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Alan Watts quotes to deepen your understanding of life with the ‘wisdom of insecurity’

We all are so absorbed with our life and work. But sometimes we need to hit the brakes and ask, ‘What is all these about?’ ‘What am I running after?’ ‘What am I looking for?’ ‘Do I know what I really want?’. These basic questions are aimed at making you more aware of your life and make sure that you know where you are going.

Few years back I read this beautiful book: ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety’ by Alan Watts.

It is the observation of modern life and the ‘age of anxiety’ which most of us are living automatically. Here are some of the mind blowing ideas taken from this book, that can get you thinking about the very fundamentals of life.

I have always been fascinated by the law of reversed effort. When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink you float. When you hold your breath, you lose it- which immediately calls to mind an ancient and much neglected saying, “Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.”

Alan Watts

Every moment of your life is uncertain and insecure. Yet we Humans are so anxious about the psychological security. We all want to secure a ‘better future’ and when that future arrives, we get busy trying to secure another ‘better future’ and never live the moment that we prepared for.

It is like trying to hold on to the idea of pleasant life forever, but never actually alive and present enough to feel that joy of the present moment.

If living has to end in pain, incompleteness, and nothingness, it seems a cruel and futile experience for beings who are born to reason, hope, create and love. Man, as a being of sense, wants his life to make sense, and he has found it hard to believe that it does so unless there is more than what he sees- unless there is an eternal order and an eternal life behind the uncertain and momentary experience of life-and-death.

Alan Watts

There is a great confusion when we want to make sense of life, but it seems all uncertain and purposeless. Creating your own ‘purpose of life’ is not a solution. It is just masking the uncertainty of life with your own illusion of purpose.

The believer will open his mind to the truth on condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions, it is a plunge into the unknown. belief clings, but faith lets go.

Alan Watts

When dealing with unknown things, there are two choices. One is to accept the truth only when it fits with our notions. And the other is to have a really open mind and accept whatever face is revealed by the truth.

Many people cannot accept God in any other form than the one that they have always imagined. They are bound by their own beliefs and unable to accept the unknown as it is. On the other hand faith is a positive emotion, free of any notions and a bold step into the unknown.

If we are to have intense pleasures, we must also be liable to intense pains. The pleasure we love, and the pain we hate, but it seems impossible to have the former without the latter.

Alan Watts

We have a tendency to welcome the pleasures and avoid the pain. But we must realise that when our consciousness is intense towards pleasure, it is also as intense towards pain. And pain is inevitable.

The growth demands us to be willing to accept pain. Running away from pain and suffering means avoiding the opportunity for growth of the consciousness.

Music is a delight because of its rhythm and flow. Yet the moment you arrest the flow and prolong a note or chord beyond its time, the rhythm is destroyed. Because life is likewise a flowing process, change and death are its necessary parts. To work for their exclusion is to work against life.

Alan Watts

The beauty of life is in the flow. When we try to secure a pleasure and hold onto it, we are prolonging a musical note beyond its time. We break the rhythm of life in trying to hold on to things which inevitably change.

The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are not as real, but more real than the present. The present cannot be lived happily unless the past has been ‘cleared up’ and the future is bright with promise.

Alan Watts

What holds us back from the present moment are the ‘memories of past’ and the ‘expectations of future’. Our happiness requires the impossible fulfilment of ‘default’ conditions of a ‘clear past’ and a ‘promised future.’

If you look at it carefully, you will see that consciousness- the thing you call “I”- is really a stream of experiences, sensations, thoughts, and feelings in constant motion. But because these experiences include memories, we have the impression that ‘I’ is something solid and still, like a tablet upon which life is writing a record.

Alan Watts

The ego comes to dominate your life when you fail to understand yourself as a constantly moving awareness. The ego wants things to be fixed. But nothing is ever fixed. And thus, there is an illusion of you as separate from life and its experiences. And the fuels that sustain this illusion are the ‘memories’ and ‘expectations’

Thoughts, ideas, and words are “coins” for real things. They are not these things, and thought they represent them, there are many ways in which they do not correspond at all.. As with money and wealth, so with thoughts and things: ideas and words are more or less fixed, whereas real things change.

Alan Watts

A convention is for the convenience. For example, money is a substitute for barter, but when money is taken too seriously, we run madly after money and forgetting ‘why’.That is insanity. It is the one sided development of human intellect, which runs automatically on its own without the guidance of wisdom and never stops to think and judge things for what they are.

Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thoughts. There is no escape. But so long as you are not aware of the inseparability of thinker and thought, you will try to escape.

Alan Watts

But when you realise that there is no escape, you surrender. And in that surrender, the mind absorbs the pain, because it knows that there is no other way. The only way to be free from pain is to surrender and become pain. When you try to fight, you suffer. But when you surrender, you are free (The law of reversed effort). However, it is not that easy for a mind forced with habits.

The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of its course. You do not play a sonata in order to reach the final chord, and if the meanings of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales.

Alan Watts

It seems as if the secrets and meanings of life are hidden in the creative process such as music and art. The joy is not in rushing the life to the end, or even trying to prolong the end. The joy is simply in living life as it is! Right here, right now!

Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life.It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that “I” cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life> By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting it go he finds it.

Alan Watts

Hope this adds new insights to your wisdom. Thank you for reading. All the quotes are from the book wisdom of insecurity by Alan Watts.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

The idea of Unity and multiplicity by Alan Watts.

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