The Backwards Law – Embracing the Paradox By Alan Watts

What is the Backwards Law ? Have you ever found yourself chasing after happiness, success, or fulfillment with all your might, only to feel like they slip through your fingers like grains of sand? It’s a frustration many of us have experienced at some point in our lives. But what if I told you that the key to finding true contentment lies in letting go of this relentless pursuit? This paradoxical concept is at the heart of the teachings of Alan Watts, a British philosopher and spiritual thinker whose insights continue to inspire and captivate people around the world. Join me on a journey as we explore the profound wisdom of Alan Watts and delve into the mysterious realm of the backwards law.

The Nature of Desire

At the core of the backwards law lies a fundamental truth about human desire. Alan Watts eloquently expresses this paradox when he says, “When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float.” This seemingly contradictory statement holds a profound lesson about the nature of desire and attachment. Our instinctual urge to grasp tightly onto the things we desire often leads to suffering and disappointment. Like trying to hold onto water in our hands, the harder we try to control and possess, the more elusive our desires become.

The Pursuit of Happiness

In our modern society, we are bombarded with messages telling us that happiness lies just around the corner, if only we work a little harder, earn a little more, or acquire a certain possession. However, Alan Watts challenges this conventional wisdom by suggesting that the pursuit of happiness itself may be the very thing standing in the way of our contentment. He aptly notes, “The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.” In our frantic quest for security and happiness, we inadvertently create a sense of lack and dissatisfaction within ourselves.

Letting Go and Finding Freedom

So, if chasing after happiness and fulfillment only leads to more suffering, what is the alternative? According to Alan Watts, the answer lies in letting go. He encourages us to release our tight grip on our desires and surrender to the flow of life. “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax, and float.” In this surrender, we find a sense of freedom and liberation from the incessant striving that plagues so many of us.

Embracing the Present Moment

backwards law letting go

Central to the teachings of Alan Watts is the importance of embracing the present moment. He reminds us that life is not a destination to be reached but a journey to be savored. “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” When we immerse ourselves fully in the present moment, we discover a richness and depth to our experience that transcends the pursuit of fleeting pleasures.

Cultivating Non-Attachment

A key component of practicing the backwards law is cultivating a sense of non-attachment to outcomes. This doesn’t mean becoming indifferent or apathetic towards our goals and aspirations. Rather, it involves releasing our attachment to specific outcomes and allowing life to unfold organically. As Alan Watts poetically puts it, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Living in Harmony with the Backwards Law

Living in harmony with the backwards law requires a shift in perspective and a willingness to embrace uncertainty. It invites us to relinquish our need for control and surrender to the inherent unpredictability of life. As Alan Watts beautifully articulates, “The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.” By embracing the ever-changing nature of existence, we open ourselves up to a deeper sense of aliveness and vitality.


In a world that often encourages us to relentlessly pursue happiness and success, the wisdom of Alan Watts offers a refreshing perspective. Through the concept of the backwards law, he invites us to let go of our attachment to outcomes and embrace the present moment with open arms. In this surrender, we find true freedom and fulfillment that transcends the limitations of our desires. So, the next time you find yourself caught in the endless cycle of striving, remember the words of Alan Watts and allow yourself to float effortlessly in the ever-flowing river of life.

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