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 Sadness Of A Wasted Life

The Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, California, USA

October 28, 2016

"I had the realization that what my life was about was really meaningless, it was empty, and this realization that the things that I thought were so significant like looking good and winning, just the normal things that I guess most people think are important, that they really had no importance, that it was all empty and meaningless. When I broke through the sadness, broke through the sense of despair of having wasted my life, I all of a sudden realized 'My God! I'm free!'."
This essay, The Sadness Of A Wasted Life, is the second in a trilogy on Sadness:
  1. On Being Sad
  2. The Sadness Of A Wasted Life
  3. "Sadness Is Supposed To Cure Being Sad"
in that order.

In the moments before my life transformed (in speaking with friends who've also participated in Werner's work, I've determined that's when it's most likely to happen), I experienced (in a light and in a depth and in a detail that was all of withering, shocking, and deeply uncomfortable) a sadness for having wasted my life. That's actually a lot closer to the truth than it sounds. I was aghast.

Even if I'd confronted it earlier (no, even if I'd realized  it earlier), there's a good chance it wouldn't have changed me - and if it had  changed me, it would've been temporarily:  within a short period of time (a week, a month, a year, ten  years) I would've reverted to wasting my life again. In other words, my insight into wasting my life, wasn't a big enough breakthrough to be transformational. Question: is there an insight into wasting your life, that is  transformational?

Answer: try this on for size: it's not your insight into wasting your life that's transformational per se  (if it were, none of your New Year's resolutions would peter out, yes?), rather it's a certain context  for your insight into wasting your life, that's transformational. OK what does that mean  Laurence?

To answer that question with another question: what does the sentence (it's not a phrase) "My life transformed" mean? (here, "transformed" is an active verb rather than a past participle deployed like an adjective). It means "whoever I had been up until that point, I no longer was". That, by the way, is vintage Erhard  which I'm unabashedly re-creating here verbatim to give form to my own experience, simply because I can't imagine a clearer way of articulating it. "Whoever I had been up until that point" had figured out  what was significant in life. It was more than that actually. It was I took pride  in having figured out what was significant in life: I had to look good, and I had to win. Now I never took that winning thing to extremes. You know, for me it was never I had to win and the other guy had to lose  (mine was never the go for the jugular  brand of winning). But I did see life as a game in which winning was significant, and that determined almost everything I did. So I'd seen the significance of looking good, and I'd seen the significance of winning. What I hadn't seen yet was it was I who added all the significance  (that would come later).

And then came that fateful moment (out of time) of transformation, when it became rivetingly clear it's all empty and meaningless, and it's empty and meaningless that it's empty and meaningless  (listen: making it mean  something that it's empty and meaningless is just more arrogance). I'd spent my life in pursuit of things I thought were significant like looking good and winning, only to find all of them are empty and meaningless. Even worse, I saw in trying to look good, I'd been a jerk, inauthentic and inconsiderate. And in fixating on winning, I'd stepped on people, and had been dishonest and ego-centric. And all for what?  For things that all turned out to be empty and meaningless! So it's "empty and meaningless" which is the context for your insight into wasting your life, having the power to vaporize all added significance like a snowflake in a furnace. When I realized I'd wasted my life, a great sadness came over me. Squirm and duck and dive as I might, it was unavoidable.

Transformation isn't linear. It's discontiguous. It isn't a lulling lullaby like a bedtime story. It's a piercing breakthrough like a Zen haiku. Once I could let the sadness of my wasted life be, I could also let be I was alive, and that it really is empty and meaningless, and I was free. "Free" means what? It means nothing had changed, but I could play in the world in an entirely new way. It means I could make choices newly which would create a life I loved, a life worth living. It means I no longer needed to live according to pre-written scripts derived from what supposedly was significant. I saw who I really am is enough. I saw I don't need to look good in order to be who I really am. I saw I don't need to win in order to be who I really am. In a heartbeat (literally) I went from being sad for having wasted my life, to being whole and complete and fulfilled with a wide open future from which I could create a life I loved, a life worth living, in those beautiful unmeasureable moments out of time.

That was nearly forty years ago. The quality of the future I created then (wide open) is still present, and from it I'm ongoingly creating a life I love ie a life worth living. Life's spontaneous changes come and go - that is, if they come at all. But mostly they just creep on and on at the same brain-numbingly petty pace (as William Shakespeare may have said). Breakthroughs like Werner's work on the other hand, you'll talk about forever: once you experience that breakthrough in transformation (either as something you applied yourself, or perhaps as something that just happened  of its own volition), you can't  go back. You can't un-learn riding that bicycle, yes? (at best, you may vaguely recall what it was like before you learned to balance, but what good does that do anyway?). Like that, you can construe the sadness of a wasted life to be the back  edge (if you will) of authentic, genuine, real, thrilling  transformation (transformation itself can be construed as the front, leading  edge).

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