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

Full Circle, Full Spiral

Santa Barbara, California, USA

July 25, 2014

"This is it. There are no hidden meanings. All that mystical stuff is just what's so. A master is someone who found out."  ... 
"Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance, I am at rest. For it's just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.
 ... Zen master Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin 
This essay, Full Circle, Full Spiral, is the companion piece to Mountains And Waters.

It is also the eleventh in a group of twenty written in Santa Barbara:
  1. Santa Barbara
  2. Unbelievable
  3. Give Me Money (That's What I Want?)
  4. True Gold
  5. Getting Into Your World
  6. You Say Stop: About Resisting Transformation
  7. The Cavalry's Not Coming
  8. On This Team Everyone's The Leader
  9. Fireside Chat
  10. The Next Best Thing
  11. Full Circle, Full Spiral
  12. Truth, And What's True
  13. Snowflakes In A Furnace
  14. Something In The Air
  15. Vocal Prowess
  16. Flames In My Rearview Mirror
  17. Back Nine
  18. Chess II
  19. But And And II
  20. My Baby Girl, Now A Bride
in that order.

Zen master Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin's sharing with Werner's which starts this essay, delivers one of my favorite (if not one of the tersest)  descriptions of a transformed life, a life returned to simplicity and elegance after taking responsibility for self-imposed meaning-making, judgement, assessment, and righteousness.

Each time I read Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin's account, I get more from it. For starters, a life (my life, your life) never really comes full circle, does it? At best a life comes full spiral  given we can never, with the passing of time, get back to the exact place where we started. We're always moving, willingly or not, ahead. Ch'ing-yüan Wei‑hsin's back to the same point of innocence in the way he regards mountains and waters now, which makes it a full circle. But he's no longer a child. He's a Zen master now. He's ahead. So it's a full spiral rather than a full circle.

His sharing calls forth beginner's mind. Although he's no longer a child, his perceptions are child-like. Because they're childlike, they're powerful. They're masterful.

I take exception with authors and orators who've somehow cast meaning-making, judgement, assessment, and righteousness in a negative, "bad" light. Meaning‑making, judgement, assessment, and righteousness are neither negative nor bad. But they are learned. I don't know why we learn them. We just learn them. And learning them is an essential component of what it is to be human. The trouble is we then forget they're merely learned, and they're not intrinsic to anything. The world didn't come with meaning, judgement, assessment, and righteousness like your new car came with an owner's manual.

Then (is it a matter of grace?  is it a matter of intention?  is it a matter of sheer blind luck?  of good fortune?) when we discover our responsibility for assigning meaning, judgement, assessment, and righteousness, and when we distinguish assigning meaning, judgement, assessment, and righteousness, that's the onset of mastery.

Listen: things don't mean anything. It's we who assign meaning. There's no absolute judgement. It's we who cast judgement. We can't not  make meaning. We're meaning-making machines. We can't not be judgemental. We're judgement-casting machines. We can, however, own the meaning we assign. We can, however, be responsible for the judgement we cast. No omens carry any meaning - other than the meaning we assign. The only thing a black cat crossing your path means, is a black cat is crossing your path. Honest! That's all it means.

When I was a child, I saw things simply - as simply as any child sees things. Mountains were mountains. Waters were waters. Then as I grew up, there were rewards, there were goodies to be gotten  for making meaning, for adding meaning, for discussing meaning. And those rewards were pretty cool, as I recall: esteem, love, being appreciated, good grades. So I continued making meaning. Man! I learned  to make meaning. I got good  at making meaning.

Now there's nothing wrong with making meaning. But what I lost along the way was remembering it was I who made up the meaning in the first place. What got set in place instead was "Things have meaning"  and my role as a smart ass  was to report on their meaning as cleverly as I could. Pretty soon I had advanced to looking for the meaning of Life itself  - along with most of my erudite peers. Of course we didn't find it (there is none) yet we were convinced  it all meant something, and we would find whatever it all meant someday. My responsibility, my authorship  in the matter of meaning-making was completely overshadowed, at least for the next decade or so. Mountains had stopped being mountains: mountains meant something. Waters had stopped being waters: waters meant something.

It was the dawn of the age of meaning. It was the start of the age of reason. In this age, I thought meaning was things'  meaning. I thought it was their  meaning. I'd forgotten it was my  meaning. In this age, I thought things happened for a reason. I'd forgotten it was I who assigned whatever I considered to be the most likely explanation  as a reason, as cause in the matter. And I'd forgotten to differentiate between them ... forgotten to differentiate between them, that is until I met Werner, at which point differentiating between them was no longer avoidable.

Discovering, for the first time, my role in making up all the meaning in my life, was awkward - to say the least. No, it was worse than that. It was when I first entered into this conversation with Werner, it was waaay  more than just awkard. Even though in my gut I already knew it was true, I wanted to be anywhere else on Earth  other than in that place having that conversation with that man at that time. It was arduous. And it continued being arduous until it wasn't arduous anymore.


It was Jesus Christ who said "Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.".

But it was the glorious Gloria Steinem who grabbed my attention and perfectly encapsulated my experience by saying "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.".

Boy! Was she ever right ...


Meeting Werner was the occasion when everything Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin had been saying all those years, became (with an excited "A-Ha!")  clear, commonplace, obvious, self-evident.

And it was on that same occasion when mountains became mountains again, when waters became waters again. Full circle. Or, stated more rigorously, full spiral.

Communication Promise E-Mail | Home

© Laurence Platt - 2014 through 2022 Permission