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

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Watching The Wanting To Stop

Exertec, Napa, California, USA

July 2, 2010



This essay, Watching The Wanting To Stop, is the companion piece to Watching The Wall.



Directed by Tony Richardson - © Woodfall Film Productions
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner
The Movie
There's a seminal scene in Woodfall Film Production's movie The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.

The protagonist Colin Smith (played by Tom Courtenay in his breakout role), an inmate doing time at Ruxton Towers, a detention center, is winning a five mile cross country race, way  ahead of the pack, in a track meet between Ruxton Towers and Ranley, a nearby upper class school for privileged students.

It's 100% certain he'll come in first. Victory for Ruxton Towers and pride for the warden is assured. Yet inexplicably to his incredulous Ruxton Towers fellow inmates and the warden watching the race madly cheering him on, he slows down then comes to a complete stop, mere yards from the finish line, looking directly at the warden, a look of dead calm on his face. A Ranley runner passes him to win.

Colin doesn't stop running because he can't run any more. On the contrary, cross country running is in his blood. It's what gives him Life. He doesn't stop running because he's tired or injured. He stops running because he's discovered integrity. He stops running because he can no longer be coerced with favors and kickbacks from the warden in return for winning and bringing glory to Ruxton Towers. He stops running because even though he'll lose his privileges (indeed, even though he knows he'll be punished)  for throwing the race so dramatically, he can no longer run let alone win  when it's costing him himSelf.

He's taken back to the detention center, back to a life now devoid of the erstwhile privileges which the promise of his winning earned him. Indeed, he goes back to a life in confinement with even fewer  comforts than he had before, back to a life scorned by his fellow inmates and ignored by the warden. Yet he goes back with his integrity renewed and his honor intact. He goes back with who he really is established.

Regardless of his circumstances, or rather in the midst of them, even in spite of  them, for the first time in his troubled life he has authentic completion and peace.

That's who Colin is.


Apropos



I run too.

I promise to run. Five miles a day - the same distance as Colin's Ruxton Towers cross country race. Then half an hour weight work and stretching. Then a mile swim. This promise is a bigger promise than I keep. Yet I promise it anyway. I almost  keep it but the truth is I don't keep it exactly.

When it's me who's wanting to stop running before I've reached my promised distance or time, I make the excuse it's because I've run enough today, or I say it's OK to stop because I already ran yesterday, or I say it's because I'm tired. Or something like that - as long as it's reasonable. And all the reasons I come up with to stop running seem ... well ... believable. So when I've wanted to stop like this in the past, I've stopped. But at some point I stopped stopping. I stopped buying into the reasons. I stopped making wanting to stop more pressing than my commitment. I stopped giving wanting to stop more listening than my promise. I stopped granting wanting to stop more credence  than my intention.

I've noticed some things about wanting to stop. Or to say it with rigor. I've noticed some things about "the wanting to stop". I've noticed if I buy into it, if I listen to it, if I grant credence to it, then it becomes very very  powerful - powerful enough to stop me. But if instead of buying into it, if instead of listening to it, if instead of granting credence to it I simply watch it and keep on watching it, it's power diminishes and diminishes until it has no power at all any more. I'm not ignoring  or suppressing or denying the wanting to stop. It's real. I'm watching  the wanting to stop. When I'm watching the wanting to stop, it's making sounds as if  I'm wanting to stop, as if there's a believable reason  I should stop ... and yet I'm running, free, not held back.

My take on how this works is it isn't because watching the wanting to stop somehow melts  it like an ant caught by a child unceremoniously in the sun's intensity focused through a magnifying glass. It's much simpler than that. I assert it's because watching the wanting to stop brings the watcher  ie who I really am into the foreground which thereby brings who I really am like my commitment, like my promise, like my intention into the foreground along with it. As soon as this happens, the wanting to stop is in the background where it becomes less and less powerful and eventually may disappear entirely.

I say the wanting to stop "may  disappear entirely" because at this point it's so lost its hold on me that - truth be told - I don't even notice if it's still there anymore, or not.



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