I share with you a talk worth listening to again and again. If you are a Landmark graduate then this talk may show up as welcome reminder of some fundamentals. If you are not a Landmark graduate then you are in for a mind opening talk. Enjoy.
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.
I say that the most philosophically profound and politically revolutionary movie that I have ever watched is The Matrix series. Yes, you can take it as a sci-fi yarn or you can get present to the hidden, profound and revolutionary, messages. Today, I simply wish to share some with you. Before you read further, I warn you that these deeply uncomfortable ‘truth’s for the mass of humanity that is in a state of “fallenness” – fallenness of “victim”, of “conformity”, of “idle chatter”, of “mass culture” – and so you may want to do what you do by default, not look at anything that disturbs your sleep. The choice is yours – it has always been thus.
Neo: “Choice. The problem is choice.”
Yes, you have been thrown into this world – you did not get a say in the matter. Yes, stuff happens that happens and you did not get a say in that matter – call that ‘fate’. And you have ‘free will’. How? You are present to possibilities and you can project possibilities – you can envisage ‘that which is not and could be’ as well as being present to ‘that which is’. Being present to possibilities, as yet unborn, and ready to be born you are confronted with choice. Choosing not to choose – accepting the default (what is and is not) – is a choice. You make it, every instant, even if you are not aware of making that choice. There is no escaping choice. Choice – being confronted with choice – is the sign that you are ‘free’. With choice comes the ‘problem of choice’.
Morpheus: “Then tomorrow we may all be dead, but how would that be different from any other day? This is a war, and we are soldiers. Death can come for us at any time, in any place.”
You are not going to live forever. Death is not a tragedy, it is the gift that allows us to get present to the privilege of being alive and presses us to live fully, to give fruit to our gifts, our dreams, you self-expression. And even if death shows up in your world as a ‘tragedy’ as a ‘horror’ then get present to the fact that you will never escape death. NEVER. Death is sitting on your shoulder ready to tap you anytime. That is what is so.
The real tragedy of your life is that you are tiptoeing ever so delicately through life (in order to avoid death) only to find that you arrive safely at death! And when you arrive there (at deaths door) you are confronted with the question: “Why did I not live fully? Why did I not create inspiring possibilities and seize them fiercely? And your are left with the awareness and feeling that “You could have chosen otherwise. You could have lived more courageously. You could have put your natural self-expression into the world. You could have chased your dreams.” At death, your are once again confronted with choice – you had say in the matter of your life, always.
Morpheus: “What happened, happened and could not have happened any other way.”
Do you get it? Do you get that your past is past, whatever happened, happened and could not have happened any other way? By all means ‘learn’ from the past. But there really is no value in getting stuck in the past, of beating yourself up, or beating others up. Get present to the profound, liberating, truth of Morpheus’ words. If you take this vantage point on your past then all the chains that keep you stuck in the past break apart instantly and you are totally free from the past, present to the present and in the clearing to create/project possibilities (that move-touch-inspire you) into the future.
Which is the more powerful way to live? Spend your day living in the past most likely complaining about how things turned out and/or beating yourself up? Or is it more powerful to let the past be in the past and so be present and live fully in the present with a total commitment to inventing and living possibilities that make it a joy to be alive? Once again you are confronted with choice. And in making that choice remember that Death is sitting on your shoulder ready to tap you anytime: you don’t get a second go, a second life!
Knowing v Acting (Doing)
Morpheus: There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
Look, get real! Knowing, knowledge really does not make a difference – not a tiny jot of difference. You can know all there is to know and if you do not act on that knowledge then what difference does it make in the real world? What is the value of knowing if you do not act on that knowledge so as to transform the quality of your life, your living? Get real, in the real world it is action (doing), ONLY ACTION, that impacts/influences/transforms the quality of your life and the world that is ready at hand. Let me put this differently, if you do not walk the path then of what value is ‘knowing the path’?
I know that you are hoping for miracles even if you are not aware that you are hoping for miracles. Buying more dieting books / attending more dieting courses are not going to make you slimmer or fitter. Being mindful, eating the right foods in the right quantity at the right times and exercising – action – that is what it will take for you to turn out slimmer and fitter. Hoping for better relationship with your spouse? How long have you been doing that? How has that turned out? What good has knowing done without the doing? Look your relationship with your spouse will only be different when you be/act differently, consistently!
Please get that we are living in an age addicted to the most useless artifact there is: information and knowledge. In the real world information/knowledge/knowing makes no difference. What makes the difference? How you are being and what you are doing (and not doing) every day of your life. You can continue to be the fool chasing information and knowing or you can be the ‘warrior’ that acts decisively to create/project/bring about possibilities that move-touch-inspire you – possibilities that manifest themselves as joy right now in your living. Once again you are confronted with choice – what choice will you make?
Enough for today. I will continue with this theme in a later post. Before I go, I want to leave you with a final quote, a final message, a final provocation to stir you out of your slumber of ‘fallenness’:
Morpheus: “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.“