The whole point of dancing is the dance.” —Alan Watts
Alan Watts was a British philosopher who popularized Buddhist philosophy for receptive U.S. audiences in the 1950s and 1960s. I first heard of him during grad school, while I was around extraordinarily bright and motivated people. Many of whom were strangers to failure and most of whom were also driving hard toward a tenure-track teaching or research faculty job.
Though I wasn’t aiming for teaching, I was part of the academy’s intensity, and I was often grateful for a caution my mother sent me from time to time: “Remember to pause to smell the flowers,” she said. “No matter how busy things are.” And then, with a little wry smile, “They grant degrees posthumously too, you know.”
In the video below (captioned), Alan Watts explains how the metaphor of life-as-journey has entailments that dissuade us from stopping to fully experience and attend to what’s happening now, because society encourages us to be so driven, so ambitious, and so locked into a sequential model of progress from elementary school through retirement.
While some of us are beginning to realize that the old 20th Century progress model no longer works, we don’t all agree on what should replace it. Entrepreneur coaches tell us to be “top performers.” Others tell us to “choose ourselves.”
The message they don’t give, because it tends not to motivate people to sign up for recurring charges, is that striving isn’t the purpose of life. That’s Alan Watts’ message in this video.
There’s a great series of short clips from Watts’ other talks, animated by South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker. These aren’t captioned.