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

A Spirit And  A Soul? Really?

Alston Park, Napa Valley, California, USA

May 17, 2018

"Understanding is the booby prize." ... 
"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth." ... Jesus Christ

"What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air?" ... Don DeLillo
This essay, A Spirit And  A Soul? Really?, is the companion piece to

It was one of those late, late night TV re-runs at which, when it's four o'clock in the morning and you can't sleep so you're flipping through the channels looking for something to watch, anything  to watch, and there's nothing on, you may also have paused.

She, the host, the interviewer, seemed like a perfectly decent, polite woman. He, her guest, the interviewee, seemed like an equally decent, polite guy, sharing his observations / theories about how we human beings are constructed. He listed our components. In particular, he had a lot of the Freudian  notions down cold. Once he got started, I could tell there wasn't going to be enough time in the show for him to do justice to his detailed expositions of (to name but one) the tripartite  id, ego, and superego. Then, off on a tangent, he also unfurled his belief that we have both a spirit and  a soul, a point which evoked a slew of questions from the host.

Hmmm ... a spirit and  a soul? I mused. "Really?"  I said to the TV screen. Now I want you to know my "Really?" wasn't a statement of skepticism of, or rejection that we have both (we may in fact have both, and we may not: I just don't know). It was that the entire tone of the conversation was dull, cold, drab. It had no aliveness  to it, no alacrity, no sizzle. The look on both their faces was lifeless, devoid of spark, dreary - decent yes, but dreary. Even given everything he knew, it was dreary.

Listen: what good does it do for any of us to know human beings that way? What leverage  does it give us, if such knowledge doesn't uncover and unleash aliveness, alacrity, and joie de vivre  both for ourselves and others? At some point (and if you're smart, that point is now)  you should ask yourself: am I skewed  to understand and explain it all? Then: is that really  the way to have a fulfilled, creative, satisfied life? How would it impact you if the drawn line was such that you're compelled to choose ie be a stand for  one or the other? What would you have to give up to make that choice? ie to take that stand? Even more to the point, what would become available to you that isn't available to you now? Making that choice ie taking that stand even without understanding, is (one could say) transformation's tipping point.

I've had the opportunity (because I've taken the time) to test and validate this hypothesis on any number of occasions. Here, presented next, are two of them.

 Zen for Mensa*

Mensa  is an international society whose only qualification for membership is you must score in the top two percent of all scores on a standardized IQ  (Intelligence Quotient) test. "Mensa" is the Latin word for "table" - as in: Mensa is a round-table  society, where race, color, creed, national origin, age, politics, educational and social background are irrelevant. On a whim I took the Mensa test and passed it. Meeting Mensa graduates was inspiring and, given their literally mind-boggling intelligence, challenging particularly when I shared my experience of Werner and his work with them. In order to give my remarks some context since nobody in that group had ever heard of Werner, I described him as an American Zen master (that's not 100% true I might add, but it's good enough for jazz). His work I said, was living  Zen "but without the BS". They loved that, and invited me to give a seminar for them which I accepted. I titled the presentation "Zen for Mensa: Zen and Werner's work" which begat the title of another essay in this collection, Zen And Werner's Work. About twenty people attended. The conversation was rapt and lively.

What fascinated the Mensa graduates most was the minutiae ie the details comprising the moment Werner became enlightened - or to use the term Werner prefers, the moment he became transformed  (Werner has said that "enlightenment" has an eastern connotation which he doesn't require; he prefers the term "transformation" and doesn't refer to what happened to him as enlightenment).

I knew of no better way to share that  moment on the Golden Gate Bridge with them than to read the electrifying coverage of it verbatim from Professor William "Bill" Warren Bartley III's official biography of Werner titled "Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man - The Founding of est". I sat in front of the room raised up on a bar stool reading from chapter nine called "True Identity" in part III of the book "Transformation". There, in an account called "Once Upon A Freeway", Werner openly shares with Bill the exact moment  he got it - the Big "IT". As Bill says, "somewhere between Corte Madera and the Golden Gate Bridge, the man in the car on the freeway was transformed" (Werner later specified the exact location as on the Golden Gate Bridge itself). It was a priceless moment. There I was, reading  to some of the most brilliant minds on the planet who were listening every word of that extraordinary account with jaw-dropped astonishment. You could have heard a pin drop.

And the beauty of it all ie the profundity  of it all, was that no  one in that room full of such brilliant minds understood  what happened to Werner. No one. But man!  listening it, were they  lit up, animated, and excited! It inspired  them that this grand opportunity to be something bigger than ourselves  has become available and accessible. When that fish walked up on land for the first time, it brought with it elephants and eagles like a possibility. They got it. The Mensa graduates really got it.

