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


Observations From Within The Question

Hendry Ranch, Napa Valley, California, USA

November 10, 2009



"For me this is a practical matter. Instead of having the answer about God like some guy or some thing or some explanation or some anything, I have a space of possibility like an openness, like a place for God to
show up in my life."
 ... 
speaking with Reverend Terry Cole-Whittaker about God
This essay, Observations From Within The Question, is the sequel to BREAKTHROUGH SKYDIVING.

It is also the eighth in a group of twelve reflections of God: It was written at the same time as


The context for Werner's quote which introduces this essay, is this: Werner is speaking with Reverend Terry Cole-Whittaker about God. Werner speaks God as a question rather than as an answer, as a possibility rather than as a thing. He declares he has the space for God to show up in his life.

This is streets removed  from simply wishing for and hoping for ie from simply imploring  God to show up in one's life. There's a relationship with God here which indicates a completion with God as a possibility, a standing with  God as a question, a relationship with God such that that which is  is allowed to be.

In fact, if you totally get what he's speaking, you can tell with one bold stroke Werner completely recontextualizes prayer.

It's an awesome point of view. It's vintage Erhard.



God As A Question



It's understandable when religious people first entertain Werner's possibility of standing with God as a question, there's a moment of hesitancy, a moment of drawing back. What exactly  is it to stand with God as a question?  The hesitancy, the drawing back comes from the (in this case, mistaken) association of questioning with doubting. In the ordinary course of events, if I say "I question God", the implication is I doubt  God.

This isn't that. Standing with God as a question  implies neither doubt nor agnosticism not atheism. Some people doubt God. Others don't. Some people profess to be agnostics. Others profess to be atheists. Still others profess to be neither. Standing with God as a question  has no particular allegiance to any of those camps, and neither does it have any particular allegiance to any religion, although it may be entertained by some or all of the above. Standing with God as a question  is a new distinction entirely.

If you ask the most decent religious people whether or not they believe in God, they'll say "Yes" - by definition. And that's the pitfall right there. It's a trap  actually. Indeed, there's not only one trap. There are two.

The first trap is this: belief  in God stops far short, waaay  too short in fact, of the living, thrilling experience  of God. The second is this: until God is questioned  (I don't mean questioned like doubted  - I mean questioned like inquired into, like gotten to know), what people regard as God is simply their concept  of God. That renders believing in God a bit like going into the local Denny's  restaurant, and ordering the photograph of the Grand Slam breakfast  from the menu rather than ordering the Grand Slam breakfast itself.

These two pitfalls, these two traps are the twin barriers  between people and standing with God.

Here's my personal declaration about God, coming as it does about halfway through my own ongoing spiritual hejira: 

I love God. I love God absolutely. I'm moved to tears by God. And I also have my considerations that without first getting clear about the twin barriers to God (belief  in God rather than the experience  of God, and the unquestioned concept  of God), even the most decent, pious believers and faithful practitioners of religion are eating photographs of the Grand Slam breakfast rather than eating the Grand Slam breakfast itself.



Skydiving As A Laboratory



It's arguably the  essential distinction to master - this distinction belief  as opposed to direct experience  - if you intend to move the throttle of your life out of the idle  position, then into drive, then into overdrive, then into cruise, and eventually into warp speed.

It's not arguably the  essential distinction merely in the world of transformation. It's not arguably the  essential distinction merely in the world of religion, worship, and relationship with God. It's arguably the  essential distinction in Life - across the board. People who haven't cleared themselves on the distinction belief  as opposed to direct experience  have troubled, hungry, malnourished  looks on their faces. In spite of their professed preferences  and cherished beliefs, it's clear there's little nourishment to be derived from eating photographs of the Grand Slam breakfast.

Furthermore, it's a basic tenet of Zen that any belief  in the existence of something, carries implicitly within it that very something's non-existence. If belief in God  is inspired by the intention to bring the presence of God forth, belief in God is also likely to bring the non-presence of God forth ie it's also likely to bring the absence  of God forth (as Mother Teresa, much to her own chagrin, may have said).

Now, one way to listen what I just said is that I negate the value of belief, that I diminish the value of belief, in other words that I demean  believers. This isn't that, and that's not what I'm saying. Up to a certain point, belief is the foundation of faith. But beyond that point, the ladder is too short  to reach the top of the steeple. Belief isn't discarded as much as it's re-evaluated  against a more potent distinction - direct experience - at the appropriate time.

Some people re-evaluate belief for direct experience sooner than others. As for why  some people become aware of the power of the distinction direct experience as opposed to belief sooner than others, this could be ascribed to the same quality - plain intentionality - that has some people work out  regularly more than others. Or it could simply be ascribed to a less powerful ethereal quality I call grace.

It's useful when inquiring into any area in your life which requires coming up with a real experience rather than coming up with merely another belief, to pre-consider inquiries or questions, the answers to which will point to new distinctions, and which are weighed up not against an already well established belief system, but rather against something new, against something beyond  or prior to  (notice it's accessible at both  ends of the continuum) the well established belief system, against something from the realm of direct experience. To do this, it's useful to set up a laboratory, so to speak, in which your research ie in which your inquiry, in which your questioning  takes you beyond that with which you're already familiar.
Werner Erhard established the project he titled Breakthough Racing  as a laboratory in which to research breaking himself up and re-inventing himself as team. He chose driving race cars because it was an arena in which he had no prior experience.

