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 Friends Of The Landmark Forum in South Africa

Grass Valley, Sierra Foothills, California, USA

Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2004



This essay, The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In South Africa, is the companion piece to It is also the first in the octology World Transformed:
  1. The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In South Africa
  2. The Transformation Of China
  3. Werner's Work Is Coming Back To Hawai'i
  4. Werner Erhard Slide Experience
  5. Werner's Work Is Coming Back To Hawai'i Again
  6. Werner's Work Is Coming To Fiji
  7. Werner's Work Is Coming To The Dominican Republic
  8. The Breakthrough That Unlocks Futures
in that order.

It is also the first in a group of six written on Thanksgiving Day:
  1. The Friends Of The Landmark Forum In South Africa
  2. Simple Things
  3. Full On You
  4. Regular Guy
  5. No Line
  6. Orchid Leaves
in that order.

It is also the prequel to South Africa Premiere.

I am indebted to Anna Taglieri who requested I write this account, and to Margaretha van der Meijden Theron who contributed material.




Photography by Mark Skinner
Table Mountain, Cape Town
backdrop for introducing Werner's work to South Africa, 1979


The Promise



Fulfilling a promise I made to Werner Erhard at 2:00am one morning in 1979 in the kitchen of his San Francisco home, the Franklin House, I went to South Africa, and over the course of a year led the first series of ten guest seminars around the country in the major cities causing the first one thousand enrollments in South Africa which inexorably started Werner's work there.

Out of a promise of this nature, you may well imagine that any of a number of things might have happened. This is what actually did happen. And while I am not the story of my life, this conversation accounts for and tells that story. If, indeed, a story must be told at all, then I intend to support it being told accurately.



What Happened: Introducing Werner's Work To South Africa, 1979



It's not that I hit the ground running because I didn't. If anything, I hit the ground sitting. Upon arrival in Cape Town where I had completed my university education nine years earlier, the first thing I did was visit family and look up old friends. We sat around talking. I had no strategy for what was about to happen. Rather, that seemed to unfold ... just in the process of life itself ...

People said to me: "You're different than when we last saw you", and "Something has changed about you", and "What happened to you? You seem open and at peace".

Gradually I started to share about this guy I met (Werner Erhard) and this thing I did (the est  training). In the United States where everyone has access to Werner's work, an already healthy level of skepticism had built up. But in 1979 in South Africa, cloistered as it was by the fetters of apartheid, the listening for transformation was acute. Enrollment was an easy, delightful process.

A book written by Luke Rhinehart called The Book of est was quite well known in South Africa, so there already was some sense of the form Werner's work took. But book knowledge is one thing. Having someone willing to share from first hand experience was something else entirely. Soon I started receiving invitations to share Werner's work with home groups.

Through one of those home meetings, I was introduced to Margaretha van der Meijden. Margaretha, a bold, strapping woman, completed the est  training and a three months' assisting agreement in the United States before returning to South Africa in November 1977. Margaretha shared with me her intention to make Werner's work available in Cape Town which later developed into her creation of a transformed space for people. She'd set up a graphics supply store she called "est  graphics" (a greeting on a glass panel said "Hi! This is it!"). Margathetha had also produced three The Hunger Project exhibitions there and had shared her experience of Werner's work with those of her family and friends who cared to listen (as well as with those who didn't), enrolling many of them.

After a meeting in Margaretha's "est  graphics", we contacted the major evening newspaper, the Cape Argus. Steve Shapiro, a reporter, interviewed us. The result was a full page article in the widely read Saturday weekend edition magazine titled "somewhere between east and west" (all lower case) with the letters "e", "s", and "t" in both the words "east" and "west" cleverly highlighted.

I had scheduled to share my experience with a group at the home of a friend. We were expecting seven people. Anticipating an expanded interest as a result of Steve's article, we changed the venue of the home introduction to a room at the Hohenort Hotel in Constantia. Steve graciously included the new location in the coverage of his interview. At the Hohenort Hotel event, we expected the original seven guests plus, maybe, a few more who had read the article. Two hundred and sixty seven people showed up. Things would never be the same after that.

A whirlwind month later, Sandy Robins, another reporter from the Cape Argus, called me. She said that the Cape Argus would like to publish another article about est in the widely read weekend edition, this time in the women's section. The article would be titled "Est is ..." (I would have preferred a lower case "e"). Sandy asked me if I would mind being interviewed by her.

