June 2020 – “The Wisdom of Insecurity”

Thoughts, ideas, words, systems, they are not reality but merely symbols of reality in the same way that money is not wealth but merely a symbol of it. The ineffable is, indeed, ineffable. “Just as money does not represent the perishability of and edibility of food, so words and thoughts do not represent the vitality of life.” Published in 1951, Alan Watts’ “The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety” is deeply important and in my mind ranks up with Ernest Becker’s “Denial of Death.” I see them as related; in tandem or companion works. As Watts says, “The capacity of the brain to foresee the future has much to do with the fear of death.”

There is simply too much to say about this, and words and thoughts are woefully inadequate and inaccurate. It is worth reading repeatedly. It is a short book, but too deep to read quickly. A thought for today worth considering though is that if we are looking at systemic injustices and failures, a beginning question should be what is the system for? Here, Watts is being for the most part sarcastic:

Everybody, everything has to have its label, its number, certification, registration, classification. What is not classified is irregular, unpredictable, and dangerous. …. If you do not agree with the capitalists, they call you a communist, and vice versa. A person who agrees with neither point of view is fast becoming unintelligible.

That there is a way of looking at life apart from all conceptions, beliefs, opinions, and theories is the remotest of all possibilities from the modern mind. If such a point of view exists, it can only be in the vacant brain of a moron. We suffer from the delusion that the entire universe is held in order by the categories of human thought, fearing that if we do not hold to them with the utmost tenacity, everything will vanish into chaos.

His final chapter, “Religion Reviewed,” provides a tremendous framework for “natural” and “supernatural.” But, again, it does so using words and it is, thus, itself symbolic. He seeks to heal the split in the mind between “”I” and “me” so that we may be whole and complete in the present rather than in an everlastingly unattainable future. I find his words to symbolize God as profound:

To see, however, that life is complete in each moment—whole, undivided, and ever new—is to understand the sense of the doctrine that in eternal life God, the undefinable this, is all-in-all and is the Final Cause or End for which everything exists. Because the future is everlastingly unattainable, and, like the dangled carrot, always ahead of the donkey, the fulfillment of the divine purpose does not lie in the future. It is found in the present, not by an act of resignation to immovable fact, but in seeing there is no one to resign.

For this is the meaning of that universal and ever-repeated religious principle that to know God, man must give up himself. ….”

I do not know where to end for I cannot comprehend one.