The Backwards Law

A talk about The Backwards Law -

Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law” - the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworhty you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.


Wanting a positive experience is empowering for me. Motivates, focuses, and guides my direction and energy. I celebrate my short term goals and see my goal is more attainable than I thought.

Accepting a negative experience, if I’ve failed, is fine but if accepting means giving up, forget it. Giving up is negative, picking myself up and getting back on target is positive.

Then again I’m a pretty positive person, in general. Those that are more pessimistic may feel differently.

To much thinking, back to lurking.


I think it could apply to a job interview. The more you try, the more needy you appear at times.


“positive experience” is such an elusive thing but isn’t it what drives people onwards? Dissatisfaction keeps people going.

While I don’t think the original quote advocates for not seeking positive experiences, the effect of this is something to be aware of, for sure.

For example, if one is depressed, chasing after happiness (an elusive positive experience) is not as constructive or practical as compared to putting efforts towards tangible things such as physical health that directly enhance well being and, perhaps in the end, can result in increased happiness.


If put in another way, it is a much more common philosophy of being content with what you have, rather than always wanting more.

But success is often driven by dissatisfaction, and if you don’t take chances sometimes, you don’t move forward.


Well said Steve! With risk comes the reward!

Here is another backwards law:

The fear of failure is what makes you succeed!

This assumes you have been willing to take the initial risk though.


Just different definitions of words. Goal setting vs seeking a positive experience for whatever transformative experience you think it should give or bring. You think you’re getting all you want and need from seeking the positive. You are in control of it all so you wouldn’t see what it’s like for those that don’t feel in control. You don’t need a tow truck till the car runs off the road type sitch. Wanting to accomplish a goal isn’t the psychological issue that brings despair, it’s the expectations of what was supposed to happen but didn’t. Usually, at its core, it’s, happiness. Or love. It’s the ‘why’ they want to accomplish the goal. If there are unrealistic expectations set the goal will never be accomplished and bring much more misery than success. It’s the old ‘doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is the definition of insanity’. That’s the loop the mind of some can get stuck in and the above discussion was pointing to why you need to hit the ‘reset’ if you find yourself stuck in such a self defeating loop.
Many have said that if you’ve never found yourself in despair you haven’t lived fully. Many will never need to worry, their lives will be comfortable enough from beginning to end.

I think, just guessing, you are just like me climbing? You aren’t really goal setting or seeking or accomplishing anything, you are just doing something you love to do. Do that, always, and don’t ever worry about this stuff.
But if you are only doing this positive experience seeking to be the ‘cool’ person or the ‘better’ than you person or the most ‘accomplished’ person at the office, than you are just deluding yourself. You will be fine with people who back up your image of yourself, but dislike those who don’t.

I’m doing my best to respond accurately and hope I didn’t just make it even more vague or confusing.

Most definitively. Some jobs they use this to prey on employee’s, they love the desperate under their control. Others, desperation or neediness stinks and it shows in body language and even unconsciously interviewers will sense you as a danger simply from that energy.

Good serious question. I’ll reply with more stuff to think on. :blush:

Questioner: It is true that society is based on acquisitiveness and ambition; but if we had no ambition would we not decay?

Krishnamurti: This is really a very important question, and it needs great attention.
Do you know what attention is? Let us find out. In a classroom, when you stare out of the window or pull somebody’s hair, the teacher tells you to pay attention. Which means what? That you are not interested in what you are studying and so the teacher compels you to pay attention – which is not attention at all. Attention comes when you are deeply interested in something, for then you love to find out all about it; then your whole mind, your whole being is there. Similarly, the moment you see that this question – if we had no ambition, would we not decay? – is really very important, you are interested and want to find out the truth of the matter.
Now, is not the ambitious man destroying himself? That is the first thing to find out, not to ask whether ambition is right or wrong. Look around you, observe all the people who are ambitious. What happens when you are ambitious? You are thinking about yourself, are you not? You are cruel, you push other people aside because you are trying to fulfill your ambition, trying to become a big man, thereby creating in society the conflict between those who are falling behind. There is a constant battle between you and the others who are also after what you want; and is this conflict productive of creative living? Do you understand, or is this too difficult?
Are you ambitious when you love to do something for its own sake? When you are doing something with your whole being, not because you want to get somewhere , or have more profit, or greater results, but simply because you love to do it – in that there is no ambition , is there? In that there is no competition; you are not struggling with anyone for first place. And should not education help you to find out what you really love to do so that from the beginning to the end of your life you are working at something which you feel is worth while and which for you has deep significance? Otherwise, for the rest of your days, you will be miserable. Not knowing what you really want to do, your mind falls into a routine in which there is only boredom, decay and death. That is why it is very important to find out while you are young what it is you really love to do; and this is the only way to create a new society.

See the above 2 long to read quote. But also, the zen’y 1st question would be, ‘where is there to go’?
By that they mean the seed and the tree theory. The seed already has every leaf and piece of bark and root that will ever emerge from the tree all already inside the tiny little seed. It is already there, all of it. So where does it have to go to be fulfilled or complete.

Another truth or point to consider around the above talk is that this dissatisfaction is only in the empty heart. So look at why are you dissatisfied? The thoughts that make you feel this emotion, just observe your mind and its chatter. It’s all there already just like the seed. Are you not lovable enough as you are? A person doing what they love cannot be dissatisfied right? Are you dissatisfied thru comparison to others on your skills or accomplishments? Because comparison is not truth. Even if you love something but are the worst at it and will never be famous or rich from it, shouldn’t you still do it? Like one of the famous pianist said about not loving the piano or the music so much, he just loved the feeling of the movement of his fingers across the keys. So even if that wasn’t a renowned person, and most said their music hurt everyone’s ears but theirs, I think not getting to play the piano for them would have been such a tragedy.

Truly fn sorry I can not seem to make these responses shorter. I have tried and just keep seeing link after link and can’t know where to go or stop and fear I am just making any coherence of the incoherent even more incoherent. That last use of incoherent is humor. <See what I mean.

My problem in life many times was that I was too stupid to be fearful. Still did a bunch I lived through and came to understand this quote more intimately over the years… “Stupidity and courage often arrive at the same place”. Sometimes what I thought was courage was just stupidity or something else, like pride.


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Yeah I have been reading Alan Watts books since the 70s and it has had a profound impact on the way I view things. I don’t have the ability to even discuss most of the concepts he goes deep into, but if anyone wants a challenging read I highly recommend him.
The Wisdom of Insecurity, Does It Matter, This Is It, there are a number of really good titles he has written, some new compilation stuff, audio stuff. It’s hard to jump into because he covered so much and it is all very different. I enjoyed the titles listed here and a lot of his writing on zen, I was a little lost on some of his writings on Christianity and other topics.


I agree. Same with Krishnamurti if you want serious discussions. I had read Bruce Lees talks about him for years before I got to his books. Most accurate view of Truth I have read. A real effort. It was sad that at his death he said he may have wasted his life. People only viewed ‘truth’ as entertainment. But that’s true too, lol.

I always liked the stamp in some old book of mine. “Books are weapons in the War of Ideas”.

On that note, there’s this quote.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
– Eleanor Roosevelt


Just listened to this talk. The Shadow should have it’s own topic but I imagine people want to talk about those idea’s about as much as face it. lol

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Wow, I did not know there were so many lectures on YouTube by A.W.
Thanks for the link.


This person does some really nice animations to an A.W. talk!