In The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, Alan Watts shows us how, in order to lead a fulfilling life, we must embrace the present—and live fully in the now.
Less vulnerable, less sensitive
At times almost all of us envy the animals. They suffer and die, but they do not seem to make a ‘problem’ of it. Their lives seem to have so few complications. They eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired, an instinct rather than anxiety seems to govern their few preparations for the future.
Unquestionably the sensitive human brain adds immesurably to the richness of life. Yet for this we pay dearly, because the increase in over-all sensitivity makes us peculiarly vulnerable. One can be less vulnerable by becoming less sensitive–more of a stone and less of a man–and so less capable of enjoyment.
Consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain
The simple experience of alternating pain and pleasure is by no means the heart of the human problem. The reason that we want life to mean something, that we seek God or eternal life, is not merely that we are trying to get away from an immediate experience of pain. The real problem does not come from any momentary sensitivity to pain, but from our marvelous powers of memory and foresight–in short from our consciousness of time.
For the animal to be happy it is enough that this moment be enjoyable. But man is hardly satisfied with this at all. He is much more concerned to have enjoyable memories and expectations–especially the latter.
From still another point of view the way in which we use memory and prediction makes us less, rather than more, adaptable to life. If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are ‘crying for the moon.’ We have no assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die.
This, then, is the human problem: there is a price to be paid for every increase in consciousness.
An illusion of memory
On the one hand, there is the conscious I, at once intrigued and baffled, the creature who is caught in the trap. On the other hand there is me, and me is a part of nature–the wayward flesh with all its concurrently beautiful and frustrating limitations.
The difference between I and me is largely an illusion of memory. We shall then have a war between consciousness and nature, between the desire for permanence and the fact of flux. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.