English Philosopher Alan Watts on Living Now

Carpe Diem or Slow Down and Smell The Roses?

I think Alan Watts might have decried Carpe Diem.  Seize the day!  He would have teased us for being in hurry and not savoring the moment.

Living in The Now is So Very Hard to Do

Living in the now, living mindfully, is very hard for Western-reared people.  Though we are here, now, we constantly worry about what happened last year, last month, last week, yesterday.  And when we are not occupying ourselves with our past, we worry about the future.  I must do this.  I must prevent that!  We have no time left for now.

We are also pretty suspicious about living now.  It seems self-indulgent to just stop and enjoy my coffee.   I rather suspect that we in the West interpret being mindful to living what Seligman pleasurably, as opposed to living with engagement and meaning. We are obsessed with children eating marshmallows, or not, as the case may be.  The reality is that we are obsessed with marshmallows!

We Desperately Want to Live in The Now

Alan Watts’ philosophy challenges us because it is alien to us.  But we seek it.  The idea of picking three tasks to do a day in an agile sprint or a personal kanban is a bid, I think, to justify our deep need to pay attention to what we are doing.

3 Videos on Alan Watts Speaking about Play & Work

I was brought up within a Western frame of thinking so I will stop here and embed the videos.  Each is about 10 minutes long, so maybe budget 40 minutes.  Know that you are a child of this age and that you will find it hard to block 40 minutes and to sit still that long.  Make some coffee, find a comfortable chair, put a pen and pad next to you  for the extraneous thoughts that will pop into your mind, and take the opportunity to relax ~ to deeply relax in the company of a man who knew how to enjoy life.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0caqNCIUSZM]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJxInUkzJPo]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-IvkRHKKA0]

Hat-tip:  These videos were posted on YouTube by Broodbox

Eureka! Why bad treatment rattles me so much.

I think I get unreasonably distressed when big companies treat me badly. I take it badly. And I take it personally. Which has to be unreasonable. After all they don’t give a jot about me!

Double-bind

Being bullied by people in power is called a double-bind. It’s basic structure goes like this.

  • You treat me badly.
  • But I can’t walk away.

So I have to absorb three bad things about myself.

  • You treat me badly.
  • I can’t walk away.
  • I am in a position where I cannot resolve this dilemma or even talk about it someone else. You certainly won’t listen. You will just deny that you are treating me badly.

Side-stepping a double-bind

I understand all this stuff. I am a psychologist after all.

So why do I take bad treatment like a kick in the solar plexus and spit in my face?

I pondered this a few days ago and had this ‘eureka’ moment.

Because suffering humiliation suggests I am investing in the wrong things. Because the petty humiliations hint that I have been horribly mistaken about what is true and good in this world.

If I catch the fleeting hint and look at it squarely, I can ask myself why I continue to pursue this life.

If this life is what I want, then maybe I can find a way to remove the irritant, compensate for the irritant (or pay it back), or simply put it in the irritant box.

The key question is not what to do about the irritant.

The key question is in the fleeting hint : is this the life I want? What have I assumed about what is true and good?

Do I still believe I have chosen the right direction in life knowing what I know now?

3 secrets about goal clarity that I didn’t know I knew

Front-loading washer machine.
Image via Wikipedia

I’ll be the last person so say that setting goals is easy – my life over the last 10 years has been as tumultuous as the life of a sock in a half-empty washing machine.

When we have to take a major turn in life – when we leave school, when we change career midstream, when we move countries – it is easy to feel utterly disoriented.

But it is undeniable that the day we stop dithering, the day we stop saying “I could do this, or I could do that”, when the humming and hawing ends, we lurch forward, taking ourselves, most of all, by surprise.

So how do we get from confusion to this state of goal clarity?

Shame – bad news – by hard work.

But take heart from my story of setting goals which dovetails oddly with positive psychology.

A long time ago, in my university lecturing days, in more stable and optimistic times, I was asked by a major multinational, whom you all make profitable on a regular basis, to be on a panel interviewing students for scholarships.

The company executive, who chaired the panel, asked every applicant the same question: what are the three things that you want out of life?

After the 10th candidate or so, I answered the question for myself:

  • I like to achieve.
  • I like to belong to something bigger than myself.
  • I like to have some comfort and style but I will sacrifice this for the other two.

So, I was somewhat amazed, some twenty years later, when my life had taken on the semblance of a sock in a half-empty washing machine, to learn that this is the scaffolding Martin Seligman suggests for positive psychology.

  • An engaged life.
  • A meaningful life.
  • A pleasurable life.

Seligman seems to think that most people waste too much time pursuing a surfeit of pleasure. I am not sure we do. I am not sure we spend most of our time pursuing pleasure, or do it very well.   But that is another story.

When we need to shrug off goal confusion and achieve goal clarity

It’s best to cut our goals down to 3, or at most 5, because that is all we can remember without looking up a list.

This three-fold schema is a good starting point.

  • The order of importance will be yours – there are 6 possible orders.
  • The weighting you give to each ‘life’ will vary – whether you go stark raving mad without it, or you would give it up for the others.
  • And the content will vary.

I’ve had to do some hard work rethinking what I want out of life in entirely new circumstances.

  • The order changed for me.  Meaning went up to No 1.  Pleasure went up to No 2.  And Engagement came in at No 3.
  • The weighting changed for each too. Order and weighting are intertwined a little.
  • The content changed slightly.  More on finding your content another day.

Achieving goal clarity for yourself

If you find yourself ‘humming and hawing’ and don’t have that sense of forward movement that comes of goal clarity, begin here.

  • What do you think about the three types of life?

And help me out a little:  Is it possible to think about these three lives beginning from the abstract principle?

That would be helpful for me to know, as I already thought that way before I heard the abstract principles.

More another day – probably on Wednesday!

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Deciding what you want to do is the really hard part, doing it is easy

Fascinated by our capacity for inactivity

I have just discovered Jodee Bock’s blog. As I was whizzing down her latest posts, I found her piece on New Year Resolutions – aren’t we fascinated by our capacity for inactivity?  She reminded me of David Whyte and I have taken the liberty of quoting what she says with two lines from one of David Whyte’s poems.

“If the WHY is big enough, the HOW will take care of itself. The WHY is the PURPOSE. When we’re clear on the WHY, then we can set the vision, which will break the WHY down, maybe into time chunks, for example. Then goals will take a bite out of the vision, and allow us those measurable milestones.” Jodee Bock

“What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough . . .” From “What to Remember When Waking” in River Flow (p. 351).

And is doing it easy?  I’ll write on that another day.

If the WHY  is big enough  .  .  .

Ask not the meaning your life give to you.  Ask what meaning you give to life!

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