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


Beyond Breathing Underwater

Exertec, Napa, California, USA

February 24, 2013



This essay, Beyond Breathing Underwater, is the first in the seventh trilogy Questions For A Friend:
  1. Beyond Breathing Underwater
  2. Bold Faced Truth
  3. What You Create For Yourself About Me
in that order.
The first trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Prelude
  2. Ask Me Anything
  3. Coming Around Again
in that order.
The second trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Familiar Unfamiliar Territory
  2. Interview
  3. Straight Talk
in that order.
The third trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Dancing With My Mouth
  2. Cave Paintings
  3. Velvet Tsunami
in that order.
The fourth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Creating Creating
  2. Tell Me Something About Nothing
  3. Lucid Disclosures
in that order.
The fifth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Closer And Closer
  2. Tête À Tête
  3. Dancing With Life
in that order.
The sixth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. What Would I Ask You If I Could Ask You Anything?
  2. Wonderings About Nothing In Particular
  3. Tipping Point
in that order.
The eighth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Once In A Lifetime
  2. Fireside Chat
  3. Whole And Complete
in that order.
The ninth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Questions For A Friend
  2. Nothing Else I'd Rather Be Doing
  3. Free To Be And Free To Act
in that order.
The tenth trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. Attracted To Dance
  2. I Told A Friend I Love You
  3. Terse Transformed Communication
in that order.
The eleventh trilogy Questions For A Friend is:
  1. A Context Worth Playing In
  2. Tie The Brush To My Hand
  3. Questions For A Friend XI III (working title)
in that order.
This essay, Beyond Breathing Underwater, is also the fifth in a septology on Workability:


There are some things I can't do. Flying, for example. If God had meant me to fly, He would have given me wings (as Werner Erhard may have said). I can't make flying work - no matter how hard I try.

There are other things I can't do. Breathing underwater, for example. Yet I can make the un-workability of breathing underwater work, if I manage it appropriately.



Don't Mess With Unworkability



I kick off from the wall of the swimming pool, angling my body downward toward the pool floor, allowing my arms to trail slackly behind me, leaving a trail of rising bubbles in my wake. My pectoral  muscles brush the tiled floor as I move forward through the warm, skin temperature water, propelled only by slow kicks. It's quiet down here. Peaceful. Wonderfully cocooned.

I'd like to stay down here a while this way. The isolation is quite lovely ... until my lungs start telling me it's time to breathe. I ignore them, continuing to kick slowly, my chest brushing the tiled pool floor just barely ... and then my lungs warn me again  it's time to breathe, only more urgently  this time.

I'm playing a game with their warnings. Can I ignore them? I wonder - and if so, for how long? A pounding begins in my head, getting louder and louder. A burning takes over my chest, an unnatural sensation, an alarm  if you will. There's no mistaking its message: "Something's wrong! Something's wrong! Get air! Get air!". And I, ever playful with the machinery, say "Who said that? Who says so?". Casually I wonder if I can simply open my mouth and breathe underwater  ... and I notice I can't. I can open my mouth underwater, yes. But no matter what I do, I can't make  my lungs inhale underwater. In spite of my attempts to control them, they ... will ... not  ... inhale. "That's interesting" I muse. "There's a lock  somewhere, preventing them from breathing underwater.".

Now the warnings are much, much  louder: "Something's wrong! Something's wrong!  Get out! Get out now!". Alarm bells. Flashing red lights. Klaxons.

Again I wonder "Can I ignore them?". But before I can answer, my arms and legs, acting with a will all of their own, push hard against the pool floor, propelling me with such speed to the surface that I break free clean out of the water a foot or two into the air, splashing water everywhere. My mouth opens all by itself, sucking huge quantities of air into my now on fire  lungs with a heaving, breathy sound which says (no, screams actually) "Air! Air now!"  ... as slowly the burning in my chest subsides, the pounding in my head dissipates.



What Doesn't Work Doesn't Work, What Works Works



This isn't a trivial observation: breathing underwater doesn't work. There's no interpreting  this differently. There's no opinion  about this which, when expressed eloquently enough, gives sufficient insight to change it. There's no voting  for a different outcome for it. It just ... plain ... doesn't ... work.

But listen: I can make it work by allowing  for / by including  its unworkability - if you will.

Again I kick off from the wall of the swimming pool, angling my body downward toward the pool floor allowing my arms to trail slackly behind me, leaving a trail of rising bubbles in my wake. When the alarm sounds again saying "Get air! Get air!" I surface, take a breath of air, then angle my body downward toward the pool floor again, allowing my arms to trail slackly behind me, leaving another trail of rising bubbles in my wake. I cross the length of the pool a few times this way, swimming each entire length underwater, surfacing just long enough to take one breath of air for each crossing.

