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


Conversation With A Friend:

A Symphony Of Notes

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, and Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
California, USA

October 7, 2013

This essay, Conversation With A Friend: A Symphony Of Notes, is the fifth in an open group Conversations With A Friend:
  1. Privilege At Daybreak In The Battle Between Good And Evil
  2. Future Perfect
  3. This Is What It Means To Be!
  4. Empty Cup
  5. Conversation With A Friend: A Symphony Of Notes
  6. The Sound Of Your Voice
  7. Conversations With A Friend VII
  8. Space For Redemption: When "I'm Sorry!" Isn't Enough
  9. What Did You Do To Me?
  10. You Are Always With Me
so far, in that order.

It is also the sequel to
  1. Heroes
  2. Nothing Can Prepare You For This
in that order.

Photography by Elizabeth Handy
Werner Erhard

The phone rings exactly at the planned on time. I pick it up. There's no mistaking whose rich, deep, Philadelephian accented voice it is, saying "Hello Laurence!".

Imagine you're scuba  diving, having been underwater for too long. You realize your oxygen supply is running low. You kick as hard as you can for the surface impossibly far above you. As you break through it into the fresh air, it's your body not you which uncontrollably takes enormous gulps of air. The sound it emits is more than gasping. It's heaving. That's what it's like when I pick up the phone. It's been way  too long that I've been without this oxygen. As my emotions heave at his "Hello Laurence!", my eyes instantly mist over. Tears of joy cascade down my face, startling me - but I'm used to them: it's not the first time.

There are literally hundreds of people who've asked me to give him their love, to tell him how much they love him, to tell him how much value they get from his work, to ask him to never stop doing what he's doing. And these are only the hundreds who've requested I carry their communications to him. It'd be in the millions if everyone who knows who he is were in touch with me. True to their intentions (and to my promise), I carry their communications and love to him as one. I tell him as heartfelt as it is, we'd be on this topic forever  (really) if I named each individual and recreated each personal communication in detail. What I say is "Everyone loves you. Everyone appreciates what you do so much. People just love you.".

"Thank you. Thank you very  much" he replies immediately. He says he appreciates two things: one, everyone's individual greeting, and two, everyone's willingness to be included in one group greeting. It takes something big, something generous to allow a special, personal greeting to be included in a larger group greeting. This allows him precious time to work on ongoing projects and the new work on leadership he's currently completing.

In preparation for this, I didn't simply fall out of bed this morning, and pull on a sweatsuit. Rather, I arose hours  ahead of schedule, and dressed as if we'll be sitting on the podium in an auditorium in front of a thousand people. It's appropriate to the occasion. My desk is carpeted with sheets of white A4  sized paper, ten of them blank on which to take notes, and the rest of them covered in pencil notes which I've been jotting down over the last eight weeks since this was set up. I've organized them into areas, into concerns. They're my script - just in case I run out of things to talk about.

Yet there's an overriding realization which making all these notes in preparation has given me: nothing can prepare you for this. Nothing! This sort of thing can be planned - at least to a certain extent. But mostly what happens is you just have to let go and be with whatever comes up. It's funny how my mind ie the  mind wants to have it all figured out. The copious notes all over my desk are eloquent testimony to how it almost always gets what it wants. But now that this moment has finally come, all that the papers with the pencil notes on them are, is furniture decoration.

He says his headset is loose. He asks for a moment to fix it. I say "As long as I'm connected to you through this telephone line, that's all I care about. You take as long as you like.". The headset is soon fixed. He apologizes. He asks me to share what's going on in my life and in my children's lives and in our relationships. He says it's a good place to start. It is. I share my experience of how it's going with each of them, and of how my relationship with each of them is.

What I hear in what I'm saying (and that's exactly how it is with him: when I speak with him, I hear things in what I'm saying that I myself don't ordinarily hear) is completely unguarded, totally open, naked. I hear myself saying things at a level of honesty I'm not ordinarily known for. At this level, I say things which concern me deeply - and yet as I say them, they clear up and resolve by themselves. The space of his listening is most unusual. It's unique, extraordinary. In the space of his listening, my erstwhile concerns suddenly transform all by themselves into simply what's so. And what's so is simply what's so. It's neither a problem nor a concern.

He shares something he's working on - not an item, but rather an entire project. He's talking about the planning of it. He's already projected out a full year from now, what he'll be doing. But that's not all. He's already projected out a full year from now, what he'll be doing in fifteen minute increments. And that's only one  project he's working on among many. That's when I ask him how he's doing healthwise. He says he's doing really, really well - and at the same time he's (quote unquote) "unimaginably"  busy. The question "Will you get your life's work done and fully complete by the time you die?" floats by. It's clear to me this is what he's going for, firing smoothly on all eight cylinders.

In the face of my recognition of this, my own life suddenly seems so small in comparison. It seems like such a dud  next to his. I share how remarkable it is for me to be both lost in the crowd of the millions of beneficiaries of his work around the world while at the same time having the privilege of being in this private conversation with him. It occurs to me it costs him something to be so generous. I resolve not to waste his time. With that, I sweep a half dozen or more pages of notes off my desk onto the floor, leaving only those items I can really be tight  with him about.