Double PhDs And Self-Taught Me

I taught myself to lead guest seminars by observing Werner leading guest seminars. Today the programs and measures you're required to complete to be certified to lead guest seminars (aka introductions)  are rigorous, extensive, thorough, intrusive, very down, and demanding. But in the old  days we got it by being around Werner. What I taught myself about leading guest seminars by being around Werner, morphed into leading technical  seminars. I started a mainframe computer software training business which, in a tip of my hat  to the enterprise titled WE&A  (Werner Erhard and Associates), I titled LP&A  (Laurence Platt and Associates).

The duration of each LP&A technical seminar wasn't three hours on average like an introduction: it was three, seven hour days  on average - sometimes longer: five days. Sometimes they went even longer: ten days. That meant I stood in front of rooms full of very  intelligent technical people, some of them double PhDs, coaching, delivering material, and answering intricate technical questions seven hours a day for up to five or ten days straight ... for twenty years. I think it's fair to say the way that process trained me, was unusual, unique, difficult to replicate, and its impact was so intimate that even I didn't realize at the time exactly what was happening.

No one taught me how to do it - I just taught myself while on the job. When you're at the leading edge of a conversation - any  conversation, actually, but in this case the leading edge of a very conceptual intricate technical conversation - and you're speaking it for seven hours a day for up to five or ten days straight, creating objects and systems neither in nuts  and bolts  nor in bricks and mortar but rather in words  and concepts, it's a training in and of itself for the speaker. I learned to think on my feet. I learned to think fast  on my feet. I learned to think deep  on my feet ... and  ... I learned to share my thoughts as works in progress, out loud in front of worldwide auditoria full of people (it's required  that you vanquish any trace you may have of stage-fright  before you can even attempt to do something like this).

The conversations themselves and the kinds of questions they elicited weren't in the order of "Which plug goes in which socket?". They were much more abstract and much more complex than that. I learned to use language very precisely. I also learned it was OK to not have all the right answers  ... at least, not immediately. But if ie when  I couldn't answer a question, I wrote it down, researched it, then got the answer which I presented to the group later. I learned it was OK to think through and to speak through  abstract and complex issues in front of the group until we all came up with if not the right  conclusions then at least with good, useful  conclusions.

It's been nearly thirteen years now since I retired LP&A (I've worked very, very hard to make my life very, very  simple). Yet none of those skills have withered one bit. Although I'm not likely to, I could blow the dust off them and kick-start them again in a heartbeat if I wanted to. If anything, they're more honed now and they imbue me more now than they ever did in the halcyon LP&A days. And if they're no longer applied to mainframe computer technology as they once exclusively were, they're now applied to Life itself and in particular to these Conversations For Transformation in which they're arguably much more useful, and reach a vastly  wider audience.

Here's LP&A's bottom line (it's the impact of what I call the "Werner interface"  in all my technical presentations): when people are inspired, they grasp things easier. I could do for double PhDs what they couldn't do for themselves technically, simply by being with them in a way that was inspiring around intricate technical subjects. "Tech" can be hard to grasp. But if it's delivered in a context of authentic aliveness, alacrity, and joie de vivre, then miraculously  it comes alive. It becomes graspable.

How and why does that work? Dunt esk. I do have some of my own ideas. But my explanation will be worthless  if what you want to get is how to be inspiring in that way (you know, all explanations are the menu not the steak, and understanding is the booby prize, yes?). It's a subject for another conversation on another occasion.

The Big Money Question

Now the big money  question is not  "Do we have both a spirit and  a soul?". Even so, do we? You know, I still don't know. Really I don't. We may have both, and we may not. I just don't know.

No, the big money question is "Is it worth pursuing  the question 'Do we have both a spirit and a soul?'?". And I don't know the answer to that one either - at least, not yet. This, however, I do  know: if pursuing that question uncovers and unleashes aliveness, alacrity, and joie de vivre  both for ourselves and for others, then I would be very, very  interested in it, and I would pursue it whole-heartedly.

* The original Zen for Mensa presentation I've re-created here, took place in Cape Town South Africa in 1979 when, fulfilling a promise I made to Werner at 2:00am one morning over a midnight snack of asparagus spears and cream cheese in the kitchen of his San Francisco home, the Franklin House, I went there, and over the course of a year led the first series of ten guest seminars around the country in the major cities, causing the first one thousand enrollments in South Africa which inexorably started Werner's work there.

That chapter of my life and what it made possible for South Africa, is the subject of another essay in this internet series of essays, titled The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In Sourth Africa.

The South African Afrikaans  language translation of the English word "people" is "mense", which you pronounce exactly the same way as "Mensa": men-suh.

Zen for Mensa. Zen for mense. Zen for people.

Isn't that wild? Isn't that perfect?  Isn't that the way Zen's s'posed to be? That's Werner's work.

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