Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


And Where Do You Think You're Going?

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

November 12, 2014



This essay, And Where Do You think You're Going?, is the companion piece to I am indebted to Charlene Afremow and to Alan Watts who inspired this conversation, and to Joseph Kempin who contributed material.



Most of the essays in this Conversations For Transformation internet series of essays, emerge fully formed in one integral unit. Once the source idea appears, it's all I can do to make my fingers keep up with writing their words down as fast as they reveal themselves to me - which is to say, as they use  me. Others aren't so easy. The not so easy ones tread that fine line between what everyone knows to be true, and that which is fundamentally and profoundly flawed - you could perhaps say that which is fundamentally and profoundly epistemologically  flawed. In such cases I have to intervene, being mindful to speak through  what everyone knows to be true, so that the flawed abstract which underpins it, can be fleshed out and seen for what it is. Such essays are the hardest essays to write. They're also the hardest conversations to have. And the hardest conversations to have, by the way, are those with which Werner Erhard is a master.

<aside>

So that we're clear about what I just said: when I write these Conversations For Transformation, I don't intend to write them the way Werner would write them. I can't do that because that's not available to me. Rather, I intend to write them the way I  would write them.

<un-aside>

In particular, I'm referring to the subject of this essay: our culture's built-in  premise (our culture's built-in obsession  with, actually) that there's some place to get to in life. Most of our sense of having to achieve, most of our sense of having to accomplish, indeed most of our sense of worth  and worthiness is bound up with this flawed notion of having to get somewhere  in life. Getting somewhere in life, implies worth, worthiness. Not getting anywhere in life, implies no worth, worthlessness.

At the outset of this conversation, just as at the outset of any conversation for transformation, it's worth noting that transformation doesn't change our sense of having to achieve, our sense of having to accomplish. Rather it recontextualizes  (I love  that word) our sense of having to achieve. What's also worth noting in a conversation such as this one, is it's just possible we drive ourselves to achieve, we drive ourselves to accomplish, simply because we don't know how (and because we're uncomfortable with not knowing how) to stand flat-footed still, and simply be.

We live as if (which is to say, it's unexamined  yet embedded in our knowing what life is about ie it's embedded in our epistemology) that there's somewhere to get to in life, that there's somewhere we should  get to in life, that there's somewhere we ought  to get to in life, that there's something to achieve in life, that there's something to accomplish (actually that there's something we must  accomplish) in life. So if I say we're goal oriented, achievement oriented, accomplishment oriented machines, that comes close - but it doesn't tell the full story, which is: we're goal oriented, achievement oriented, accomplishment oriented machines who haven't examined that we're goal oriented, achievement oriented, accomplishment oriented machines.

In not examining what we are, we're left with there's something to achieve in life (and often it's not even clear what that something  is - it could be wealth, it could be popularity, it could be prestige, it could be respect, it could be the pernicious past-based living up to our parents' expectations of us  ie living up to whatever we assume our parents' expectations of us are / were, it could be love or at least what we consider love to be, it could be the perfect relationship ie whatever we consider the perfect relationship to be), and that not  achieving it somehow implies being relegated to a wasted life, a worthless life, an unfulfilled life, an incomplete  life.

And so we drive ourselves, on and on and on, not even sure why we're doing it but doing it anyway, and (if the truth be told) never being fully satisfied regardless of whatever we happen to achieve anyway along the way. People who have achieved croesian  wealth who are famously dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and incomplete, are legion: just ask William Randolph Hearst aka Charles Foster "Citizen" Kane. Sir Paul McCartney, a billion and a half dollars of net worth fortune later, has famously and also endearingly observed one thing he's ongoingly afraid of is waking up one day and finding himself poor.

But wait: there's nothing to achieve, there's nothing to accomplish, there's nowhere to get to, there's no point, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes, this is IT!

