I’ve got that quarter-life crisis swag going on. I have yet to be very productive during my post-graduation time. I watch as my friends get bonuses at their jobs, read their tweets about how difficult grad school is, and be astonished that I don’t know one but multiple peers working for Teach For America. Yes, I did get to fulfill my stereotypical wanderlust moment by traveling through SE Asia for six weeks. Yes, I did get some form of an internship for a while. And yes, I did move to New York. I guess that has some sort of status attached to it. But now I am moving back home to San Francisco after job hunting in NY for the first month and being rather lethargic and uninspired for the second and third.
During those dark times I turn to a rather unlikely figure since I lack any sense of spirituality: Alan Watts. He was a British-born philosopher who brought Eastern spirituality to America. He became immensely popular while living in the Bay Area during the sixties since he was pro experimentation with psychedelics. He gave numerous lectures on all aspects of living and inspired a generation of dead heads. Most were recorded and thus provides a large pool to pull quotes, from which I do regularly for insight or reflection.
And so I give you this: Five Inspirations For Life By Alan Watts
“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”
You navigate through the world by defining everything in your life and those definitions spur action. When you spend time trying to define the definitions that allow you to live and be the person you are it becomes wasted energy since you are never fully able to grasp exactly who you were/are/could be. Instead of becoming frustrated with your inept and wholly unfulfilling attempts at definition, you should allow yourself to just become them and allow them to carve out your particular life path. It should be innate. You are aware they are there, and without thought you should allow them to do what they were designed to do: continually create and shape you.
“Just as the wake doesn’t move the ship, the past does not move the present.”
I get stuck in my past quite often. More often than I like to admit to myself. I am often swayed by a person’s comment or a particular event months, even years, later. I feel like it is a common thing for twenty-somethings. You are thrust into this ever-changing world of maturity and responsibility and like a fledgling doe just escaped from the womb, you’re expected to walk in minutes. Many people grasp onto the path to gain stability. The familiar can be quite the balance bar if used correctly, but unfortunately fear is introduced (fear of getting a shitty job, fear of cementing a life path you’ll regret, fear of wrinkles, etc) and now the past becomes a sheet to hide under when you’re not willing to attempt to balance all of these new experiences head-on. I have definitely been guilty of this, especially in relationships. I let them define me and thus allow the men in my life to construct the ship that I ultimately become emotionally entombed in. As all these new changes in my life (moving back home, finding an actually job finally, leaving a two year relationship), I can either choose to be swallowed up by the waves, or commandeer my way to New Worlds.
“You and I are all as much continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean.”
Yeah, more marine-themed similes. Bear with me. A wave is not a separate entity from the ocean, but the action that moves it. A wave is what allows ocean life to travel fast and far. Waves are what create the dynamic life we find beneath the surface. The same goes with people. We are not separate from the universe, but made up of it entirely. I am sure you have heard the fact that we are just products of massive star explosions. There is no real difference between us and the rest of matter in the universe. We are the only ones who make that distinction. Sometimes people tend to blame the universe for “having it out for them.” They feel that they are a lone fighter against the cruelty that the universe somehow forces upon them. What Watts is trying to emphasize is that we change the universe as much as it changes us and that to feel whole we must truly believe we are one in the same. Now, this can be seen as a bit too spiritual or vague for it to really be applicable, but I find it rather calming. Instead of believing that I am separate from everyone and every environment around me I know that I have control over whether it be a positive or negative one. Having that control, even if it is merely a state of mind, can be rather soothing to anxious moments in my life.
“Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right & wrong stars, nor between well & badly arranged constellations.”
Like most people, I am always awe-struck when I look at pictures of the universe. And I know for certain that there was never a time that I have looked up into the sky or looked at pictures of the universe and think that Ursa Major would be more aesthetically pleasing if it were about half a degree more south. The same should go for people. Some lives are perfectly ordered like the spinning planets around the sun, some are complete messes like a supernova, while others are so narcissistic and miserable that they feel more like a black hole. But all are okay. All should be accepted and even embraced as examples of the myriad of ways a life can be built up and out.
“It’s all jazz.”
Don’t let Carrie Mathison ruin it for you, jazz is fantastic and such a well-suited parable for life. As Wikipedia defines it:
“In jazz the skilled performer will interpret a tune in very individual ways, never playing the same composition exactly the same way twice. Depending upon the performer’s mood and personal experience, interactions with other musicians, or even members of the audience, a jazz musician/performer may alter melodies, harmonies or time signature at will.”
Life should not be seen as some classic piece. Albeit having the potential to be beautiful, that genre is very rigid on its classification of beauty. With jazz it is more about the emotion at the moment. There is no wrong or right way to strum, blow, or play other than the one you are feeling at that exact moment. And when the piece is not feeling right the player is allowed, hell even encouraged, to change it up. There are no two iterations the same and that’s beautiful. The same should go for life. There is no one correct way to live a beautiful life. Everyone has their own interpretation and ideas and should be allowed to freely express them — no matter how wild or abstract they are — because in the end it still makes for beautiful music.