Would I? Anticipating even more expanded interest as a result of the second full page article we changed the venue of the next home introduction this time to a room at the Newlands Hotel in Newlands. Sandy (who, by the way, was totally enrolled and got it completely) also graciously included the new location in the coverage of her interview. At the Newlands Hotel event, we expected the original six guests plus, maybe, a few more who had read the article. One hundred and fifty three people showed up. Now the thing had a life all of its own, and we could not have purchased better advertising even if we had tried to.

There was a consideration about presenting Werner's work in South Africa in those days: apartheid. It would not have been appropriate to segregate Werner's work. Yet delivering it to so called "mixed" audiences would have been illegal. During the guest seminars I led, one of the most important functions assigned to an assistant was to be on watch in the parking lot outside the venue in case we were raided by "BOSS", the so called "Bureau Of State Security" for contravening the apartheid laws since almost all our introductory events drew people of all races. Fortunately no such eventuality occurred. Ironically, on another occasion four years later in September of 1981, I enrolled the Chief of Police of Plettenberg Bay in the possibility Werner's work is.

Regarding apartheid, we did not yet have the language of possibility in those days. Yet when we managed assistants meetings or spoke what Werner's work could provide, we asked people what they would want out of it. Almost everyone in one form or another said "the release of Nelson Mandela" and / or "the end of apartheid". Now that Nelson Mandela is free, and apartheid has ended, did we cause that? Nelson Mandela (whose grandchildren are now graduates of Werner's work) when referring to the end of apartheid in South Africa, correctly said "Nothing of what happened in South Africa was the work of any one individual. The transformation of South Africa came out of a partnership between many, many people.". So did we cause that? I prefer to say we said it would happen. That was our stand coming from transformation. We said it would happen. And look what happened.

Between the twin successes of the Hohenort Hotel event and the Newlands Hotel event, Margaretha introduced me to her sister Iona Hearn and her fiance James Clow who were also visiting South Africa from California and who were both graduates of the GSLP, the Guest Seminar Leaders Program, the forerunner of the ILP, the Introduction Leaders Program. Before meeting Iona and James, I shared my experience mostly out of my relationship with Werner. To be sure, that worked well. Brilliantly, in fact - even if I have to say it myself. But once Iona and James drove me to the top of a sheer cliff overlooking the beautiful False Bay on the south side of the Cape Peninsula and had me deliver my seminar at full volume and at high speed to the seagulls flying by, I realized a new power source in my delivery: my Self. I am indebted to Iona and James for making that available to me. What was already a powerful sharing became even more powerful as a result of their coaching.

Some days I spent hours on the telephone speaking with people, sharing Werner's work with them, enrolling them, answering questions. There was no resistance. The time for open listening in South Africa had started. It was truly an epic time. One morning I got on the phone at about 8:00am intending to spend five minutes in conversation with one person. One thing led to another, and by the time I hung up at 3:30pm that afternoon, I had enrolled forty five people, each being recommended by the previous one. I drove my car to the road that runs along the face of Table Mountain known as Tafelberg Road ("Tafelberg" is how you say Table Mountain in Afrikaans, the local language) where I walked for an hour or so looking out over Cape Town known by the ancient mariners as "the fairest Cape in all the world" contemplating what a future of transformation in South Africa would look like.

On a whim I took the Mensa test which I aced. Coming into contact with the Mensa Society was a lot of fun and, given their literally mind boggling intelligence, a challenge. Of course I shared my experience of Werner and his work with them too. In order to give my remarks some context, I described Werner as an American Zen master and his work as living Zen without the b.s. The Mensa Society loved that and invited me to present a seminar for them which I did. About twenty people attended, and the conversation was rapt and lively. I spoke with them about Zen and Werner's work which is also the subject of another essay in this collection, Zen And Werner's Work.

What fascinated the Mensa Society most was the moment Werner became enlightened or, to use the term Werner prefers, transformed. Werner has said that "enlightenment" has an eastern connotation which he does not require. He prefers the term "transformation" and doesn't refer to what happened to him as enlightenment.

I knew of no better way to share that moment with them than to read the electrifying coverage of it verbatim from Professor William (Bill) Warren Bartley III's official biography of Werner titled "Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man - The Founding of est". I sat in front of the room raised up on a bar stool reading from the chapter named "True Identity" in part III of the book, "Transformation". There, in an account called "Once Upon A Freeway", Werner generously shares the exact moment  he got it - the Big "IT". As Bill said, "somewhere between Corte Madera and the Golden Gate Bridge, the man in the car on the freeway was transformed" (Werner later specified the exact location as on the Golden Gate Bridge itself). It was a priceless moment. There I was reading  to some of the most brilliant minds on the planet who were listening to every word of that extraordinary account with jaw-dropped amazement. You could have heard a pin drop.

