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Your Life is not a Journey – Or is it?

January 29th, 2018

In tonight’s Facebook Live conversation I responded to Guy in Switzerland who wanted to hear what I thought about the Alan Watts video below.

In this film, Alan Watts gives an inspiring message: we think of our lives as a journey or a pilgrimage with a serious purpose at the end: success or heaven (or enlightenment!) “But we missed the point,” he says, “It was a musical thing.” We weren’t supposed to treat it as a journey. We picked the wrong analogy. We were supposed to sing, dance or play. The universe isn’t going anywhere, life isn’t going anywhere, he argues, just as a dance or music isn’t going anywhere.

I love this message. I think its hugely important and liberating. It’s the perfect antidote to the stress induced by the crazy, goal-driven world we find ourselves in. The idea that life is a journey creates what has been called in analytical psychology the ‘Provisional Life’: I’ll be happy/fulfilled/truly alive when … (fill in the blank. But then of course you won’t be, because the next goal will appear on the horizon).

Have a look at the video and see how it makes you think and feel:

BUT one of the comments on this film’s Youtube page points to a problem with this idea: Tyrone Ross writes “Great! But how do I earn money?” And how do we save the elephants and stop polluting the world, and how do we write music, and choreograph dance? By taking a journey. By having a goal.

Alan Watts was a key figure in the counter-culture of the 60’s – he took LSD and smoked pot, and what happens when you do that? You get off the treadmill. You see through the dangerous farce of concensus reality and the consumer culture. No wonder he came to that conclusion. But after you’ve spent some time floating free of the ego’s need to be driven, you find that quite naturally goals arise – whether mundane (to earn a living) or creative or spiritual.

Surely we need to spend time dancing – free of goals, bathing in the Now – but we also need to spend time on the quest – seeking greater understanding, trying to be of use. Funnily enough, the best analogy I can think of comes from pilgrimage, conscious ‘spiritual’ journeying, in which the destination is both important and unimportant, in which enjoying the journey is as meaningful as savouring achieving the goal; in which movement and rest, action and surrender are equally important.

I believe the journey metaphor is used so often because it speaks to a deep truth. We just need to make sure the gold we are seeking is spiritual and not material, and to understand too that perhaps the most accurate way to answer the question “Is my life a journey?” is to say “Well, it is and it isn’t.”

11 Responses to “Your Life is not a Journey – Or is it?”

  1. Bizarre synchronicity, I thought I knew that voice as soon as I heard it. One of my favourite tracks, Faun’s Zeitgeist features him and I didn’t realise. I will definitely seek out more about him.

  2. When I was in my 20s, I read every single Alan Watts book that was available through my public library. His writings definitely helped me through a difficult period in my life.

    Now in my 40s, I’ve become quite fond of the poems and films of one of Watts’ best buddies: James Broughton. They hung out together on the Vallejo, and Watts defended Broughton as one of the few people who truly understood him. Watts appears as a physician/priest in Broughton’s 1968 movie, The Bed, which was filmed in a mountain meadow at Druid Heights, California. One of the founders of Druid Heights, Roger Somers, also turns up in The Bed as the naked god Pan.

    Anyhow, Philip, it occurs to me that if you somehow haven’t already come across Broughton’s work, you might like some of the more mystical and nature-oriented poems in his wide-ranging oeuvre. He sometimes sounds a bit like Rumi, if Rumi had been more of a trickster. A nice sample of short Broughton pieces is available at this link. I’m also hoping to recite a longer poem called “The Water Circle” as one of the eisteddfod selections at the upcoming OBOD gathering. Broughton himself reads it in this video. “The Water Circle” describes a particular type of journey that is also an Eternal Return—a bit of a paradox, perhaps, and great fun, too. 😉

    • Hi Tracy,
      I hadn’t heard of Broughton, but have just looked at the website and what fun! Thanks so much – I’ll dive in….

  3. I just want to add a comment that Meteyard’s painting is very well-chosen as the thumbnail image for your video.

    I like to think that just like the Lady of Shalott, I have opted to take the journey that is life. Shadowy reflections do not suffice; woven likenesses do not satisfy, no matter how colorful.

    The inevitable destination of the Lady’s journey is death. That is how it ultimately goes, for all of us, when we choose to become fully embodied. Despite what is to come, she finds the courage of the song that is within her, and she sings it all along the way.

    So you are right. It is a journey and it is music. And more.

  4. Hello All. We are inclined to think of life here on earth as a journey, because we are ruled by time. The time and date of birth, when we started school and the various times within that educational system, then work, relationships, commitments. Retirement comes along, we take note of health issues, then at a certain time we leave the body. In conversation, “I did this at a certain time in my life”, or that happened to me or my family, friends, colleagues, enemies! at a certain time.” Screaming, “I haven’t the time.” The sun comes up at a certain time throughout the year, sets, then the moon has certain phases, seasons and so forth. But of course, a portion of our soul has taken on this challenge, and the main energy is observing this adventure, trial, experience, from the eternal observatory! There have been certain occasions, when I have thought, “Whose bright idea was this?” “Er, yours! in collaboration with others, many others.” I have been through some debris and caused some debris, but as much as I wished it was time to either have things change or the opportunity to re-jig, it has made me realize who I AM. Note, Am, not was or will be, but AM, in the now. Much Love and Blessings as always. Margaret.

    • Beautifully put Margaret. We are both in time and out of time. And I like the image of debris that we create and avoid as we careen through life!

  5. Thank you Philip! I very much enjoyed listening to your ideas about the Alan Watts video!
    I fully agree that balance is the key and we should avoid the trap of falling from one extreme to the other. But to me it’s very liberating putting the focus more towards the “musical” side of life. Because the goal driven aspects have already been trained more than enough. The Bardic course and the message from this video reminds me to pause more often, taking a deep breath and allowing myself to sense the gifts of this present moment, before the journey or the pilgrimage goes on.

    PS: And many thanks, I didn’t know about the mistletoe! 🙂

  6. Hello Philip just ‘popped in’ to see what you are up to, enjoying your discussion dancing with Watts! Thanks for your thoughts on this fascinating issue. Early in my working life, I had the pleasure of spending a day with Watts at his round house on Druid Heights. So exhilarating and inspiring. He was one of the first people to engage with my work on Wyrd. I rejoice that his presence is here with you today..All best, Brian

    • Hello Brian – lovely to see you here, and how wonderful that you were with Watts on Druid Heights. I found a video of him there and posted it with a brief description of the place: Unfortunately the video seems to have been removed from Youtube with no trace.When we next meet you must tell me all about your meeting with him! All the best, Philip

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