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


Life Sentences

Exertec, Napa, California, USA

February 1, 2016



"[Life sentences] are whatever we make up as children in moments of what is - for a child - real stress or threat. If you do everything to get those life sentences out of your future, you can create something."
 ... 
This essay, Life Sentences, is the sequel to For People Who Don't Love Themselves.

It was written at the same time as Thank A Vet.

I am indebted to Mark Ty-Wharton and to Judy Golden who inspired this conversation.




Life sentences  are the result of those decisions we make very early on in life which kill off possibility  for the future, constraining what's available to us as surely as if we were serving not merely short-term prison sentences but rather prison sentences for life. In scenarios which culminated in the imposing of life sentences, it's we  who were all  of plaintiff, respondent, judge, and jury (there's no executioner, although given the impact of the sentence and its terrible cost, there may as well be).

Life sentences are (false) imperatives, like "I can't trust anybody" or "They will abandon me" or "They will take advantage of me.". They are whatever we make up as children in moments of what is - for a child - real stress or threat. If you do everything to get those life sentences out of your future, you can create something (that last observation, by the way is, of course, vintage Erhard). What's devastating about life sentences is while they were handed down in the past, their impact is actually located ie is actually stored  and is felt in the future. That said, here's the key to bear in mind regarding life sentences you're languishing under (as we all do or have done, to one degree or another): it's you who put them there, then forgot (or withheld  or lost sight of) you put them there. That's what makes them so maddeningly hard to uncover. That's the bad news. The good news is life sentences are easily commuted  (if you will) if you're willing to tell the truth unflinchingly  about them.

What do you do with a life sentence once you've uncovered it ie once you've located it? The answer is nothing. Nothing at all. You do nothing with a life sentence once you've located it. Neither fixing it nor curing it, is required. What is  required is to notice it's there, to tell the truth about who put it there (*** SPOILER ALERT!  ***: it's you  who put it there ...), what was happening when you put it there, and (arguably most poignant) who  was saying what  and to whom  when you put it there. Resisting life sentences or trying to change them, only further cements them in place. Freedom ie the commuting of life sentences, comes from locating them, taking responsibility for putting them there, then distinguishing them as no longer applicable or appropriate to the current and future situations. That's it.

Life sentences are rooted in language. When you decide something (like "I can't trust anybody" or "They will abandon me" or "They will take advantage of me"), all other possibilities (like, for example, "I can  trust people" or "They won't  abandon me" or "They won't  take advantage of me") are killed off. That's what the "-cide"  suffix in "decide" implies - as it does in "sui-CIDE", "homi-CIDE", "geno-CIDE":  something is killed off (in the latter three, it's self, another, a group). With "de-CIDE", it's the alternative  which is killed off. So life sentences are the result of deciding something, in the process of which the alternative ie possibility itself  is killed off.

As a useful road map (if you will) of the terrain in which you were most likely to make such decisions and impose life sentences on yourself, consider that the impact of the decisions you made, is predicated on which of life's three major developmental stages you were in, when you made them. They are:

 1)  the childhood stage, in which your first utterance of "Something's wrong"  typically occured;
 2)  the teenage stage, in which your first utterance of "I don't belong"  ie in which your first experience of a break in belonging  typically occured;
 3)  the young adult  stage, in which your first utterance of "I'm on my own"  typically occured;

These stages and their utterances are the Petri dishes  in which you cultivated your life sentences and then imposed them on yourself. Nothing less than access to the realm of the miraculous, becomes available when you give them up. And until you give them up, consider you're living your life as a lie  (no kidding!) given the original decisions with which you sentenced yourself, were never true to begin with anyway.



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