The Nest, Grist, est and I Choose The Love Boat

the nest

As Tim and I sat in the nest drinking coffee recently, as we chewed on the morning grist, he suggested it was time that I write another blog.

The nest, by the way, is our overstuffed, well-used, second-hand couch, where we face one another most mornings and evenings, legs outstretched.

It is our joint meditation cushion of late, where we look at each other in the eyes and speak what’s alive for us at this moment of this day, this evening.

Its where we rant and cry with fair regularity. Its the mill through which we put our ego-selves in order to find ever deepening truth from which to live.


So, speaking of grist (, this article came into my inbox recently: The Fallacy of Climate Activism, by Adam Sacks. Basically, Sacks courageously confronts and admonishes climate activists to tell the whole truth. And the truth is that its too late. We have set into motion climatic forces that cannot be stopped NO MATTER WHAT WE DO.

Tim and I said as much in What A Way To Go and that’s a large part of why it is not a popular movie, at least not popular like Gores movie or Michael Moores’s work. We told big chunks of the hard truth, and we took two hours to do it. And for many people, that’s too long to pay attention to things that bring discomfort. We’ve grown somewhat wimpy as a group. We want comfort at all costs. However, as we sometimes say at screenings, our intention with the movie was to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable. And apparently we succeeded.

So this is what feeds my writing today:

A documentary we watched two nights ago called Transformation about Werner Erhard, the creator of est (erhard seminars training); my experience sitting in dialogue with Tim and three other friends for the better parts of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday; my last blog; and that Grist article, The Fallacy of Climate Activism.


I never participated in an est training back in the late 70s. But I received much of the benefit of that training through the trickle-down that happened as a result of Werner Erhard’s work.

As I look back to the workshop after the workshop I attended in the eighties I see the direct influence of est training. I was inspired and encouraged as I watched this movie about him, about the passion, the risks and the wholeheartedness that he displayed in his work.

He took the best parts of what he saw around him in psychology and spirituality and synthesized those into his training seminars. He brought together essential pieces of transactional analysis, primal therapy, marathon encounter work, Eastern mysticism and existentialism. It was not perfect, because nothing ever is. He was not perfect. Who is? But he was really gutsy and smart.

Werner Erhard became infamous for his confrontational style:

None of you know the difference between your ass and a hole in the ground.

He was not always nice. But for the most part, I think he was loving. Over the years I heard plenty of criticism about him and his training. But when I viewed this documentary I saw that he had the courage to cut through. Like the book by Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.

Erhard cut through. And, as the documentary showed, he took his own medicine. He applied his philosophy to his own life. He cleaned up much of the mess of his early adulthood with the same principles he taught others.

Erhard embodied many of what I see as the key ideals of right living: fearlessness and honesty, love, and contribution. He defined what it means to be responsible. He taught people to risk cutting their attachment to dearly held, but dysfunctional, belief systems. As the documentary pointed out he had a huge impact. If we were to point to the originator of the human potential movement and the culture of personal and organizational development, it would be him.

Here is an excerpt from Tribute to est:

Since we have been raised and educated in a you or me world, and since very few of us have noticed the shift to you and me, we are going to have to work out the rules for living on our own. We won’t get much help. Werner shared his own perceptions of some of the other new rules, or operating principles, for the you and me context.

  • Respect the other person’s point of view, whether or not you agree with it. Recognize that if you had their history, their circumstances, and the forces that play on them, you would likely have their point of view.
  • Consider life a privilege €“ all of it, even the parts that are difficult or seem a waste of time.
  • Give up the islands that reinforce mediocrity, the safe places where we gossip and complain to one another, where we are petty.
  • Take a chance. Be willing to put your reputation on the line; have something at stake.
  • Work for satisfaction rather than for credit
  • Honor your word. There will be times when the circumstances of life will make you forget who you are and what you’re about. That is when you need to be committed to honoring your word, making what you say count.

To me, this is so supportive and inspiring. These words call me to step out of my own story as the youngest child, as a sensitive, intuitive, tenderhearted girl who was all but lost in her family. They support me to step into huge courage to speak and be open and honest about what my experience is, even when it is hard, even when it isn’t popular. This is an ongoing theme. I’m challenged whenever I’m not “being nice.” So the above could serve as a small manifesto for a personal revolution.

I want to elaborate and develop this kind of work. I want to stand on Erhards shoulders and reach for more. Especially at this time of such dire news and prognosis for the human species. There is no time nor space to waste on being less than who we can be, who we are called to be.

I’ve witnessed people go beyond mere respect for another’s point of view, although that is obviously a crucial first step. Ive witnessed what happens when people actually let others’ points of view have an impact on them, on their wounded ego-selves, on their thinking, on their very experience of who they are and what the nature of reality is. When people really open to one another experience, when they step out of their own egos and their own stories, they transcend their separateness and become creative as a group.

This is what interests me intensely, this potential for creativity that transcends individual genius.

So that’s what came out of the Transformation documentary.

sit with friends

Tim and I have a small group of friends who get together to do this work of dialogue for two or three days every couple of months.

It is pretty informal. It is, in turn, a big sleepover, the shared enjoyment of good food, a beginner’s knitting circle, catching up and shooting the shit, an occasional dose of ad hoc group therapy, and a handful of openings to sweet communion through dialogue.

