In tonight’s Facebook Live conversation I responded to Guy in Switzerland who wanted to hear what I thought about the Alan Watts video below.
In this film, Alan Watts gives an inspiring message: we think of our lives as a journey or a pilgrimage with a serious purpose at the end: success or heaven (or enlightenment!) “But we missed the point,” he says, “It was a musical thing.” We weren’t supposed to treat it as a journey. We picked the wrong analogy. We were supposed to sing, dance or play. The universe isn’t going anywhere, life isn’t going anywhere, he argues, just as a dance or music isn’t going anywhere.
I love this message. I think its hugely important and liberating. It’s the perfect antidote to the stress induced by the crazy, goal-driven world we find ourselves in. The idea that life is a journey creates what has been called in analytical psychology the ‘Provisional Life’: I’ll be happy/fulfilled/truly alive when … (fill in the blank. But then of course you won’t be, because the next goal will appear on the horizon).
Have a look at the video and see how it makes you think and feel:
BUT one of the comments on this film’s Youtube page points to a problem with this idea: Tyrone Ross writes “Great! But how do I earn money?” And how do we save the elephants and stop polluting the world, and how do we write music, and choreograph dance? By taking a journey. By having a goal.
Alan Watts was a key figure in the counter-culture of the 60’s – he took LSD and smoked pot, and what happens when you do that? You get off the treadmill. You see through the dangerous farce of concensus reality and the consumer culture. No wonder he came to that conclusion. But after you’ve spent some time floating free of the ego’s need to be driven, you find that quite naturally goals arise – whether mundane (to earn a living) or creative or spiritual.
Surely we need to spend time dancing – free of goals, bathing in the Now – but we also need to spend time on the quest – seeking greater understanding, trying to be of use. Funnily enough, the best analogy I can think of comes from pilgrimage, conscious ‘spiritual’ journeying, in which the destination is both important and unimportant, in which enjoying the journey is as meaningful as savouring achieving the goal; in which movement and rest, action and surrender are equally important.
I believe the journey metaphor is used so often because it speaks to a deep truth. We just need to make sure the gold we are seeking is spiritual and not material, and to understand too that perhaps the most accurate way to answer the question “Is my life a journey?” is to say “Well, it is and it isn’t.”