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

On Knowing The Place For The First Time

Monticello Road, Napa Valley, California, USA

September 27, 2012

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." ... Thomas Stearns "TS" Eliot, Four Quartets #4: Little Gidding, circa 1942

This essay, On Knowing The Place For The First Time, is the companion piece to
  1. Mountains And Waters
  2. Getting It - The Big "IT"
  3. You Had It All Along
  4. On Having New Eyes
in that order.

I am indebted to Hermann Hesse and to Mary Murray who inspired this conversation.

When I first met her, she was delightful company. By that I don't mean she was delightful company only  when I first met her, and then she stopped  being delightful company later. No, I mean her company was particularly delightful when I first met her, more so than anyone else I knew at the time. She was like a tall, frosty glass of ice cold water waiting for me in the middle of the Sahara desert.

Everything about her was unaffected and spontaneous. Life was clear for her. I enjoyed that quality. Unlike hers, my life seemed ... well ... complicated. I had just started my university studies. Everything was up for grabs. Everything was up in the air. Everything. I liked walking on the beach with her early in the morning. I would vent (I can hear it even now, not without a certain amount of embarrassment - you know, I had it on automatic)  all my complications, all my concerns, all my worries. She, on the other hand, didn't seem concerned or worried about anything.

It was a way of being which fascinated me. Although she listened to me venting (I could say although she humored  me venting), she shared nothing similar with me. That wasn't because she was withholding. It was because her life was the epitome of un-complication. Really it was.

But there would come a time when, in spite of the generosity of her listening, I had been complaining non-stop for too long. Then she would take my hand in hers, and suggest "Why don't you just listen to the ocean for a while Laurence?" - which I did. The effect was dramatic: I stopped being frantic immediately.

"How does she get to be this way?" I wondered, listening to her, taking her advice - which always worked. Soon, "How does she / he get to be this way?" became a fundamental inquiry of mine whenever, later in life, I found myself in the company of great people whose qualities I admire, people whose qualities (whether I understood them or not) I want.

What You See Is What You Get

When I followed her suggestion "Why don't you just listen to the ocean for a while Laurence?", it gave me an experience of being grounded. With it, I keyed in  to the world around me, the physical world, the real  world. Instead of allowing my complications, my concerns, and my worries to dictate my equilibrium, with a simple shift of attention  I began to allow what's already here  in the world to be my balance, my focus. Sometimes this wasn't always possible. Sometimes complications, concerns, and worries got the better of me anyway (many times, actually, to tell the truth). But once I realized they had gotten the better of me, "listening to the ocean for a while" always got my attention back to the real world, and restored my equilibrium.

That's how it went for many years. If I saw  it, it was real. If it was physical, it was real. It's not that there wasn't more to it than that. It's that I didn't look any deeper than that. There was me ... and there was the real world I lived in. They were distinct. The world, by the preponderance of its existence, ruled. Whatever was going on with me, however my mood fluctuated, by coming back to the real world, by listening to the ocean for a while, I could restore calm. I was clear about the dictatorial, tyrannical  nature of the real world. I didn't mind it. I didn't question it or resist it.

It wasn't that I had figured out  the world and how it came to be. It wasn't that I had come up with the meaning  of it all. Rather I was simply taking my cue from the world as the foundation of my life. I mean that literally: I live in the world, I stand on  the world, ergo  the world is the foundation of my life.

There wasn't anything else. I thought everyone saw it the same way  as I saw it. I hadn't yet learned how much of that was just my own projection. That would come later. But for then, it was true for me.

Things Aren't What They Appear To Be

Then there was a shift in how I perceived things. I'm not certain exactly when it happened. It was gradual, however, whenever it occurred. The world began to beg questions which it didn't before. How did it get here? How did I  get here? "The big bang" and "Birth", as answers to these questions, suddenly seemed inadequate, naïve, simplistic - there had  to be more. How do I think? How do I perceive? How am I conscious?  And more importantly, why?

Suddenly vast areas of Life came into question which weren't in question before. What does it all mean? What is the truth? Where  is the truth to be discovered? At some point, a most compelling question arose: What's the answer?  Or: What's the secret?  Again, I don't know what prompted it or exactly when it arose - it seemed to appear quite by itself. But once it was there, it overtook all the other questions. What's interesting was everything was starting to suggest there was  a secret. It couldn't be this  incorrigible. There has  to be a secret.

