on May 1, 2000
I'm no longer sure how I bumped into this book. I'm sure it was from a review or a list of best books to read. In any event, I'm glad I did bump into.
Alan Watts writes about the obvious. But, like so many simple things, we need his clear and effective writing to see that what he says is truely obvious. Basically, we spend too much time planning and anticipating the future and too much time thinking about, lamenting and wishing to change the past. I have dogeared too many corners underlying too many quotes to reproduce them all here, but let me give you a flavor:
"If happiness always depends on the future, we are chasing a will-o-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future,and ourselves,vanish in the abyss of death."
This quote is taped to the cover of my fanancial notebook that contains my financial portfolio data, 401K information and reams and reams of retirement plan calculations.
He also wrote:
"But tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unlessyou are in full contact withthe reality of the present,since it is in the present and onlyin thepresent that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly."
This short book contains so many pearls, go get yourself a copy, pick some quotes, write them down, look at them, reread them (e-mail them to me) and get on with living today.
on March 26, 2003
This book is an excellent place to start reading philosophy. _The Wisdom of Insecurity_ was obviously written for the layman, making it ideal for those who are new to this type of nonfiction. In it, Alan Watts explains to us various ways of accepting and dealing with anxiety and insecurity in spiritual matters. This technique of acceptance was clearly derived from the Hindu and Buddhist methods of establishing a calm and mellow outlook on life. Like these great Eastern religions, Alan Watts does not try to tackle issues of theological truth head-on, but instead sidesteps the eternal questions. This is not because he is incapable of dealing with more complex metaphysical issues - he does so in great depth in his other, longer works. Neither is this method of sidestepping our sources of anxiety an evasion of rational, empirical truth. This book is not a rigorous empiricist study, and never claimed to be. It is instead a psychotheapeutic work verging on the anti-intellectual, but at the same time embracing meditation and contemplation. Watts shows us ways to act out our love for wisdom and enlightenment by concentrating on the positive and accepting (but not dwelling on) disturbing questions which he considers to be unanswerable. This is not an atheistic work nor is it a tale of despair. This is a work infused with hope, while being mindful of the truth. It succeeds in treading a sort of middle ground between the love of knowledge and anti-intellectualism.
The only problem with this book is its short length, although some might consider this an advantage. If you are looking for a more in-depth and rigorous study, try _Behold the Spirit_ or _Psychotherapy East and West_, also by Alan Watts.
on October 11, 2010
I can't say I've had too many 'mystical experiences' just from reading books - but "The Wisdom of Insecurity" induced at least one. I came across it backpacking in Southeast Asia and was very grateful for having it along with me on the endless overnight bus trips on bad roads.
Alan Watts's great gift was that he was such a gifted communicator of Eastern ideas to Western readers such as myself. You can wade through the Upanishads and the Tao Te Ching, and it's unlikely you will get a lot out of them (at least on the first reading), but Watts always had a way of distilling some of these crucial ideas and conveying them in a way that, for me in any case, sort of slaps you in the face with the lived reality of what he is saying, as opposed to just giving you an intellectual grasp. I read his "Tao: The Watercourse Way" during those same travels and found it similarly enlightening.
Watts's main theme is that since everything is changing and nothing lasts, it is senseless to be clinging to ideas, things, people, and so on. Endeavoring to achieve "security" of any kind, in life, love, job, family, or whatever, is a perpetually receding goal for the simple reason that nothing stands still! Hence the wise man or woman learns to live dynamically balanced in the present, responding creatively and joyously to anything and everything that's happening. This at least is my distillation of the idea, and the more I study the more I feel this simple message is at the core of all meditation and 'seeking.' "Be Here Now" as Ram Dass put it, and Watts communicates this essential message not only better than anyone else I've read, but also beautifully and effectively.
Very highly recommended.
on February 23, 2004
I picked this book up in the Taoist section and flipped through, liked what I saw and bought it. After reading a few pages I checked the publish date and was shocked to see this book was published in 1952! It sounds like Mr Watts wrote it last week (which is a sad commentary on our society)! After half a chapter I was 'wowed' enough to wonder who this author was and was shocked again when I saw his credentials (MA in Theology/PHd in Divinity). This is by no means a Judeo-Christian book.
While Mr Watts doesn't specifically mention Taoism, his writing has the flavor of it. He spends a long time discussing the problems associated with living in the past, then jumping straight to the future without stopping to look around *now*. He explores the use of language and its shortcomings, but those arguments have become commonplace in undergrad courses everywhere. The real power of this book for me was the focus on letting go, for example, "...the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing." He expands on this quite clearly.
Reading this book was a strange and fun experience in that I realized that I was thinking of a lot of the same issues that Mr Watts discusses, but was of course 5-20 years behind him on almost all of them. I also got the feeling that, even though I understood him on some level all the time, I will have to read this book at least twice more to actually *get it*.
on May 18, 2000
The path is simple, but walking it is more difficult than it sounds. This book was a gift to me from a friend whose sanity, insight and wisdom I've always admired.
