“There is nothing that you can do about life, nothing that you cannot do.” ~Alan Watts
These days, I find it incredibly challenging to stay away from the words of Alan Watts. I’ll find myself drifting from his wisdom only to be drawn right back. Most recently, I heard a clip of him talking about giving up, surrendering. It hit me in such a way that, despite a previous blog post on this same topic, I’ve decided to write another.
Our society is based strongly in polarities. Everything is separated into black and white, positive and negative, good and bad. These distinctions create a moral rubric for which we measure our successes and our failures. In these judgements we react emotionally. Often times this cycle is self-perpetuated in the sense that once it begins it continues to unfold. This emotional economy (if you will) is a system based on the fallacious concept of control.
We humans like the idea of control. It brings us security, comfort and degrees of happiness. It allows our lives a tolerability that would otherwise not exist. Control gives us a metric to measure the value of our lives. As mentioned previously, it is the leverage for which the system of the emotional economy is based upon. Without a sense of control, we would have nothing to claim as our own, stripping away our self-proclaimed ideas of value, leaving our emotions quite detached. Yet, this is not how life is.
Instead, control is key. Those who have it are set and those that do not are left out to dry. Being out of control is the height of societal stigmata. Those who are unable to control themselves, their finances or their future are cast out as psychotic, criminal or irresponsible. It would therefore stand that to willingly relinquish control would seem to be of the highest social treason.
However, this is the exact point Alan Watts is arguing against. In the song above, he talks about the moments in one’s life when control must be given up, when the pain of holding on is far too unbearable. These moments are usually extreme ones of life and death, inordinate amounts of stress or those spent in complete agony. He argues that in relinquishing the desire to control, the person is freed from the circumstance and experiences absolute effortlessness; a moment of enlightenment attained through surrender.
These experiences do not have to be once in a life time moments. They are in fact a part of my daily life. Whenever I am under stress I realize it is because I am holding on to something that is not actually occurring. My expectation is not being fulfilled. I stub my toe on the bed and get angry because I did not want this to happen. I have lost control over my toe. This scenario can be played out in a million ways: traffic, school, work, yoga, meditation, cooking, eating, sports, singing, art.
Whenever we feel stress, it is because we are holding on to our personal idea of how the world should be.
To overcome this stress I simply give up. I let go of my expectations and let the reality of what’s happening occur without the friction I impose on it. Once I let the river flow in the direction it wants to go, I find that my life has become much easier. We are not in the business of building dams, we are in the pastime of sailing downstream. Riding the current is much more lucrative. It is pleasant. And although we feel that we have relinquished control, we have actually aligned with the highest form of control: that of the divine Self.
Security, true happiness and bliss are all consequences of giving up our personal ideas of how things should be. Once we attune to the pattern that has existed for all eternity, we become enlightened.