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


That's Not You

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

October 3, 2022

"I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry-go-round, I just had to let it go."
... John Winston Ono Lennon, Watching The Wheels
This essay, That's Not You, is the companion piece to Born Into It II.

It was written at the same time as Do Seeds Doubt?.

I am indebted to Josh Cohen who contributed material for this conversation.

I could sense a certain hopeless exasperation in her voice. "I try to stop myself, I wish I could stop myself, I wish I could make myself stop"  she said, "but I can't, I just can't, I just keep on doing it.". "Whoa!"  I said, "Stop what?  Doing what?". "Stop myself thinking all these thoughts" she said, "I'm always thinking, I'm always analyzing, I'm always being critical of myself, nothing is ever enough, nothing is ever good  enough. But I just can't stop, I just can't stop myself thinking so much.".

"A-Ha!"  I said, "You say you try to stop yourself thinking. But that's not you. You can't stop yourself if what you're trying to stop isn't you.". "What do you mean by it 'isn't me'?"  she asked after the briefest pause, "It is  me!?" (it was a lilting half-assertion / half-question). "No it's not" I said, "That process started before you got here. It was already going on long before you were even born. At very best, you were born into it.". "Oh nooo, it is  me" she resisted, a bit more vehement now, being challenged. "OK" I said, "if it is you (and let's suppose just for the sake of discussion that it is you) then stop thinking, stop analyzing, stop being critical of yourself.".

"OK" she said triumphantly, "I will" ... followed a brief moment later by "OK, I have. I've stopped.". I waited - not very long, maybe twenty seconds max - and then I asked "How about now? What's it like now?". At first she was silent. Then an awkward look came over her face, and she said slowly (very  slowly) "Oh ... my ... God!  It's started again. It's back.". "All by itself?" I asked. "All by itself!" she echoed, incredulous. I said "So if you can't stop it, then that's not you doing it in the first place ie if you can't stop the thinking and analyzing, then that's not you doing the thinking or the analyzing. You can't stop yourself if what you're trying to stop isn't you.".

"WOW!" she said ... and then quickly "Wait, what ...?". "No, don't do that" I interrupted her gently, "at least not now. Just keep watching what happens when you try to stop thinking and analyzing and being critical of yourself.". "Well, I can  stop it" she said "but then after a while I notice it's started back up again all by itself.". "You say you can stop it, but you can't stop it starting back up again all by itself - which means you can't stop it, which means that's not you, yes?". She didn't answer. It's par for the course. This discovery is such a breakthrough for people that it renders us speechless. In a trice, who you've always been being for yourself, lies in tatters.

There are many take-aways from a discovery like this. One is that thinking and analyzing are automatic processes like breathing and digestion, both of which while vital for human beings, we can't take any credit for. And because of that, they're not significant  (the realization of which in and of itself brings prodigious relief). Another is a provoked question (a corollary, if you will). It's: OK, if you're not the thinker (that's not you) and if you're not the analyzer (that's also not you), then who are  you?

Here are two propositions, two ideas in response to this elemental inquiry: one, you're the space, the context in which the thinking and analyzing show up; two, while you're neither the thinker nor the analyzer, you're the one who's saying what's being said about  the thinking and analyzing ie you're the one with say so  about them. Consider this: over the thinking and analyzing, given they're on full automatic, we wield scant power, whereas over what we say about the thinking and analyzing, we wield enormous power. The problem may not lie in the thinking or analyzing. The problem maybe lies in what we say (or don't say) about the thinking and analyzing.

Through all of that, she didn't say a word. Her demeanor reminded me of a kernel of popcorn seconds before it pops. Unlike adopting some new opinion that likely won't serve up anything life-transforming, she'd just had a breakthrough which, like her first experience of balancing on a bicycle, would be available to her forever.

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