26 days — 26 learnings: Part twenty-three of looking back & looking beyond.
My word for today is:
Watts — Alan Watts
Once in a while, I feel my stubbornness gets in the way of being genuinely open-minded. While there’s great benefit in having strong values, we ought to be aware of the tipping point as of where we become too attached to our opinions. Religion is one of the areas, where that danger is apparant.
As an atheist with a high level of curiosity, I’ve grown very fond of listening to lectures from Alan Watts. The lucidity with which he tackles profound topics fascinates me.
Along the way, I grew curious about the person behind the words and so last year, his autobiography “In My Own Way” ended up being the first autobiography I ever read.
In the introduction of the book, his father Laurence W. Watts tells the tale of four men who approach an inaccessible mountain from different directions. Each of these men writes a faithful description of the mountain as he sees it. These descriptions naturally are different, so as their opinion on how to best reach the summit. It can’t be expected that any one of them will be able to give a full picture of the mountain as a whole. By putting the four accounts together, a closer approximation to the whole will be achieved.
It reminded me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant.
When I listen to Alan Watts, I hear the explorer, the one who has gone through layers and layers of dept without ever allowing himself to get lost.
He was opposed to telling anyone what to do or what not to. In his own words: “Preaching is moral violence.” He suggested, we should woo one another instead.
I love his simple pearls of wisdom like: Much of the secret of life consists in knowing how to laugh, and also how to breathe.
There is one notion which keeps coming to me, and that’s when he asked:
“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”
Birth is such a miraculous process. For some reason that ensures me that there is no reason at all to be afraid of Death. Simultaneously, his philosophy inspires me not to look too hard for meaning and purpose.
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
— Alan Watts
His deep thinking is so nimble-footed. It earthens me, makes me smile, take another deep breath and look at life in a light-hearted way. So many people feel a heavy weight on their shoulders. I’d love for them to find a way to shake it off. One does not need to be a dancer to see life as a dance.
Last but not least, I’d like to share his notion of the importance of being in the moment. Right here, right now. Alan writes:
From one point of view the present is shorter than a microsecond. From another, it embraces all eternity. But there isn’t anywhere, or anywhen, else to be. …the dream — or the nightmare — of the great tomorrow is a present fantasy which distracts us from both reality and eternity.
My learning from all this:
There is no thought, which hasn’t been thought before. There is no feeling, that hasn’t been felt before. And then there are people, who are marvelously equipped, to describe the essence of all of this, and leave me in admiration.
My takeaway for 2018: Learn from many masters. Approach the mountain from various angles. Synthesising your own picture is an ongoing journey not a place of arrival.