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

Barrier Reef

St Helena, California, USA

March 12, 2013

This essay, Barrier Reef, is the companion piece to
  1. The Original Jeffrey's Bay
  2. Already Always Listening
in that order.

It is also the third in a pentalogy on Barriers: It is also the eleventh in an open group on People: It was conceived at the same time as

The first time I saw him on the beach, I abruptly stopped talking in mid-sentence  and just stared at him. It's actually more accurate to say the first time I saw him, I was stopped  in mid-sentence. I was stunned.

I'm an unambiguously true blue, red blooded heterosexual male. That's my unswerving physical orientation. Having said that, I recognize physical beauty, whether it's in women or in men, when I see it. His physical beauty ie his physical presence  was beyond extraordinary.


To be clear, in those days when I referred to a person's physical presence I was referring to their features, to the way they looked - or, specifically, to what they looked like  ie to their "looks".

It would be another decade before I would discover distinguishing a person's presence of Self  ie their being.


What was stunning about his looks was the Michelangelo-an  arrangement of his face, his bone structure, his thick eyebrows and trimmed facial hair, and his tall, slim, muscular, perfectly proportioned tanned body. He wasn't beautiful in the classic model / Hollywood star  sense - he was too rough hewn from the marble  to be a classic beauty. Rather he was other-worldly. But if you had to call him beautiful, then his was a haunting  beauty, impossibly surreal. He was (for want of a better word) chiseled. Everyone, both women and men, saw this. No one could miss it.

He had an inner calm  (if you will) for which he was famous - at least locally. I didn't seek him out as a friend. Yet over the next few years our paths crossed many times due to interests we had in common. We never spoke a lot - just polite exchanges of greeting and recognition. And if we did hang out  together, he didn't talk much. He actually didn't talk much to anyone. Yet people wanted to give him things. They wanted to support him. They wanted to be near him, to be his friend, to be seen as his buddy. He was the kind of guy about whom it's said "Women want to be with  him, and men want to be  him.".

He wasn't aloof. He just naturally stood out from the crowd. His life unfolded as if by itself. He became successful (effortlessly) in his job - which involved international travel leading to inevitable international recognition and a glamorous international lifestyle. And then forty years (or more) flashed by, during which time I lost track of him completely - never saw him, never spoke with him, never heard about him, in fact didn't even know whether or not he was still alive.

Then one day I was invited to a birthday party. I'm not really a party guy. If I'm going to have company, I prefer to be with one or two friends at a time, rather than with large, loud, unfamiliar groups. But I accepted the invitation because I really did enjoy the host, and I enjoyed some of his friends whom I knew would be there. During the evening, I slipped out quietly to go for a walk and get some air on the expansive property surrounding his big farm-style house and its wrap-around porch. By the bright light of a very full moon, I noticed someone sitting swinging slowly back and forth on a swinging couch under a tree. As I walked nearby, I saw it was an old man. His skin was rough and blotchy. His face was wrinkled and saggy. His eyes were sunken into his head. His body, even while seated, was stooped - as if it was in an advanced state of osteoporosis. His sparse gray hair would soon be totally gone.

Not having anything particular in mind, I slowly walked over to him, quietly saying "Good evening Sir. Isn't this the perfect night to be sitting out here on a swinging couch under these trees on this spectacular property?". That's when he turned to look at me, and I saw his face full on.

I wasn't quick enough to catch and suppress the audible gasp of surprise which burst out of my mouth.

It was him. In spite of his now shockingly unbelievably old, disheveled, haggard (dare I say wasted?)  appearance, it was him. No doubt about it. Wow! Double shock. First, meeting him again so unexpectedly after all this time. Second, the reality of his looks today - none of which changes the fact I'm excited to see him again, I thought to myself as, accepting the sweeping invitation gesture he made with his arm, I sat down on the swinging, creaking couch beside him.

His story wasn't pretty - it was outright ugly, in fact - although he didn't tell it in a way which solicited sympathy or pity. To the contrary, he was very matter of fact  about it. He had won a lot, then lost a lot - physically, at least, that much was very obvious. Part of the problem (or so I thought, without saying so) was that his international recognition came to him largely as a matter of luck, largely as a roll of the dice  - as it were. It was never created by him intentionally in the first place. And luck (along with Life, being what it is) more sooner than later came up with the flip side of the coin which summarily ended his winning streak.

He was left with very little. However what survived intact was his famous inner calm which I could still hear in the sound of his voice, the same voice which, even if I didn't recognize his face, I would have known him by. And the thought which kept running through my head as we sat there, slowly swinging back and forth on the creaking couch in the moonlight, was "What else  happened? Something  else happened. But what? There was no need for this.".

I asked him what he's doing these days. He told me he's an avid reader, is interested in all philosophies, all paths, all religions, and all schools of thinking. He declared he's dedicated his life to finding the Truth  ... which he said in a way that made it sound grandiose and important and significant, yet elusive and tantalizing. He said he was determined to discover the Truth  before he died. Suddenly I could see what had happened. He had literally sacrificed his life in search of the Truth. He had literally given up everything he had in service to his quest. And it showed. Man!  did it show ...

I allowed a respectful, calculated pause to pass before I said "You know, there's nothing to get. This is IT. You're already whole and complete - exactly the way you are, and exactly the way you aren't.".

He was quiet, seeming to reflect on, to think about what I'd just offered. He didn't respond immediately. But when he did respond, I could tell there was no listening in it - there was no inquiry  in it. It was all his already pre-packaged point of view, an olio of concepts he's probably expressed thousands of times before. I tried another tack. I said (carefully, not knowing exactly what I was pressing into) "That's great ... and it's just a story  you made up about Life. It's not 'the Truth'. Given the notions we make up, even 'the Truth'  wouldn't fit.".

Again he was silent. The couch creaked. And when he started speaking again, I realized he would protect his way of thinking to the death  if necessary, regardless of how much it had cost him. He had more vested interest in preserving what he already knew, than in looking at possibilities outside his familiar realm of explanation. He was intelligent, brilliant in fact, when it came to expounding all the theories of Life he had amassed. But whatever I came back at him with, I couldn't get him to see what not  allowing himself to get "This is IT"  had cost him. In addition to his inner calm, I started to see what had also survived him all these years was a tired old point of view. And whether or not it had served him (and clearly it hadn't), he wasn't going to give it up for anything.

We'd been talking for about an hour. Then someone called out from the house "Laurence! Are you out here? We're toasting now.". "Yes. I'll be right there" I called back, and got up to go back to the house. Abruptly I turned to him and spontaneously leaned in and hugged him. As I hugged him, I completely and totally dropped any considerations I might have had about whether or not he'd listened to me at all. I said "Hey Man! It's been so good meeting you again like this after all these years. I'm glad you're here. All power to you Bro, and God bless!".

He looked at me and smiled, that once stunning Michelangelo-an smile, that once center of the world  smile, that now weather-beaten smile (no, that now weather‑damaged  smile), that now totally lost  smile.

He stayed sitting on the creaking couch, swinging back and forth slowly, after I left. I'd walked halfway back to the house ... when I just had  to turn around to look at him one more time. I realized how much I still loved the guy.

There he sat bathed by the moonlight, now with his back to me. His demeanor was like an island: independent - fiercely so (attractively  so, I thought). Around this island was a warm, clear lagoon: his social demeanor - calm, kind, still lovely, and inviting. And around this lagoon were all his defenses - all his already always listenings  protecting what he already knew, regardless of whether or not it had ever done him any good at all, regardless of the awful toll it had already clearly cost him in Life, not letting anything new in - protecting his island and its lagoon like a beautiful yet impenetrable barrier reef.

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