Tag Archives: Alan Watts

Where You Goin’?

silhouette photography of people
Photo by Kendall Hoopes on Pexels.com

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment, comparatively so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride. As Jim Morrison said, “No one gets out of here alive.”


On The Cusp!

There are two books that have had an inordinately large effect on my life. One of them I can remember large parts of and can offer reasonably intelligent analyses of what the author was trying to say. The other one I can hardly recall one thing about, save for the overall message the author was trying to convey. The reason these two come to mind—and have affected me so greatly—is that they’re closely related conceptually and their messages resonate and overlap, at least as I see them and I’m pretty sure that’s about all that counts.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The first of these two books is “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” by Alan Watts. The second of these books is “Passages,” by Gail Sheehy. Without going into any detail, I’ll merely note that each of them speaks to the inexorable rhythms of life and the inevitability of change. They also offer a philosophical approach to dealing with those rhythms and changes that offers one a chance to navigate them with as little friction and pain as possible. I read the book by Watts in my early twenties. At the time I was head-over-heels in love with a young woman, but the relationship wasn’t to be and she broke up with me. I was young, impetuous, and prone to bouts of manic happiness and deep, dark depression.

I somehow found the book; how is lost in the mists of my slowly calcifying synapses. Perhaps it found me. It wasn’t the first book by Watts I had read. That was “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” which I found quite helpful in navigating the changes I was going through shortly after high school, a short stint in the U.S. Navy, a slightly longer stint as a businessman, a somewhat shorter flirtation with Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of ’67, and a steadily growing antipathy toward the nation’s conduct of the war in Vietnam.

Another thing I thought interesting, and somewhat serendipitous, was the juxtaposition of the release of two Beatles records that coincided with my reading of these two books by Watts. When I read “The Book: …” the Beatles had just released “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.” The book was kind of my introduction to Zen Buddhist philosophy and the concept of the dialectic as represented by the Yin-Yang symbol. I was beginning to understand the duality of nature and the essence of all forms of evolution. Some of the lyrics in the song point out that same kind of duality, e.g. “Your inside is out when your outside is in. Your outside is in when your inside is out,” and the title of the song seemed to resonate with Watts’s message that we needed to get in touch with our actual selves (our “inner monkey”) if we were to understand our place in the world and not color it with the expectations of others.

The second song, which coincided with my reading of “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” was “Let It Be” which, as I understood it was the message Watts was conveying about the reality there is no such thing as security, that all things are in a constant state of flux, and the only way to (paradoxically, a very Zen concept) achieve any semblance of security—no matter how ephemeral and transient it may be—was to stop seeking it.

Sheehy’s book, as I recall it (and I only read it once, whereas I’ve read The Wisdom of Insecurity three times) had a similar message, but it was less on a spiritual and philosophical level and more on a practical, everyday “here’s what to expect” kind of approach. She wrote of what she referred to as the “passages” we all go through as we age and gain experience, while everything around us is changing and moving forward.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I have reached a point (a passage, if you will) in my life where I find far too many reasons to prepare myself for the end. I’ll be 74 years old three months from today. Next month I will be fourteen years older than my father was when he died. I realize I’ve reached an age where I could, conceivably, live another decade or more, but I could also drop dead tomorrow. There sure are a lot of people doing it who are younger than me.

Throw in the reality that I still have two daughters at home, one of whom is a Junior in High School, the other a Freshman in College, and it’s producing a bit of a tension arc that I’m struggling to put behind me.

I’m not trying to be morose, or overly glum. I am, however, attempting to approach what is definitely the autumn (more likely winter) of my life with as much spring in my step and lightness in my heart as I can muster. I need to understand what this passage I’m experiencing is all about (Sheehy did not write about septuagenarians) and position myself to take advantage of all it might offer. If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that there’s always benefit to be found in nearly every situation, at least until there isn’t (if that makes sense.) I am an optimist, so even when I get deeply (perhaps depressingly) introspective, I usually snap out of it within a few hours or now more than a day or two.

I’m looking forward to what the next stage of my life is going to offer. Both of my girls will be on their own in a few years, God (or whoever’s in charge of these things) willing and the creek don’t rise, and Linda and I will be on our own again. The difference for us, is we won’t be in our early to late fifties, like most people who have their families when they’re no older than their thirties. As long as I know my girls are doing well and taking care of themselves (which is an entirely different story) I’ll be OK with whatever happens. I will say this. Not having to help with high school homework will be deeply enjoyable!

If I live that long. 🙂


Dialectical Zenosity

The Interpenetration of Opposites

My philosophy of life has been informed by two people, both of whom I was first introduced to (not personally, but via their writings) in my early twenties. They helped me understand the meaning of the dialectic of life; the yin yang of our corporeal (and intellectual) existence.

The former brought me an understanding of spirituality that did not require the existence of a supreme “being,” while the latter helped me to see how our thinking is shaped by the material world we live in, and how our thinking can then help us act to change that world for the better.

The former brought me “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and taught me to accept the tenuousness of existence and the need to slow down and enjoy life absent regret for the past or anxiety for the future (not that I am proficient at it always,) while the latter gave me a much clearer understanding of both biological evolution and the evolution of human society.