OK, that's easy enough to say. Yet if it's going to have any value for you, then what's critical is how you hear it - which is to say, what's critical is how you listen  it. You can listen it as the forebearer of apathy, ennui, and existential angst. In fact isn't that the very characterized cartoonish  depiction of existential angst?: that there's nothing to achieve, that there's nothing to accomplish, that there's nowhere to get to, that there's no point etc? (and be sure to read all that in Christopher Robin's Eeyore's  One Hundred Acre Wood tone of voice, to get the full significant effect). But it's none of the above. To listen it as any of the above, only serves to bring into play your interpretation of what it's saying ie it brings into play your already always listening  of what it's saying.

Now there's nothing wrong with interpreting. We all do it - all the time. You wouldn't be human if you didn't interpret all the time. That said, you can't really get this as an interpretation. And if you do get it as an interpretation, there won't be much value in it. If you're really going to get it, if it's going to have any value for you, you have to be open to getting it as an experience. You have to be open to standing in its possibility as an experience without adding anything to it, and particularly without adding any interpretation to it. You have to be open to standing in the possibility of experiencing  there's nothing to achieve, there's nothing to accomplish, there's nowhere to get to, there's no point, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes, this is it. You have to be open to the possibility of experiencing yourself in a way that you've never experienced yourself before.

Listen: if you're hearing "there's nowhere to get to, there's no point" etc in a way which elicits existential angst, you're in good company. To be sure, if you're hearing it that way, you're in a lot  of good company. If you're left at the end of an existentialistic inquiry, disheartened with "there's nowhere to get to, there's no point, what's the use?"  etc, you won't be the first to be washed up on that particular far shore - so to speak.

Here's what's so great: Werner's work goes further than existentialism. Really it does. Rather than "there's nowhere to get to, there's no point, what's the use?" being a stop which (for some, at least) is the cause for apathy, ennui, and angst, it's actually a springboard to enormous freedom. Enormous freedom? How so? Like this: if there really is nothing to achieve, if there really is nothing to accomplish, if there really is nowhere to get to in life, then I'm totally free and unfettered to choose and to create  anything at all, anything worthwhile I want to create. What an enormous freedom is that!

When I speak about the futility of us driving ourselves to achieve, the futility of driving ourselves to accomplish, the futility of driving ourselves to get somewhere in life, I don't intend to disregard living powerfully, and neither do I intend to disregard inventing possibilities and a future worth living into. Really I don't. But this conversation isn't about that. This conversation examines the core, fundamental epistemologically built-in premise that if we don't  drive ourselves to achieve, if we don't drive ourselves to accomplish, if we don't drive ourselves to get somewhere in life (and you're already  somewhere in life, by the way - but that's a subject for another conversation on another occasion), then we won't - no, we can't  - be whole, full, and complete.

The thing is this: being whole, full, and complete isn't something to achieve. It's not something to accomplish. It's not a place to get to. Rather, it's a context to come from, a space to be  (if you will). And this context, this space is already here, so there's nothing for you to do about it except come from it ie except be it. Be the Self being the Self. But the Self is already  the Self (quite obviously). So there's nothing for you to do.

If you don't come from it now with your life exactly the way it is now  (and exactly the way it isn't now) without changing one thing  about it, if you don't come from it now with the conditions in your life exactly the way they are now (and exactly the way they aren't now) without changing one thing about them, if you don't be it now, exactly the way you are now (and exactly the way you aren't now) without changing one thing about yourself, it won't ever come to you with anything you achieve. Honest it won't!

Actually you already knew that all along, didn't you? And yet, we human beings being human, we press on blindly, regardless, ignoring this most obvious state of affairs about the nature of our being. If you don't come from it now, if you don't be it now, you won't get it from anything you accomplish. And where do you think you're going? If you don't come from it now, if you don't be it now, exactly where you are now (and exactly where you aren't now), it won't be there waiting for you, wherever you think you're going. Any notions to the contrary are just reinforced epistemological errors / habits which, with even the most elementary inquiries available from the work of transformation, can easily be distinguished and isolated for what they are, then disappeared - with dramatic, miraculous, and sublime results.



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