Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Transformative Technology

I have been reading about Werner Erhard after watching his documentary over the internet the other day. It struck me as the next step toward self-transformation. I had heard about est (or Erhard Seminar Training) a long while back but the controversy or noise swirling about est prevented me from studying it further. Instead I studied other forms of techniques like Silva Mind Control, Zen Buddhism,  transcendental meditation, readings about Eastern philosophers like Krisnamurti, Greek classical thought like Stoicism and the basics of Socratic thought (‘know thyself’ or ‘an un-examined life is not worth living’), Confucianism,  Taoism and Edward de Bono (‘six thinking hats’). Furthering the learning process along, one started to write to make sense of the ideas that came swirling in; mostly as diary writing. I had read recently that Obama used to write every day to help in his thinking; hence writing has turned out to be a technology for self-transformation by increasing understanding and improving the quality of thinking. The confusion came when the act of writing was thought to be a start of a creative writing career instead of an act of self-improvement and sanity.

This effort soon evolved by reading the writings of Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey especially his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. This became an important part of my development as one strove to achieve a holistic growth of the whole person. Soon this became a foundation for personal growth in addition to regular diary writing which eventually evolved into ‘blogging’. I have experimented with other self- transformative technology like:

Mind mapping – visual thinking techniques to clarify thoughts and understanding by associations
Toastmaster – self-help public speaking organization that develops leadership and confidence in speaking
Blogging – evolution of journal writing into a public forum, initially as a way to learn about new trends in the internet

This drive for self-improvement was driven by my early readings mentioned earlier and evolved with the discovery of thinkers like Edward de Bono, Joseph Campbell and Eckhart Tolle. But I realized that Werner Erhard had taken a further step into developing a technique that extends all the learning of self-development (basically Zen Buddhism) into a program that can be taught to people in a seminar. His aggressive and sometime off-putting ‘in your face’ technique is similar to those Buddhist sages of the past who provoke enlightenment by drastic means. He has termed his work as a ‘technology’ - a tool that can used to transform oneself. Inadvertently I have been heading towards this path with my journal writing (or self-reflection) with the intended effect of clarifying thought plus the addition of mind-mapping. This also led me to ‘cognitive therapy’ which helped me alter my thinking by analyzing stressful situations in my life (especially in Singapore) and reach alternative interpretations. Hence, it was an act of changing one’s perception to events happening to me which is similar to certain teachings of est.

Toastmaster was a further advance as it brought experiential learning into the picture, in a ‘club’ or public setting; where one gets feedback and learns from a group of people, similar to a seminar setting as in est. Studying Werner Erhard brings me full circle by clarifying the objective of self-transformation, it’s the missing link that makes sense of the different strands of my journey, bringing in the collective and experiential learning of Toastmaster, self-understanding via cognitive therapy and journal writing and the clarity of thought brought about by mind mapping and writing, all within the framework of spiritual growth as embodied in Zen Buddhism, although est attempts to remove the mambo jumbo of religion. This is a calculated move to make their teachings acceptable to a secular world but possibly a mistake. Meditation and techniques like Tai chi or yoga are also trans-formative technologies that also change people to become better selves.

This is true trans-formative technology not the electronic or digital kind that is marketed by iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows 8 or cloud technology and so on. Of course, it does make one’s life more efficient and productive by freeing up more time. It provides ‘space’ but perhaps the wrong type of space because without spiritual growth, one is just tempted to fill space with more clutter and distracted activities. It also increases distraction by multiplying the temptation available; hence one is always downloading the latest app or monitoring the latest trends or cool idea. It becomes a rat race where one is ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Perhaps that has been my problem as I seek to be transformed by all means possible including chemical such as alcohol. These are all external influences which may provide a misguided sense of transformation. Unlike meditation, cognitive therapy, journal writing, Toastmaster and, yes, est which all provide a means towards real transformation. This requires work and diligence unlike the latest digital gadget or app that can be easily purchased or downloaded.

Perhaps this is why digital technology has become a way of life with the popularity of the latest Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon product; it masks a real need for spiritual transformation which cannot be obtained in the previous manner – by religion. In other words, the failure of organized religion had made digital technology popular as a fast means to transform one’s life by freeing space through labor-saving techniques. But that is not the answer. Werner Erhard via his est technique moves you away from all sorts of self-delusions (or rackets) including the fixation on digital products. I plan to read more about est to achieve real growth especially as I strive to be a writer. Becoming a writer requires self-transformation by creating a new mind set, to overcome self-doubt and self-inflicted criticism. This cannot be achieved with the latest iPad or the latest book but by a self-disciplined technology like meditation and trans-formative learning like est and Toastmaster.

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