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

What Did You Do To Me?

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

October 13, 2018


Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, and Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford
California, USA

December 10, 2018

"Transformation is getting to see as a possibility who you might be really." ... 
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." ... Thomas Stearns "TS" Eliot, Preface to Transit of Venus: Poems by Harry Crosby, circa 1931
This essay, What Did You Do To Me?, is the ninth in an open group Conversations With A Friend:
  1. Privilege At Daybreak In The Battle Between Good And Evil
  2. Future Perfect
  3. This Is What It Means To Be!
  4. Empty Cup
  5. Conversation With A Friend: A Symphony Of Notes
  6. The Sound Of Your Voice
  7. Conversations With A Friend VII
  8. Space For Redemption: When "I'm Sorry!" Isn't Enough
  9. What Did You Do To Me?
  10. You Are Always With Me
in that order.

It is also the prequel to


Unlike most of the other essays in this Conversations For Transformation internet series of essays, the body of this essay, What Did You Do To Me?, embeds no links to other videos, photographs, quotes, papers, music videos, other websites, or even to other essays.

My intention in omitting these useful links from this particular essay is to clear the space of all but the absolute minimum required material so you can be with it and give it your full attention with no distractions, allowing you to recreate the exchanges portrayed in it as accurately as possible for yourself. It's in recreating the exchanges portrayed in this essay accurately for yourself, that you'll get to own its experience in its entirety.

This is an honor, a privilege. No kidding. Look: "honor" and "privilege" are the only words that come even close to fitting this opportunity (they're world-to-word  fits). Waiting for the phone to ring, I'm in a space of ecstasy, of profound joy, of completion, of satisfaction, of anticipation of being with my best friend. Oh, and I'm well prepared, very well prepared.

Photography by Laurence Platt

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

8:53:01am Saturday October 13, 2018
I've bought a brand new 4G  smartphone specially for this occasion, a phone which has better quality voice and more reliable connectivity than my old 3G flip-phone. Napa Valley is famous for its "dead" spots for older 3G phones, and equally famous for spots with working connectivity suddenly going dead, then coming alive again. But not on this  call they don't! I'm now as ready as I can be. I have pages and pages  of carefully compiled notes which I began accumulating fourteen weeks ago when we scheduled this. I've transcribed them to sheets of white A4  paper ("chapters") which I've taped to my table, spread out, well organized. Standing as I speak, I'll be able to get around them easily.

Preparing this way is a lesson I've learned well. Once a few years ago when we had dinner together, I ran out of things to create / generate / say. Literally. Dried up. He picked up on it immediately, and was patiently accepting. But for myself, I won't make that mistake again ever. These opportunities are simply too precious to mess with.

What we speak about, will be what we speak about. Obviously. So my prepared notes comprise a vault of possibility (if you will) from which to draw, when we get to the end of any one topic we generate spontaneously, and there's an opening to create the next one. In this regard, my prepared list is extensive and comprehensive. Even so, I already know we won't get to most of the items on it, not even in the generous timeframe he's allocated for our call. Better to be too  prepared than to not be prepared enough. That's what I say.

Whatever essays I write next (by that I mean at least for the next year or more) will come from this space. It's our relationship in whatever we speak about, which fuels my writing. It's our relationship in whatever I write about, which fuels these essays. I know what I'm doing. But I no longer ask why or how. Listen: I used to ask those questions. But I don't anymore (I never got convincing answers for them anyway). What's patently obvious however, is this is what Life has given me, and I've taken it on wholeheartedly. This is what I was born to do. I do it well. Forty plus years later, fifteen of them writing these essays, there's ample evidence of that.

So go my thoughts as I sit, staring out the window, waiting (it's a pregnant  wait). The phone rings. He's on time - within seconds. It's not a secretary or a PA  (Personal Assistant) or a communicator who'll connect him. It's him - just like you when you call a friend. The whole thing is extraordinary in its minimalism.