Speaking of Bill's biography, it proved to be the most useful source document and reference book I could have asked for, out there at the southernmost tip of Africa thousands of miles away from the Franklin House. I read it and re-read it repeatedly, looking up explanations of concepts and historical facts to supplement my answers to questions fascinated people were asking. Another source of reference material during those halcyon days was Werner himself. I stayed in contact with him by tape recording every guest seminar I led and mailing the cassette to him to critique. He responded by mail, answering my questions, trusting me to come from my experience. That trust, in and of itself, empowered me to look into my own space to determine what to do next. Werner did not simply give me a recipe to cook up. In fact, he pulled back from doing that if I asked him "how to" questions. Rather, the complex support space he created for me by correspondence alone enabled me to see for myself how things would work best. Not only did that set the stage for the introduction of Werner's work to and the transformation of South Africa but it also changed my life forever. It is a space that I have lived from ever since. It drives, directs, and guides every aspect of my life. It did then and it does today.

There was no structure for support in South Africa then. If I didn't create it, there wasn't going to be one. I am not a graduate of any leadership program. I got what I got by being around Werner. I knew that all I had to do was to get up to the front of the room, be with people, open my mouth, and speak. I was often the last one to find out what was going to happen in my seminars. Like everyone else, I found out how my seminars turned out by listening. I trusted the process. I counted on it working - which it did, time after time after time. I never prepared or followed notes. There did not seem to be any need. Nothing was calculated. There was no strategy. And it worked. Usually I spoke for an hour standing, then took questions or conducted a process, like asking the group to recall the first time they remember being upset. Then I would ask them to recall the time they were upset before that, and then the time they were upset before that etc. It was a very basic process designed to give them a sense of what an originating incident is and how the decisions they made about it have shaped their epistemology and their lives subconsciously ever since. A man came up to me at the end of a seminar at the Newlands Hotel and said to me in a thick "boer" accent: "You spoke for an hour. I didn't understand anything you said. Whatever you've got, I want it.".

The Newlands Hotel was the venue for three more guest seminars, and it was no longer necessary to have full page articles in a major newspaper to publicize them. What sufficed instead were small ads in the classified section: "est guest seminar with Laurence Platt, Saturday night, Newlands Hotel, telephone 64-3468". That was it. Anywhere between fifty and a hundred people responded to each announcement and showed up.

Another publication to which I owe a debt of gratitude for making our intention known is Odyssey published by Jill Iggleden. Simone Williams interviewed me for Odyssey. Simone knew I had practiced meditation and yoga in earlier years. She asked some brilliant questions about the distinction between them and Werner's work. Actually there are no valid comparisons. Meditation and yoga are meditation and yoga, and Werner's work is Werner's work. But what came out in the interview was very useful and struck a chord with a lot of people, and it was this:

When I practiced Meditation and yoga, what I had in mind was to get somewhere. I considered meditation and yoga to be a path  I was on, and if I practiced enough, I believed I would get to the end of that path which I believed would be a better place than where I was. From participating in Werner's work people get clear This Is It!  There's no place to get to. You are already here. The train has already reached the station. So rather than practicing meditation and yoga all the while trying to get somewhere else, I practiced meditation and yoga while practicing meditation and yoga. This is a contextual shift. Simone got that brilliantly and made it the focus of her interview which caused seventy guests at my next guest seminar.

The way I handled registration was to invite people to sign their commitment to participate in Werner's work when it was delivered in it's full form in South Africa in a book which I carried around with me wherever I went. At that time the closest real offering of Werner's work was in London England, eight thousand miles away. It is said that if the mountain will not come to Mohammed then Mohammed must go to the mountain. Some people were unwilling to wait for a real offering of Werner's work to come to South Africa, and nor were they willing to wait for apartheid to end which would open the space for a real offering of Werner's work to be available in South Africa. They opted instead to travel to London immediately to participate in Werner's work there. One of them, a fellow by the name of Craig Houseman, sent me a postcard from London which simply said: "I did it. I got nothing out of it. It was worth every penny. Thank You.". To this day as far as I know, eight thousand miles may still be the longest distance anyone has traveled anywhere on the planet specifically to participate in Werner's work for the first time.

