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John Enright Dictionary


The following notes have been taken from two sources: first, the three-day  course that Gestalt workshop leader John Enright gave at a three-month resident fellowship program in April 1976; and, second, at a series of “Awareness, Responsibility, and Communication” workshops given by his ARC Associates, from 1977-1979.

John passed on in 2004.

The John that I knew was a “circuit rider” in the 1970s, visiting growth centers like Esalen and Cold Mountain as part of human-development programs.  I would compare him in insightfulness with Werner Erhard, which is not faint praise.

Here are three of his publications that you may enjoy:

John Enright,  “Waking Up from the Nightmare” [an appreciation of Fritz Perls],

John Enright, Enlightening Gestalt. (1980: Pro Telos.)

John’s articles in Fagan, J & Shepherd, I.L. Gestalt Therapy Now (1970: Harper Row)


CMI = Workshop at Cold Mountain Institute Resident Fellowship, Cortes Island, B.C., Canada

ARC = Awareness Responsibility and Communication Workshops, held in Vancouver, B.C., Canada


My seminar is hard-nosed permission giving. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

You already are doing only what you want to do. You don’t need to change. You just need to accept what you’re already doing. You don’t have to change anything to have everything be perfect. It’s perfect right now. You just have to recognize that it is. (John Enright, 1980.)


Whatever you focus your energy on, you’ll get to be an expert at. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


Unawareness leads to momentary relief and continuing pain; awareness leads to momentary pain and continuing relief. (CMI, January 20, 1979.)

Being Right or Being Happy

Most people, given the choice between being right and being happy, will definitely choose being right. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Blaming – See Responsibility


Five basic pitfalls in making choices:

1. Choice by default.

2. Escape-hatch non-choice.

3. Killing the alternative.

4. Myth of “sufficient information.”

5. Need for equal and opposite choices.

(CMI, April 15, 1976.)


Communication takes place when the first speaker communicates an experience which the second speaker experiences and acknowledges. Experiencing and acknowledging it is a process not of taking it on or affirming its rightness for one’s self, but of experiencing the other person’s reality and recognizing that it is the other person’s universe, and then letting the matter go. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

If we concern ourselves with whether an experience is right or wrong, we are channeling the other person’s experience through our considerations of reality – we are not allowing in the other person’s experience of reality. We can say, “I see you believe the Third Reich to have been a good thing,” without accepting the other person’s reality, and adding for our own comfort, “I don’t agree with your view of the matter, nonetheless.” (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

When we judge the other person’s experience as right or wrong, we are not experiencing it ourselves. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Communication – Personal vs. impersonal

There are no such things as personal and impersonal things. There are only personal things made plain and personal things disguised. Everyone is always trying to say something deeply personal all the time. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Communication – Taking the audience’s nonverbal feedback

Your audience reacts to you according to its estimation of your grounding, direction and intention.

If your grounding is off, your audience will likely respond by getting bored, yawning, lying down, dozing off, etc. If you were to ask them what’s wrong, they would likely say that they are tired, and not that your grounding is off. Check your grounding for yourself, accepting their non-verbal feedback as information. If your grounding is off, get out of your head and into something on which you are well-grounded, in which you can speak from experience.

If your direction is hazy, people may respond with frustration, though not necessarily anger. They may quiz you on “So what?” kinds of issues, the questioning underlying their probing being “Where are you taking us?” If you’re well-grounded and directionless, the audience may hang in with you, simply looking puzzled and confused, perhaps scratching their heads or crossing their arms, as if to say, “What’s your point?” Check out your direction and lay out your destination, the point you are trying to make or steering towards. Again, if you ask for verbal feedback, the response may or may not be helpful. For example, someone saying, “I’m lost” may mean, not “I don’t understand” but “I don’t know where you’re taking us and I want to know.”

If you’re allowing competing intentions to guide your actions, without raising them to your audience, the listeners may respond with irritation or hostility. The slow asking of a question when you are feeling rushed but haven’t expressed it may be designed to force you to share with the audience what’s going on. The angry response from someone who feels manipulated may signal to you that you are asking the audience to do something implicitly, without having laid out that that is what you want done, why or how.

