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

Snake II

Coombsville Road, Napa Valley, California, USA

September 18, 2006

This essay, Snake II, is the second in the quintology Snake:

Voice Of Fear

There are pitfalls in defining transformation. That's because the definition  of transformation shows up in the domain of intellect, concepts, and beliefs whereas transformation shows up in the domain of direct experience. So defining transformation can kill off the experience  of transformation.

That said, any working definition of transformation requires differentiating conversations you already are  (ie the voice) from who you really are.

When you take the time to notice the voice in your head (which is where we say it is although that particular location has always seemed completely arbitrary to me), it's always saying something or opining about or commenting on something. For the most part the voice cleverly disguises itself as (or is mistaken for) who you really are. The line between the two is blurred.

Then there are those activities in which the voice is clearly the voice. There's no mistaking it. There's no doubt about it. I know who I really am and I notice the voice as distinct from who I really am. One such activity for me is skydiving. When you jump out of an airplane, the din of the voice is almost overwhelming. It doesn't matter that you can drop a jeep or an elephant out of an airplane on a parachute and have it land safely. The voice isn't interested in that. When you skydive, the voice is the voice of fear. And the voice of fear is endocrinal: it's on automatic. I can distinguish the voice of fear from who I really am simply by virtue of the din it makes, and skydive anyway.

There's something I heard Werner say in this regard in a conversation we were having but I only fully got it during skydiving. It's this: "Courage isn't having no fear - courage is the willingness to act in the face of fear.".

Another such activity for me is handling snakes. On those occasions the din of the voice is also so loud it's quite obviously the voice. It literally distinguishes itself. It's very obviousness  differentiates it from who I really am. I'm not saying there isn't or shouldn't be fear around snakes or with skydiving. I'm saying because the voice is so loud on occasions like these, it's easier to distinguish it as not who I really am. This gives the opportunity to make choices to act in the face of fear which were simply not possible before.

Snake In The Road

I promise to swim. Twice a day. Half an hour in the morning. Half an hour in the evening. A mile each session. Two miles a day. And more.

That promise is a bigger promise than I keep. Yet I promise it anyway. I almost  keep it but the truth is I don't keep it exactly.

And so it was one evening in September as I drove down the hill from the amazing Cowboy Cottage  to swim the evening mile when I noticed a large snake slithering, side-winding  across the road ahead of me. This essentially country scene gripped and fascinated me. Even though I was quite safe in my car, a primal prickle of fear made it's way from the base of my spine to my fingertips. The voice in my head went on orange alert sounding the alarm "... warning ... warning ... danger ... danger ...". My palms became instantly damp and slippery on the steering wheel.

Giving the snake a wide berth, me driving in the right lane, he having already crossed the center divide and was starting to traverse the left lane, I passed him and was fifty yards beyond him before I realized any cars coming up the hill in the opposite  direction would surely run him over.

At that point the voice accelerated its input. Becoming almost hysterical it began to yell. If it had a mouth to move, that mouth would have frothed. "Go! Keeping moving. Don't turn back! Don't even look  back.". But I disagreed. "No!" I said firmly. "I'm not going to let him die. He's my responsibility now. I'm going back.".

I made a U-turn as soon as I could, drove back up the road, U-turned again past the snake, then parked at the side of the road next to where he was crossing. By this time he was almost half way over the left lane. Even with my door wide open to create a barrier, I wouldn't be able to save him from other drivers willfully or accidentally running him over.

I know very little about snakes. I didn't know if this one was venomous or not. I only knew three things:

1)  I was automatically  very, very afraid of him;
2)  The voice in my head was now on full red alert, shouting, opining, whining, expressing fear, confusion, intimidation, wanting to flee, call for help, run away;
3)  He would certainly be dead in minutes if I didn't do something quickly.

There wasn't time for thought. It was now or never. I aimed at a pattern just behind his head and, blanking my mind as best as I could to the possible consequences, grabbed him as fast as I could and picked him up, my fist encircling what I assumed to be his neck, holding his head gently but firmly between my thumb and index finger preventing him from moving it.

Amazingly he didn't struggle. He just let me pick him up.

His scaly skin shone so that I thought it would be oily to the touch. When I picked him up I was quite surprised to notice how cool, clean, and smooth he felt. I liked the way he felt. Interestingly I noticed how his touch calmed me.

The headlights of a car passing now too close for comfort illuminated a strange scene: a man standing dangerously in the middle of the road holding a snake in his hand trying to protect both the snake and now himself from being run over.

The voice in my head screaming, I carried that snake out of danger to the side of the road, climbed over a low rock wall, the kind of which has some antiquity in my part of the world, and walked a bit further into the bushes where I released him, carefully and quickly stepping back a few yards afterwards. I said to him "I don't know if this is where you belong but at least here you won't get hurt.".

He seemed in no hurry to get away from me. To the contrary, it looked as if he was getting himself comfortable to spend the night exactly where I released him.

Not Bitten Not Shy

If a snake bites you, it's not personal. That's what a snake does when threatened. In the same way, if you're afraid of a snake, that's not personal either. That's how you react in the presence of a snake. Both reactions, the snake's and yours, are on automatic. Both are out of survival. If you've got the presence of mind to stop and look during that survival reaction, there's an opportunity to notice how brilliantly your survival machinery is constructed.

That requires differentiating the voice from who you really are. When you do that, what you start to notice is in order to protect who you really are, the voice will say ANY-thing ... anything at all, no matter what the cost, no matter what the damage, no matter whether it's truth or lies, the voice will say anything in order to survive who you really are. That's its raison d'etre. It will do it's job even to the point of endarkening who you really are and killing off the experience of transformation.

There's no possibility of possibility  in survival. Yet we human beings become fully  human when we choose our survivalness, if you will. Noticing the voice of fear screaming out when skydiving or encountering snakes, who we really are is the domain of courage wherein we yet have the choice to act or not, even in the face of fear.

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