Thursday, March 14, 2019

How to Make Yourself a Better Person

As a young impressionable lad, I developed a fascination with Zen Buddhism for about three years, voraciously reading all that I could get my hands on, especially that written by Alan Watts, the British philosopher, writer, and speaker best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for Western audiences. Looking across at my book shelf, forty years later, I still have eight of his books within reach. Zen was not a legitimate academic pursuit of mine and was never meant to be. If I came away with any understanding of its wisdom, it was that if I really wanted to live a life in Zen, I must first burn all of my books on Zen. While I only symbolically acknowledged this high and mighty simple commandment, the message it was meant to convey has rooted deeply within me for a lifetime, even though I have not given much attention to the study of Zen since.

I still like to one of his books from time to time. His timeless words still ring fresh, sparkling as the condensation of dew on the petals of flowers at the break of dawn. One cannot really put a figure to how much another person has influenced their life story, but Alan Watts definitely caused a pivot somewhere in my early years. I have always been guided, methinks, by his thoughts on self-improvement, the topic of today's woo-woo.

Self-improvement would seem to be a natural impulse of any responsible human being. Since the self-improvement industry generates about $10 billion annually, a lot of us must be seeking improvement through therapy, mindfulness, reiki, and all manner of New Age fads. Watts believed all such efforts to be futile at best, saying that "human beings are largely engaged in wasting enormous amounts of psychic energy in attempting to do things that are quite impossible."

"All sensible people there begin in life with two fundamental presuppositions. You are not going to improve the world, and you are not going to improve yourself. You are, just what you are. And once you have accepted that situation, you have an enormous amount of energy available to do things that can be done. And everybody else looking at you from an external point of view will say, "My god, how much so-and-so has improved."

What he is saying is that the desire to improve yourself increases only your desire, which serves only to increase suffering, ultimately making things worse, not better.

To improve the way you are implies that there is some objective best way to be, the time and energy you've been putting into anxiety and beating yourself up can be used to simply do things with your life. Just live and don't worry about it.

For those around you, it may look like you are indeed showing improvement. But for you, it won't matter, because such is no longer a concern of yours when you are content with exactly who you are.

Everything is just Perfect. Just go and enjoy life. Never lose sight of Bobby McFerrin's little jingle: "Don't Worry, Be Happy". Very Zen.
Thank you, Bobby. Thank you, Alan.

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