Alan Watts has become one of my favourite philosophers in the past few months and his lectures, which are thankfully online on YouTube have become – for me – the best things about the internet. Everyday I try my hardest to listen to a Watts’ lecture while I work or study and I must tell you, he speaks magnificently. He speaks as though his voice were the reverberation you hear in your mind. He asks the same questions you would – for those curious about life.
Now who is Alan Watts? – In my opinion, one of the best philosophers of the 20th century. He unfortunately died at 58 years old. Upon his death, he left in his wake lifelong research on life & spirituality, audio and video works, essays, publications and so much more.
He was born in London in 1915 and later moved to the United States, where he served as an Episcopal priest for about six years. Alan began writing at the age of fourteen, and between the 1950s and early 60s, fuelled by inspirations and influences from East Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism, and by Taoist thought, Alan became somewhat of a counterculture celebrity hosting his own radio shows and giving lectures all over the world.
By the early 70’s, Alan had created an extensive audio library of nearly 400 talks and had written over 25 books. He died in his sleep in 1973.
One of my favourite audio lectures by Watts is the one where he asks the questions, “What do you desire?”…”What would you like to do if money were no object?”
Do we sometimes think to ourselves what we hoped to accomplish if money were not an obstacle? What do we hope to build? What do we hope to create? What do we hope to achieve? How would we really enjoy spending our lives? What do we really want? …search deep, Watts’ echoes…”What do you desire?”
A simple question isn’t it? If asked point blank, we probably have some answers at the top of our heads…travel, laugh, dance, sing, live, create. Now, Watts’ says, “Why don’t we do those things anyway?” If that’s what we truly desired, why don’t we do them or at least strive for them anyway?
“…forget the money,” Watts’ says, “because if you say getting the money is the most important part, then you will spend your life completely wasting your time.”
His words ring so true. So it is important again to consider the question, “What do I desire?”
Ultimately, Watts’ acknowledges that one of the short range answers to his question is the desire for power, and the need to control everything. This desire will prevent life from occurring naturally by our need to create avenues that prevent aging, foods that don’t spoil, clothes that don’t wear out, the availability of power, and to get technological omnipotence.
So, where do we want to be after all this is said and done? Are you where you want to be even with that power? Because even if we did get control and ultimately that was our desire, it means we live a predictable future, and a predictable future has already happened, it is in the past, we’ve had it, and that’s not what we truly want.
What if what we truly wanted was a surprise?
Fundamentally speaking, desire is something we don’t truly know but the best thing to do for ourselves is to live like money were not an object. Even if all we had were short range desires for happiness and to live an enriching life, we should strive for them, because we don’t want to waste our time…life is just too precious for that.
So, what do you desire right now?