The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts

January 14, 2020

Stop wasting time living in the past, the future, or the false promise of constants.

From the title I thought this would be funny.

It was not.

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.

For most of us, the other half of sanity lies simply in seeing and enjoying the unknown, just as we can enjoy music without knowing either how it is written or how the body hears it.

Even though I started to get lost a bit in the end, there were some challenging ideas not unlike those of Stoicism. And lots of helpful analogies to gently reinforce complicated arguments:

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.

I highlighted lots of passages in this book, either because they were points I’d never considered or familiar arguments succinctly expressed.

My summary: we spend a lot of energy acting with the past or future in mind at the expense of being present now. The past and future are concepts we use and neither truly exists; you can’t go to the past any more than you can visit the future. The only time you can experience reality with all your senses is in the always-advancing present moment. Watts made a similar argument for the concept of self, which was trickier to grasp at first but a point he made carefully and convincingly.

This is one of those books I’d benefit from re-reading and chewing on now and then.

Ultimately, what I took away was encouragement to live now and embrace the things that come with it. The tools and concepts we’ve created are useful to a point, but often stir an existential anxiety that diminishes our appreciation of the only real existence we’ve got.

Assigning a rating to this one seemed comically arbitrary and futile.