The Wisdom of Insecurity

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The Wisdom of Insecurity

The Wisdom of Insecurity

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This inaccessibility of the philosophy could explain why it didn’t become the dominant understanding in most religions, since most people couldn’t reach past the metaphors and so, instead, hung onto them as literal truth. Unmistakably a book to spend time with, each passage requires a thorough reading with a lot of thinking. I went into this thinking it would be a book about self-acceptance, reading “insecurity” in the way that I wanted it to be: it’s not. The problem, Watts says, is that "Our lives are one long effort to resist the unknown, the real present in which we live, which is the unknown in the midst of coming into being. Even if you were to take the less extreme position that, perhaps, we desire happiness in addition to some non-subjective things, it appears we often don’t even do that, failing to maximize our happiness even when there is no appreciable benefit to any other purpose we might have.

The philosophical ideas that he has aren't really very logical, and he says that his arguments aren't meant to be logical but read with the intuitive mind. Maybe it's because my woo-woo meter was moderate (around the same level as Eckhart Tolle's books) and that was a distraction from really trying to throw away my preconceived notions and understand what he's saying. Very difficult to give a such a highly regarded book 2 stars, but I'm playing safe with Goodreads' system that 2 stars means 'It was ok'.Traveling in Asia makes it clear that most Buddhists and Hindus there are engaged in superstitious rituals with a more literal interpretation of scripture than Watts’ winking at the reader suggests. In the meantime he is feeling no physical pain; he has plenty to eat; he is surrounded by friends and human affection; he is doing work that is normally of great interest to him.

According to Watts there is no method to solve the problem of happiness, “The question ‘What shall we do about it?That I’m a consistent entity across time is very practical for maintaining friendships, finding work or getting a bank loan. But any nascent belief has its rocky beginnings, and my own early Christian leanings were no exception to this. If I am afraid, my efforts to feel and act bravely are moved by the fear, for I am afraid of fear, which is simply to say that my efforts to escape from what I am are moving in a circle. As I slowly proceeded, I was reminded of a great many other books from the same general time frame, including Aldous Huxley's Island and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Focusing attention on current experience, rather than being subsumed in the world of thoughts, memories and future projections.

But we've already covered that I've been feeling pretty shot and my brain is no longer working as well as it once did. Instead of a method, Watts argues that the problem can be resolved immediately the moment it is properly understood. Most Westerners who get hooked on 'those mystical religions of the east' tend to be those who completely misunderstand the religions of the west and blame all the problems the last two hundred years (colonisation, the crusades, capitalism. And by planning for the future, again, we are not living in the present moment but a future one that may or may not ever come to be.Even though this book is well over 60 years old, it remains an extremely timely read, and it is surprisingly fresh in both its approach and thinking. But I think it is provocative in that it also neatly resolves some of the practical and metaphysical problems I see with a more standard, scientific Western view of the world. There's some good work here on the layers that our minds add to the true reality, and some good metaphors to explain why those should not be important to us. We assert our ego-self by thinking of ourselves as separate from our experience, which leads to unnecessary anxiety. If the simplest things caused wonder, if you had little use for thinking of the past or worrying about the future, then the "childish" you was truly living in ways you cannot even begin to fathom as an adult.

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