Some books I read once, and never look at again. Others become frequent companions, picked up whenever I need a, well, pick-me-up (non-liquid variety).
Alan Watts' wonderful "The Wisdom of Insecurity" is one of those books. It's my favorite Watts writing. Every time I read it, the book speaks something fresh to me. Not because the words between the covers have changed.
Because I have.
Which is the central message of the book. Life is nothing but change. Scary! We don't know what's going to happen! Things could spiral out of control! Death... disease... disability... despair. And that's just some of the nasty stuff starting with "D." There's 25 more letters in the English alphabet!
This morning I re-read the first chapter, The Age of Anxiety. This book was published in 1951; I think we've gotten way more anxious during the intervening sixty-some years.
Watts nails the core problem of life in his first paragraph. (I've divided it into several paragraphs for easier reading.)
By all outward appearances our life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another. Nor is the interval between these two nights an unclouded day, for the more we are able to feel pleasure, the more we are vulnerable to pain -- and, whether in background or foreground, the pain is always with us.
We have been accustomed to make this existence worth-while by the belief that there is more than the outward appearance -- that we live for a future beyond this life here. For the outward appearance does not seem to make much sense.
If living is to end in pain, incompleteness, and nothingness, it seems a cruel and futile experience for beings who are born to reason, hope, create, and love.
Man, as a being of sense, wants his life to make sense, and he has found it hard to believe that it does so unless there is more than what he sees -- unless there is an external order and an eternal life behind the uncertain and momentary experience of life-and-death.
But that approach, believing in a supernatural realm beyond everyday life, is doomed to failure. It's just another manifestation of the problem: desiring that reality is different from what it is. We keep on splitting ourselves into two, then asking "Why do I feel so divided?"
I've written several love notes about "The Wisdom of Insecurity" over my Church of the Churchless years. They're not as good as reading the book. But maybe I can whet your appetite for the book through these blog posts.