Nobody is the designated leader, but Tim and I step into that role as required as we seem to be the lightning rods for this particular confluence. He and I, after all, eat and drink and breathe ego-diminishment as part of our own relationship.

And over the past year or so I’ve come to see that this seems why I came to the planet this time around. I accepted as my contribution to the cosmic story this part of the tangled bundle of psycho/spiritual stuff humanity is challenged to unravel and weave anew.

One of the knotted strands in my karmic bundle has to do with how to utilize anger without violence. To do that I’ve had to over and over take off both the mask of niceness as well as the mask of fierceness.

Another of the strands in my bundle is learning to walk the tightropes of compassion and fearless honesty, of bonding and boundary, of support and confrontation. As I watched the video of Erhard at work I witnessed someone else who walked similar tightropes. That was nice.

During this last sitting with friends, I was safe and serious enough to get a head of steam up, to increase the intensity in my voice, to risk not being nice but also of being “inappropriately” fierce when I confronted another’s persistent patterns that do not work for me, or for others, or for that person. I got to work the knots some more in those karmic strands of power and anger that I took on to unravel.

Many people are extremely wounded around these issues. Most reared in this culture have been hurt by the anger of parents, siblings, peers, teachers, and of other authority figures. In reaction, we hold back and attempt to bury our honest anger and frustration. We fear honest revelation, as it might hurt someone’s feelings.

We avoid expressing anger because of the hurt it may cause others, and for the hurt we risk if in response we receive the label of a bitch, or asshole, or prick.

There’s not really any final disposing of anger since with enough stress and conflict, well-buried anger generally erupts in “inappropriate” expression regardless, be that in elevated voice or tone or in snide verbal pokes, or it becomes internalized in depression or physical illness.

Learning to cleanly express anger and frustration effectively is a challenge for most of us. The key seems to be to engage in an ongoing practice of finding what’s true in the moment and what is reaction to the past, owning those and having the courage to be in a learning curve with it all.

the love boat

As Tim says, and as that article on reinforces, we are facing the possibility of human extinction.

Perhaps it is time to stop acting nice and start being honest.

Especially if you or I have a calling or a vision. Anything less than honesty honors not the predicament we face, the visions we can hold, nor the actions or creations we are called to. Nice was what we learned in the fifties. Real is what is called for now.

Not everyone wants to get on this Love Boat. But love is what its about for me. Real love, the kind that does one’s best to awaken the dreamer in the middle of the night as the family house goes up in flames.

That is I believe the same kind of love that also recognizes when a soul prefers to slumber on and die in sleep rather than jump up to face the flames, the smoke and the grief of leaving the burning house and its contents behind.

Love calls out, clearly, with the authentic effort to rouse the dreamer, but also has the peace and detachment to honor each individual own choice to leave the burning building, or not.

the choice

Do I want to wake up and leave all vestiges of the burning building of my Empire-based life, wounding, ego structures, attachments?

Or is it my souls wish to turn over and go back to sleep, living for what comfort may be had at these times? Do I face the end of the world as I have known it, head on, with all the feelings of anxiety and anticipation, loss and deep gratitude, courage and helplessness?

I get to choose and so does everyone else. I can truly respect another souls choice, regardless of what it is, because I dont need people to join me in a mass movement. It is now clear that it too late even for a mass global movement to change the trajectory of climate change.

So I can accept others and let them be if my attempts to awaken have brought either a drowsy denial or vehement ire. I can let go, having done my best, walk out of the burning building and find the others who have awakened to do the same.

So I sit with nest and est, with friends and grist, with life and death. And when I really sit with those, really feel what I feel, my experience is the best. However, when I deviate from my own true feelings, when I fall back asleep and do things that are contrary to my awake, alert, courageous self, it is generally a dark and restless spirit that invades my being.

That happened yesterday. I violated my own need to honor my time and attention and energy by attending a social gathering I didn’t really want to attend. When we returned home I took a nosedive.

I felt locked in the nightmare. Gratefully, I took the time to write and to feel. And then, quite spontaneously, after writing for a while in my journal, I made a list of all of the things I love. This is the list:

I love the deep conversation that takes people into intimate connection. I love watching birds. I love gardening. I love a good night’s sleep and dreams. I love journaling.

I love counseling. I love painting. I love writing. I love lying naked with Tim. I love cooking and eating really good food. I love the smells of Vermont, especially now. I love knitting. I love being creative. I love easing into the day with gentle yoga. I love being alone in nature.

Upon writing that I felt moved to go to the garden, to smell the soil as I pulled away the competing plants from those I’m choosing to cultivate, to cut kale and pick beans and share them with the elder-care home where we have our garden. I also cut collard greens and picked tomatillos and jalapenos. It was good.

So the grist to chew on is that there is no going back to the climate or energy or soil or water of the 1950’s or 60’s or ’70s. That’s all over. Do we wake up or go back to sleep?

My choice is to awaken as fully as I can while I’m here. There is so much to love.

Written by Timothy Bennett
An artist and filmmaker who has lived in North Carolina for eighteen years. Born and raised in rural Michigan, he began his inquiry into environmental and cultural issues in the late 80s. His talent for "big-picture thinking," along with his ability to see through the taboos, denials, and orthodoxies of our culture.