For example, you may ask the audience to engage in an exercise and stress that it must be done in a certain way which is inconvenient and for which there is no discernible reason apparent situationally. The audience becomes angry until you tell them that you want to use the data in your thesis and for that reason need it in the form you specified: using the data in your thesis is a competing intention here. Raise your extra considerations (or competing intentions) to the audience, and the hostility, if it exists because of them, will likely disappear. (ARC, Feb. 1978.)

Communication – Sidestepping an argument

When a person states a contentious position to begin an argument, we can sidestep it by saying, “I have no decided views on the matter but I’d be interested in hearing yours.” If we stay with this position, the argument will likely never get started. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)


There are no small decisions or big decisions; there are only decisions to be made now. (CMI, April 9, 1976.)

Doing and Digging It – See also Payoffs

If you’re doing it, you’re digging it. Or there’s a payoff. (N.d.)

Fundamental formula for life:

Do = Dig + Payoff

Do – Dig = Payoff

(CMI, April 10, 1976.)


Doubt is chronically-energized uncertainty. Doubt is the “hold-basket” of life. Uncertainty relates to outcomes of events; doubt is what you add in considering outcomes. (John Enright, Cold Mountain Institute, Apr. 15, 1976.)

One way to get out of doubt is to choose. To choose is to select among alternatives freely and after consideration. Victim is helpless child; doubt is adult. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

These are the payoffs for doubt:

(1) Doubt maintains the illusion of endless opportunity. If you open new doors, you never close one.

(2) Doubt is image-management – looking busy, working on it. Doubt can be enjoying control, keeping them dangling, keeping everyone waiting, or keeping them on the hook. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)


Don Juan: “Ego starts as a guardian and ends as a guard.” (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Being wrong is to the ego what death is to the body: it is ego-death to be wrong. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Emotions – See Feelings


Every day there are two things out there: what is and what you do with it (what you add to it). There are two things you can do with something – make it better or make it worse. The first is longing and the second is anxiety. Both are what we add to experience. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Experiencing can be done quietly, and you can have noisy pillow slamming without experiencing anything. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


We allow ourselves to feel high, low, and low about low. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

There are two sources of stimulus when an emotion is generated. The emotion might be in response to an actual situation (a tiger attacks, a person is slugged, etc.) or it might be in response to the remembered idea of the situation (we remember the tiger attacking or the person being slugged). We can thus divide emotions into these two categories and list them:

Situation-Stimulated Self-Stimulated
Anger Resentment
Joy Sentimentality
Fear Anxiety
Grief Self-Pity
Longing Envy
Inadequacy Jealousy

(CMI, April 8, 1976.)

The check for a situation-stimulated or self-stimulated emotion is whether or not it needs an audience for its expression.

In the expression of self-stimulated emotions, moreover, we express it and more comes up. We refill our pity pots endlessly, for example, because we do not move through self-pity to the grief that underlies it. Once the grief is fully experienced we have no more basis for self-pity on that score. Nostalgia literally ain’t what it used to be – which is joy. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Feelings – Resentment

Resentment is remembered anger. If you continue to feel angry around a person, then you don’t feel safe around that person and you’re continuing to hold your guard high while feeling chagrined over wanting something from him and not wanting to be denied.

It’s like keeping the back burner on so that the soup will remain hot and you’ll be able to turn up the heat quickly to bring things to a boil.

There are two possibilities in the situation from which your resentment springs. Either the person resented did what they did intentionally or else the person was negligent. If negligence is seen and proven, then you need to decide whether or not they are willing to change. If malintention is seen and proven, then you need to decide whether or not the other person can be pacified or should be avoided.

If the person does an action and seems to want to hurt you thereby, is there a way in which staying with the situation confirms your view of reality [that is,] is perfect for you? (ARC, Dec. 1977.)


