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


Stellenberg Avenue

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

February 22, 2006



This essay, Stellenberg Avenue, is the companion piece to Being Upset: This Side Of A Breakthrough.

It is also the second in a quintology on Homes:
  1. In The Face Of Commitment
  2. Stellenberg Avenue
  3. Faery Cottage
  4. Creekside Cabin
  5. A House On Franklin Street
in that order.


Beauleigh Mansions, Stellenberg Avenue
I'm awed by the minutiae of memory.

They're so vivid, so very clear, so startlingly clear  in fact that at first it's the pristine clarity itself which takes front and center stage rather than the life altering decision I made back then which I intend to distinguish. First it's inaccessible: fog, pea soup. Then, suddenly, there it is: like an airstrip abruptly coming into view as you land through clouds, total recall in sharp focus, vivid living color with every imaginable detail intact.

The year is 1954. I'm four years old. We live in a house we rent on Stellenberg Avenue in Kenilworth, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. I remember the name of the house. It's "Lowlands". I can clearly see the brass plaque on the brick pillar at the end of the driveway with the name inscribed. I remember whom we rent the house from: Hindy Bloomberg, sister of Sylvia who is the mother of my four year old friend Alan Arcus. Down Stellenberg Avenue is a block of flats (translation: apartments   in American English) called "Beauleigh Mansions" where another friend of mine lives: three year old Jonathan Kramer, and his American mother Bea.

I have a lamp in the shape of a toy soldier next to my bed. I have a name  for that lamp. I call that lamp "Stanley". I also have a name for the light in the passage outside my room. I call that light "Benjamin". When my mother and father tuck me in bed at night I switch off my lamp, saying "Good night Stanley!". When they kiss me goodnight and leave the room I call out "Good night Benjamin!" and they switch off the passage light.

Stellenberg Avenue got its name like this: in 1679 the governor of the Cape Colony was a dutchman by the name of Simon van der Stel who loved the mountains, especially Table Mountain, in and around Cape Town. In Afrikaans (the local language) "en" means "and", "berg" means "mountain". "Stellenberg" therefore translates to "Stel (ie van der Stel) and mountain".

When I was four years old on Stellenberg Avenue I made a split-second decision which shaped my life for the next few decades. One day my mother went out shopping by herself and left me at Lowlands. In that instant I decided "I'm helpless, abandoned, and alone in the world.".

Just like that. One split-second decision by a four year old. A lifetime at effect by an adult.



Originating Incident



This conversation isn't about memories. This conversation isn't even about that decision. Rather, it's about how such decisions made by children run adults' lives. Four year olds run the government. Literally. Three year olds run the boardroom.

"I'm helpless, abandoned, and alone in the world" justifies not reaching out, not participating, holding back, and prejudging relationships even before they've begun. Entire interwoven worlds of patterned behavior are built up one upon the other, all based on such decisions of childhood. When subsequent incidents even remotely resemble the one when the original decision was made, the entire set of machinery comes back into play. The decision, as well as all behavior patterns based on the decision, is reinforced. The equilibrium of life is upset.

When we're upset it's almost never an examined state. We assume we're upset by whatever is going on and by whomever is present at the time. However, what we're really upset by is whatever we were upset similarly by last time  which this time  reminds us of. And what we were really upset by last time  was whatever we were upset similarly by the time before that  which the last time reminds us of.

The question then is: is there a first occasion, an originating incident  at the start of a chain of upsets, before which there was no upset? Yes, always.

Before the first occasion on Stellenberg Avenue I wasn't upset when people left. If they left I didn't feel helpless, abandoned, or alone in the world. Before that originating incident and the decision I made about it, there was just clear, bright, beautiful, happy Self.



Victory Over The Past



Someone left. I'm upset. Then I get I'm not upset by her leaving: I'm upset by my girlfriend at university leaving which her leaving reminds me of. Then  I get I'm not upset by my girlfriend at university leaving either: I'm upset by my mother  leaving on Stellenberg Avenue which my girlfriend at university leaving reminds me of.

Then I get I'm the one  who decided my mother leaving means "I'm helpless, abandoned, and alone in the world.".

* * *

When I get it's I who made that decision, when I get it's not law in the universe, I'm cause in the matter. The upset disappears. Clear, bright, beautiful, happy Self represences, and I'm free, laughing.




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