Do we ever truly know what’s best? Wisdom from Alan Watts

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“‘Kindly let me help you or you will drown,’ said the monkey, putting the fish safely up a tree.” – Proverb 


A natural human tendency is to want our ideas respected and validated. So much so, that we often infringe upon the ideas of others, telling them how they should live their lives, or how they should fix their problems – because from our point of view, it’s painfully clear what they should do.

But it’s an insidious thing, giving advice. It takes an enormous amount of humility to realize that we fundamentally cannot know what is best for another human being. Even something as simple and objective as consuming a can of soda can become convoluted when looked at from multiple perspectives. To harp on that point: yes, we know sugar consumption is positively correlated with inflammation in the body.  Yes, we know soda is terrible for one’s health. But how do I know for a fact that this person should be healthy, that this person is not better suited to hit rock bottom in their health in order to grow as a person? I could not know. It is a rather egocentric attitude, even when the desire to help another stems from a truly altruistic and well-intentioned place.

“Sometimes doing good to others, and even doing good to oneself, is amazingly destructive. Because it’s full of conceit. How do you know what’s good for other people? How do you know what’s good for you?” – Alan Watts 

All too often, we forget that we are seeing reality from our limited perspective. We think that what we see is what there is. But we forget that the person sitting across from us sees an entirely different side of the room – and even in this one small instance, we can appreciate how their reality is already much different.

“We could have a plague of virtuous people.” – Alan Watts 

20 Paradoxical quotes that point to life’s biggest truths

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1. “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” – Jerzy Gregorek

2. “If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?” – George Carlin 

3. “It’s weird not to be weird.” – John Lennon 

4. “True freedom is impossible without a mind made free from discipline.” – Mortimer Adler 

5. “We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.” – Oscar Wilde 

6. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mahatma Gandhi 

7. “You cannot travel on the path until you become the path itself.” – Buddha 

8. “Silence is not an absence but a presence.” – Anne LeClaire 

9. “There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” – George Shaw 

10. “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha

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11. “If you can’t meditate in a boiler room, you can’t meditate.” – Alan Watts 

12. “If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you will be unhappy for the rest of your life.” – Abraham Maslow

13. “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” – Plato 

14. “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.” – Albert Einstein 

15. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers

16. “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox.” – Tony Schwartz 

17. “If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, they’re yours. If they don’t, they never were.” – Unknown 

18. “Good judgement is the result of experience, and experience the result of bad judgement.” – Mark Twain 

19. “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Teresa 

20. “In contradiction and paradox, you can find the truth.” – Denis Villeneuve 


 

 

Must we always settle in love? Insights from Esther Perel

With age and maturity, there is a tendency to grow disillusioned in life and love. We find ourselves waxing increasingly rational in matters of the heart, a place where the often contradictory realms of realism and fantasy must coexist. With age, we gravitate towards embracing the “solid facts” of life; and in turn, we grow barriers around our heart according to what we deem realistic. And so, we create novelesque lists, we hold staunch deal-breakers – and eventually, we nod our heads in quiet acknowledgement that we must always settle in some way.

But is this the way love must be? Must we be in the budding, spring season of our lives to experience true, dizzying love? Must we always settle?

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Esther Perel elucidates the mysteries behind these age-old questions.


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Q: Is it harder to find true love as you get older and progressively more intelligent? Do you have to be young and stupid to find love? Do most people in search of a partner settle at some point?

A: What does it mean that you’re going to settle? I think the main thing is this: when you are younger, you allow yourself the experience of meeting someone, seeing where it takes you, unfolding with the story, and embracing the surprise of where this thing is going that you didn’t expect. But when you are looking for a relationship as an adult, and you come with your expectations, you often thwart the possibility of a story to unfold and surprise you, because you’re sitting there with an inventory, and you’re not really allowing for the unknown to open itself up to you and to take you on a ride that you didn’t see coming.

I think most of the dating that involves a checklist is doomed. That’s the best way I can say it. It’s anti-romance, it’s anti-story – and stories are the way we live our lives. It’s a list of items. And often you’ll find that people match all the items on your list, and the feeling isn’t there. Because a feeling is something that emerges that develops through interaction, through shared experience, through the creation of a shared story together. I don’t believe that is any less possible as an adult. In fact, when you are older, you are clearer about what you like, what you resonate with, you know yourself better; and from that place, you are more able to appreciate the person that is in front of you.

It’s not like you have to be young and foolish to fall in love. Absolutely not. There is no age for it. People fall in love at any age. At this point, people have the opportunity for the first time in history to start an entirely new life in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. We love differently because we are more mature, because we accept certain things more and other things less. But we don’t necessarily call that settling. Settling means what? “I only found 6 items on my list out of the 10?” That’s not the way we do it. We make a choice. And the choice always involves a loss. 

And at some points we make certain choices that are maybe more rational, or more forward-looking. We understand there are certain things we need in order to live with someone, and that there are certain people with whom we could have a fantastic love affair and a fantastic adventure, but maybe not necessarily build a whole life together. And in that sense, we are able to hold more elements at the same time and make a decision that embraces ambivalence. 

That’s something I call maturity, not settling.


References

Intimacy, Emotional Baggage, Relationship Longevity, and More – Esther Perel