Kazantzakis’ gravestone says, “I want nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

The biggest obstacle to being there is thinking that you are there. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Fuzziness, Vagueness

Fuzzophilia is the desire not to know what it is you are really doing. (CMI, April 8, 1976.)


My goal in life right now is to escape from the results of pursuing my last goal. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Guilt – See Image Management

Happy – See Being Right or Being Happy

Have to and Want to – See Want to and Have to

Image Management

Self-blame is just another aspect of image management. It informs the other person that we know the error we made and prevents that other person from feeling able to call us on the error. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Guilt is the price you pay for clinging to an image in spite of the way you’re behaving. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Guilt is “Class B” membership in the club. The guilty smoker is not a righteous non-smoker, but he is more righteous than the not-guilty smoker.

Guilt is simply a facet of image management. Why not do it and admit that you’re digging it? If you don’t intend to stop, then groove on what you’re doing. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Just acknowledge that you have done things and then go on. Everything else is image management. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


We’re smiling machines, hooked into each other. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


What is your intention at this moment? Whatever your intention is, you’ll probably realize it. If you try to make someone appear wrong, you’ll probably end up doing it. If you want to prove they’re right, you will.

Whatever you do with a clear intention will work; whatever you do with a dirty intention won’t work. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

A man can say to a woman, “Haven’t I seen you before?” And she can reply, “Is that what you say to all women you want to meet?” or she can say, “I don’t think so. My name is Susan.” It depends on what she wants to have happen. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


If my life were a TV show, I’d have turned it off. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

At the end of life, there will be two kinds of people: those who have lived full lives and those who are full of good reasons why they haven’t. (N.d.)

No, I’ve made up my mind. Life is not what I want. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

The Past

The past is you in the present, remembering events. In a sense, you cannot be otherwise than in the “here and now” because the past for you is a figment of your imagination in the “here and now.”

You remember how you chose to act in the past. You choose to remember certain details and overlook others, according to your wants and intentions right now.

You choose to present events to your listeners in a certain way, for purposes that exist right now. You’re choosing in the present to lock energy on certain issues that exist in the moment. Locking energy in the ways you do benefits you in some way. Look at what the benefits are to see what it is you want.

When you see what it is you want, consider whether you would rather take the energy off the past and move to secure the object of your longing now or stay with nostalgia and longing. (ARC, February 15, 1978.)

Payoffs – See also Doing It and Digging It

If you’re doing it, you’re digging it. Or there’s a payoff. (N.d.)

If you stay with the blues, you’re either avoiding a great pain or else getting a payoff. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

When a person makes the same “error” four times, we should look for the payoff. The payoff in a woman marrying her fourth alcoholic may be confirming the way the world is. She loves the familiar over the unfamiliar. No matter how bad it is, there’s no place like home. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Payoffs are learned solutions and when you learned them they were the best around. But they aren’t anymore. They are like the mouse accepting a small shock for pressing the bar because if he doesn’t he will get a bigger shock from the floor of the cage. But the cage has been electrically disconnected for years and so the mouse’s reaction is obsolete. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Every bit of shit hanging around gathers payoffs around it. It’s useful to hang onto the shit as long as you value the payoffs. The payoffs lock the charge on the shit. Once you accept responsibility, you dissolve the glue of the payoff. Acknowledging payoffs, accepting responsibility, and taking the consequences gets rid of the shit. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


You don’t have to change anything to have everything be perfect. It’s perfect right now. You just have to recognize it. (N.d.)

You already are doing only what you want to do. You don’t need to change. You just need to accept what you are already doing. (CMI, April 8, 1976.)

Personal vs. Impersonal – See Communication – Personal vs. impersonal


Brandy and water. Scotch and water. Bourbon and water. Gets drunk. Conclusion: it must be the water. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Your premises determine what happens to you in life. They determine what you do, and what data you select out from all that comes toward you. They determine how you experience and how you interpret your experience.

Whatever your premises, then, your experience will almost automatically verify them. Usually you don’t know your premises, but they can be brought to your attention, at first by others and later by yourself. You can then know your premises but you won’t be able to change them, and yet they will change. The harder you try to change them, usually the less easily they will change. (ARC, November 1977.)