These two people are: Alan Watts, who many considered the western world’s foremost authority on Zen, a philosophy I believe reflects our place in the universe; and Karl Marx who, along with Friedrich Engels, developed and promulgated the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which I believe accurately reflects how the physical world informs our existence and how our ability to understand that physical world gives us the ability to significantly alter it.

It’s been over fifty years since I first encountered these two aspects of what I consider to be a somewhat “unified” theory of existence. Nothing in the interim has dissuaded me from following their teachings. I find the physical universe to be infinitely more beautiful and mystical than any of the Gods humans have worshiped over millennia.


Closet Christians

This is the third blog post I ever wrote, published at The Cranky Curmudgeon on February 25, 2006. It reads pretty much like I could have written it today which, when you think about it, is pretty disappointing.


“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6
(New International Version)

I don’t believe in God. I really don’t care if others agree with me. I only care that they respect the relationship I have with the Universe, whether it’s through a God, a group of Gods, or woven between the interstices of the space-time continuum contemplated by quantum physics. I believe that having convictions, and being secure in those convictions, means not needing to be validated by the acceptance of others.

John Lennon - Imagine

Somewhere in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future

I have a little difficulty calling myself an Atheist, only because I can’t prove the non-existence, anymore than anyone can prove the existence, of God. However, I don’t like referring to myself as an Agnostic, mostly because it sounds rather smarmy to me; like I’m not sure of what I believe. Mostly, I like to say I’m a Quantum Gestalt Humanist. You figure out what it means. I need to get to my rant.

How many times during the day, while driving to and from work, grocery shopping, dropping the kid(s) off at daycare or school, etc. do you see either those little fish (some plain; some with the greek letters for ichthus, or fish) or a window decal depicting a little girl or boy, or both, supplicating themselves in the shadow of a cross? What are these people trying to say? Is it meant to be some sort of secret code, so Christians can recognize each other across the lanes?

If you listen to some Christians whine and complain about how they’re persecuted, you’d have to believe this is their secret, vehicular handshake. These people actually think they’re persecuted. WTF? The United States of America is what, something like 90% Christian? They permeate every aspect of society and are represented overwhelmingly in all levels of our government. Christmas, the holiday many of them have taken to complaining is being phased out, effectively lasts for well over 10% of the year, the admonition to wait until after Thanksgiving before decorating notwithstanding.

I’ll tell you what I think it is. I think it’s the very thing Jesus was saying one shouldn’t do in the above quote found in Matthew. I think Jesus knew people whose faith was steadfast had no need to brandish it publicly, as though it were a badge of courage or strength. Indeed, I think those people who feel the necessity of advertising their religion are the least faithful of all.

I’m not exactly a religious scholar, but I think it was Paul of Tarsus who made proselytizing into a competitive sport. I don’t think Jesus would have approved. After all, he was Jewish and Judaism teaches that the most important thing one can do is live a “good” life, that is an ethical, righteous life. It is more important than liturgy or dogma and, therefore, it is one’s deeds, not one’s words by which we are judged. As a Jew, Jesus would not have found it necessary to convert people, or to preach to them. He was a teacher, not a preacher.

I think Paul felt guilty because he had persecuted and killed so many early Christians and, much like Charles Colson or numerous serial killers who, after lives of despicable and heinous acts, find and accept Jesus as their personal savior, he determined to make amends for the damage he had done. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing he repented; only that – like so many true believers – he swung that pendulum just as far in the other direction from where it had been and, therefore, avoided any kind of moderation in his pursuits.

In his book “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, Alan Watts discusses the difference between faith and belief. He posits that belief is rigid and unyielding, but faith is open and accepting. People who feel the need to wave their so-called religious convictions in our faces are believers. Faith is beyond their comprehension, because having faith requires an openness to things as they are, not as we wish them to be. These people, these cross-wavers – at least the worst of them – are certain they “know” exactly what truth is, and they are not shy in telling us where our faith leads if it isn’t in line with theirs.

I really don’t care what religion you are. I expect the same from you. Your religion, your belief, your faith are none of my damn business. However, the moment you start pushing your brand of soap as the only way to be clean, as the only way to live one’s life, as the only way to what you believe is the ultimate goal of our existence on this planet, then you’ve made your religion MY business. You open yourself up for criticism and you deserve every bit of scorn and anger dumped on your judgmental hide.


Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.


“For My Sake, Put a Sock In It” – Love, Jesus

What follows is the third post I’m bringing over from my old blog, The Cranky Curmudgeon. I wasn’t — and I am decidedly not — really all that cranky, but I liked the concept and I was working on slipping graciously into my dotage. It seemed like a decent bit of schtick to hang my hat on at the time. This post was written on February 26, 2006 – nine and one half years ago. It reads just about the same as I would write it today, though I might now be a bit more sarcastic, as the positions taken by today’s crop of “persecuted” Christians seem to be even angrier, more hateful, and less like anything Jesus would have done. Click on the graphic for an interesting, contemporary take on the subject.


