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


This Is Inspiration! II:

Out Of The Crucible

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

July 9, 2022

"The cost to me of not doing so. I'm unwilling to pay the cost of carrying a resentment (or whatever) around, so I draw on the intelligence of forgiving."
...   answering Laurence Platt's question "On what do you draw to forgive people who are hardest to forgive?" in Questions For A Friend II III (Straight Talk) 
"People often don't understand what is involved in forgiving. They think that if somebody does something wrong, and you forgive them, that is like saying that it was alright to do it that time - but don't dare do it again. But life doesn't work that way; and it's stupid or hypocritical to forgive someone on that basis. If somebody does something, you can be sure that he or she will do it again. That is why I prefer to talk about 'making space' and 'completion'. To the extent that forgiveness is involved, it is more like self-forgiving and self-acceptance. When you forgive yourself for something, you have to create the space for that thing to exist. For whatever you resist, and fail to make space for, will indeed manifest itself in you."
"Resenting is like taking poison, hoping the other  guy will die."
... Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Madiba Tata (uBawom)Khulu Mandela
"A crucible experience is an intense, often traumatic, always unplanned experience, out of which one is transformed (it's the way one deals with the experience  not the experience itself, that's transformative)."
... Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas paraphrased by Laurence Platt, Crucibles of Leadership, Harvard Business Review, referenced in the Leadership Course materials
"Do, or do not: there is no try!"
... Yoda, Grand Master of the Jedi Order 
This essay, This Is Inspiration! II: Out Of The Crucible, is the companion piece to Happy 64th Birthday To The Mother Of My Children.

It is also, with Body Heat, Radiant Health and The Five Of Us, the sequel to This Is Inspiration!.

I am indebted to Jolin Beth Halstead who inspired this conversation and contributed material, and to Sanford "Sandy" Robbins who requested I write this account.

Divorce is what Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas may designate as a "crucible" experience.

From the Cambridge International Dictionary:



a container in which metals or other substances can be heated to very high temperatures
Cole-Parmer high-form crucible with lid

- porcelain, 15 mL
- glazed inside and out except for outside bottom
- withstands temperatures up to 2,102°F (1,150°C)

Photograph courtesy

A Crucible Experience

I speak coming from experience. Divorce (in which I wasn't the willing party) was indeed a crucible experience for me. A crucible experience is an intense, often traumatic, always unplanned experience, out of which one is transformed (it's the way one deals with the experience  not the experience itself, that's transformative).

Being as I was in the crucible, things got very hot. Things got very painful. Things I counted on being in place for the rest of my life, vaporized leaving but the barest of residues. And as for being expensive, divorce cost a shed-load of money, money which would have been better set aside for my children's education than to pay lawyers and court costs (the huge financial hit in itself, irrevocably altered the once-possible future which was rapidly spinning more and more out of my reach).

The residues left included restricted access to my children, and theirs to me (trust me on this: divorce is not  kind to children). They included at times depraved anger, frustration, profound sadness, a deep sense of failure, and an unavoidable realization of the unfairness of it all. When the proceedings began to roll, a friend of mine told me "You're the husband responding to a wife's divorce petition in the State of California. You're going to get taken to the cleaners" (he used an expletive-deleted actually). "Not so" I countered righteously, "California is a community-property state.". How wrong I was. How very  wrong I was. And how oh so right he was ...

But perhaps the biggest and most painful residue left was the predictably massive breakdown in my relationship with my ex-wife, the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Regardless of what drove her to file to dissolve our marriage, I love her. Even though the divorce crucible allowed so much to melt and vaporize that I couldn't have salvaged it no matter how hard I tried, I did try. Oh God! Did I ever try ...  ("try" is questionable at best but here it'll do).

In the end, setting the story  of it all aside and sharing what was transformative  about it instead, the thing about the crucible experience of divorce is that it did eventually transform me. It wasn't the experience of divorce itself that transformed me. That was horrible. No, it was the way I dealt with my experience of it  that transformed me. What I got (eventually) was my love was unscathed, my sense of family uninterrupted. That's transformation.

And so as I made arrangements to attend my daughter's wedding which would have me be together again with my ex-wife, I looked at how I could facilitate a breakthrough, an unimaginable  breakthrough in what was possible for us in relationship. That's what Life calls for: not just a breakthrough but an unimaginable  breakthrough. I was vaporized to a residue in the crucible. And yet I was transformed by the experience ie I was transformed by the way I dealt with that unavoidable intense, traumatic, unplanned experience which left me complete with what happened, and with the intention to create an an unimaginable breakthrough.

As a result of an intention like that ie out of  an intention like that, you may well imagine just about anything could have happened. This is what actually did happen.

What Life Calls For

As I tried to imagine what it would be like being around her again at our daughter's imminent wedding (more than that, what it would be like being around her family ie my ex-in-laws again for the first time in nearly seventeen years), it became abundantly clear to me there would be many more meetings like this in the future. It wouldn't be an isolated incident. It would be the forerunner of for example, our sons' weddings, celebrations of our grandchildren etc etc. And in that moment, I knew that what I was about to start would be something new which would bring forth the honor and the joy and the accomplishment of it all, leaving the past in the past and a future of possibilities wide open. This would be no dummy run.

I saw the possibility of a BIG future I could not avoid, one I didn't want to avoid. I knew I had to create a space in which, rather than being merely another casualty of divorce and being around her by default, I would bring elegance and dignity to the proceedings rather than just stoically tolerate / bear them. It's what Life calls for, and I knew I would heed the call - I just didn't know how (or at least, I just didn't know how yet). The intention was there. The specifics? Not quite. But look: you don't create something like this by inventing a new plan, a new strategy. You create something like this by getting off it. You create something like this by inventing being newly. You create something like this by inventing yourself anew ie by re-inventing who you've been being.

Dawn Mist

I caught sight of her in the crowd. She had her back to me. I recognized her immediately even though her hair was longer than when I last saw her. I walked up to her and, standing behind her, said "Hello!" warmly. Hearing me, she turned slowly, said "Hello!", a lovely, open smile on her face, opened her arms, and embraced me in a hug in which I was enveloped as if by the dawn mist.

Instead of being predictably awkward, there we stood, her arms around me, my arms around her, nothing in the way, two human beings, old friends, and now parents of three gorgeous children, one of them about to be married. She didn't let go, not even when I thought she would, not even after an ordinary hug would have run its natural course. Dawn mist hugs are like that. Dawn mist hugs are out-here. They've got nothing to do with what's going on internally* at all.

Without letting go or standing back, I began speaking, my eyes closed, my mouth close to her ear, our heads resting on each other's shoulders. I thanked her for being the mother of our children. I told her I loved her (it's true: when I get below the sadness of divorce, I do, I always have, I always will). I said "You are a champion, you are my hero.". She was quiet, saying nothing in response ... and then I realized she couldn't say anything: she was crying softly. Warm tears. Relief tears. And there we stood, hugging like the dawn mist, me acknowledging her, she not moving, getting it, hugging closer, as close as two human beings can possibly hug without actually merging.

Parents Of The Bride Holding Hands

Walking my daughter down the aisle was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was also one of the most miraculous. I mean wasn't it just yesterday (or was it an hour ago?) that she was born? Now she's a most beautiful, serene, calm, poised bride. How did it happen so fast? She's holding on to my arm as we walk, and in the world in which we walk, there's just the two of us (although we're surrounded by hundreds of family and wedding guests, it's just the two of us). We get to the front of the aisle where her groom, her husband-to-be is waiting, and she lets go of my arm. He and I embrace. I whisper in his ear "Take care of my baby girl.". He says "I promise I will.". We're both in tears. I've just given my darling daughter away.

Then something extraordinary happens, something I neither expected nor imagined would happen. I go to my seat in the bride's-family-and-friends section, which I realize is next to my ex-wife's seat. It's the mother of the bride who's sitting there, the mother of our daughter, and now we're sitting next to each other for the first time in years, at her wedding. I still have tears on my face from giving my daughter away, and I sit there, next to her, savoring the moment. Talking with her would be inappropriate now that the ceremony has begun. And then ... my hand spontaneously reaches out ... and takes her hand and holds it tightly. I almost can't believe it.

It's the most natural thing in the world: sitting next to the mother of our daughter who's getting married in front of us, although we're no longer married I reach out and take her hand. I'm probably as startled as she is. Her hand is unmoving, and I wonder if I should let go ... until she grips my hand tightly back, and that's how we are for the rest of the ceremony: the no-longer-married parents of the bride holding hands as their daughter and oldest child is married a few mere feet away.

During the festivities there are more dawn mist hugs, during one of which I suggest "We should talk more.". There's so much I'm grateful for, especially for her. And it works better living into a grateful future than languishing under a painful past re-triggered in the present. I literally don't know what could become possible if we talked more coming from that place. We set a time to talk one evening for half an hour from 6:30pm to 7:00pm when the wedding's over and everyone's back home.

Transformed Listening

Everything came out - and I do mean everything. Unresolved issues got cleared up. The possibility of being complete emerged. And I noticed something powerful: I noticed a shift in the way I was spontaneously listening her which allowed everything to come out.

It was I'd stopped listening "... but that  ... didn't happen" - or at least I'd stopped listening "... but it didn't happen that way.". It was I'd stopped listening "You shouldn't have done that" - or at least I'd stopped listening "You didn't need to do that.". That's the way I was listening until I realized listening that way isn't going to work. It's just going to keep us stuck in the same vortex.

So instead I started listening newly for how it occurred  for her, not for what happened  for her, and certainly not for what happened for me. Whether what she said happened happened or not, what was surely  true is it occurred that way for her. Her occurring-world  I could really get. Her happening-world  I could only disagree with or agree with. My listening for her had transformed. Our 6:30pm to 7:00pm half hour call had become a 6:30pm to 1:00am-the-following-morning marathon.

I suggested we pick a spot on the coast halfway between the Napa Valley in California where I live, and Portland Oregon where she lives, drive there and meet, and just walk on the beach and talk for two or three days. "In fact" I said, "I'd be willing to drive all the way to Portland to visit you, if you prefer", to which she surprised me by saying "... and I'd like to visit you in Cowboy Cottage.".

It's clear to me something once impossible is now possible. "Let Life take its course, Laurence" she said as our half hour call which had become a six and a half hour marathon, came to its inexorable close. And the thing is: the space in which it came to its inexorable close, was a brand-new space. It was a never-before-lived space. In contradistinction, the space in which it started was now long gone, relegated to the distant past where it belongs.

*Giving Up What's Going On Internally 

What worked I realized later, came down to this (let me say it this way): giving up investing in what I had going on internally about her. What do I mean by that? By giving up investing in "what I had going on internally about her", I mean giving up (for want of better words) being attached to my mechanized, entrenched, internalized emotions, mental state, and bodily sensations  I'd associated with her. What opened up in doing so was a space in which relationship is possible newly, a space for a new future to live into, a space for the present to be refreshed, a space for the past to be recontextualized  (I love  that word).

It's abundantly clear to me now too that being in a new relationship with her won't be like a being in a relationship with a girl I once dated in college whose face I can hardly remember and whose name I don't remember at all. She is the mother of our three gorgeous children, and she'll be in my life, front-and-center stage, forever.

So I'm asking myself "What is the possibility of relationship?".

And I'm free to be and free to act and free to explore this question. I'm out of the crucible now.

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© Laurence Platt - 2022 Permission