will-o’-a-wisp and a hoax


“Let’s look at this thing from another point of view, which at first you will think to be highly depressing: Suppose we can’t do anything to change ourselves; suppose that we’re stuck with it. That’s the worst thing an American audience can hear: “There’s no way of improving yourself.”  Because every kind of culture in this country is dedicated to self-improvement.   The situation, you see, is that the whole idea of self-improvement is a will-o’-the-wisp and a hoax.  Let’s start where you are.

What happens if you know beyond any shadow of doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better? It’s kind of a relief, isn’t it? Seeing that there’s really nothing we can do to improve ourselves or improve the world – if we realize that that is so, it gives us a breather.  In the course of which, we may simply watch what’s going on; watch what happens.  It sounds terribly simple; so simple, in fact, that it might seem not worth doing.  Do you ever just watch?  Watch what is happening and watch what you are doing by way of reaction to it?  To just watch what’s happening, and stop being in a hurry to know what it is.

You think this is the material world; well, that’s somebody’s philosophical idea. Maybe you think it is spiritual; that, too, is somebody’s philosophical idea.  This real world is not spiritual; it is not material.  The real world is simply just (what it is).  Could we look at things in that way – as it were fixing labels and names and gradations and judgments on everything – and instead watch what happens and what we do?

If you do that, you do at least give yourself a chance; and it may be that when you are in this way- freed from busybody-ness and being out to improve everything – you will find your own nature beginning to take care of itself, because you aren’t getting in the way of yourself all the time. You will begin to find out that the great things that you do are really happening.”

-Alan Watts, “How To Make Yourself A Better Person”





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