Just a few sections from ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts (1951). I could have copied out the whole book.

Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of that in curses and invocations […] It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name and define fear in order to make it “objective”, that is separate from “I”. But why are we trying to be separate from fear? Because we are afraid. In other words, fear is trying to separate itself from fear, as if one could fight fire with fire.

Man has to discover he everything which he beholds in nature – the clammy foreign feeling world of the oceans depths, the wastes of ice, the reptiles of the swamp, the spiders and scorpions, the deserts of lifeless planets – has its counterpart within himself. He is not, then at one with himself until he realises that this “underside” of nature and the feelings of horror which it gives him are also “I”. For all the qualities which we admire or loathe in the world around us are reflections from within – though from a within that is also a beyond, unconscious, vast, unknown.

p118. Where there is to be creative action, it is quite beside the point to discsuss what we should or should not do in order to be right, or god. A mind that is single and sincere is not interested in being good, in conducting relations with other people so as to live up to a rule. Nor, on the other hand, is it interested in being free, in acting perversely just to prove its independence. Its interest is not in itself, but in the people and problems of which it is aware; these are “itself”. It acts, not according to the rules, but according to the circumstances of the moment, and the “well” it wishest to others is not security, but liberty. 

p127. Metaphysical language is negative because it is trying to say that words and ideas do not explain reality. It is not trying to persuade us that reality is something like a boundless mass of transparent jelly. It does not speak of some impalpable abstraction, but of this very world in which we live. This experience which we call things, colours, sounds, smells, tastes, forms, and weights is, in itself, no thing, no form, no number, no nothing – but at this moment we behold it. We are, then, beholding the God which traditional doctrines call the boundless, formless, infinite, eternal, undivided, unmoved and unchanging Reality – the Absolute behind the relative, the Meaning behind thoughts and words. Naturally the Meaning is meaning-less because, unlike words, it does not have meaning but it is meaning. By itself, a tree is meaningless, but it is the meaning of the word “tree”. 

Eternal life is realised when the last trace of difference between “I” and “now” has vanished – when there is just this “now” and nothing else. 

If there is any problem at all, it is to see that in this instant you have no “I” to surrender. You are completely free to do this at any moment, and nothing whatever is stopping you. This is our freedom. We are not, however, free to improve ourselves, to surrender ourselves, to lay ourselves open to grace, for all such split-mindedness is the denial and postponement of our freedom. It is trying to eat your mouth instead of bread. 

It is obvious that the only interesting people are interested people, and to be completely interested is to have forgotten about “I”. 

The “God” to which (religion) could have brought us was not the unknown Reality which the name signifies, but only a projection of ourselves – a cosmic, discarnate “I” lording it over the universe. 

Steadily he approaches the point where what is unknown is not a mere blank space in a web of words but a window in the mind, a window whose name is not ignorance but wonder. 

In such feeling, seeing, and thinking life requires no future to complete itself nor explanation to justify itself. 

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When you consider the alternative—an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology—pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is not to have lived. Even just to say to yourself, “Oh, I’ll get to that love and pain stuff later, maybe in my thirties,” is to consign yourself to ten years of merely taking up space on the planet and burning up its resources. Of being (and I mean this in the most damning sense of the word) a consumer.

Pain Won’t Kill You, Jonathan Franzen 

8. The things that lead us astray are short term – lust, fear, vanity, gluttony. The things we call character endure over the long term – courage, honesty, humility. People with character are capable of a long obedience in the same direction, of staying attached to people and causes and callings consistently through thick and thin. People with character also have scope. They are not infinitely flexible, free-floating and solitary. They are anchored by permanent attachments to important things. In the realm of the intellect, they have a set of permanent convictions about fundamental truths. In the realm of emotion, they are enmeshed in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, they have a permanent commitment to tasks that cannot be completed in a single lifetime. 

– David Brooks, one of his 15 propositions in ‘the humility code’, in The Road to Character.

Narcissism is an orientation in which all one’s interest and passion are directed to one’s own person: one’s body, mind, feelings, interests… For the narcissistic person, only he and what concerns him are fully real; what is outside, what concerns others, is real only in a superficial sense of perception; that is to say, it is real for one’s senses and for one’s intellect. But it is not real in a deeper sense, for our feeling or understanding. He is, in fact, aware only of what is outside, inasmuch as it affects him. Hence, he has no love, no compassion, no rational, objective judgment. The narcissistic person has built an invisible wall around himself. He is everything, the world is nothing. Or rather: He is the world.

– Fromm, The Art of Being, via brainpickings (as per.)

I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good “I” who is going to improve the bad “me.” “I,” who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward “me,” and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently “I” will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make “me” behave so badly.

Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate “I” or mind can be found. To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.

– Alan Watts on self improvement in The Wisdom of Insecurity, via brainpickings.