Alan Watts, who became famous for interpreting eastern philosophy to the western world, is one of my favourite philosophers. In one of his talks, he argued that life, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a journey. A journey has a destination, and the focus of our lives should not be somewhere that we have to get to, but it should be enjoying life as we go through it. Please allow his words and some of mine to explain this.
We live in a universe that is playful. It has nowhere to go to, no destination that it is trying to arrive at. The best way to understand our universe is to compare it to music. Music is also playful. When we talk of musical instruments, we say we play them and not work them (i.e: play the piano, not work the piano). This is because music differs from other activities such as travel or mountain climbing. When we travel, we are trying to get somewhere. When we climb a mountain, we are trying to get to the top. However, when we play a musical instrument, the whole point is not to get somewhere but instead to enjoy the harmony of all the chords, from the beginning to the end.
Just like our universe and just like music, life’s focus should not be a destination. Life should be playful and should be enjoyed from beginning to end. But this is not something we reflect on in our every day lives as we are not brought up to think this way. Our societies and educational systems tell us that many things in life are graded, that what we have is never enough and that life itself is a journey in which we have to chase a great big thing called “success”. This success differs from one society to another but in general ranges from us getting married at a certain age, to us achieving a certain salary, a certain status in society, and/or a certain level of fame.
Just like music, the purpose of life should not be a destination but should be to enjoy the harmony of all the chords from beginning to end.
And so as children, we get put into kinder-garden and told that it is great thing as that will lead us to first grade, and first grade leads to second grade, and so on…until we get out of grade school and get to high school. And come on that great big success is coming, it’s right around the corner…and so we got to keep chasing it as we make it through high school and move on to college. And when we are done with all of that, we enter companies where we are now told that we have KPI’s to meet, and that they will edge us a bit closer to that destination we are trying to get to. Therefore, our focus shifts from what we’re told to do in school in terms of grades, to what targets we need to hit at work (and the rat race continues). And then one day we will wake up in our 40’s or 50’s and say my God, I have arrived, I’m there, I made it!…But we wont feel any different than what we have always felt the whole way along.
Take a moment to think of all the people you know who chased some form of success tied to work, grades, money, fame, etc. and only ended up unsatisfied and feeling like nothing has changed. Think of all of the people who live to retire and to put their savings away. They only start attempting to enjoy life and travel the world when it is too late, spending most of their lifetime chasing some destination. And by the time they make it (or don’t make it), time has run out or they don’t have energy left to enjoy the world. This is because we cheated ourselves the whole way along. We keep thinking of life as if it is a journey with a serious purpose at the end, call it success, heaven or whatever you want after we’re dead. But we are missing the point the whole time. Life is a musical thing and we are supposed to sing and to dance while the music is being played! And remember, dancing is not about where we arrive at in the room. On the contrary, the point of dancing is the dance itself, and thus the point of life is the living.
Life is a musical thing and we are supposed to sing and to dance while the music is being played.
Finally, while I don’t disagree that life should have some focus on certain objectives that we would like to achieve, we should simply not forget to be playful in it. We tend to get distracted by so many things imposed by society, our education, work, etc. that we forget to enjoy our day to day lives. We need to constantly remember that we are all mortals. Death smiles at us all, and the least we can do is smile back and enjoy our lives. As Seneca said: “begin at once to live, and count each day as a separate life”. Put together as many good days as you can to assemble a great life. Write down a journal every day, have daily routines that will help you become disciplined, ask yourself what traits do you want to make your own, who do you admire in this world and what are you thankful for. Reflect at night, engage in some self scrutiny but be kind to yourself, check how you can make yourself a better person and think as to what can you do better tomorrow. If you fail some day, it’s okay. Reflect on it, be accountable for what you did, get a fresh start and try again the next day.
This is what Stoicism is about. This is what this blog will allow you to learn and hopefully practice. The objective of this blog is not to lecture you or convince you that I am right about a certain topic. It’s just to get you reflecting or thinking deeply about life and its many values, in an age where we spend less and less time thinking, reflecting and meditating. Thank you for reading the first blog post, and remember: begin to live.
If you’d like to listen to Alan Watt’s audio recording where he discusses this, please click here.