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

Running From Empty

Muir Beach, California, USA

November 2, 2009

"Running on empty, running blind, running into the sun, but I'm running behind." ... Jackson Browne, Running On Empty 
"Running from  empty ..." ... Laurence Platt

This essay, Running From Empty, was conceived at the same time as

Werner Erhard asserts we're convinced if we peel back the layers of our lives like an onion, if we peel back one layer, then we peel back another layer, and then we keep on peeling back layers and layers all the way down to the last  layer, we're convinced we'll get to a core, we're sure there's a kernel  in there, and we're totally convinced that core, that kernel is what gives meaning  to our lives. We're totally convinced that core, that kernel is in fact the substance  of our lives.

But there isn't a core. There isn't a kernel. When you peel back the last layer of the onion, there's nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing. And that's who we really are. If you can stop making that mean  something, it's an opportunity for enormous  freedom.

My first reaction to this maverick  assertion of Werner's, this idea of his which undermines my years of majoring in psychology at a reputable university with many of its traditional studies in this arena predicated and founded on Sigmund Freud's psychic apparatus comprising the id, the ego, and the super-ego, was intense curiosity. No, it was more than that, actually. Much more.

A light bulb went on when I first listened him say it. While I, in my own modest inquiries, had come up with something similar (I could write intelligent papers on Freud's hypotheses at college even while his basic premises never quite rang true, never quite jibed  with my own experience of how we're constituted), my own ideas were still, to be frank, half baked  in comparison. Werner I recognized, in contrast, was on to something. I was immediately interested in listening further.

His assertion that there's no core, no kernel beyond the last layer of the onion, rather there's nothing, nothing at all  at the source, also challenges and pierces into the Dharmic  traditions like Yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism with their notion of an atman, a soul at the core of the human machinery. Indeed, all religious fundamentalists, all well intentioned  religious fundamentalists, will have a field day  with Werner's exposition, running as it seems to do completely counter to their belief in an individual flawed, sinful entity at the heart of what makes human beings tick.
Werner's nothing, nothing at all  at the source, isn't up for rationalizing, intellectualizing, discussing, debating, or cross referencing against other works and texts purporting to reveal what's at the innermost core of how human beings are constituted. That's not because it can't  be rationalized, intellectualized, discussed, debated, or cross referenced against other works and texts. Rather it's because what Werner is speaking about can only be gotten by telling the truth about it unflinchingly  when it's being experienced directly, personally, intimately.

This isn't the kind of experience which can be reached by majority vote  in a democratic election. Nor is it validated as an award, as the spoils to the victor of a spirited debate  about its existence. In fact, if you tell the truth about it, rationality, intellectuality, and clever, intelligent  discussion and debate are often nothing more than implements of avoiding  the truth. And the thing about Werner's nothing, nothing at all  at the source, is it may just be the  experience we human beings do our darndest  to avoid.

We say things like "It makes me feel empty  inside", and when we say that, we're not speaking about an experience we relish. In our harshest moments, if we say to someone "You're nothing!", it's intended derogatorily ie as an insult. Culturally it shows up in our language how we disdain, in other words how we misconstrue  the nothing, the nothing at all  at the source. We have it that nothing, nothing at all  at the source, is something to be avoided at all costs. We've learned that. We've learned that lesson well. It's been passed down from generation to generation. We've been taught to avoid  the nothing, the nothing at all  at the source. We've been taught to stay away from it. It's worse than that, actually. We've been taught to run  from it.

This approach, this erroneous cultural learning  born of righteousness and survival, has two inherent problems, two problems which in and of themselves, are sufficient to derail the workability of any life even before it's really gotten under way.

 1)  The nothing, the nothing at all  at the source, is who you really are. A life lived running from ie a life lived avoiding who you really are  is destined for difficulty and hardship from the get go, just like an automobile, thinking it's a boat, would experience difficulty and hardship crossing a lake.

 2)  Without a foundation of nothing, without the nothing at all  at the source, it's not possible to truly create. The very act of creation  implies bringing something forth out of nothing. If you're not coming from nothing, all that's possible is to change something, or to append  to something, or maybe even to swap  something or to rearrange  something. But without coming from nothing, authentic creating is elusive, if not outright impossible.

It takes a certain boldness  to stand in nothing, the nothing at all  at the source. Given how much we've invested in our acts, our attitudes, our opinions, our positions, our posturing, and in our rampant being right in order to survive, standing in nothing, the nothing at all  at the source, isn't for the faint-hearted. It takes a certain integrity  to give way to who you really are, especially if it requires discarding acts, attitudes, opinions, positions, postures, and righteousness which have taken literally years  to put together. It's outright scary  in fact - at first.

An odd feature of us human beings is how much of our lives we live running from  who we really are. But the automobile who thinks it's a boat doesn't get very far on a lake. It may indeed be one of the oddest features of us human beings how much of our lives we live running from who we really are. But by the same token, it may be our greatest inherent grace as human beings that with choice, integrity, and intention, you and I possess within ourselves, at every moment of our lives, under all circumstances, the power to transform the quality of our lives (as Werner Erhard may have said). We have the inherent ability to stop running from who we really are. At every moment, under all circumstances, you and I possess within ourselves the power to turn around, and face ourselves - fully.

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