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


So What

Hog Island Oyster Company, Oxbow Public Market, Napa, California, USA

September 13, 2013



"SO WUT" ... personalized California license plate on a dark chocolate brown 1972 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL sedan owned by Werner Erhard ("SO WHAT" was taken)

This essay, So What, is the companion piece to Internal States.

It is also the seventh in an open group on Zen: It was conceived at the same time as I am indebted to Mary Murray who inspired this conversation, and to Charles "Raz" Ingrasci and to Jack Rafferty who contributed material.




Over the course of many years from my teen years until now, I've heard  it on three different occasions. When I say I've heard it on three different occasions, I mean I've gotten  it differently each time on three different occasions. On each occasion, what I've gotten was an expansion  of its impact from the previous occasion, a deeper appreciation  of it than on the previous occasion, an exponential acceleration  of its power from the previous occasion.

The first time I heard it, I heard invalidation, ridicule, taunting, and teasing. The second time I heard it, it stopped me dead in my tracks like a Zen master creeping up silently behind me giving me a terrific blow on my shoulder - whack!  - with a wooden broadsword. My mind spun. There was something  profound to get - this I could tell immediately, intuitively ... but what it was exactly, I couldn't articulate. It wasn't for another nine years after that, before I would gather any context for it, within and from which I could appreciate its potency for the third time in its entirety.



"So What" Like "Shut Up!"



When I was a teenager and attending high school, our school was an all boys school. We all wore the same uniform. We were all white (that was South Africa for you in those days). For the most part, high school was a good experience for me. It imparted a great education, modeled as it was after the English public school system. Some boys, the same as you would find in just about any high school I suppose, were prone to bragging and boasting. It ranged from the sinister schoolboy-ish "I can beat you up with one hand behind my back" to the challenging "I can run the hundred  (ie the hundred yards sprint) faster than you" to the classic "My Dad is richer than your Dad.".

In all such cases, the ultimate put down of braggarts and boasters was a resounding chorus from all boys within earshot, of "So what?!". It was deadly effective. It shut the braggarts and the boasters up immediately. "So what?!" in this sense invalidated, ridiculed, taunted, and teased them. It made them a laughing stock and got them to shut up and be quiet. Schoolboy mission accomplished.

That's the first time I heard it. That's how "So what?!" first entered my vocabulary, taking on the meaning "Shut up, be quiet, your input is ridiculous, it doesn't matter ... and  ... it's unwanted.". The ultimate put down.



"So What" Like Whack!



I'm in my third year of college - the beginning of my twenties. I've got a lot going on. There's a lot on my mind. There's managing the intensity of the college study schedule. There's my relationship with my girlfriend. There's my relationship with my parents. God! It seems that at this age, all  relationships come into question. It's a very unsettled time. There's a friend I trust, an older woman whom I approach and ask if she'll go for coffee with me to talk. I tell her I've got a lot on my mind and I'd appreciate her input.

She not only agrees: she offers a better suggestion than merely coffee. Why don't we go for a walk on the beach instead? More than that, why don't we go for a walk on the beach at sunrise  ie get there before dawn, walk, talk, and watch the sun rise? What a great  idea.

I pick her up very early in the first car I ever owned (a 1962 Chrysler Simca 1000  aka "Mille"  which I bought from my mother) and we drive to the beach. It's dark when we arrive but not too dark to see. We park, and soon we're walking along the water's edge and I'm talking.

I tell her everything - this, that, the other, about my studies, about my girlfriend, about my parents, everything. It all comes out. I'm animated. I'm relieved to get it all off my chest. The sun starts its inexorable rise but I don't even notice. I've got a point of view about everyone and everything, and I'm too engrossed in it to notice anything else.

Finally about a half an hour after I start gabbing (it probably sounded to her like one single sentence  punctuated by neither comma nor period - you know, one of those marathons), I dry up. I've said everything I have to say. There's nothing left. Nothing has changed, although for the first time in a long time I really do feel I've gotten a load off my chest. And in synch with the dwindling torrent of words coming out of my mouth, I'm / we're walking slower and slower and slower till eventually I / we come to a stop.

I look over to my friend. She's not saying anything. So I say to her tentatively "... well?". She looks back at me and says nothing. I wait. Still she says nothing. I gesture with my head, raising my eyebrows - a silent  "... well?" this time, if you will. Then she speaks. And what she says is "So what?!".

It takes me completely by surprise. I'm Charlie Brown  lying flat on my back after Lucy  whips the football away. "Wh-wh-what???!!!"  I think, trying to speak but my thoughts suddenly have no traction. "She said 'So What?!'"  I say to myself, mortified. Given my previous experience at high school, her "So What?!"  is about to envelop me in invalidation, being ridiculed, being taunted, being teased ... when suddenly I notice something.

What I notice is she heard everything I said. I notice she's listening intently, raptly - even now. I notice she's looking at me with the most open, the most kind, the most loving  expression you could ever possibly see on the face of another human being. "Listen to the waves" she says. "Listen to the seagulls. Look at those gorgeous colors in the sky.".

I don't know what her "So What?!" does ... but I know it does something marvelous, something I've never experienced before. She gives me no answers ... but she gives me something. And whatever she gives me stops my anxious thoughts cold. I notice dawn has now begun in earnest. The sky is a canvas of burnished reds and oranges and blues. For the first time I can actually hear the ocean and the seagulls. No longer is there anything going on about my studies. No longer is there anything going on about my girlfriend. No longer is there anything going on about my parents. And if there is  anything going on about them, it's now just background noise - kind of like the radio is still on but now it's been moved to another room, and the volume is somehow turned down low so it's too soft to interfere with the swooosh swooosh-ing of the waves and the caw caw caw-ing of the seagulls right in front of me.

"Wow!" I think, "what just happened?".

What just happened is I heard "So What?!" for the second time - only this time it's a Zen master's terrific blow on the shoulder wooden broadsword whack!  "So What?!" rather than a schoolboy's "Shut up!"  "So What?!".



"So What" Like Being Out-Here  Not Emboldening Internal States

Werner Erhard's work, which he introduced me to for the first time almost exactly nine years to the day after that walk on the beach at sunrise, provided the first reliable context for what I'd experienced. It was more than that actually. It provided clarity and certainty and therefore repeatable choice  in the matter of what I'd experienced, by differentiating between two ways of being  (if you will):

 1)  being out-here, as differentiated from
 2)  emboldening internal states.

Being out-here is being with Life where and as it actually happens. The sunrise. The beach. The sound of the waves and the seagulls. Emboldening internal states (thoughts, feelings, emotions etc about study schedules, girlfriends, parents etc) is being lost in the machinery.

With regard to our internal states and being lost in the machinery, it calls for a certain bigness  to hear "So What?!" as a compassionate call to take a stand for being out-here with Life where and as it actually happens, rather than emboldening the internal states. This is the third way I've heard "So What?!".

The machinery is incessant and permanent. No stand is required for it to be. What's miraculous  (if I may say it that way) is when I'm being out-here rather than emboldening / futzing  with internal states, those very same internal states clear up  by themselves - just in the process of Life itself.

The next time you're gabbing about, absorbed in, trapped  in, futzing with the internal states and a friend listening to you gab says "So what?!", they may be neither invalidating you nor ridiculing you nor taunting you nor teasing you. Rather, they may just be doing you a big  favor.



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