I had no idea  at the time that the creator of its incorrigibility was me. None. I thought it  was incorrigible ...

And so started the next phase: finding the answer, finding the secret, finding the meaning  - otherwise known as getting there  - wherever there  was. Various paths pointed to there. Some were physical (yoga). Some were psychological (therapy) Some were spiritual (prayer, meditation). At the time there was a great interest in all things eastern. From the east came a special sound. The sound was sure to lead to and reveal the secret. The sound was "Om  ... Om  ... Aum  ... A  ... u  ... m". For the merchant, for the renunciate, for the married, for the celibate, there was "Om". It was sure to lead to the answer, to the secret, to the meaning.

It was widely held that until the answer was discovered, until the secret was discovered, until the meaning was discovered, life could only be lived in a state of illusion  - called maya  in the Sanskrit  language by the great rishis  (seers) of India. There had  to be an answer ... but what was it?  There had  to be a secret ... but what was it?  Things always mean something ... but what do they mean?  There had  to be a reason (the most touted cliché  of them all was "Everything happens for a reason") ... but what was it? 

I became surer and surer that things, in and of themselves, aren't what they appear to be. But as for what they really  were, well that  was the question. There had  to be something more than this which I wasn't getting. The purpose of Life was clearly  to search for the answer, to search for the secret, to search for meaning, to find a reason. I never questioned that finding them was the purpose of Life. I took it for granted that it was.

Behind every conversation was the unspoken, the implied but not fully communicated question "Do you know? Do you  know the answer? Do you know the secret? Do you know the meaning?  Do you know the reason?  Do you? Do you?". And if you were cool, you winked or implied "Yes" without actually directly lying about it. But if you told the truth, you'd say "No". You see, no one  knew the answer, no one knew the secret, no one knew the meaning, no one knew the reason. - yet there had  to be an answer, there had  to be an secret, there had  to be an meaning, there had  to be a reason. And everyone was on the path to find them.

Knowing The Place For The First Time

Let it be said that in terms of finding "the answer", there are no worthwhile answers. None! There are only worthwhile questions. Even the best of answers is an end, a conclusion, the stop at the end of a line of inquiry. Answers, you could say, shut down  inquiries. A good question, on the other hand, generates lots and lots and lots  of answers, keeping inquiries open, ongoing, revealing, and productive.

It's when I ask the question "What am I?" which, because I'm a human being, creates the possibility for asking the question "Who  am I?", that I get the most answers. And the more answers I get, the more I see that what I am is prior to  everything I've ever complained about, been concerned about, been worried about, vented about, inquired into, looked at, or wondered about - all of it  occurs within the context of what I am / who I am.

I realized the first distinction I drew ("there was me ... and there was the real world I lived in") on which many of my earliest inquiries were founded, was flawed. This is the flaw: the real world I live in isn't  distinct from me ie from who I am. Who I am is the source of my experience of the world I live in. The world I live in is the way I say it is because I experience it that way  - and I am the source of my experience.

The questions I asked, while challenging and fascinating, didn't take into account the such-ness, the thus-ness  of it all. It wouldn't be until much later when it dawned on me how much of my craving for the answer, for the secret, for the meaning, and for the reason, is arbitrary and self-imposed. There's no answer. There's no secret. There's no meaning. There's no reason. It just is. There's nothing to get and I already got it!  A master is simply a human being with a great deal of compassion for the penchant we have for craving the answer, the secret, the meaning, and the reason, who found out there's nothing to get  (as Werner Erhard may have said).

This is it. This is the Big "IT". I am  it. Getting it - the Big "IT", getting there's nothing to get isn't an ennui-filled existential vacuum. To the contrary, getting the Big "IT" brings enormous freedom, power, wholeness, fullness, completion, and inspiration to create.

When I go back to the beach and listen to the ocean, I get the Big "IT" was always there (always there, even as I, much to my own chagrin and wry self‑deprecation, look back in time and see myself venting and complaining) - as it is now. I am it. I was it there back then - as I am it here right now. I am the source of it all. All of it. It's mine, ... all  ... mine!

I know this place. Man!  I really know  this place. I really know this same old same old  unchanged beautiful place, for the first time, as ... my ... Self.

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