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


Empty Cup

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

December 18, 2010



This essay, Empty Cup, is the fourth 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
so far, in that order.

It is the sequel to Out Of The Blue.

It is also the prequel to Poet Laureate II.



From 101 Zen Stories: A Cup Of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese Zen master during the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), received a university professor who came to him to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured it into his visitor's cup until it was full, and then he kept on pouring.

The professor watched it overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's full. No more will go in!" he cried out.

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?".
Photography by Steve Zaffron - 12:00 noon Friday November 26, 2010 - The Leadership Course: Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenolgical Model - Asia Plateau, Panchgani, Mahārāshtra, India
Werner Erhard
His opening (we've hardly gotten beyond hello)  is "How are your children?". There's no standing on ceremony  with him. There's no formality  with him. He simply reaches straight into the deepest center of my heart and pulls out the most precious things in my life and lays them bare on the table.

I think I'm a pretty decent father. But if I spoke with anyone else about my children, while I wouldn't outright lie, I might not tell the entire truth either. At this level of intimacy, some things are ... well ... private. With him, or at least with the way he asks me, nothing is private, nothing is off limits. It all  comes out - in no specific order - the bad, the ugly, the good. I realize with him it's not so much that I've got nothing to hide. Rather, it's with him there's nothing I want to hide. So I tell him everything. No, that's not it: I tell him every  thing. And when I'm done telling him everything, all he says is "I got it" and that's enough for me. No fixing  or rescuing  here. No complimenting  here. Just getting. We move on.

Then it's my turn, my first turn. At the risk, as it's been said, of carrying coals to Newcastle, I open with ie I ante up  with a Zen story famously titled A Cup Of Tea  which I read to him. I know he's heard it before ... at least I assume he must  have heard it before. Yet given the way he listens intently  asking pertinent questions about it, I realize I really can't say with certainty  if he's heard it before, or not. But I can  say he listens generously as if  this is the first time he's ever heard it. He listens with beginner's mind. When I come to the punch line ("Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?") or whatever it is you call the kicker  at the end of a good Zen story, he laughs. Suddenly I also laugh, overjoyed when the realization sinks in I've given him, of all people, a touch of classic Zen.

While the opportunity to be relaxed enough in his company to read to him is (at the risk of understatement) a gift and a privilege, this isn't just about casually reading to a friend. I chose this particularly telling Zen story because it's really what's up for me around him. There's no doubt no more will go in  if the cup's already full - of that I'm clear. Around him I allow myself to be an empty cup. Then, primed with this experience, I get what it is to be an empty cup as my life  for the rest of the world.

In this shimmering emptiness I get him as an ever faster evolving insight into what's going on. Now listen: it may sound like I should be more specific  when I say that. Am I trivializing  things by saying it this way, implying there's only one thing  going on? He's an ever faster evolving insight into what's going on with what?  There's so much  going on. There are so many goings on  going on. To which going on  am I referring?

When I'm empty, when I see things from his point of view, there really is only one thing going on. From his point of view the one thing going on is everything, the one thing going on is nothing  ... everythingnothing  ... in other words the one thing going on is the totality of what it is to be a human being. To say I see him as an ever faster evolving insight into what's going on with the totality of what it is to be a human being, is good enough for jazz. And then I get who he's being as an ever faster evolving insight into what's going on with the totality of what it is to be a human being, and I'm deeply touched by it. I'm moved to tears by it and at the same time it makes me supremely happy.

I ask him in which context, in which environment he first got himself as an ever faster evolving insight into what's going on with the totality of what it is to be a human being. He says it occurred to him this way during his recent tour de force  in India. Actually all he said was India - to which I added "tour de force". I remarked - as I've done on many prior occasions - on the boldness, on the daring, and on the verve it takes to bring enlightenment to India. He says he's clear India's where all this  came from originally.

I want to tell him how much everyone  loves him. I want to tell him more people trust him being more intimate with them than arguably anyone else in history. I want to read him the list (it's a long  list) of names of people who've asked me to send him their love. I realize if I read him just a fraction  of this list, we'd be reading names and greetings for hours and hours and hours. The irony of this is that while it would convey a torrent  of love and appreciation where it rightfully belongs, by holding his attention to it, it would keep him from doing what he does best. So instead I cut to the chase and I say "OK the next item on my agenda is 'Everyone loves you!'.". And he says "Thank You! Thank You very much!". That's it. We move on.

Some marvelous sub-texts  to this aortic conversation ensue. He speaks of the many ways in which "I Love You"  can be authentically said - as different from one another yet as integral to one another as all the facets of a cube. He speaks about one particular interpretation of relationship as "being hooked"  and that there's a time when it's appropriate to be hooked. In other words, I can choose  to be hooked - "being hooked" is simply an interpretation. Something de-solidifies  in me at a cellular level when he says this. Although it's only him and me here right now when he says this, I notice I'm suddenly and profoundly more related  to all people everywhere.

Our conversation then turns to finances. I've been looking at my own financial integrity. And the issue I'm inquiring into is more of the integrity aspect of it than the financial aspect of it, although they're both bound up in the same inquiry.

I've led seminars for the computer technicians of the United States' Internal Revenue Service. So I know, for example, if I find a dime on the sidewalk and I don't declare it on my tax return as income, technically speaking by the letter of the financial law, that's tax evasion. Does anyone declare these dimes we find on the sidewalk as income? I don't. So I'm clear I'm out of financial integrity. Then I ponder if it's even possible  to come close to being in financial integrity, given the letter of the financial law. His response amazes me. He speaks only in terms of being responsible for the costs  and the payoffs  of my relationship with the letter of the financial law. He says justifying  has no place in my relationship with the letter of the financial law. A lightbulb comes on. I breath out "That's it! - not justifying ... that's  where the integrity is ..." as my relationship with money, in particular my relationship with the integrity  of money and the letter of the financial law, inexorably and permanently transforms.

Suddenly it's time to go. Although I swore, although I promised myself I'd stick to the schedule and honor it, it's he not I who indicates it's time to go. My agenda's incomplete. There are items I intended to get to which we didn't get to. Immediately  I generate choice for it to be complete. So it's complete. Because I say so.

All that's left is to wish each other a great Christmas Season, and to say I Love You  ... in a way which includes all the facets of the cube.



Outflow - No Overflow



It's nearly three days later.

Something happened to me during the conversation. I usually have a lot to say immediately after speaking with him. This time I didn't. But then again, this time I didn't do it as I usually do it. This time I made a point of going in empty. By the end of it I was so full I couldn't speak, let alone write. I felt like I would burst. All kinds of feelings, emotions, love, and insights were going on, all of it in a glorious swirl, and peace and nothing also. I resolved as soon as I could, to say what it is, to write it down. I'm totally surrendered to whatever it is.

Now here it is. It's come out to be shared. This is its outflow, and here you are reading it. But it's taken a while.

How full is empty! How empty is full!



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