Food for Thought #9

Excerpt from Alan Watts’s – The Tao of Philosophy:

Now it is my contention and my basic metaphysical axiom that existence—the physical universe—is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It is not going anywhere; that is to say, it does not have some destination at which it ought to arrive. It is best understood by analogy with music because music as an art form is essentially playful.

We say, “You play the piano.” You do not work the piano. Why? For instance, music differs from travel because when you travel you are trying to get somewhere and, being a very compulsive and purposive culture, we are busy going everywhere faster and faster in an attempt to eliminate the distance between places.

With modern jet travel you can arrive anywhere almost instantaneously, and what happens as a result is that the two ends of your journey become the same place. So you eliminate the distance and you eliminate the journey, and you forget that the fun of the journey is to travel, not to obliterate travel.

In music, though, one does not make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest, and there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crashing chord because that is the end. The same is true of dancing because the point of dancing is to dance.

However, we do not understand this because it is not something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We have a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. Everything we do is graded, and we put the child into the corridor at one end of this grade system, with a kind of “Come on, kitty-kitty-kitty.” So you go to kindergarten, and that is a great thing, because when you finish that you will get into first grade; then “Come on!” First grade leads to second grade, and so on. When you get out of grade school you go on to high school, and the whole thing is “revving up,” and coming closer.

Then you go on to college, and then by Jove, you get into graduate school, and when you are through with graduate school you go out to join the world. You get into some racket in which you are selling insurance and everyone has their quota to make, and you are going to make it. All the time that great thing is coming and coming, and it is the success you are working toward. Then one day when you wake up, and you are forty years old, you say, “My God, I have arrived! I am there.” However, you do not feel very different from what you always felt, and there is a slight let-down because you feel there was a hoax.

Of course there was a hoax, a dreadful hoax, because they made you miss everything by expectation. People live to retire and they put those savings away, but then when they are sixty-five they do not have any energy left to enjoy it, and they end up in a senior citizens’ community.

We have simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. We thought of life by analogy—as a journey or a pilgrimage—which had a serious purpose at the end. The thing was to get to that end, success, or whatever it is, or maybe Heaven after you are dead, but we missed the point along the whole way. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or dance while the music was being played. Instead you had to do “that thing” and you did not let it happen. So this is why the human being sometimes becomes an organism for self-frustration. ~ Alan Watts

 

  1. Now, that was one big time INTELLIGENT PIECE of writing. 🙂

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