Peeling the onion. Someone I admired (as in someone cool- they had their act together) used that phrase a long time ago. It was at EST. Yes; I was an EST-hole. I grew up in SoCali back in the 60s-70s. EST was big in the 70s.
EST stood for Erhard Seminar Training. You weren’t really “training” as much as you were purging. You and 249 other trainee’s would meet in a hotel conference room set up with row after row of straight backed chairs. You’d park your ass in the chair from morning to night for two consecutive weekends. Breaks for food or bathrooms were only allowed at the discretion of the “Trainor”. Rumors about people being tortured for hours with no food or potty breaks didn’t scare me. OK- maybe a little. But when I was offered a new set of luggage, or the EST training for my 18th birthday, I jumped at the training. How could I resist?
The Trainor started each day by talking about life. Life brings hard, painful things and we don’t always get time to deal with it; we are expected to suck it up and move on. Every insult from a kid on the playground, the time your friend turned on you. The cheating boyfriend. The disappointments, the losses. We just carry it around like a burden, adding layer upon layer until we are choking on the sorrow. That’s where the onion comes in. As you reexamine, experience and move past these ghosts from the past, you leave them behind. Each experience is peeled off like another layer of the onion. This leaves you lighter, relieved of the burden. So, the Trainor talked and healed. He’d talk of love, sorrow, disappointment, guilt, sadness, fears. It wasn’t always easy. Every time he got to a hard part, heads would nod. You see- we all have this bizarre sleep signal that helps us avoid things we really don’t want to hear.Jaws went slack, snorers would snore, droolers would drool. Then, the Trainor would casually throw out a comment about either sex or food. In every case the whole room woulld instantly be awake. Myself included.
I was 18 years old, and in a room full of strangers. We listened to the people- the brave ones who stood and shared their stories. This went on for 15-18 hours each day. Each story brought old memories to the surface of my mind. Old wounds became painful again. Old memories came back, bittersweet. Through it all, every time someone stood to share, they spoke for me. I recognized the stories as if I’d lived them. Who doesn’t know the pain of betrayal and loss? We left each weekend feeling connected; like blood brothers to these other 249 people. My soul knew theirs.
At the end of the training I walked out the doors lighter. I left behind most of the unresolved issues, hurts and angers. I felt shiny clean with a new start.
That was many years ago. The years have been very, very. Very good, very hard. The same as other people, I suppose. Years where I’ve tried to relish the joy, and have been denying and absorbing the joyless moments. The feelings of sadness, worry, pain and disappointment have been pushed to the back burner. Now, I see that I’ve done it again. Worse- I see it happening in children. Not just my own. I’ve seen kids be unspeakably mean to each other. Their vile words just take my breath away. I’ve seen grownups talking with kids in a way that makes my own stomach hurt. I want to cry for them- but I see them choke back the tears and force a smile. I can’t do this anymore. I’ve grown accustomed to the burdens, but I don’t want my kids to carry them.
There is no EST for them. I’m not sure what to offer them, except my love and and guidance. I can’t keep setting this example- I need to let go of the past and set the right example. I can’t do that here-it isn’t fair to expose the other players in this venue. I need to vent- and scream and cry. I need to write another blog that allows me to rant about all the bad things I’ve been pushing to the back corners of my mind. If I can just do that, with one layer at a time, I can be free.
I need to peel the onion. One layer at a time.