I was invited by the Theosophical Society of South Africa to address them. The invitation was caused by a member who attended a guest seminar. I enjoyed being with them. Forty people were present. Theosophy is a synthesis of science, religion, and philosophy. Into that listening I shared Werner's work. The ensuing conversation was delightful and fresh about the religion of religion - "meta religion" may be a better way of saying that. I shared with them my own religion and how my religion is two feet eleven and three quarter inches long in a life that is three feet long. I shared that what kept me stuck in my own religion was that I believed it very fervently. Until I experienced transformation, there was no distinction for me of direct experience. In a religion that is two feet eleven and three quarter inches long in a three foot life, transformation is that final quarter inch. They got from my sharing that Werner's work is not a religion and that their own religious experiences would be greatly expanded once they could see where they believed their own religious experiences to death. I shared with them that when I was able to simply let my experience be, I began to have direct experiences which are arguably the ones written about in the holy books and which - in spite of ourselves - we then believe. We mistake the menu for the steak. All the great spiritual and religious masters are simply people who found out that this is it! The Theosophical Society presentation was one of my favorites. I really loved being with that group. They listened like sponges. They wanted everything I had.

I led guest seminars in Johannesburg, Durban, and Plettenberg Bay paying my own airfare yet never wanting for accommodation. All told I enrolled the first thousand people into the possibility of Werner's work and real, thrilling, alive transformation in South Africa. The first presentation of the Landmark Forum in South Africa. would have to wait until the apartheid era was over. I don't think anyone would have been enrolled in the idea of presenting one of Werner's trainings for white people, and another separate training for non-white people. Bear in mind that in those days, a non-white  person in South Africa was simply someone who was not a white  person. That means that people of mixed race were considered to be non-white, Indian people were considered to be non-white, Chinese people were considered to be non-white, Black people were certainly considered to be non-white, but Japanese people were considered to be honorary white. Go figure.

Until apartheid ended (as we said it would out of our stand for the transformation of South Africa), I continued to enroll people around the world in the possibility of Werner's work as transformation in South Africa I created an international group which I called The Friends of the Landmark Forum in South Africa whom I sourced, communicated with, and coached by national and international telephone calls, by mail and by e-mail. In as many conversations I had as possible, I asked people to listen for the possibility of the Landmark Forum in South Africa. By the time the first Landmark Forum was delivered in South Africa, the Friends of the Landmark Forum in South Africa were one thousand strong.

One thousand enrollments in Werner's work in South Africa. Another one thousand Friends of the Landmark Forum in South Africa. Another one thousand readers of this Conversations For Transformation website every month. And more.

Someone whom I enrolled in the possibility of Werner's work in South Africa said: "Laurence has reached out and touched the whole world". I don't consider I did anything special. Sooner or later someone would have done exactly what I did. I was just fortunate enough to have been the first. There's nothing personal about transformation. You can stand for it but you can't claim it as your own. Transformation is a distinctly human property, the possibility of Being for all human beings, and I knew once I heard it call me I would do something with it. I like it that I was the first on the ground in South Africa with Werner's work. I own that expression. But if it hadn't taken that specific form it would have taken another one. And if it wasn't me it would have surely been someone else.

As I said right in the beginning, there never was any strategy for this. I had no ulterior motive for doing it. Truth be told I didn't share Werner's work in order to accomplish anything, like the end of apartheid for example although I didn't hear too many people complain when that did happen just as we said it would. I shared Werner's work. for the joy of sharing Werner's work.

Actually, to be specific, what I shared was my relationship with Werner and how inside of our relationship new possibilities for being call me powerfully into being and new openings for action call me powerfully into action. I heard that call and I called back. That's what enrolled people. That's what introduced Werner's work to South Africa in 1979.



Follow Through



The following communications are reproduced from my archives in the original form in which they first appeared. I created them in the United States to provide a powerful support for the people currently generating and participating in Werner's work in South Africa. For convenience of delivery I designed them as websites which were then printed by friends and partners in South Africa who included them in the folders of paperwork given to each participant in their meetings.

  1. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Forum in South Africa
    Sunday October 22, 2000

  2. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Advanced Course in South Africa
    Sunday October 22, 2000

  3. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Forum of January 2001 in South Africa
    Tuesday January 16, 2001

  4. Communication for the Participants in the ILP
    Friday June 8, 2001

  5. Communication for the Graduates of the Landmark Forum in Johannesburg
    Tuesday June 12, 2001

  6. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Forum of July 2001 in South Africa
    Friday June 22, 2001

  7. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Advanced Course of July 2001 in South Africa
    Friday June 29, 2001

  8. Communication for the Coaches for the ILP of November 2001 in South Africa
    Monday November 19, 2001

  9. Communication for the People Who Assist the Landmark Forum of January 2002 in South Africa
    Monday January 14, 2002

  10. Acknowledgement of the ILP Participants, Coaches, and Leaders
    Tuesday April 23, 2002

Photography by Peter Stanford
Laurence Platt
introducing Werner's work to South Africa, 1979



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