I've committed to write two new essays in this Conversations For Transformation internet series, every week. I share with him there'll soon be nine hundred essays. I share with him they'll soon receive their eight hundred thousandth view. I share with him The Laurence Platt Video Interviews: Conversations For Transformation on YouTube will soon receive their six thousand five hundredth view. I share my creative process with him, especially when (as sometimes happens) I'm closing in on a deadline, and there's nothing to say. What I then do is not unlike throwing large blobs of clay onto a potter's wheel, and then simply starting to shape something, anything  ... or better said, something starts shaping something  using me to do the job. He tells me people who create as a commitment  to meet a deadline have been shown to be more creative than people who create simply as the mood strikes (so to speak). I hadn't thought of it that way. In my situation, it's a fit. It's true.

While I'm sharing my creative process with him, I get something which has always been there - only I haven't really gotten the profundity of it fully before. What I get is the power in creating this Conversations For Transformation internet series of essays to create my relationship with him  and to share who he is with the world. My throat constricts. He says gently "Take your time ...".

Whatever he says, whatever we speak about, he's fully present. He's even fully present in the silences, those silences often thought of as those awkward  silences which punctuate any intense conversation. I notice myself wanting to fill those so-called awkward silences with noise ... and then I stop myself. This is the time to reflect, to really get  something. What I get is pure listening. But it's not the listening of an academic nor of an intellectual. It's the listening of a friend. When I share things from my personal life which are wins  for me, he's genuinely excited. It's not a distant "Well, good for you!"  which, when people say it, makes me wish I'd shared nothing at all. When he gets it, there's an authentic level of appreciation from a friend which not only makes it all the more rich for me, but also makes it all the more rich to share.

His voice is melodic. It's vivid. It's colorful. It's fluid, effortless. Above all, it's both easy listening  and unrelentingly, unerringly powerful at the same time. That's the sound of it. I have the thought "He is  his voice.". As for the ideas he communicates with it, they're seamless. Every word has its place. None are superfluous. You couldn't change one  of them (or even change one inflection  of one of them) without changing the entire thrust of what he speaks. His words breathe the notes of some sublime symphony in Zen.

As I listen to him speak and share himself, I get in touch with a question in the background of my listening. It's profound. It's foundational. It's an unasked, unexpressed question. It's so deep below the surface I can barely reach it. Then I reach it. It's "Is being whole and complete and fulfilled and satisfied, enough?". That's what's behind everything I'm asking him (in all likelihood, that's what's behind everything in my entire life). Everything he speaks, every word, every syllable, every nuance and every tone of his voice, says "Yes it is. Yes it's enough.". Everything he says, everything he expresses, every idea he articulates in the foreground, says the same thing over and over and over again in the background: "Yes it is. Yes it's enough. Yes it's OK! ... It's ... O  ... K!".

Time is passing inexorably faster and faster. I'm pedal to the metal  all the way now - my foot's nowhere near the brake (so to speak). I present to him another item from what remains of my notes, something I've wanted to ask him about for a while. It's this:

In the way his work is unfolding today as the presentation of years and years of in depth inquiries into and conversations about areas like mastery, performance, and leadership, I ask him if the pivotal moment he experienced on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971 is still relevant. That particular experience (and specifically, his sharing it) was riveting  for people in an era fraught with "looking for the answer", with "trying to find enlightenment". His experience on the Golden Gate Bridge drew a razor's line between survival and transformation, making it so clear, so obvious  that merely hearing about what happened gave a taste of transformation. Today, with the direction his work is taking as inquiries into and conversations about areas like mastery, performance, and leadership (more than simply differentiating between survival and transformation), does his ineffable  experience of transformation on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971 still have relevance?

It's not the first time in this conversation of ours that he's silent for a moment as he looks intently. Then he says (and here I'm not  quoting him: this isn't verbatim, but it is a pretty darn good recreation of what he actually says):

"I don't try to figure things out. I don't try to understand things. That's not how I work. What I do is I look  at things and I say what I see. This is how I work. This is what drives the inquiries, the conversations I'm in. So when I look at things, I have to look clearly. What I experienced on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971 allows me to look at things clearly  and say what I see accurately. If it weren't for what happened on the Golden Gate Bridge, I'd still be in inquiries today, I'd still be in conversations today but I wouldn't be looking clearly  (my italics, not his). Without what I experienced on the Golden Gate Bridge, what I see today would be somewhat muddled.".

It's not merely that the proverbial penny drops. It's that a shed load of gold bullion drops. "Awesome  ..." I say in sheer delight. I'm one of the old‑timers. This so  connects the dots for all of us.

There's still another ten minutes left on the clock allocated to our conversation. You know, this time together is so precious, this time together is so valuable that no matter how much time is allocated, it will never be enough for me. That said, I tell him "I'm going to end this conversation now, ten minutes early. I want to give you back ten minutes in appreciation of you being so generous with your time with me.". Ordinarily, ten minutes is a trivial interval of time. But we're talking here about a guy who already knows what he's intending to do a year and more from now ... in fifteen minute increments. In this scenario, ten minutes is an eternity, the biggest gift I can think of giving him. His thanks and appreciation are sudden and effusive.

Laurence Platt
I stand here looking at the phone, now back in its cradle, totally moved by the space he generates for all of us, touched by the context  he is for Life itself. My cheeks are moist again. I catch a sight of myself in the bathroom mirror: beaming, teary eyes and all. I hear a voice (there's no mystery or esotericism  here: it's my own voice) saying "Well done, Laurence! Good job!". Yes it was, wasn't it?

Leaving everything untouched on my desk, I climb over the fence separating the Cowboy Cottage from the cattle pasture, remove my shirt, and stroll in the gorgeous autumn sunshine down to the creek, quietly processing what just transpired and how I can best share it.

When I return I sit down, organize my notes, then open my laptop computer and start typing this symphony, fingers flying faster, faster  over its keyboard.

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