Alan Watts was without a doubt, one of the most influential philosophers of his time. His books, speeches, and inspirational wisdom has continued to live on beyond Watts himself, and have even led many to their own paths to enlightenment.
To pay homage to such a brilliant mind, we have compiled some of his greatest words of wisdom to provide you with an understanding of just how great Watts truly was.
1. Your body does not eliminate poisons by knowing their names. To try to control fear or depression or boredom by calling them names is to resort to superstition of trust in curses and invocations. It is so easy to see why this does not work. Obviously, we try to know, name, and define fear in order to make it “objective,” that is, separate from “I.”
2. Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.
3. The question “what shall we do about it” is only asked by those who do not understand the problem. If a problem can be solved at all, to understand it and to know what to do about it are the same thing. On the other hand, doing something about a problem which you do not understand is like trying to clear away darkness by thrusting it aside with your hands. When light is brought, the darkness vanishes at once. This applies particularly to the problem.”
4. Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.
5. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.
6. The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.
7. This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.
8. Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
9. No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.
10. You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.
11. The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.
12. We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions and ideas.
13. No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.
14. The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
15. The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
16. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
17. Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.
18. Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.
19. Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.
20. Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.
21. Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
22. And people get all fouled up because they want the world to have meaning as if it were words… As if you had a meaning, as if you were a mere word, as if you were something that could be looked up in a dictionary. You are meaning.
23. To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.
24. What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.
25. The source of all light is in the eye.
26. Just as true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself.
27. Peace can be made only by those who are peaceful, and love can be shown only by those who love. No work of love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.