“A double-bind game is a game with self-contradictory rules, a game doomed to perpetual self-frustration—like trying to invent a perpetualmotion machine in terms of Newtonian mechanics, or trying to trisect any given angle with a straightedge and compass. The social doublebind game can be phrased in several ways:
“Children are in touch with paradise to the extent that they have not fully learned the ego-trick, and the same is true of cultures which, by our standards, are more “primitive” and—by analogy—childlike. If, then, after understanding, at least in theory, that the ego-trick is a hoax and that, beneath everything, “I” and “universe” are one, you ask, “So what? What is the next step, the practical application?”—I will answer that the absolutely vital thing is to consolidate your understanding, to become capable of enjoyment, of living in the present, and of the discipline which this involves. Without this you have nothing to give—to the cause of peace or of racial integration, to starving Hindus and Chinese, or even to your closest friends. Without this, all social concern will be muddlesome meddling, and all work for the future will be planned disaster.”
“All this might have been wonderful if, at every stage, you had been able to play it as a game, finding your work as fascinating as poker, chess, or fishing. But for most of us the day is divided into work-time and play-time, the work consisting largely of tasks which others pay us to do because they are abysmally uninteresting. We therefore work, not for the work’s sake, but for money—and money is supposed to get us what we really want in our hours of leisure and play. In the United States even poor people have lots of money compared with the wretched and skinny millions of India, Africa, and China, while our middle and upper classes (or should we say “income groups”) are as prosperous as princes. Yet, by and large, they have but slight taste for pleasure. Money alone cannot buy pleasure, though it can help. For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.”
“Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself. Other creatures may love and laugh, talk and think, but it seems to be the special peculiarity of human beings that they reflect: they think about thinking and know that they know. This, like other feedback systems, may lead to vicious circles and confusions if improperly managed, but self-awareness makes human experience resonant. It imparts that simultaneous “echo” to all that we think and feel as the box of a violin reverberates with the sound of the strings. It gives depth and volume to what would otherwise be shallow and flat. Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one’s own person. Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know. For the human organism is, apparently, the most complex of all organisms, and while one has the advantage of knowing one’s own organism so intimately— from the inside—there is also the disadvantage of being so close to it that one can never quite get at it. Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. This is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious.”
“It is hard for compulsive activists to see that the vast social and economic problems of the world cannot be settled by mere effort and technique. The outsider cannot just barge in like Santa Claus and put things to right—especially our kind of outsider who, because he has no sense of belonging in the world, invariably smells like an interferer. He does not really know what he wants, and therefore everyone suspects that there are limitless strings attached to his gifts. For if you know what you want, and will be content with it, you can be trusted. But if you do not know, your desires are limitless and no one can tell how to deal with you. Nothing satisfies an individual incapable of enjoyment. I am not saying that American and European corporations are run by greedy villains who live off the fat of the land at everyone else’s expense. The point becomes clear only as one realizes, with compassion and sorrow, that many of our most powerful and wealthy men are miserable dupes and captives in a treadmill, who—with the rarest exceptions—have not the ghost of a notion how to spend and enjoy money.”
“Once you have seen this you can return to the world of practical affairs with a new spirit. You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate “you” to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real “you” is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For “you” is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. What we see as death, empty space, or nothingness is only the trough between the crests of this endlessly waving ocean. It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.
Anyone who brags about knowing this doesn’t understand it, for he is only using the theory as a trick to maintain his illusion of separateness, a gimmick in a game of spiritual one-upmanship. Moreover, such bragging is deeply offensive to those who do not understand, and who honestly believe themselves to be lonely, individual spirits in a desperate and agonizing struggle for life. For all such there must be deep and unpatronizing compassion, even a special kind of reverence and respect, because, after all, in them the Self is playing its most farout and daring game—the game of having lost Itself completely and of being in danger of some total and irremediable disaster. This is why Hindus do not shake hands on meeting, but put their palms together and bow in a gesture of reverence, honoring the Godhead in the stranger.
