On a March morning in 1971, Werner Erhard started his car and began the commute from his home in Corte Madera, California to his office in San Francisco. He was working for an encyclopedia publisher and headed to a meeting.
Erhard never made it there. Instead, he spent hours roaming around Twin Peaks, which overlooks San Francisco, trying to understand the epiphany that happened while he was driving.
Werner’s own description of this experience includes the following comments:
What happened had no form. It was timeless, unbounded, ineffable, beyond language. There were no words attached to it, no emotions or feelings, no attitudes, no bodily sensations.
Part of it was the realization that I knew nothing. I was aghast at that. For I had spent most of my life trying to learn things. I was sure that there was some one thing I didn’t know, and that if I could find it out, I would be all right.
I saw that the fundamental skew to all my knowledge, and to unenlightened mind, is survival, or, as I put it then, success.
In the next instant — after I realized I knew nothing — I realized that I knew everything…. It was so stupidly, blindly simple that I could not believe it.
I saw that there were no hidden meanings, that everything was just the way that it is, and that I was already all right.
Not only was I no longer concerned about success; I was no longer even concerned about achieving satisfaction. I was satisfied. I was no longer concerned with my reputation; I was concerned only with the truth.
I realized that I was not my emotions or thoughts. I was not my ideas, my intellect, my perceptions, my beliefs. I was not what I did or accomplished or achieved. Or hadn’t achieved. I was not what I had done right — or what I had done wrong. I was not what I had been labeled — by myself or others. All these identifications cut me off from experience, from living.
I was simply the space, the creator, the source of all that stuff…. Experience…is simply evidence that I am here. It is not who I am.
I no longer thought of myself as the person named Werner Erhard, the person who did all that stuff. I was no longer the one who had all the experiences I had as a child. I was not identified by my ‘false identity’ any more than by my ‘true identity.’ All identities were false.
I was whole and complete as I was, and I now could accept the whole truth about myself.
I had reached the end. It was all over for Werner Erhard.
For more about the work of Werner Erhard, see:
- Revisiting Werner Erhard and Essence of est
- Notes on the Landmark Forum: A Personal Distinctionary
- Further Reflections on the Landmark Forum
- William Warren Bartley III: Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of EST (Clarkson N. Potter, 1978).