Navigating New Year’s Resolutions with Alan Watts: The Art of Subtle Change

The tradition of New Year’s resolutions is deeply embedded in many cultures, offering a yearly ritual for fresh starts, personal reflection, and an opportunity to recommit to growth. However, when viewed through the philosophy of Alan Watts, a British philosopher renowned for translating Eastern wisdom to the West, these resolutions might take on a new, transformative depth.

So who is Alan Watts?

Alan Watts, a leading figure in introducing the West to Eastern philosophies, often provided unconventional insights into personal growth and self-awareness. In the following video he discusses New Year’s resolutions and his thoughts on intention, self-improvement, and how being in the present moment can enlighten our approach towards setting and achieving resolutions.

The Devil and Resolutions

In one of his impactful discourses, Watts presents an intriguing metaphor of the “devil” representing our internal doubts and societal expectations. He contends, “If you plan to change your life, you mustn’t let the devil know.” This encapsulates the pitfalls of openly declaring grandiose intentions, like giving up a vice for a whole year. Such intentions, he believes, can be counterproductive. They can confront you with an overwhelming task, like facing “365 drinkless days” for someone trying to curb their alcohol consumption.

Instead of setting vast, daunting goals, Watts proposes a more day-to-day approach: “Just for today, I won’t drink.” Then, as tomorrow rolls in, the same sentiment is echoed. In this manner, one manages not to alert the metaphorical “devil” – our doubts, fears, and potential self-sabotage.

The Zen Way: Acting Without Premeditation

Watts, drawing heavily from Zen teachings, emphasises the principle of “acting without premeditation.” Referencing “Zen in the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel, he highlights the practice of releasing a bowstring without a conscious decision to do so. Such actions should be unplanned and natural.

This philosophy is illustrated further with a tale from German writer Heinrich von Kleist, where a man struggles to defeat a bear in boxing because the bear anticipates his every move. The key to success? Act without preconceived intent, catching the bear off guard.

Embracing Subtle Transformation

To truly understand Watts’ teachings on this subject is to appreciate the nuances of intertwining intention with spontaneous action. He suggests that in the broader spiritual journey or personal transformation, we should strive to align our intentions and actions seamlessly. By mastering this, one might transcend the constraints of societal expectations, internal doubts, or, as Watts puts it, “karma and the devil.”

As another year comes to an end and we contemplate our New Year’s resolutions, Alan Watts’ perspective offers a refreshing shift from conventional wisdom. Instead of grand declarations and sweeping changes, maybe the path to genuine transformation lies in subtlety, living authentically in the present, and acting without the chains of overthought. This approach, rooted in ancient wisdom yet incredibly relevant for modern times, might be the real key to lasting change and personal growth.

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