“What makes you itch?
What sort of a situation would you like?”
Two simple questions which mark the beginning of a remarkable narrative. Questions which impossibly can pass unheard. Questions which however may bring the imaginary running wheel to an abrupt halt. Where do we find the answers to these question? Do we dare to dig deeper? Are we bold enough to face the truth simply armed with a handful of dreams or do we hide behind an invisible fence of excuses waiting for our thoughts to pass like an objectionable carpet of clouds on a nice Sunday afternoon?? Questions inevitably lead to answers, but some of them linger unspoken…
“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”
British-born philosopher and writer Alan Watts‘ thinking was profoundly influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Already at a young age he was fascinated by the art of the Far East. Later on he discovered the concept of Buddhism in various libraries and picked the spiritual teachings as his future path of life.
Watts played a key role in the popularization of Eastern philosophy in the Western world and some of his work turned into cult reading. Writings like The Spirit of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity or The Way of Zen as well as plenty of posthumous publications made him a fundamental trailblazer for Far Eastern religion in the Western consciousness.
Apart from being the author of more than 25 books he has been an eloquent and enthusiastic speaker as numerous lectures and recordings indicate. His simple questions “What do you desire?” or “What if money was no object?” not only try to stir emotion and tease out answers but also be a call to action. A manifesto urging people to open eyes and arms and embrace life – doing the things you really love instead of trying to like the things you do…
What do you desire?
What makes you itch? What sort of a situation would you like?
Let’s suppose, I do this often in vocational guidance of students, they come to me and say, well, we’re getting out of college and we have the faintest idea what we want to do. So I always ask the question, what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?
Well, it’s so amazing as a result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers, but as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way. Or another person says well, I’d like to live an out-of-doors life and ride horses. I said you want to teach in a riding school? Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do?
When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
And after all, if you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is, you can eventually turn it – you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much. That’s everybody is – somebody is interested in everything, anything you can be interested in, you will find others will. But it’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like, in order to go on spending things you don’t like, doing things you don’t like and to teach our children to follow in the same track.
See what we are doing, is we’re bringing up children and educating to live the same sort of lifes we are living. In order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same thing, so it’s all retch, and no vomit it never gets there. And so, therefore, it’s so important to consider this question,
What do I desire?
~ Alan Watts
[transcript source: lybio.net]
A part of this narrative has been turned into artwork by Gavin Aung Than which can be found on zenpencils.com.
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This is great to see Alan Watts’ work and talks getting a new lease of life through blog posts and videos like these – And then Ludovico Einaudi’s music fits perfectly.
Hi Guillaume, many thanks for taking a look around and leaving a few words! There’s something timeless about Alan Watts and his outlook on life. And as you said, Ludovico Einaudi’s music seems to be the perfect match, making it a truly inspirational composition…
While humanity continues to be shaped and directed by money, except for a elite few, the choice about what we do will be severly limited for the majority.
Hi Miles, thanks for your objection! To be honest, I consider myself quite lucky and I’m grateful for all opportunities that crossed my path and the ones I could seize. I’m well aware of the fact that the conditions can vary significantly and the starting line is not the same for everyone. Still, I believe that far more things are achievable or within reach than we may think. So I’m not sure if it’s really the majority that is somewhat fated…