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

Leaves Flying Off

Exertec Health and Fitness Center, Napa, California, USA

June 7, 2012

This essay, Leaves Flying Off, is the companion piece to Watching The Wall.

For obvious reasons, there aren't many electronics in swimming pools. When I run on an elliptical, on the other hand, there's a veritable digital dashboard  staring back at me, on which I can monitor my speed, my distance, my time, even my pulse. It takes me about forty five minutes to run an easy five miles on an elliptical. So when I swim (the other half of my fitness regimen with running), since I can't easily measure digitally how far or how long I've swum, I swim for the same time as I run: forty five minutes which I can easily monitor on an analog wall clock. This is my current regimen (which I mostly stick to but not always): running five miles a day which I do until my body tells me it's time to swim, then swimming forty five minutes a day which I do until my body tells me it's time to run again. My health coach tells me this cross training  serves my body better than doing only one or the other.

The swimming strokes I favor are breaststroke and freestyle / crawl  which I randomly alternate in the same session. With either of them, there are two distinct modes I deploy. The first mode I call fast and light  in which my hands and my feet slice  through the water as rapidly as I can make them - the benefits of this are mostly aerobic. The second mode I call slow and heavy  in which the object is to shovel  as much water as possible with both my hands and feet, to push against as much water as possible - the benefits of this are mostly muscular.

That's the physical component of my swimming forty five minutes. And in swimming forty five minutes of laps in a twenty five yard pool, there's clearly also a mental  component. This is valuable time. It's quiet  time. OK, it's not "you can hear a pin drop" quiet time. But with my face in the water it's really good "white noise" quiet time. On some occasions I have a lot to mull over, a lot to think about. Here, when I say "think" about, the thoughts I'm referring to are creative  thoughts - I'm not merely referring to having  thoughts. On other occasions, it's simply an opportunity to observe  the machinery  of the thought process: thoughts come, thoughts go. They start by themselves without me initiating them. They stay in my mind until they go away of their own volition. Sometimes they don't  go away.

It's those thoughts which don't  go away - especially when I want  them to go away - which grip me, which grab me. I'm not talking about thoughts as inspiration  which grip me, which grab me. I'm talking about upset thoughts, sad thoughts, disappointment thoughts, failure thoughts, past  thoughts. I'm talking about thoughts which mill around without respite or recourse, thoughts I can't stop yet wish they would stop or go away. I've realized it's completely incorrect for me to say I have thoughts like these. No, the truth is thoughts like these have me. At best, all I've been equipped with to deal with them, is to let them be ... and keep on swimming. I had no effective creative response  to them until one day while swimming I had an epiphany, a breakthrough in the way I could be with these thoughts while swimming laps - which also gave me a new model of how to be with such thoughts out of the pool  as well.

Most (if not all) of what I share light on in these Conversations For Transformation is inspired by and reflects Werner Erhard's work - which is to say they're my interpretation  of Werner Erhard's work. While Conversations For Transformation's delivery style, format, and presentation are entirely my own and therefore original, the content isn't totally original: most of it is based on and inspired by Werner's original ideas. But once in a while every so often, I'll come up with something truly original. What I came up with while swimming laps in the pool one morning at dawn this week - a new model for how to be with thoughts I don't want, thoughts which grip me, thoughts which grab me, upset thoughts, sad thoughts, disappointment thoughts, failure thoughts, past thoughts, thoughts which have me rather than me having them - is  original. It looks like this:

As I swim, water flies off my body in my wake. Droplets of water fly off behind me. Though what I'm doing when I'm swimming requires water, it's not injurious to the process if water flies off me and is gone in my wake. So I started experimenting with allowing those thoughts to fly off me and be gone behind me. I started - spontaneously, I might add - to see if I could let these thought fly off me like droplets of water, to see if I could let them get lost in my wake. And I noticed - with a sudden joy which comes with the surprise of an authentic "Eureka!"  discovery - that I could. I had spontaneously discovered a physical  model, if you will, of "putting the past in the past"  (as Werner Erhard may have said).

Collage courtesy Washington University
Leaves Flying Off
As I was swimming and reveling in the play  of this new discovery, another more powerful way of articulating this process came to mind. Imagine it's a dry fall (that's autumn)  morning. Imagine during the night, the tree under which you park your car drops all its leaves all at once, covering your car. You open the door without brushing the leaves off the car, get in, start the engine, and drive away.

What happens to the leaves covering your car? The leaves flying off  behind your car as you drive, are swept away in the slipstream, blown away, and are left behind after dancing in the air awhile before settling back down onto the road. That's  a better analogy for this process - one I like a lot more. Yes, droplets of water flying off my body when I swim is a nice analogy - but only if you swim ... whereas many, many more people have had the experience of getting into a car covered in leaves, and driving away, watching the leaves flying off in the rear view mirror.

That's why I prefer using the analogy of leaves flying off my car as I drive away in the fall, rather than droplets of water flying off my body as I swim, to describe a way of gaining freedom from thoughts which grip, from thoughts which grab, from thoughts I'd rather not be dealing with in the moment (to be sure, I can deal with them later or not  - without that, the integrity of this model is compromised).

Listen: if we took the purists' Zen meditative approach to such thoughts, we wouldn't do anything  at all with them, yes? We'd just let them be, and not interfere with them. But the great utility of Zen is its pragmatism:  use it - just don't make a rule  of it. The pragmatism of Zen regards its techniques and even its raison d'etre  as a toolbox  of implements which are used secondarily as and when required  to make life work, and primarily as a context  within which life already  works. It's like that, when playing with the visual model of thoughts like leaves flying off and away and behind: use it - just don't make a rule of it. As with anything in this genre, making a rule of it is the most certain, the most sure-fire-est  way to reduce it's power and utility, an effective way to rob it of its potency. You must create  it newly each time - over and over and over again. Otherwise it has no life.

That's how I segued  from droplets of water flying off my body as I swam breaststroke and freestyle / crawl in a twenty five yard pool for forty five minutes, to leaves flying off my car as I drive away in the fall, as a way of playfully dealing with those thoughts I'd rather not be dealing with in the moment, thoughts I'll deal with later or not. It works. It's a great visual model, a great visual tool. Use it if you like it. Use it if it works for you. And if it doesn't work for you or if the tool breaks, throw it away and get a new one, or make up  another tool - like leaves flying off - which works for you.

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