The Backwards Law and the Wheel of Fortune
Personal insight on Pursuit of Wonder's video essay on The Backwards Law coined by Alan Watts
The Backwards Law was coined by Alan Watts and is wonderfully explained in the video. Watching it reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune card in tarot, which is often associated with being in a situation that is beyond your control. However, exploring The Backwards Law can take this a step further. As you release control, you instantly gain a new perspective (loss and gain, give and take, right?). In the video, the narrator talks about how we can perceive good providing bad and bad providing good to help us accept certain circumstances of life, but let's remember what Watts said:
"If we are to be fully human, fully alive and aware, it seems that we must be willing to suffer for our pleasures."
Suffering is associated with living, just as pain is associated with being alive. We wouldn't call ourselves human or alive without experiencing these things, but we also wouldn't say we were living if we were constantly in a state of suffering. The Wheel of Fortune is a reminder that fortune and misfortune cycles throughout our lives. Our control is located in our responses to it, and I propose that our responses, as stated in the video, should be to see life for what it is. You can even go as far as to not even give life a dualistic nature, which is difficult when you witness an extreme tragedy or receive an amazing blessing, but seeing life as a series of events that happen and change the conditions of our lives can help us be more mindful of the present, give us clarity for the past, and release us from trying to control the future. The Wheel of Fortune isn't a card of dualism where fortune and misfortune are cut in half; the card is cyclical, where if the wheel spins fast enough, the moments of fortune and misfortune would merge into one. The past, present, and future become an instantaneous moment.
It's not plausible to believe our reality can reach a state of always being on the side of fortune or always on the side of misfortune. As the latter part of the video pointed out, we have entities in our cultures that try to convince us that giving into whatever they're offering can relieve us of our suffering completely. Misfortune cannot be erased, especially not in an instant. Fortune is not a permanent state either. Developing a realistic view of life circumstances, one that is objective and not catering to impulsive optimism or pessimism, can relieve us of the delusions that exploit us. When the wheel is spinning, it's not within our control, but we are involved in its momentum so we can interact with the flow of wonderful, horrible, neutral, and indescribable events of life. Existence will never be linear or categorical. The wheel must turn.
The narrator presented an interesting analogy:
“Only when we hold our breath and try to keep all the oxygen in do we suffocate.”
Taking this to an even more literal level, we cannot reach a state where we don’t have to breathe anymore, for that would be death. So why would we aspire to abruptly resist our natural biological functions? Now, taking that quote to its analogous level, why resist the natural flow of life that gives and takes, but also teaches and offers experience? Change is the only constant in life and accepting that is a challenge to adapt to, but no impossible even in its most chaotic state. Thus, permanent happiness may not be the most pragmatic goal for a self-aware being like ourselves to aspire for. Adaptability increases awareness, clarifies desire and needs, and helps us moderate our behavior and lifestyle. As life changes, we change and that is a very natural concept to embrace.
Thanks for reading
If you would like to discuss Alan Watts and his awesomeness further or see what else I've written, you can go to my website, my author profile, or contact me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr. Also, if you liked the video, go visit The Pursuit of Wonder, an excellent YouTube channel that explores other philosophical and existential topics.