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




Be What You Are

Nickel & Nickel, Oakville, California, USA

May 13, 2018

"It's much easier to ride the horse in the direction he's going." ... 
"Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth." ... Alan Watts
This essay, Be What You Are, is the companion piece to Space For Redemption: When "I'm Sorry!" Isn't Enough.

It is also the sequel to Common Man Common Place.

I am indebted to Donovan Copley who inspired this conversation.




Here are the four words which comprise arguably the  quintessential injunction of living: "be who you are". This phrase is the watchword chanted by everyone from the ancient yogis in the Himalayas, to the modern women and men of the United States army (who recast them as "be all you can be"), and everyone else in between. Yet looking closer, there's actually something prior to being who you are ie there's something even more fundamental  than being who you are: it's being what  you are.

What's the difference? It's what  we are, with its mysterious, extraordinary, miraculous propensity for being Self-aware, from which who  we are becomes possible.

Now, upon reflection, both "be who you are" and "be what you are" as injunctions, seem quite odd. Really? How so? OK: be who you are: how is it even possible to not  be who you are? And be what you are? How is it even possible to not be what you are? Don't believe me? Test it. Try this on for size: you're a human being, so just for a moment, don't  be a human being. See what I mean? Wouldn't it be odd to have "be a human being" as an injunction for us human beings when we're already human beings?  Yet in the ontology of being human, our lives are off-kilter  to the degree that we're not being either who we are, or what we are, or both.

In the life of every human being there are Self-defeating actions - literally: they're actions which defeat Self. They're actions which get in our way of experiencing Self, actions which get in our way of being  Self, actions which get in our way of living our lives as enough. They get in our way of being who we are and what we are.

When I look at my own Self-defeating actions which get in my way of living my life as enough, it's easy to see they don't forward anything. However, if I tell the truth about it unflinchingly, I notice what gets in my way even more with living my life, is the significance I add  to the way my life goes (or the way it doesn't go). That's  wherein the trouble lies: with added significance. It isn't with who I am or what I am (and it's even less with what I do  than I ever imagined) wherein the trouble lies.

I am who I am, and I am what I am (remember the "who" is simply the "what" with its mysterious, extraordinary, miraculous propensity for being Self-aware). And since we can never not  be who we are or what we are (all double-negatives notwithstanding), avoiding being and expressing who we are and / or what we are, isn't a good way of handling the issues we have with the way our lives are going - you know, the issues which we bring on ourselves by adding significance.

For me, what re-trues* Self-defeating actions and mitigates added significance, is entertaining the possibility that adding significance isn't something I do:  rather, it's the automatic functioning of the machinery. Mitigating the impact of added significance doesn't require life-altering changes in behavior. It requires (ie what works is) simply noticing the automaticity of the significance-making machinery, then looking to see if you're willing to give up identifying with it. That's all. And it works. Why?

Identifying requires two:  1) I who identifies; and 2) that with which I identify. But "There is only one!"  (as the Highlander may have bellowed). We're not that with which we identify. Neither are we the identifying process itself. Identifying comes from misconstrued inherited notions that who we are and what we are, isn't enough.

Be who you are: it's enough (adding significance isn't required); be what you are: it's enough (adding significance isn't required). Really.


*   Merriam-Webster's dictionary allows true  as a transitive verb: to make level, square, balanced, or concentric; bring or restore to a desired mechanical accuracy or form.


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