One of the most important insights that I got out of my participation in the courses offered by Landmark Education is this one: the default mode of being-in-the-world is one where you/i walk into a future that is already given, already bound, already constrained. And as such the domain of freedom, the freedom to invent a future that moves-touches-inspires-uplifts us, is small and sometimes non-existent. Therefore, if you/i want to increase our zone of freedom / open up our future we have to put the past in the past. Put simply, putting the past in the past is the access to opening up new realms of freedom, of possibility. How to make this real/concrete? Let me tell you a story.
I notice that I am fearful about going to the USA
One of the roles I have chosen to play in life is that of management consultant – it requires a willingness to travel. Towards the end of September it became obvious that I had to travel to Texas, USA. I noticed that something was up, I did not want to travel. Why? I had it that it was going to be an ordeal and fear/worry was present. Why?
It was July 2008 and I was on my way to Detroit to meet my new boss. On the way through security I was singled out and made to wait for some 45 minutes. Why? To be given the approval to fly to the USA by the US authorities. I got it and boarded the aeroplane. After a long journey, I was delighted to get off the aeroplane and looking forward to making my way through passport control and onwards to the hotel. It didn’t work out that way.
I was asked the same questions (as I had been in London, UK) and I provided the same answers. The ‘immigration officer’ asked me to follow him and lead me to large rectangular room. It was full of people who did not look white Anglo-Saxons, all waiting, all looking at the ‘immigration officers’ who sat on an elevated platform to make them look bigger/stronger/more powerful than the rest of us.
The rational part of me told me that it was all a game and I had nothing to worry about as I was no threat to anyone and never had been. Yet, another part of me did worry and was fearful wondering if I would be shipped off to Guantanamo. So it took something for me to be calm and read a book for two hours or so. Eventually, I was called up, asked questions, answered the questions, which they verified with my boss and let through.
What did I do with that experience?
What did I say to myself as I made my way out of the airport and to the taxi stand? I told myself that I could so easily have ended up in Guantanamo. And that if I had ended up there I would not have survived (not having anything in common with the inmates or the guards) and as such would have let my wife and children down. Did I stop there? No.
I made the decision that I would avoid travelling to the USA. I told myself it was unwise and selfish to travel to a country whose default position is to assume that people like me are terrorists and have to be locked up without evidence, without trial. And I acted in accordance with that decision including turning down invitations to visit friends in the USA.
I draw your attention to what happened and what I did. I experienced what I experience and what happened happened at Detroit airport. Yet, I did not leave it there. I took that experience and made a decision out of it. And where did I put the decision? In the future: going forward, in the future, I am going to / I have to avoid travelling to the USA!
What was the impact of that decision? It closed down the zone of freedom, of possibility, in the future. Put bluntly, in my future a visit to the USA was out of the question. So even when I got invites to visit the US, from friends or business organisations, I turned them down.
How did I put the past into the past and open up my future
First, it is worth pointing out that circumstances played their part. I had to go. There was nobody who could go and do what I do. And I was not prepared to let my client and colleagues down. It occurs to me that sometimes unwelcome circumstances are exactly what we need to get us present to and out of the rut that we have fallen into.
Second, I put the past in the past. How? I examined the Detroit incident by looking at what actually happened and gave it a liberating interpretation. After some questioning, the US immigration handed me my documents and sent me on my way. Throughout the encounter he was professional – neither kind nor mean. And I left my drivers licence with him, by mistake, and he forwarded it to my boss! The new interpretation that I gave this experience is this one: the immigration officer did his job and everything worked out just fine. All that really happened is that I was delayed by two hours which could easily have happened on the flight itself and if it had happened it would not have put me off travelling on an aeroplane!
Third, I found out that to get into the USA you have to go and apply online. Which I did and within a few minutes I got a written confirmation that I was authorised to enter the USA. This strengthened my confidence, my resolve, my interpretation that it was ok/safe to travel to the USA.
Fourth, I remembered the ‘kindness of strangers’ the last time I had travelled through Texas and so I invented a future that was full of the possibility of kindness/generosity and a great experience.
How did I turn out?
It turned out delightfully. Texas was warm and the people that I encountered were warm. And during my time there I was bathed in fellowship. I got to experience the ‘big heartedness’ of the folks that I encountered. And when the time came to come back I was a sad to leave and looking forward to my next visit to the USA.
What can you/I take away from this?
You/I might think/act as if our past is in the past. And that is not the way it is for us human beings because we put the past into the future. We do that by making decisions on/about the future. This in turn constrains our options around being/doing and thus limits our freedom, our self-expression, the possibilities that we can invent and live from/into. And it does not have to be this way!
You and I can chose, as a deliberate act, to take the past that is sitting in the future and put it in the past. And we can incorporate this practice into our way of being-in-the-world: on the look out for the past that has got misfiled in the future and keep putting it in the past. Thus we end up with future that is wide open to invention and we experience a freedom to be/do that we may have not experienced for a long time.
You could sum up the work of Werner Erhard and the work of Landmark Education (“Transformation”) as being exactly this: enabling the human being to take his/her past out of his/her future and put it into the past thus leaving absolutely nothing in the future – a future wide open to being invented unconstrained by the past.