Our bodies are made for the real world and we no longer live in it. We are isolated from it by our artifactual environment. We need TV violence to get us going. A few actual bang-up fights would be the equivalent of numerous TV fights. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

The problem you have now is a solution to one you had earlier, and a better solution than one you’d be in were you to solve it and have a new problem. If it weren’t better, then you’d solve it.

Why is it that you don’t solve your problem? What problem would it lead to if you did? What would be the unfortunate or uncomfortable consequences of solving your problem? What’s the pain you avoid by having it? What’s the payoff you get from having it? Why not reclassify your problem? It’s not “Getting a Job” that’s a problem for you. It’s “holding on to Free Time.” (ARC, November 1977.)

We don’t have a choice between problems and no problems, but between high-quality and low-quality problems. Without situationally-stimulated emotions (in light of our removal from the “real” world) we’ve got to have something to do. Until we have some high-quality problems, we’re stuck with the low-quality problems we have. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

If you’re stuck in a problem, it’s because it’s the best one around. If you’re unhappy with your present one, get a new one (or buy one from someone else), one that turns you on more. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Ask yourself:

(1) What problem was this one originally a solution to?

(2) What problem did I have to solve to get the one I have now?

(3) What problem will be created by solving the problem I’m dealing with now? (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Keep a supply of high-quality problems around for the day you feel unhappy with the ones you’ve got. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)


What are you experiencing? What do you want? What do you fear? (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Tell me something you want to communicate to me about sex.

Notice something that you don’t want to communicate to me about sex. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

Ask yourself: What problem was this one originally a solution to? (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Ask yourself: What problem did I have to solve to get the one I have now? (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Resentment – See Feelings – Resentment


Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am master of my fate and captain of my soul. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Responsibility is acknowledging that my input is crucial and accepting its consequences. (N.d.)

Dealing with another’s part in things is blaming or trying to appear blameless. As such it is reducible to image management. Dealing with one’s own part in things is taking responsibility and seeking improvement and real change. (CMI, April 8, 1976.)

You may not be responsible for an event but you’re responsible for the meaning you give the event. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

When the avalanche is coming down on you, you can say, “Oh my God! It’s going to hit me!” or you can say, “Far out! What a way to go!” (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Not getting Getting
OK Saint Hero
Not OK Victim Villain

The Victim doesn’t get what he wants and doesn’t feel OK. The Villain gets what he wants and doesn’t feel OK. The Saint doesn’t get what he wants and feels OK. The Hero gets what he wants and feels OK.

In the Grid, you can’t cross two lines at once. You can’t get from Victim to Hero except through Villain or Saint. The way out of Villain or Saint is to accept where you are. Do it and dig it and five minutes later, you’re a Hero.

Some people get stuck in Villain because they settle for the payoffs of self-blame. (CMI, April 16, 1976.)

Right – See Being Right or Being Happy


Manipulative behavior is learned behavior which we admit is learned; spontaneous behavior is learned behavior which we don’t admit is learned. (N.d.)


Understanding is the booby prize in life; it’s what you settle for when you don’t get “it” out of life. (CMI, April 15, 1976.)

Want to and Have to

Want to = choice + good feelings. Have to = choice + bad feelings. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

Is paying taxes the lesser evil between the two options of paying taxes or paying a fine? It depends on the unmentioned third option. If the third option is inheriting a million dollars, then paying taxes is the lesser evil. But if the third option is getting executed, then paying taxes is the greater good. The point is not that paying taxes is “lesser” but that it is not necessarily an “evil.” A Bengali might welcome paying taxes to have a job. Paying taxes is not so bad as getting shot but worse than inheriting a million dollars. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)

I have to pay taxes. If I don’t pay taxes, then I pay a fine. I’d rather pay taxes than pay a fine. I choose to pay taxes. (CMI, April 10, 1976.)


Switching from “we” to “I” involves taking more authority. (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

“We” means “I for sure and I fantasize maybe you as well.” (ARC, January 20, 1979.)

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