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

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Dog Days II

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

July 1, 2013

"Oh yeah, don't you know it's like a heat wave burning right here in my heart - yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, oh." ... Martha and The Vandellas, Heat Wave

This essay, Dog Days II, is the sixth in an open group on Zen: It is also the sequel to Dog Days.

It is also the prequel to Dog Days III: Musings On Reality During A Heat Wave.

Photograph courtesy CBC News
Dog Days: 105º In The Shade
This Napa Valley in California where I've lived for twenty six years and raised my three children, is regarded by many masters of wine as among the most endowed (possibly even the best  endowed) locations on Earth to make fine wine. That's not necessarily because there are so many great wine makers who live and work here. There are, but great wine makers can come here to work from anywhere in the world, and vice versa. A friend of mine who's a wine maker, resides in the Napa Valley but he makes wine in Argentina. Once a month for four days at a stretch, he travels from the Napa Valley to Argentina where he attends to the wine he's making there (it's an ongoing process).

In the heady upper echelons of the wine world, the environmental conditions in the Napa Valley are so unusually ideal for making wine that the place is known simply as "the Valley". To say "Napa  Valley" is unnecessarily redundant - like if I told you I'm going to a Sting concert or to a Madonna concert, there'd be no need for you to ask me "Sting who?" or "Madonna who?". Just one name is enough for you to identify it.

Living here, I've developed a taste for the finest wine - to be sure. But the truth is in the evening, I'd rather sit back at the amazing Cowboy Cottage with an icy cold bottle of beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon  is my brew of choice) than with a glass of fine wine. The Valley's wine makers are wont to say "It takes a lot of cold beer to make fine wine.".

One of the Napa Valley's many environmental conditions which make it so ideally endowed for making fine wine is its relentless dry, non-humid heat at the time when the grapes are ripening on the vines: 105º in the shade for days and days on end, cooling down to a frigid  arctic (by comparison) 80º at night.


Why is this ideal for making fine wine?

Oenology, the science of making wine, is unlike any other agriculture. In almost all other agricultures including the growing of grapes to eat, water is a necessity. If you're a farmer growing wheat or lettuce or tomatoes, you panic in a hot, dry, non-humid drought and you pray for rain. But if you're growing grapes to make wine, you panic when it rains and you pray for a hot, dry, non-humid drought.

The reason for this anomaly is simple: the fine wine makers' recipe book's list of ingredients doesn't start with "tons of grapes". Rather, it starts with "tons of sweet  grapes". Sweet grapes (which is to say grapes with more sugar) make the best wine. Sugar fuels the fermentation process which transmutes grape juice into wine, and rain (ie water) dilutes grapes' sugar. Furthermore, drought ensures maximum sugar concentration in two ways: one, there's no rain (ie no water) to dilute the grapes' sugar; and two, the relentless dry, non-humid heat evaporates any additional water in the environment.


These are the Valley's trying, challenging (sometimes arduous) dog days of summer. To survive them, you'll need three things: one, sunscreen with a high SPF  ie Sun Protection Factor; two, hydration (drink lots of water); and three, a willingness to accept Zen. It's the third of these which most interests me.

The way the dog days' heat has trained  me (if you will) is by demonstrating how futile it is for me to resist it. I've tried demanding of the sun "You're too hot: ratchet down the thermostat twenty degrees or so because I don't like it!". Oh sure ...  I've noticed how well that works for me. I've noticed how deeply  the sun cares about what I like and about what I don't like ...

What I've discovered is I can resist the heat, I can suffer through  the heat, I can endure  the heat. And if I do, even though none of these options actually work for me or do me any good, I'll be in good company. In the absence of any other approach to the dog days' heat, resisting it and suffering through it and enduring it (and complaining  about it) garner a lot  of agreement.

This is why the dog days' heat is a great trainer for me, a great trainer for me if I take it on as a great trainer  for me. It's a great trainer for me because it offers me a totally ruthless opportunity to be with what's so. It offers me the choiceless choice:  whether I choose to be with what's so (ie the heat) or not, it's gonna be this way anyway. The what's so of the dog days' heat isn't subject to my debates. It's not sensitive to my complaints. It doesn't bend to my opinions. It doesn't care about my demands. To the contrary, it rules  roughshod. It dominates.

You could say the dog days' heat is an unyielding Zen master  who presents (no, dictates)  nothing less than an absolute, authentic, physical  opportunity to set aside all debates, all complaints, all opinions, and all demands, and to just be  in such a way that has what's so (the dog days' heat) show up simply as what's so.

When I have what's so show up simply as what's so, it's neither a stop nor an impediment nor an interference: it's just what's so. That's good Zen. That's profound.

Now, ordinarily we don't relate like this - to anything. Ordinarily we relate to things as if our debates will win (and will get us what we want if we present the stronger argument), as if our complaints will be answered, as if our opinions matter and count for something, as if our demands will be satisfied. The dog days' Zen master heat, since it's absolute and unyielding, offers me training (as long as I sign up for it willingly) for a far bigger possibility: the possibility of being bigger than and unattached to my debates (this is the possibility of being powerful rather than trying to win by being domineering), the possibility of being bigger than and unattached to my complaints, the possibility of being bigger than and unattached to my opinions, the possibility of being bigger than and unattached to my unfulfilled demands.

Here's the bottom line of how I handle the dog days: I apply sunscreen with a high SPF, I drink lots of water, I surrender to the heat as an opportunity for mastery as I be with  its unyielding circumstances. Starting with mastering the heat, I move on, empowered, to mastering any  unyielding circumstances.

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© Laurence Platt - 2013 through 2023 Permission