And do not suppose that this understanding will transform you all at once into a model of virtue. I have never yet met a saint or sage who did not have some human frailties. For so long as you manifest yourself in human or animal form, you must eat at the expense of other life and accept the limitations of your particular organism, which fire will still burn and wherein danger will still secrete adrenalin. The morality that goes with this understanding is, above all, the frank recognition of your dependence upon enemies, underlings, out-groups, and, indeed, upon all other forms of life whatsoever. Involved as you may be in the conflicts and competitive games of practical life, you will never again be able to indulge in the illusion that the “offensive other” is all in the wrong, and could or should be wiped out. This will give you the priceless ability of being able to contain conflicts so that they do not get out-of-hand, of being willing to compromise and adapt, of playing, yes, but playing it cool. This is what is called “honor among thieves,” for the really dangerous people are those who do not recognize that they are thieves— the unfortunates who play the role of the “good guys” with such blind zeal that they are unconscious of any indebtedness to the “bad guys” who support their status. To paraphrase the Gospel, “Love your competitors, and pray for those who undercut your prices.” You would be nowhere at all without them.”
Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
It is all part of the illusion that there should seem to be something to be gained in the future, and that there is an urgent necessity to go on and on until we get it. Yet just as there is no time but the present, and no one except the all-and-everything, there is never anything to be gained—though the zest of the game is to pretend that there is.
“To become the sensations, as distinct from having them, engenders the most astonishing sense of freedom and release. For it implies that experience is not something in which one is trapped or by which one is pushed around, or against which one must fight. The conventional duality of subject and object, knower and known, feeler and feeling, is changed into polarity: the knower and the known become the poles, terms, or phases of a single event which happens, not to me or from me, but of itself. The experiencer and the experience become a single, ever-changing, self-forming process, complete and fulfilled at every moment of its unfolding, and of infinite complexity and subtlety. It is like, not watching, but being, a coiling arabesque of smoke patterns in the air, or of ink dropped in water, or of a dancing snake which seems to move from every part of its body at once. This may be a “drug-induced hallucination,” but it corresponds exactly to what Dewey and Bentley have called the transactional relationship of the organism to its environment. This is to say that all our actions and experiences arise mutually from the organism and from the environment at the same time.”
“Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons.”
“Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.”
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that is your own self. So you have to begin there, not outside, not on other people. That comes afterwards, when you have worked on your own corner.”
“If you want to be a creative person, then you’re gonna have to be creative in how you put your career together. There isn’t a path. Part of the creativity is making your path.”
I had previously assisted a commercial photographer and decided that that was not the route for me, that there was something kind of soul-crushing about the whole experience. I was always nervous to work as a photographer, to say, make my living doing weddings or something like that, because then I thought I would hate photography. I got a job working in the darkroom of an art museum, and this was a pretty good job—a 9 to 5, and for me that was important. I decided at a certain point that I could be really aggressive in my working life and thus have to give up my art, or I could have this low-paying, but not all that demanding job, and then I would have my brain free on the weekends and the evenings and so forth. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t particularly satisfied at work but then—and this is important—I was very hard on myself in terms of continuing to work on my photography. So every weekend I would do something—if I didn’t do something I would just be really upset with myself.
Yeah. Now I’m in the position where I see a lot of young photographers pushing their work, and I think that’s fine, but so often it’s wasted effort before the work is ready. Everyone’s running around trying to promote themselves, and you kinda have to put in those years of hard work to make something decent before you do that. Particularly that first project is the hardest thing. I always say the 20s are the hardest decade because you don’t have money and you don’t have a reputation. In relation to this kind of issue, I’m always wary that the advice is like “you need to put together this promo package that you send out to these 100 people.” No, you need to do the work, and worry about that later.
Yeah, I went shooting every weekend, more or less. In the beginning, for example, coming out of school I didn’t know how to photograph other people. I was a super shy person so I was terrified, but I knew that I had to learn how to do that, so I just went out practicing, essentially. At that time, when I was working those jobs, it was really an unhappy time. My job was terrible, the first job. Then I’m going out and taking these pictures which I know are not a real project—it’s like, not great work, just practice.
Yeah. It just felt big; it felt bigger than anything I’d done before. Things worked in a kind of fluid way, where I wasn’t forcing everything. I have to imagine that if you’re a musician you have this feeling—“practice practice practice, play dumb little shows, dumb little shows”—and then there must be a moment where you’re not thinking as hard. That was a big thing too, because as a young photographer you’re tearing your hair out all the time trying to make something new. I think I reached the point where I could just relax and make work, and feel good about that.