“You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now–otherwise you would not be here.” Alan Watts
The above quote is from Alan Watts’ book Become What You Are which is a series of essays about the nature of enlightenment, meditation and the Tao.
What makes Watts unique in the world of mysticism and Western/Eastern religions is that he is fairly cantankerous and gives a somewhat stark view of the search for enlightenment that many people seem to be on. (Note: check out the self-help section of any bookstore.)
Here is another quote that shows his lack of sentimentality in this work: “Life is not going anywhere; there is nothing to be attained. All striving and grasping is so much smoke in the clutch of a dissolving hand. We are all lost–kicked off into a void the moment we were born–and the only way is to fall into oblivion.”
(Feel free to use that at your next dinner party. It should really get things rolling.)
What I love and admire about Alan Watts’ teachings is that he strips all the niceties and mysticism from the work, yet his message is ultimately optimistic and freeing. The belief that we can somehow perfect ourselves, or rid ourselves of those parts of us that we don’t like is akin to being in a prison of our own making. We are our own jailer and we can be cruel.
Most of the work that I do with individuals has to do with changing their behavior so that they can better function within a system. Coaching can sometimes leave the impression that it makes people “better” through some methodology or practice, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Self-help books are also hot sellers right now because they offer us a vision into a world in which we do not have to suffer our own weaknesses. While I acknowledge the attraction to anything that suggests a complete answer to the problem of the human condition (suffering, insecurity, fear, death), I have yet to see anything that is so tidy and complete. In fact, at this point I feel distrustful of anyone making such a claim.
It has taken me awhile to recognize that the strength of our communication and ability to connect/inspire people has as much to do with our inner life as it has to do with how we speak (perhaps even more).
If you want to be free of the habits that interfere with your communication and that send the wrong signals, then you will need to surrender the desire to be perfect.
“Lesson One is: ‘I give up.'” – Alan Watts
Look back at the quote at the top of the page and notice that it says “for you are life and exist Now” which is a puzzle in its simplicity.
Think of a river and a waterfall for a moment. When the waters are high, the water moves through with a kind of violence and power that is both beautiful and terrifying. When the waters are low, we might experience the waterfall and river as being tame and relaxing. Regardless of how the waterfall is, it is neither good nor bad. It just is. I imagine that there are people who go around judging nature as either meeting their expectations or disappointing them, but nature doesn’t care. It keeps running regardless.
With people it is more complicated in a way because we are so relational in spirit. We exist as a species in no small part to our ability to communicate, cooperate and read social cues. Unlike the waterfall, it matters to us what other people think of us.
Freedom through responsibility
While it may matter to you what others think of your performance and your behavior (think job performance reviews or customer satisfaction scores), their opinion has no bearing on your “you-ness.” When people get confused by feedback because they think that it reflects on their essential being, then all kinds of problems can arise. When you take responsibility both for your behavior and for your right to exist in this world, you can be free to grow into the person that you already are. You get to become the best version of yourself.
It is possible to change your behavior without denying your true selves.
This type of work requires that you surrender the belief that you need to be fixed in some fundamental way. Will surrendering suddenly rid you of all the faults and weaknesses that you see in your being?
Nope. To do that would require giving up your humanity.
Will surrendering to the Now make you immune from the fear and insecurities that often plague us at work?
Probably not. As Watts says, “A person who did not feel frightened at the threat of danger would be like a tall building with no ‘give’ to the wind.” But what it will do is to relax the jailer of your mind. You may begin to feel less inclined to agitate yourself and interpret dangers from places where no danger exists.
When you get a performance review or feedback that suggests that you could improve or that you are falling short, rather than integrating that information into a story about who you are and who you should be, you can take what is useful from it and apply it to your own person growth.
You are here now and you are alive. Trust yourself. Take responsibility for yourself and your behavior and you will continue to grow into who you are.