Recently I've been writing blog posts where I share notes I take while listening to audio recordings of talks by Alan Watts, thanks to Sam Harris making these available on his Waking Up app.
Those posts are similar to books I read in this fashion. Not long after I've been exposed to them, I can only remember a few things about them.
Which brings to mind Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University, which was part of his appearances on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s.
His brilliant notion was to offer university courses that only take a few minutes, because he'd only teach the couple of things that college students can remember five years after they've graduated. This You Tube video shows Sarducci explaining the concept.
Of course, right now I can remember quite a bit about what Alan Watts says in his talks, since I've been listening to them in just the past two weeks or so. But I'm pretty sure that I'll forget most of his message before too long, aside from some pearls of wisdom that have embedded themselves in my mind.
Like, trust yourself and others, but not completely.
Couldn't agree more. This is one of the simple truths that Watts is adept is pointing out. When he says those things, they seem obvious. However, he expresses the truths in such a fresh, engaging fashion, they seem delightfully new.
Think about it. Let's say you've a devotee of a guru, or some other spiritual teacher, who claims to know how to come closer to God or divinity. You've surrendered yourself to this person, considering that they possess a higher wisdom that you lack.
What gives you confidence that you've done the right thing? It can only be that you trust yourself. You trust that your devotion to this person is well-founded. You trust your commitment to them.
So even if you have turned over to this spiritual teacher some decisions you otherwise would have handled on your own -- like ethical/moral decisions about how to live -- this surrendering of your own volition is possible only because you trust your sense that this is the right thing to do.
Likewise, if you later decide that the spiritual teacher isn't worth following any more, what gives you the ability to walk away from the person is your trust in yourself that now this is the right thing to do.
In other words, as Watts says in one of his talks, if you don't trust yourself, you've got no leg to stand on. Even choosing to not trust yourself or someone else requires that you trust your decision to stop trusting.
That last point is important.
Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. You, me, the Pope, gurus, doctors, lawyers, politicians, scientists, the Dalai Lama -- every human being is prone to not being trustworthy for one reason or another, some more than others, of course.
"I could be wrong" has to be our ever-present mantra, along with the related "You could be wrong."
Often wrongness is factual. When Donald Trump says the 2020 election was stolen from him, that's factually wrong. Trump can't be trusted in that regard. Also, many other regards. If someone says global warming isn't happening, that's also factually wrong, and the person can't be trusted in that regard.
In other regards, they can be trusted. Thus we have to trust in our ability to discern when trust is merited, and when it isn't, whether or not the object of our trust is ourself or someone else.
When I listen to Alan Watts speak, I don't agree with everything he says. When I read a nonfiction book, I don't agree with everything the author has written. But if my overall feeling is that someone can be trusted, I have no problem overlooking my occasional feelings of "you're wrong."
My wife and I have been married for almost 32 years. Sometimes she thinks I'm wrong. Sometimes I think she's wrong. This doesn't affect our love for each other in the slightest. It's a natural part of every relationship to consider that the other person is wrong at times.
And it's also a natural part of the relationship we have with ourselves to admit "I was wrong," and so I shouldn't have trusted myself when I thought I was right, even though there was no way I could have known at that moment that I was wrong -- because life doesn't allow do-over's, moving only in one immutable direction in a series of now's.
To repeat: trust yourself and others, but not completely. Such is the spice of life, never being sure what will happen in our relationship both with others and ourself. The Netflix series "Succession" is a great example of this.
No central character can be trusted. Indeed, they glory in their untrustworthiness. I always enjoy it when a Succession actor asks "Can I trust you?" and they hear "No, absolutely not." This is a big part of what makes the show so captivating, the continual intrigue of not being certain who can be trusted at any moment.