This book, although written in very basic, simple but elegant language, is a challenging read merely because the ideas that are expressed are so powerful that you may well find yourself reading the same sentence several times over before you feel like you've completely taken it in.
Its been absolutely instrumental in helping me navigate through a particular instable period in my life. Everyone knows the key to happiness boils down to a simple, hackneyed cliche: 'Don't Worry, Be Happy.' But this books explains very rationally, yet gently, why this is so. I keep it on my bed at all times, and pick it up on certain difficult nights, read a few paragraphs, and remember: the future is out of my hands, and the past is both out of my hands and distorted by my own interpretation of it. The past can never be usefully compared to the present. NOW is the time to focus on. Wake up! Look around! Everything is before you...NOW.
on June 24, 1999
One of my favorite books of all time. I've reread it more times than any other, but never without reaching new insights and finding new inspiration. It's filled with wisdom like the following: "[I]t is a serious misapplication of psychology to make the presence or absence of neurosis the touchstone of truth, and to argue that if a man's philosophy makes him neurotic, it must be wrong. 'Most atheists and agnostics are neurotic, whereas most simple Catholics are happy and at peace with themselves. Therefore the views of the former are false, and of the latter true.' Even if the observation is correct, the reasoning based on it is absurd. It is as if to say, 'You say there is a fire in the basement. You are upset about it. Because you are upset, there is obviously no fire." Watts talks about the many subtle proprieties of life in which we are all engaged but which we seldom discuss. Then, the instant you read them, you feel as if your own thoughts had been read aloud. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
on April 1, 2001
Watts opens this book with an accurate diagnosis of the problem: i.e. our need to find meaning in life, our need for "an eternal order and an eternal life behind the uncertain and momentary experience of life-and-death." He likens this to the futile attempt of trying to tie up a pound of water in paper and string. Watts is always the master of analogy and his gift of language never fails to delight the reader.
I did not agree with his assessment of the decay of religious conviction, however. There are plenty of religious people in the world, and they manage to find meaning and purpose in this uncertain world through their beliefs. In terms of percentage of the world's population, I suspect that those who, like Watts, have completely rejected religious beliefs are actually very few. And even Watts, for all his protestations to the contrary, has not rejected religion as a means to sorting out the world; he has simply opted out of Christianity in favor of advaita-Vedanta, which is no more than Hinduism stripped down for export to the West. It's his opinion, and that's fine.
The balance of the book reminded me a lot of "The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are." Same basic topics, same engaging writing style, although I thought he expressed himself more clearly in this book.
My New Year's resolution for 2001 was to read as many of Watts' books as possible; this one is #8. I enjoyed this book immensely, as I have enjoyed the others, and will continue reading. While I do not agree with his basic world-view, finding it limited and non-productive, I still appreciate his analysis and insight into our common human situation, and the clever and frequently humorous conversation he holds with the reader. I would love to have been able to sit down with him over coffee and leisurely discuss life and death and the meaning of it all, and I don't think he would have minded at all that I disagree with his views; such disagreement would have made for a livelier conversation!
on February 11, 2000
At the tender age of eight years, I held this book in my hands for the first time, a gift from my father. Somehow he (who then and always has known too much) felt that by allowing me to find such insight while still so young he could show me intellectual avenues that happened upon him too late. Of course at eight years old I had not lived or thought enough to understand much of the more self-centered implications of what Watts has to say, but the intellectual gyrations got me started. I've never stopped since. Since then, now nearly twenty years ago, I have revisited this book whenever I feel myself growing unclear and uneasy about the universe and my "place" within it. The only problem is that I find myself buying it over and over again because I keep giving it away, to those that, at the time, seem to need clarity more than do I. But I always come back.
Oh, and if anyone becomes desperate for the answer to the anagram, I know it (after ten years of crossing my eyes at it). But it's much more satisfying to see it for yourself.
on May 13, 1999
For my dollar this book, above all similar books of this ilk, explains in the most simple language, awareness to the fact of the fallacy of security. Now, this statement should not be just shrugged off as just another descriptive sentence. Think of it. Do you know how pervasive 'seeking security' is in your everyday life. Be aware of that. The brain as a matter of function is seeking security constantly. Can you be more aware than your own brain. It sounds funny but, I think you can. You can be above the brain. You can be 'mind', for lack of a better word. And, by the way, do not get caught in words or the security of them. After all the description is not the thing described...ever. Read this book and put your anxieties in the dust bin where they belong. Live life. Enjoy it as much as is possible. Know thyself. Read this book 'The Wisdom of Insecurity". Watts can explain it in much simple words than I can.
on August 25, 2000
The author's approach may appear complex, but in essence it is a simple matter. The book exemplifies the principle that the more we struggle to find the answer(s), the further we get from finding them. They only come to us when we are at rest. How many great composers have written masterpieces by forcing their ideas onto manuscript paper? The music simply comes into their being, and then it is let out - like a breath. Do we think about breathing all day long or do we simply, breathe? And by the same token, do we think about living or do we simply...? It would appear that the answers we seek are already known to us because they are inside of us. We must trust that they will come - when we trust in ourselves. Thank you.