Unexamined, the lock preventing my lungs from breathing underwater, is simply on automatic. It's a no thought, lizard brain  survival mechanism. Examined, it offers a valuable distinction: what doesn't work doesn't work, what works works. By surrender  to what doesn't work, by not resisting  it ie by not trying to avoid its domination, I can manage it appropriately and have it all work.

The first step in this process of having it all work is being willing to simply stand still - flat footed  - and (without interpreting, without opinion, without voting, without preference, without "I'm gonna do this my way")  make the distinction between what doesn't work (unworkability) and what works (workability) - like this:

"That  doesn't work.".

"This  (on the other hand) works.".

Clean. Plain. Simple.



Pen, Paper, Swimming Goggles, You



I fetch a pen and a sheet of paper from the gymnasium office, taking them along with my swimming goggles back to the pool. There's going to be some splashing, so I wrap the pen and paper in a hand towel which I place on a styrofoam kick board. I set the styrofoam kick board on the lip of the pool at the end of the lane I'm swimming in. Then I put on my swimming goggles and resume swimming laps.

Swimming isn't only great exercise. It's also quiet, precious uninterrupted time for getting really creative work done. Whatever ideas I come up with while swimming laps, I write down with the pen on the sheet of paper on the kick board - carefully, so as not to turn the paper into soggy papier-mâché.

Our next scheduled exchange is coming up soon. I'm preparing the ten questions for you which will form the heart of our interaction. It won't be any ordinary exchange. They won't be ordinary questions. It'll be no business as usual  ordinary interaction either. As I swim, my intention is to come up with suitable questions, with worthwhile questions, with questions that work. After a few laps, I've written down about eight questions. After a few more laps, I've reconsidered the eight questions I've written down so far. After a few laps more, it gradually occurs to me none  of the questions are suitable, none  of them are worthwhile, none of them work  ... and I don't ... know ... why.

Given the opportunity, given the possibility, given the gift, given the privilege, given the occasion, given the conversation, given who you are, I'm clear some questions will work and some won't - that  much I got. But with regard to exactly which questions to ask, all I got so far is the distinction "what doesn't work doesn't work, what works works". And none of the questions I've come up with so far, work.

I don't know why they don't work. All I do  know is like breathing underwater, they just ... don't ... work.

I swim more laps. The pen and the sheet of paper with the questions on it which don't work, stay wrapped in the hand towel on the kick board on the lip of the pool at the end of the lane.



It Works When I Take A Breath - It ... Just ... Works:
A Re-Discovery



A few laps later it dawns on me. I get it. I'm stoked!  And when I get it, I realize it's a new discovery which isn't new  - rather it's a re-discovery. I've finally figured it out. I've finally figured out what's missing  from my questions. I've finally figured out why none of them work. It's this: all the questions I've come up with so far are either great  questions to ask you (emphasis on great questions)  ... or ... they're great questions to ask you  (emphasis on you).

Do you get this? Do you get what doesn't work about it? More than that: do you get what's missing? The first group are great, smart  questions. The second group puts the focus on you. And who I am isn't present in either.

If there's one thing which doesn't work around you, it's going through the motions  and not being fully present. This is the new discovery which isn't new. This is the re-discovery.

So it's back to the drawing board ... or in this case it's back to the lap lane. And this time when I consider questions to ask you, suitable questions to ask you, worthwhile questions to ask you, questions which work to ask you, I first bring who I really am to bear on the opportunity, on the possibility, on the gift, on the privilege, on the occasion, on the coming exchange given by who you are and given by who I am.

Once who I am is fully present, once who I really  am is fully back in the game, once I've got something at stake, something at risk  rather than just my smartness, rather than just my intelligence, rather than just simply going through the motions of asking you questions while I'm not fully present, that's when I'm ready to really generate a worthwhile conversation with you.

Why does presencing who I really am fully, why does bringing who I really am back into the game, why does having something at stake, something at risk work when I'm with you?

Because it works. Clean. Plain. Simple. What doesn't work doesn't work, what works works.



The Genesis Of Questions For A Friend VII



I swim a lap or two. I write a question down at the end of the pool lane. Then I swim another lap or three. I write down another question at the end of the lane. Soon I've written down ten questions for you, ten great questions in which I'm fully present.

Now  I've got some really worthwhile questions from which to generate a conversation with you again.

I can't wait.



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