When I researched keeping my word  and what it takes to keep my word, inspired by the Breakthough Racing  project, I established a project in which I chose skydiving as a laboratory - also an arena in which I had no prior experience.

At the start of the project, all I knew to be true about keeping my word was what I believed  to be true about keeping my word. All I knew to be true about keeping my word I believed made me right  and better  for keeping my word. I wanted a project which would break through  the barrier and limitation of my belief. I wanted a project which would break through into a new realm of possibility  for keeping my word (as a Landmark Forum Leader may have said), a new realm of possibility in which keeping my word would transform, in which keeping my word would come forth  as an experience rather than merely as something else I believe  in, rather than merely as something which I consider to be the good and the right  thing to do.

I titled the project BREAKTHROUGH SKYDIVING. The first edition was published on June 8, 1983. Since then, four more editions have been published, the fifth and most recent of which was published on November 2, 2002.







B R E A K T H R O U G H   S K Y D I V I N G   5



Observations from within the question:

'WHAT DOES KEEPING MY WORD LITERALLY IMPLY?'

using the context of skydiving as a laboratory.




A research project created, implemented, and completed by Laurence Platt

* * *
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BREAKTHROUGH SKYDIVING, in addition to creating an experience  of the distinction "What does keeping my word literally imply?", pointed me from then on in the direction of direct experience as distinct from belief. It pointed me from then on in the direction of creating a space, in the direction of creating a context, in the direction of inventing a possibility  for Life rather than simply adding to my impressive (in my mind, at least) repertoire of beliefs about Life.

In this new space, in this new clearing, without any pre-definitions or pre-restrictions or beliefs or ego or righteousness, I'm able to entertain an experience of God. I'm able to entertain an inquiry  into God ie an inquiry into that which, until now, I was only able to believe in  and / or conceptualize God to be. Into this new space, into this new clearing, the unfiltered presence  of God can show up in my life.

I'm less concerned with being dependent on God to help  me do what I want to do. I'm less concerned with being dependent on God to provide me with what I need. That is to say, I'm less concerned with being able to direct  the presence of God to show up in my life at will, as much as I'm concerned with allowing it to be  - not as a belief, not as a concept, not as a memory, but rather as an experience  of something powerful, of something reliable, of something count-on-able which completely supports and nurtures Life and my life and everyone and everything in it with no one and nothing left out.



Prayer Recontextualized



In the ordinary course of events when we pray, we're asking God for help. In the ordinary course of events when we pray, we're asking God to provide what we need. I'm no longer concerned with either. That is to say, I'm no longer concerned with manipulating  God. In the ordinary course of events when we pray, we're imploring  God to show up in our lives. What I've observed from within the question God  is when I prayed, I wasn't intentionally creating myself as a clearing like a possibility  so God can show up in the space I bring forth. What I've observed from within the question God  is in the ordinary course of events, I live with God the answer. In the ordinary course of events, I'm not living in the question God. Yet it's unavoidable: it's living in the question God  which opens up the space for God to be present in my life.

Stay with this even though it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense that the possibility of God in our lives is God in our lives. Stay with this even though it's risky territory. Stay with this even though entertaining God like a possibility  in our lives is to walk on thin ice. If you can't stay with the risk of entertaining God as a question, if you can't stay with the risk of entertaining God like a possibility, an automatic response to alleviating the risk is to come up with answers. Once God is reduced to answers, that is to say once God is reduced to concepts and beliefs, it's not God. It's merely the photograph of the Grand Slam breakfast  from the menu. It's not the Grand Slam breakfast  itself.

Observations from within the question God  allow for being responsible for creating the space in your life in which God can show up. In other words, observations from within the question God  allow for being responsible for being the creator of the space in your life in which "The Creator of Life"  can show up.

That's both ironic as well as deeply profound at the same time: who you are is the creator of the space in your life in which "The Creator of Life"  can show up. If you can let go of God as a belief, if you can let go of God as a concept, and instead allow God to show up in your life as a presence, as an experience, as a question, then you can truly stand up and be counted  with God (as Meister Eckhart may have said), rather than merely asking God (ie God the belief, God the concept) for help.

Standing up and being counted with God not only allows the presence of God to come into my life, but it also completes and fulfills any beliefs I have about God as well as my concepts of God by allowing them to be present as well, yet transformed within this entirely new context.

* * *

It's Werner's conversation about God like a possibility, it's Werner's conversation about God as a question  rather than as "the answer", and your resulting observations from within the question God  which completely recontextualizes prayer, and which creates the space for God to show up in your life.


This essay, Observations From Within The Question, broadens the source perspective of my thesis BREAKTHROUGH SKYDIVING of which there are five editions - so far. The entire thesis with all five forewords, incidents, abstracts, observations, and conclusions is available at

http://www.laurenceplatt.com/breakthrough


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