Following spartan, brief introductions and time-defying revelations (he's approaching 83, still working long, hard hours; I'm approaching 70), my first order of business is to convey love to him - love from graduates and friends and even from some of his family who've asked me to convey their greetings. I communicate it all to him in one group communication burst  in which everyone is included all at once. People get transformation from him. They love him for that. But that's not their focus. People get the abstracts of inquiry from him. They love him for that too. But that's not their focus either. Their focus is on how he be's  with the material, and how he be's with them personally. There's his space  they love. But it's the dude  which is their focus ... restated with rigor, it's the ordinary  dude with extraordinary commitments  which is their focus - as is it mine.

He gets the acknowledgement. And when he does, I hear a humbleness, a humility  in his "Thank You!", the likes of which is nothing short of astounding. With that complete, we can now get down to the business at hand.

I ante up with my experience of his Leadership Course in which I participated, which he led in Cancun Mexico in October / November of 2017. In my experience, it's the crowning jewel  of his work - hands down. But here's how it differed from all his other courses for me: I understood  what happened in all the other courses (for whatever that's  worth, which is almost nothing). Yet the Leadership Course, which gave me a hands-and-feet-on access to transformation such as I haven't gotten in nearly forty years of being around him, I did not understand. I ask him pointedly "What happened to me in the Leadership Course?". He reminds me my experience is subjective, so only I can say what happened to me. I realize I have to rephrase my question. This time I ask him "What did you do to me  in the Leadership Course?".

I could be shocked at how simple it all is when he lets down the curtain. But knowing him, I'm not. He says to get people to be out-here  (which is to get people to get they're already  out-here), you first have to get them to see exactly what's in here  (if you will), and then to see they're not that. And what's in here  is really very simple: there are thoughts and memories, there are feelings and emotions, and there are bodily sensations - and for the most part, that's it!  and that's all. When they're distinguished like that and boxed in  like that (ie "bracketed"  like that, if you will), who we really are as out-here, can show up, arguably for the very first time.

Eight days in two minutes! At first I have no response. Then I say "Man! I can only imagine how the world would work if we all saw it with a vision as clear as this.".

The discussion (ie the inevitable debrief) of these Conversations For Transformation starts this way: I express that in any other relationship I'm in, the relationship works to the degree I'm fully present to it. In our  relationship (I ask his permission to refer to it as "our"  relationship, and he grants it), it's not enough to simply be fully present to it. In our  relationship, I have to be both fully present to it ... and  ... I have to share it with the world. And in the ensuing languaging of it, I discover that sharing what I get from our relationship with the world, is tantamount to sharing who he is  with the world. So my intention for these Conversations For Transformation ie their raison d'etre, is to share who he is with the world even when  their verbiage doesn't specifically distinguish who he is explicitly.

He's generous, very  generous in this regard with the trust and permission he affords me to do what I do unsupervised, unmanaged, unrestricted. But listen: it's much more than that. He's waaay  more than that. It's he's also 1,000% supportive of the people who share his work of transformation with the world, yet who in so doing, don't share who he is at all. Wait: isn't that like Picasso saying it's OK to exhibit Blue Nude  without acknowledging he's the painter? Wow! There's simply no ego in it for him - zero, zilch, nada, none at all. And by the way: here's how I experience his no ego, so you can correlate it with what I'm saying : deeply calm, relaxed, still (ponderous  still), peaceful - like you don't know peace  until you know this  peace.

I've been around the block once or twice before. This isn't my first rodeo. And the truth for me is I'm more adept with the languaging of transformation and its vernacular / lexicography which we deployed in its earlier years, than I am with the new (and arguably more effective and clearer) languaging of it which is ongoingly emerging today. I ask him how effective I can be if I'm dated in my languaging. I tell him it shows: people say to me "I can tell you're an est  graduate" about ten times more than they say to me "I can tell you're a Landmark Forum graduate" (and I'm both: about six times each). He's pragmatic about it. "Why not?" he asks. "It worked then - it'll work now.". Like an old wrench which still works today, age (I muse) has got nothing to do with it ...

As an example, I re-create an original definition of transformation (his): "Transformation is the space in which the event  'transformation' occurs.". I contrast it with a newer definition of transformation (Landmark Forum Leader's): "Transformation is a place to stand and deal with what's in front of you.". I say I like the newer definition in all of its pristine simplicity. But I love  his original definition. I love the way it breaks my mind  like a Zen koan, at which point I literally hear  him smiling.

