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


Temples Of Gray

New Jersey Turnpike, New Jersey, USA

May 26, 2011



This essay, Temples Of Gray, is the companion piece to Love And Kindness.



I'm driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike - an iconic  American freeway. I've got the radio on. And the air conditioner. I'm just another motorist in just another car surrounded by vehicles of all kinds imaginable on just another road in just another state in just another country. Oh ... and in thirteen days I'll be sixty one years old.

This essay isn't about my birthday. It isn't even about birth days  - plural - in general. Beyond the era of childhood innocence, it seems so arbitrary to celebrate a life (and Life itself)  a paltry once a year. It seems to me there's such illusionary scarcity  in celebrating a life and Life itself just once a year. Every hour, all twenty four of them in fact, of every day is imbued with the possibility of celebrating Life. Every hour is a new opportunity to celebrate the honor and the privilege and the miracle  it is to be alive.

Neither is this essay a commiseration  of aging. It's not a dirge  if you will. If you're expecting this, you've come to the wrong place. Really!

This essay shares the way I've regarded my now nearly sixty one year old body over time, and particularly what happens when I regard it these days with love and kindness (as Werner Erhard may have said).

I watch my diet carefully. There's no fanaticism  in the way I eat. I wouldn't put sugar water in the gas tank of my Toyota Yaris  in lieu of gasoline. Similarly I watch what I put into my mouth. It's pragmatic. It's not an "ism". It's just what works. I take vitamin supplements. I don't smoke. I drink red wine occasionally - on the advice of my physician. I exercise. I stay fit. My goal is to exercise daily - and I don't always make this goal although mostly I do. When I do, I either run five miles on an elliptical  or I swim two miles. I'm not big on weight training although the worm is turning  slowly in this direction. I prefer the aerobic wash  which comes with running and swimming. The daily healthy five mile aerobic wash trumps the looking good  yet health benefit questionable "six pack abs".

My exercise regimen today is a matter of maintaining optimal vitality. There's almost nothing left of my exercise regimen from an earlier time which was staying in shape ie staying tight  in order to look good. What's interesting is when exercise was  a matter of staying in shape / staying tight in order to look good, it was also more of a chore  and more of an effort than it is today. Now that it's simply a matter of maintaining optimal vitality, it's no more of a chore and no more of an effort than brushing my teeth.

My body is changing, and with it what I do when I look in the mirror is changing too. There came a day when I noticed one or three gray hairs in both my temples, a beer bulge  in my belly (even though I drink beer very occasionally) which refused to disappear no matter what muscle toning exercises I threatened it with, and my arms not long enough  to hold reading material far away enough from my eyes to be legible without reading glasses.

If I tell the truth about it, I didn't exactly welcome these changes. I resented them. I tried to get rid of them - hence exercising in order to look good. When I looked in the mirror, if I wasn't avoiding looking at them directly, I was pretending they weren't there. But they are here. And they're not going away. In fact in the future they're inevitably going to be more of the rule than the exception.

What I've noticed is the resolution of this state of affairs isn't to grin and bear  the changes. It's certainly not to resent  them (what good does that  do?). And while I can always write it off to good health practice, going to the gym and exercising in order to  try to change my body, works the same way as trying to change anything else: in trying to change my body I'm simply locking my dissatisfaction with it, in place.

Gee! I hope you get that ...

Now, here's the thing: I did eventually change my body. But the change didn't come from changing my body!  The change didn't come from changing the one or three gray hairs in both my temples. The change didn't come from changing the beer bulge in my belly. The change didn't come from making my arms long enough to hold reading material far away enough from my eyes to be legible without reading glasses.

The change came from looking at the gray hairs in my temples and the beer bulge in my belly and the blurred everything  I tried to read, with love and kindness. The change came from looking to see whether I could love my body's changes. The change came from giving up making my body unattractive  because of its changes. The change came from not avoiding  looking at and not avoiding confronting my body's changes in the mirror. The change came from looking to see if I could bring love and kindness to my body's changes. I saw I can love what I see in the mirror. And when I love what I see in the mirror, it feels as if an old friend whom I've not seen in a long, long time has come back into my life again. It feels as if an old, trusted, deep  friendship is instantly renewed, as if there's been no interim years of separation at all. I can love my body and celebrate all its changes, just as I celebrate all the accomplishments over time of a good and trusted and loyal friend.

It's been said many times by various oracles "Your body is your temple". If it weren't for the fact that saying it this way adds more significance  than I think is useful, I may agree with it as an idea - but only given the following proviso:

Saying "My body is a temple" may sound like it's a place I go into  to worship. I say it's simply not useful to make any distinctions which suggest I'm somehow "inside"  my body (or even "outside" my body for that matter): who I really am as my word isn't quite so linear. But if we can agree a temple is a house worthy of bringing love and kindness to, then I can say "My body is a temple worthy of bringing love and kindness to.".

It's all very basic and pragmatic and simple  when I look at it this way. Here, driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, it's the most basic, it's the most pragmatic, it's the simplest Life gets. Briefly glancing away from the traffic, I see my body's reflection in the rear view mirror. And I see with a new inspired  love and kindness there's not one but rather two  temples in the reflection.

Both are temples of gray.



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