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 World Is My Monastery III

In-Shape Health Club Swimming Pool, Napa, California, USA

June 2, 2022

"I do live in a monastery. My monastery is the whole world."
...   answering the question "Have you ever lived in a monastery?" 
"To do nothing means to do exactly what you're doing. That's the way to do nothing. If you do what you're not doing, that's doing something. If you stop doing what you're doing, that's doing something. But doing exactly what you're doing - that's doing nothing."
"You know, people will give up anything - their jobs, their money, their families, their health - to get it, anything except the one and only thing you have to give up in order to get it: the conviction that you haven't got it."
"Enlightenment is giving up the notion that you are unenlightened."
This essay, The World Is My Monastery III, is the companion piece to The Cavalry's Not Coming.

It is also the sequel to The World Is My Monastery II.

I am indebted to John Taylor who contributed material for this conversation.

If you ask people, both those who have and those who haven't lived in a monastery or some such retreat, why anyone would want to experience life in a monastery, or why anyone would want to experience going on a retreat, their answers would most likely vary with each individual and yet would just as likely all fall into the same broad categories: colloquially put, to "get  it" (Zen, satori, enlightenment), to get away  from it (stress, world-wariness, ennui / purposelessness), to be immersed  in it (wisdom, spirituality, peace) ... and then hopefully to bring back into the world a bit of what they got there, to ongoingly enrich their lives and Life itself thereafter.

The pursuit of Zen, satori, enlightenment is a bold, noble one which human beings have courted for a long, long time. The idea of living in a monastery permanently or temporarily is inextricably bound up with the idea of getting "it", that magical je ne sais quois  that not only recontextualizes  (I love that word) the meaning of life (more on that later) but also makes life worth living - both within the monastery as well as outside of it ie particularly  outside of it ie in the world. That magical quality which living in a monastery will purportedly reveal is the missing ingredient (or so we say) in our lives, that quality which once discovered and added to them, will finally make them whole, complete, and worthwhile - at least that's the fervently hoped for, desired outcome.

Consider this: what if we've fundamentally misconstrued the experience of what it is to live in the world, and what if to that end we've become sure  ie certain that life in the world isn't  "it", that there must be something more, that there must be something else, that there must be some other not-yet-known meaning, that there must be some other realization which would explain all this and make it palatable, and even save us? And what if there were really none of that?  Really. None. None at all. What if the cavalry ain't comin'?  What if this  is "it", exactly this way, exactly like this, exactly the way it is, and that there's nothing more than this - which would suggest there's nothing other  than this to discover in a monastery either? What if, whether we're in a monastery or in the world, what there is to get is the same in both places? And even more pointedly, what if we could stop pretending  they're different?

If we could, and if all that were so, then there'd be nothing more to be gained by living in a monastery / on a retreat other than the coming to terms with the realization that exactly what's available in a monastery is also available in the world, and that pursuing living in a monastery is simply prolonging an inevitable breakthrough in being in the world (indeed, may even be avoiding it). We would get that our experience in the world is exactly this way, exactly like this, with nothing missing, with nothing to be changed, and with nothing to be added. Indeed, our biggest mistake in pursuing getting "it" may be we keep missing the stunningly, blindingly (and beautifully) simple notion that there's nothing to get  and that as such, we've already got it even though we may not like what we got, even though we may not fully accept it or let it all in, all of which is predicated on the capricious belief that getting it is more readily available in a monastery than in the world.

When I live in the world as if I were living in a monastery (in terms of no longer denigrating what's available to me to discover in it) ie when I live that the world is my monastery, I have effectively (as the saying goes) "cut out the middle man", rendering my experience of the world and Life itself more direct, more immediate, more urgent, and consequently more thrilling  too (yes). When I give up the notion that getting "it" is somehow more available in a monastery than in the world, and reconcile instead with "this  is it", equally in the world as in a monastery (ie that it's this way everywhere, and not some other better way somewhere else), that's when I realize I already got it, and that monasteries / retreats etc have no lock on the getting of it. Indeed I suspect if I were living in a monastery and I said to the abbot "I'm leaving, there's nothing for me to get here", she'd say to me astutely "Congratulations! You've got it!  Welcome to life being human in the world!".

Oh, and as for that meaning  of life? You know, that meaning of life which we hope living in a monastery will reveal? Listen: there is no meaning of life. I'm sorry, but Life has no meaning  other than any of the random meanings which we, both arbitrarily and desperately, assign to it when its inherent meaninglessness becomes uncomfortably unconfrontable (as in the exasperated "But what does it all mean?  ..."). And that's the subject for another conversation on another occasion.


The presentation, delivery, and style of The World Is My Monastery III are all my own work.

The ideas recreated in The World Is My Monastery III were first originated, distinguished, and articulated by Werner Erhard.

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