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

The Emptiness You Feel Is Not The Problem

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

August 2, 2020

Early on: "Life is empty and meaningless, and it's empty and meaningless that it's empty and meaningless." ... 
Later on: "You  are empty and meaningless, and it's empty and meaningless that you're empty and meaningless." ... 
"Depression: when the things you do to avoid that who you are for yourself is not enough, don't work anymore." ... Laurence Platt
This essay, The Emptiness You Feel Is Not The Problem, is the companion piece to A Dog Trying Not To Be A Dog.

It is also the sixth in a septology inspired by the distinction Empty And Meaningless: I am indebted to Leonie Colman and to Tamara "Tammy" Saitowitz and to JeanneLauree Olsen who inspired this conversation.

In these extraordinarily unthinkable days of worldwide stay-homes and lockdowns, there's a lot of doing nothing going on. What's interesting about that (if you tell the truth about it) is how doing nothing doesn't come easy to us human beings. By "... doing nothing doesn't come easy ..." I mean doing nothing may at best seem like a regrettable waste of time, and at worst we experience it as outright uncomfortable. But wait! It's just doing nothing, yes? Shouldn't only doing something  be uncomfortable? Doing nothing should be comfortable, easy. What is it then, about doing nothing that can be uncomfortable for us? I assert it could be a simple matter of identification - indeed, of mis-identification. Allow me to expand.

I was visiting with a good friend of mine who was recently laid off from a job she'd held for a many years. It was a brick and mortar  business environment for which working from home via Zoom  wouldn't work. The business had all but shut down. Mass layoffs were her company's only option. I knew she was financially secure, so that wouldn't be a concern for her. Yet her voice was limp, her energy barely detectable. She said while she was at home doing nothing, she was sinking deeper and deeper into depression in a way that she'd never sunk before. I asked her what that was like for her (I could tell she was being authentic, telling the truth). After a moment, she said (quote unquote) "I feel so empty.". I didn't respond for a minute or more - largely for effect. Then I said "That's right, you are  empty.". Taken aback, she asked "What do you mean 'I am  empty'?". The bewildered look on her face bespoke her unasked question "What good is that  supposed to do for me?".

We're convinced if we peel back the layers of our lives like an onion, if we peel back one layer, then we peel back another layer, and then we keep on peeling back layers and layers all the way down to the last layer, we're convinced we'll get to a core, we're sure there's a kernel  in there, and we're convinced that core, that kernel is who we really are ie it's what gives meaning  to our lives. We're totally convinced that core, that kernel is in fact the substance  of our lives we call our "I" / "me".

But there isn't a core. There isn't a kernel. When you peel back the last layer of the onion, there's nothing there. Nothing at all. It's empty. It's nothing but space. And that's who we really are: empty space, which is imbued with powers to create contexts. The emptiness / being empty then, is just what we are ... and  ... it has super powers. Now if you can stop making that mean  something, it's an opportunity for enormous  freedom. It's this enormous freedom which is Werner's enduring gift.

The problem however begins when, without the support of an empowering conversation for transformation, we misconstrue emptiness / the possibility of who we really are as being empty, and erroneously assume "I shouldn't  feel empty" and / or "Something's wrong  if I feel empty.". And inexorably, imminently, mistakenly we start to live at odds with who we really are. It's this being at odds with who we really are, that we experience as uncomfortable. So we embark on activities which allow us to avoid  experiencing that who we are for ourselves, is uncomfortable. We're trapped in the false conclusion that who we are for ourselves, is never enough. It's the old story of the dog trying not to be a dog: the dog will always be a dog, and is doomed to fail at not being a dog, so it slides deeper and deeper into depression.

She blinked - as if startled by a rolling freight train missing the front of her car by mere inches as it rumbled unexpectedly out of nowhere while she waited, parked, at an unlit railroad crossing on a foggy, moonless night. I could tell she'd started to let in the possibility of emptiness being who she really is - not as an aberration, not as something wrong, but rather the getting of which would literally re-arrange everything. And I'd prefer (against a background of the conversation for transformation) to say that it would literally recontextualize  (I love that word) everything. But for now, to say it would "re-arrange" everything is good enough for jazz. It works.

Look (I really want you to get this): the problem isn't the emptiness ... because we are  empty. The problem is: not realizing the emptiness is who we really are ie not recognizing the emptiness is the context  for our very lives. Said another way, the problem is: missing what the emptiness really is. It's the erroneous assumption that the emptiness we feel, is out of place / wrong, and is therefore something to be avoided, fixed, or cured. But it's who we are! And if we avoid who we are, then there's no chance that who we are for ourselves will ever be enough - ergo  the onset of depression which, as I alluded to earlier, may just be a function of mistaken identity.

Realized or not, you'll always be who you really are. You can never do enough of anything to avoid being who you really are. And who you really are is empty. Without an empowering conversation for transformation, we mistake the emptiness, we make it wrong, and then we become hell-bent on avoiding feeling empty (or trying to).

When you get that, the possibility arises that who you are for yourself, could be enough. I continued "And now in this lockdown, almost all the things you've been doing to avoid it, no longer work or are no longer available to you. So celebrate this as the onset of a new era in which who you are for yourself, could be enough. The emptiness you feel is not the problem. The emptiness is who you really are. The real problem is: not recognizing emptiness as Life itself, rejecting it, misconstruing it as wrong / unwanted, avoiding it, not taking responsibility for it, not honoring it, not owning it, not (in a word) being  it.". She was listening with renewed intention.

"Yeah but  ..." she said after a while ("Uh oh" I mused, "here it comes: the 'Yeah but  ...'", the first leg of the trifecta "Yeah but  ..." / "How 'bout  ...?" / "What if  ...?" - yet she didn't go in its direction) "if that's true, and I've been living that way until now, then at worst I've wasted a great deal of my life, and at best I've been living completely inauthentically.". "That's right" I said, "So what is your life going to be about from now on?" (I tried to make it sound as plain, as vanilla, as common or garden variety  as possible, like "Meh, we've all done that at one time or another, and so what, and it's no big deal, and you can choose to create it all anew now.").

At first she didn't say anything. Then she just leaned over toward me and put her head on my shoulder and said "I like you" ... which feels like a good place to end.

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