Then he offers this zinger:




(dub in for yourself the intentionality, and the rich, deep Philadelphian accent). In many ways, it's the essential subtext  of our exchange. I'm delighted. I say "That's  the quote!" (ie that's the  take-away for this yet-to-be-written essay). It's full. It's brilliant. It's gorgeous. It's the bridge between the newer and the original, a bridge from the future back into the past, transforming the past. Yet it's outside of both of them even while it represents both of them. I pause to write it down verbatim. Then I read what I've written, back to him. He repeats it: "Transformation ... is getting to see ... as a possibility ... who you might be ... really.". Now I've got it.

It's a particularly endearing part of our conversation when I share my entire family with him. He was the one in front of whom I cried, during the chaos and anguish of divorce, then checked in with from time to time during the subsequent healing years. It was he who got me to see that if I didn't forgive, I would only be poisoning my own trough. Now there's the triumph of me reconciling with my ex to share with him, and the victory of fatherhood as I share my children's successes with him.

I remind him in a chapter I'd titled "Things You Said", that he once distilled relationships down to "They start ... and they end.". I didn't get it fully at the time: I was certain  there's got  to be more to it than that?! But now I do get it, and I thank him for it. The simplicity of it is again astonishing. But more than that, who I have to be  to stand in that possibility and just look, is not subject to the whole catastrophe of he-said-she-said  blame, shame, loss, and resentment. It's at this point in our conversation that he's arguably most acknowledging of me (and at the best of times, he's acknowledging of me). I get it, choking up, misting over, not hiding it.

There's another chapter in this conversation we're having, which goes by fast, so fast that when I'm in it, I overlook how valuable it is. It's only later when I'm sifting through my notes, compiling this essay, that I stop and recalibrate this particular episode. Here it is:

In an earlier conversation, I'd shared with him something I'd done, which I'm not going to share again here, suffice to say it doesn't represent my shining hour. For years I couldn't get it out of my mind. I hated  that I'd done such a thing. No, worse than that: I was mortified  by it. I described all the mental gymnastics I'd imposed on myself to free myself of it, none of which worked. Eventually I ran out of words recounting it for him, and fell silent. Waiting for that opening, he said "The only thing you haven't done is tell yourself that what you did, was not OK.".

Say whut?

Cut to the chase: he's right. It wasn't OK. I'd excused it, justified it, regretted it and  apologized for it. But what I'd never done is tell myself that what I did, was not OK. When I did, it transformed me - which means it didn't change what I did, but it did enliven a new context in which to hold what I did, and take responsibility for it. I'd finally made my peace with it. Now we're talking about it again, and I flesh out the subject again, only this time to let him know I'd discovered why  I did what I did (you know, I'd discovered its psychological  explanation). Before I can elaborate, he interrupts me: "Lar" (his term of endearment for me, from the Roman god of the house) "if you go into the rationale of what you did, you've (quote unquote) lost ownership  of what you did. You're better off with 'What I did, was not OK.'".

Listen: such is the quality of his coaching which, like the deftly wielded blade of a broadsword, separates the women from the girls, and the men from the boys.

Now I'm watching the clock. Our scheduled time isn't yet up. But it's getting there. I want to give him a gift - the way you give a good friend a gift. I realize in the current situation, the only gift I can give him is ... time. So I volunteer  to end the conversation (ouch!) a quarter of an hour before its scheduled end (that's really  a gift: I have at least another hour's worth of prepared notes to go over with him). He accepts it as graciously as he accepted my last gift to him, which was a rare vintage 1992 immaculate, impeccable bottle of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild's magnificent collaboration Opus One, a Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend produced a mere fifteen miles from the amazing Cowboy Cottage in California's iconic Napa Valley where I live.

We set the wheels in motion to talk again soon and to meet again soon (we've already scheduled future e-mail exchanges). We say our goodbyes: "I love you", "I love you too" (look: with almost everyone else, "I love you" is an ascension - with him, it's the bedrock), and then there's a click ... and he's gone, and I'm once again sitting here alone, by ... my ... Self. I push back in my office chair, fingers interlaced behind my head, savoring this exquisitely eternal moment.

Arguably for the first time since our conversation started, I look around, quietly reveling in the interior of the Cowboy Cottage out-here. Its very space newly shines.

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