This movement we call ‘living’ is not about becoming anything; I say this with fervour and passion because ‘becoming’ implies moving towards something in an imaginary future. We say to ourselves, ‘I need to become a doctor or a lawyer, or I need to be successful and rich’. Obviously then, becoming something, or someone, else is an escape from what we are at this moment – an escape from the little ‘me’ with all its problems. We have been conditioned to form an ‘observer’ in our minds, a ‘me’ that is made up of our past knowledge, experiences, and memories, that believes itself to be separate from what it observes. The ‘observed’ is whatever one is experiencing at this moment: emotions, thoughts, and the forms that appear in the external world. We think that through becoming something we can become free, but as long as this division exists (created by the ‘I’), there will be conflict, and conflict creates suffering. So why do we try and become anything at all? I question this idea of ‘becoming’ because it doesn’t have anything to do with our deepest interests as human beings (although it might seem that way), which is to be in a state of love, joy, and oneness with life.
Therefore, being oneself, as one is at this moment, is significantly more important than any form of becoming. In order to change, in order to transform profoundly, you need an exceptional amount of energy. This energy can only be generated if your full conscious attention is in the present. In other words, change happens when you are paying attention to whatever is happening inside and outside of you, and not trying to find a solution to it or go beyond it, just being with it. Moreover, if we want our action, our work, to be of any true value and quality, it cannot be done for something else. All work that one does to become something, or to get somewhere else, leads to more discontent, frustration and sadness, because that ‘thing’ you want in the future doesn’t exist. There is absolutely nothing to get out of this life at all. Real, true, creative action is done for the sake of itself, because you love to do it. Because you love it, you give it attention and this attention produces quality, which means that this work will more than likely become successful.
You can never actually become something, or someone, else truly, only on the surface, because the real you never changes. In essence, you are the spaciousness that you sense in your own body, that which you had when you were born and that which never leaves you. It is this realisation, sensing your own oneness with being, that is really the cement for the house and purpose of life; creative and inspired work comes out of this spaciousness. As life is always the present moment, and given that the external world is a reflection of our own inner world, it does not matter what you become, because it can never fulfil you for long. Everything is fleeting, always falling apart and changing, whether that is pleasure, wealth, people, or family. The only thing that can bring you joy is knowing who you are on the deepest level.
For this reason, you can never truly know who you are; any ideas you have about yourself will be imaginary, created by your own thought, which is in the past. As soon as you think you know what you are, you are trapped, because you have made yourself into an object. Humans have done this for thousands of years and it has caused an enormous, catastrophic amount of suffering. Having an idea about oneself cuts you off from everyone else; conflict and enemies are created because there is a separate ‘you’ from ‘him or her’, or a separate ‘us’ from ‘them’.
Moreover, why do we break life and work up into fragments? How can life and work possibly be two separate things? As soon as we fragment life, we immediately create conflict between those separate fragments. We separate life into ‘leisure’ and ‘work’, and so it’s no surprise that we judge one to be more pleasurable than the other. Alan Watts, the famous British philosopher, cleverly said that ‘skill’ is absolutely essential if one wants to have pleasure. Work is supposed to be enjoyed, even in less desirable jobs it is only our mental attitude towards it that makes it unbearable. Life and work are one – they are not separate.
The point of this single movement of living is, then, oneness with life, love for what is. The ridiculous attempt to escape the here and now is at the core of this unconscious movement towards ‘becoming’. The need to become something stems from our own unconscious, psychological fear. The fear of being alone, a nobody who no one respects, of being destitute, hungry, or of experiencing pain. Many people try and find themselves in their work and give it far too much importance in their life. They suffer the pain of spending hours and hours trying to be successful because they think success will complete them.
Freedom does not become possible at the end of something; you must have freedom at the start.
So there it is, perhaps a bit intense, brash, and difficult, but it is the truth. If by the quote, ‘the main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning’, Foucault meant re-becoming that spacious presence (that you lost as a child, or as an adult because of society’s conditioning), then what he says has meaning. It’s important not to view this argument in a way that discourages trying to achieve something, goal-setting, and even being softly ambitious. Many of our leading lights in society manifest the creative urge of the universe in an outwards sense, but spontaneous action is only rewarding if it arises out of being, out of that spaciousness. When action comes from that deeper place it will affect people and nature in a positive way, and thus work becomes joyful, effortless and natural.