Closeted Christians

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Matthew 6:6
(New International Version)

In Honor of all the Christians Struggling for Respect

In Honor of all the Christians Struggling for Respect

I don’t believe in God. I really don’t care if others agree with me. I only care that they respect the relationship I have with the Universe, whether it’s through a God, a group of Gods, or woven between the interstices of the space-time continuum contemplated by quantum physics. I believe that having convictions, and being secure in those convictions, means not needing to be validated by the acceptance of others.

I have difficulty calling myself an Atheist, only because I can’t prove the non-existence, anymore than anyone can prove the existence, of God. However, I don’t like referring to myself as an Agnostic, mostly because it sounds rather smarmy to me; like I’m not sure of what I believe. Mostly, I like to say I’m a Quantum Gestalt Humanist. You figure out what it means. I need to get to my rant.

How many times during the day, while driving to and from work, grocery shopping, dropping the kid(s) off at daycare or school, etc. do you see either those little fish (some plain; some with the greek letters for ichthus, or fish) or a window decal depicting a little girl or boy, or both, supplicating themselves in the shadow of a cross? What are these people trying to say? Is it meant to be some sort of secret code, so Christians can recognize each other across the lanes?

If you listen to some Christians whine and complain about how they’re persecuted, you’d have to believe this is their secret, vehicular handshake. These people actually think they’re persecuted. WTF? The United States of America is what, something like 90% Christian? They permeate every aspect of society and are represented overwhelmingly in all levels of our government. Christmas, the holiday many of them have taken to complaining is being phased out, effectively lasts for well over 10% of the year, the admonition to wait until after Thanksgiving before decorating notwithstanding.

I’ll tell you what I think it is. I think it’s the very thing Jesus was saying one shouldn’t do in the above quote found in Matthew. I think Jesus knew people whose faith was steadfast had no need to brandish it publicly, as though it were a badge of courage or strength. Indeed, I think those people who feel the necessity of advertising their religion are the least faithful of all.

I’m not exactly a religious scholar, but I think it was Paul of Tarsus who made proselytizing into a competitive sport. I don’t think Jesus would have approved. After all, he was Jewish and Judaism teaches that the most important thing one can do is live a “good” life, that is an ethical, righteous life. It is more important than liturgy or dogma and, therefore, it is one’s deeds, not one’s words by which we are judged. As a Jew, Jesus would not have found it necessary to convert people, or to preach to them. He was a teacher, not a preacher.

I think Paul felt guilty because he had persecuted and killed so many early Christians and, much like Charles Colson or numerous serial killers who, after lives of despicable and heinous acts, find and accept Jesus as their personal savior, he determined to make amends for the damage he had done. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing he repented; only that – like so many true believers – he swung that pendulum just as far in the other direction from where it had been and, therefore, avoided any kind of moderation in his pursuits.

In his book “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, Alan Watts discusses the difference between faith and belief. He posits that belief is rigid and unyielding, but faith is open and accepting. People who feel the need to wave their so-called religious convictions in our faces are believers. Faith is beyond their comprehension, because having faith requires an openness to things as they are, not as we wish them to be. These people, these cross-wavers – at least the worst of them – are certain they “know” exactly what truth is, and they are not shy in telling us where our faith leads if it isn’t in line with theirs.

I really don’t care what religion you are. I expect the same from you. Your religion, your belief, your faith are none of my damn business. However, the moment you start pushing your brand of soap as the only way to be clean, as the only way to live one’s life, as the only way to what you believe is the ultimate goal of our existence on this planet, then you’ve made your religion MY business. You open yourself up for criticism and you deserve every bit of scorn and anger dumped on your judgmental hide.


You Can’t Hold on to Anything

Beauty and Death

Coveting Kills

I was reminded by a post from one of my Facebook friends that we lose many things in our lives by trying too hard to hold on to them. Many years ago I  had a girlfriend who had been a high-fashion model, working runways and some of the glitzier magazines of the day, including Cosmopolitan, Town & Country, etc. I met her through our mutual activity in the anti-war movement, including our work with the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. She had gone to Vietnam several times as a USO entertainer.

She was, as she put it, getting a little “long in the tooth’ and her modeling days were pretty much over (she was seven years older than me and I was approaching 30). She was constantly worrying about how old she looked, spending what I thought was an inordinate amount of time on her makeup and hair, especially if we were going out. One day it dawned on me just how much the constant worry was causing her to accelerate the aging process. Through the act of worrying she was actually making herself look older. I told her that and, frankly, I don’t think it made much of a difference to her. She was caught up in a “death spiral” of concern for losing something it’s impossible to hang on to.

It – as so many things do – also reminds me of the lessons I learned from reading Alan Watts‘ Book “The Wisdom of Insecurity“, the most important of which is that there is no such thing as security and absolutely anything can be snatched from you at any time; including your health, life, etc. Alan points out the futility and self-destructiveness of trying to hang on to things and the paradoxical value of “letting go”. He bases his teachings on those of Zen Buddhism. Currently, I’ve read the book three times over the years . . . and each time it has either drastically changed how I saw things or comforted me in my acceptance of things I couldn’t change. I recommend it highly.


%d bloggers like this: