep, that's the word. It's in your power-you feel it-to have the Leader call on you even though he's said there's no more time for sharing.

Your hand gets up there, straight and high. It's up there definitely, proudly, committedly. while you feel the rhythm of things does not want to accept you, you are committed to change that rhythm. The leader recognizes you.

What you want to say is this:

"In the last two days, I've been in an odd place. More connected to things than I've ever been and less. At certain moments, the possibility of Possibility has become clear to me.

"Today, at work, I was on a conference call with three other people. We were working on a project that required two other guys to take certain actions in three different cities.

"One of the people on the phone, Tony, is almost always unhelpful, just difficult to deal with. He was no different today on this call. I kept asking him questions in order to get information I thought was necessary to figure out the logistics for the project. For whatever his reason, Tony kept answering in monosyllables and I started feeling pissed off No. Anger and frustration were building and were starting to 'have me."'

You're shaking a little, re-living this. Are you going on too long?

"I remembered the Forum and asked myself, 'what's possible here?"'

"I shouted into the speaker phone, 'Okay, Tony. Stop. Wait. Over. End.' The other people on the line felt I was going to say something weird. And so did I, a little. I really didn't know what I was going to say. Then this came out:

"'Okay, Tony. You are Fred. Jam Tony. Tell me how to soive this problem.' And he did. I shut up and let him tell me what we should do.

"I felt great. whatever happened, I know I would not have done it if the Forum hadn't made me aware of possibilities. I felt great.

"And then, just now, thinking of whether or not I should share this, I remembered saying here the second weekend, as a joke, 'I am the walrus,' And I realized, it's true. That's how things got soived on the phone, 'I am you and you are me and-"'

"'And we are all together,"' finishes the leader, nodding in agreement.

"Yes." You are spinning, as exuberant as any Moonie in the place had been. "By seeing how we are all interrelated, how we are all part of Being, what showed up for me was the possibility of interchanging my identity with somebody else, with another part of humanity, another part of Being. like I didn't have to cling to my position, I could adopt someone else's, because in a way, we're all the same thing anyway."

"Thank you, Mr. Walrus.

The applause is not as deafening as you'd hoped. In fact, you fear you may even have spoiled the purity of the joke by analyzing it.

You sit down and become part of anonymous Being once again. A final harangue, on the necessity to join, enroll, commit (and cough up money), sends us off into the world. Joss'hility awaits us. We disperse, stepping into the mysterious domain of promise, responsibility and commitment.

And like that.