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


Muir Beach, California, USA

April 26, 2012

"Sadness is supposed to cure being sad." ...   speaking with Laurence Platt in Conversations With A Friend #2 (Future Perfect) 
This essay, Rollercoaster, is the companion piece to

A friend of mine came over to my place recently. Something, the details of which I won't divulge out of respect for his privacy, happened in his life which was causing him great sadness. And it showed. His normally erect posture, stooped. His usually clear face had dark rings under his eyes which, I could tell, were bloodshot from crying. I'm no expert on sadness. But I've gained some insight into the process, having looked into it (and lived through it, I might add) during the breakup of a relationship which was very dear to me about ten years ago.

We settled into some comfortable outdoor chairs, each of us with an ice cold bottle of Bud  in hand, to watch the moon rising over the east hills of the Napa Valley. I said to him "Look: I can't reach into your heart and take it from you. If I could, I would. Neither do I have a magic wand which will make it go away. If I did, I'd wave it. What I can do for you, however, is listen  you. So just speak, and keep speaking - and I'll listen. And even though I'll be listening you, you'll still  have to go through it entirely by yourself. No kidding! There's no easy way out of this. But if you let me, I just may be able to offer you some coaching as to how you can be  with it. And the more you can be  with it without resisting it, the sooner it's likely to dissipate. OK?". He nodded, took a sip of beer, and began to speak.

This conversation is an inquiry into sadness. More acurately, it's an inquiry into any  of the emotional states which, from time to time, grip us. Of all the emotional states, there's nothing particularly paramount about sadness. It's just the one I picked for this inquiry.

This inquiry, a reflection  on sadness actually, arose during this time talking and drinking beer with my friend, and is grounded in (which is to say, in it I'm coming from)  a recent conversation with Werner Erhard about my own sadness. In this inquiry, I acknowledge I've built liberally on Werner's ideas, and I'm staying very close to the spirit of the conversation with him. But for once I'm not quoting him verbatim: he was speaking during a meeting when, highly unusually, I wasn't taking detailed notes. So what I'm presenting here, and what I presented to my friend, are observations I've accumulated while looking at my own emotions - sadness in particular - in the context of the conversation with Werner.

Sadness, like any emotion, is a rollercoaster ride. I'm not referring to its ups  and downs. Rather, what I'm referring to is when I'm sad, it seems as if I can't get out of the car  and nor can I stop the ride. Mostly, the best thing I can do (if not the only  thing I can do) is just sit in the car, strapped in, and wait for the ride to be over.

Unquestionably, talking it through with a friend ("it" being whatever the circumstances at the cause of the sadness are, as well as the component sensations of sadness itself) works. This for me is often the best path of action through sadness there is ... the best there is, that is, until the ride simply comes to its own inevitable inexorable  end. But until that moment is reached (and sooner or later it will be - with or without my agreement, approval, struggle, or effort), what should my appropriate relationship with sadness be? In other words, what's the best way to be  with sadness? And even more pertinent than that, what's to be said about sadness itself? What's the purpose  of sadness? ie what's its raison d'etre?

The results of my modest inquiry into sadness point to this: the purpose of sadness is to alleviate being sad. Sadness is supposed to cure being sad. That's what sadness is meant for.

Say whut?  What kind of doubletalk  is that, Laurence?

Indeed, it's this tautological  definition of the purpose of sadness ("tautological" because "being sad" is mentioned self-referentially  in the definition of what the purpose of sadness is) which isn't easy to grasp ... at first. That's because you may be looking at it ie studying it as a commentary  ("in the stands") on sadness. But when looked at from the experience  ("on the court") of being sad, it's profound. Here it is again: the purpose of sadness is to alleviate being sad. It's supposed to cure being sad. Don't just accept that because I say so. And especially don't just accept it because I distinguished it in a conversation with Werner. Rather, try it on for size.

Now, here's the thing: sadness, when looked at from the experience of being sad, is supposed  to work. But it doesn't!  Sadness doesn't alleviate being sad - does it? You know it doesn't, yes? Almost by definition, sadness is circuitous - which makes it self-perpetuating and therefore self-defeating. Clearly it can't  work. And it doesn't work. It's in the decisiveness  of the moment I realize sadness doesn't work, when it, like a rollercoaster ride, comes to an end.

I listened to everything my friend said - without interrupting him. By the time he was finished, the moon was fully risen and his bottle of Bud was empty - mine was about a quarter empty, the bottle still cold enough to chill my fingers in the warm evening air. When I was clear he was complete, I spoke for the first time, offering him all of these three choices:

 1)  You can choose sadness ie you can experience it ie you can let it be  without resisting it ("What you resist persists" is something else Werner Erhard says) - just don't wallow  in it. If you let it be, it's likely to let you be - and dissipate a whole lot sooner than if you keep picking at it and licking it.

 2)  You can recreate it exactly as it occurs  so it disappears (this gem of coaching, by the way, is vintage  Erhard). When you recreate anything exactly the way it is and exactly the way it isn't, not only does it disappear (which, when you come to think of it, is really a principle from physics), but it also puts you at cause  in the matter ie as the source of your experience of sadness rather than as its victim.

 3)  You can create space  for it to be ie you can become the context in which sadness shows up as content  - which is to say, you can get bigger  than it.

It was time for him to go. We stood up for the first time in the newly fallen evening darkness, accentuated by the light of the gibbous moon throwing moving shadows from the cluster of oak trees to our right. He looked at me and was silent ... until he said "Thank You", and that was all he said - he didn't need to say anything else. "You're Welcome" I said. As we embraced, I said "Let me know how it goes.". "I promise" he said. I could tell the rollercoaster ride was over, allowing him to get off - certainly momentarily, perhaps permanently.

I watched him walk down my driveway to his parked car. As he drove away, I thought "Actually no, don't thank me. Thank Werner.".

That's when I realized I still had three quarters of my beer left. Walking back to the Cowboy Cottage, I poured it on to the ground, then dropped the empty bottle into the recycling bin.

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