I'll admit it: sometimes I start to lose faith in my faithlessness. I get this craving to believe.
I'm not fully cured of my thirty-year addiction to dogma. I sniff some 80 proof belief and have a little fantasy about bellying up to the church bar again.
Then the saner side of me whispers, Stay strong, Brian. WWWD?
Ah, yes. WWWD. Others, of course, find inspiration in WWJD – but these are folks looking for security, and I've come to realize that this is the root of religious addiction.
So a few days ago I renewed my commitment to sobriety by pondering WWWD: What would Watts do? Or at least, what does Alan Watts advise in his classic, "The Wisdom of Insecurity"?
I love this book. Almost every sentence makes my churchless soul tingle with re-energized faithless faith. It reminds me of the one and only time I saw Watts in person.
It was at San Jose State College, the fall of 1966 or 1967. I'd gotten to the auditorium early and was sitting in the front row, between the podium and an outside door that was left open on this warm California night.
Watts had begun to speak. A dog ran into the auditorium, stopped just inside the door, and started barking at him. He glanced at it, picked up a drinking glass, and smoothly tossed the water at the dog, hitting it right in the face.
The dog shook its wet head and ran out the door.
Watts continued talking without missing a beat. That's the only thing about his presentation that I remember – a spontaneous act, perfectly suited to what was happening at the moment.
And that's the central message of "The Wisdom of Insecurity." Staying with the moment, which is all there is.
So long as the mind is split, life is perpetual conflict, tension, frustration, and disillusion…But the undivided mind is free from this tension of trying always to stand outside oneself and to be elsewhere than here and now. Each moment is lived completely, and there is thus a sense of fulfillment and completeness.
The religious impulse is fed by incompleteness. Religion promises that lacks in our lives will be fulfilled one day. Not this day. But someday.
For when the mind is divided, and "I" wants to get away from present experience, the whole notion of a supernatural world is its happy hide-out. The "I" is resisting an unhappy change, and so clings to the "unchanging" Absolute, forgetting that this Absolute is also the "unfixed."
…The misunderstanding of religious ideas is vividly illustrated in what men have made of the doctrine of immortality, heaven, and hell. But now it should be clear that eternal life is the realization that the present is the only reality, and that past and future can be distinguished from it in a conventional sense alone.
Watts gets it absolutely right when he says that the only security is in the seeming insecurity of the present moment.
We want to control life, but this keeps us from really living. So we feel a lack in our life, and that lack keeps us searching for the control – salvation, satori, self-realization – that will finally bring us to the promised land of Everything is Absolutely Fine.
Only problem is, life doesn't work that way. Our efforts to make it into something that it's not are the problem that we're trying to solve. Crazy.
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…Human beings appear to be happy just so long as they have a future to which they can look forward – whether it be a "good time" tomorrow or an everlasting life beyond the grave.
…The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are not as real, but more real than the present.
Especially when religious dogmas hold sway. So many promises. To be fulfilled around the corner, not on the spot the believer is standing now.
Truth is, we don't know what's around the corner. We can't. There's no way to be sure of what's going to happen to you, or me, or anyone else in the next instant, much less for eternity.
If there's anything certain in life, it's the uncertainty.
So, embrace it. Dive into it. Accept that never, not ever, not tomorrow, the day after, or any time, will you or I be able to know what's coming up next on the big roulette wheel of life.
It could be our lucky number. It could be the loss of all our chips. We can't know. That's what makes the game so interesting.
Indeed, every experience is in this sense new, and at every moment of our lives we are in the midst of the new and the unknown. At this point you receive the experience without resisting it or naming it, and the whole sense of conflict between "I" and the present reality vanishes.
For most of us this conflict is ever gnawing within us because 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.
So what to do? The ageless adage: be here now.
The art of living in this "predicament" is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past and the known on the other. It consists in being completely sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.