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

Where The Path Begins

Jessup Cellars, Yountville, California, USA

April 28, 2015

"I didn't have to go all the way to India for spiritual enlightenment. The blue-collar spirituality of everyday life was right in front of me. It was in every nook and cranny if I wanted to seek it. But I had chosen to ignore it."
  ... Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, October 2004
"Living begins not when life starts, but when superlatives are possible. Like 'simplest', 'truest', 'clearest' and more, a superlative ends with 'est'. Living, on the other hand, begins  with est."
  ... Laurence Platt, August 1978
This essay, Where The Path Begins, is the companion piece to Raise The Bar, Break The Barrier.

It is also the sequel to The One Thing People Will Not Give Up.

I am indebted to Ian Becker and to Marielle Adegran Rutherford who inspired this conversation.

September 1975
Werner Erhard with Friends: a Master at work

You could say spiritual paths end with enlightenment. Werner's, on the other hand, begins here.

I gradually became interested in the paths to enlightenment in my mid-teens. The culture and the conversations of that time brought many of them to my attention: the yogic paths, the psychological paths, the religious paths, the Zen paths, etc. All of them lead somewhere, someplace good, someplace similar even if couched in different terms. Each have unique disciplines and practices. Each epitomizes a grand tradition of the world. Each has been going for centuries. Each has enormous dignity. Combined, they all represent what's great about being human: our knowing we can (and our striving to) improve ourselves.

While each path is unique, the belief embodied in each of them is quite similar. It is this: with practice comes enlightenment. Whatever enlightenment is, it goes by various names depending on its path: samadhi, self-actualization, salvation, satori etc. There's another belief embodied in each of them which is also very similar. Yet at the same time it's pernicious, all pervasive, un-questioned. It's the belief samadhi, self-actualization, salvation, satori etc can't happen without practice and discipline. It's a fixed belief that enlightenment is something we don't yet have ... and someday  we will get it. But for now ... this isn't it.

Arguably the  contribution of Werner's work is to challenge the assumption that this isn't it. It's more than that actually: it is to violate  this assumption. It's to violate our certainty that the way it looks, feels, and plays right now could not possibly be enlightenment. Setting this belief aside opens the doors for possibility. There never was anything but this. There never will be. This is it. What's in the way isn't some arduous path to traverse. What's in the way is capriciously believing "this isn't it".

Listen to what we say about enlightenment. You'll often hear us suffix a clause when we use the word "enlightenment". We'll say something like "... enlightenment ... or whatever you want to call it:  samadhi, self-actualization, salvation, satori etc ...", yes? The contents of that suffix clause ie these particular ways of casting however enlightenment is known, muddy the water and prevent us getting clear about what enlightenment really is. There is only one suffix clause worth adding when we talk about enlightenment, and it works like this: "... enlightenment ... or ordinary everyday life  ...". This is it. When you get it, you get enlightenment's the beginning of the path, not its end. You could then say the next thing to do is completely drop the belief that there's a path to get it in the first place ... and the experience is complete.
Werner's presence therefore could be applied to getting enlightened. The thing is: you're already enlightened. It's not best applied to getting better: I'm sorry but this is as good as you're ever going to be ie this is as good as it gets. And it's not best applied to getting someplace: this is it. Rather, given all the above, it's best applied to living life to the max, wholly, completely, to being fully Self-expressed, to discovering what difference needs to be made in the world then making that difference, to inventing and bringing forth new possibilities for life and for living which were not ever going to happen anyway by themselves. Back in my mid-teens, I envisioned a much harder row to hoe than this, a path needing not just days but lifetimes  to traverse. That's one particular grand fixed belief I'm honestly glad to have given up.

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