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Vytaute Kazanaviciute

The pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the Western world Alan Wilson Watts (January 6, 1915–November 16, 1973) once wrote, “It is simply the expression of the universal discovery that a man does not really begin to be alive until he has lost himself, until he has released the anxious grasp which he normally holds upon his life, his property, his reputation and position.” British-born American philosopher, speaker and writer believed that everyone has the ability to unburden themselves and reach a pure self-identification.

In a book “Become What You Are” Watts observes that people drown themselves in the sea of attachments and expectations, and forget that life is most precious in its present form.

“Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future,” author writes, “to let life takes its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant nor to hasten the departure of things unpleasant.” Furthermore he explains that detachment is absolutely vital if a person wants to live without regrets, happy and free: “To do this is to move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music, and this is called Enlightenment. In short, it is to be detached from both past and future and to live in the eternal Now. For in truth neither past nor future have any existence apart from this Now; by themselves they are illusions. Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal. For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it persists for ever.”

Indeed, present moment is quick, always trying to get away… And we push it even further, when our burdens from the past and fears for the future come to hunt us. Watts suggests being a bit more carefree with immense amount of duties and the need to prove something… to someone.

Chesterton once said that, because they take themselves lightly, angels can fly. One sees so many faces dulled by a seriousness which, if it were born of grief, would be understandable. But the kind of seriousness which drags man down to the earth and kills the life of the spirit is not the child of sorrow but of a sort of playacting in which the player is deceived into identifying himself with his part. There is a seriousness in the play of children, but even this is different, for the child is aware that it is only playing and its seriousness is an indirect form of fun. But this seriousness becomes a vice in the adult, because he makes a religion of the game, so identifying himself with his part or position in life that he fears to lose it. This is especially so when the unenlightened man attains to any degree of responsibility; he develops a heaviness of touch, a lack of abandon, a stiffness which indicates that he is using his dignity as stilts to keep his head above adversity.

Watts points out that heaviness comes with the feeling of “maya”, which means “illusion” and its concept suggests something or someone that is seen falsely, not for what it is. It also presents a thin line between the truth and the lie.

He writes: 

His trouble is that instead of playing his part, his part plays him and makes him the laughingstock of all who see through his guise. The message of the Eastern wisdom is that the forms of life are maya and therefore profoundly lacking in seriousness from the viewpoint of reality. For the world of form and illusion which the majority take to be the real world is none other than the play of the Spirit, or, as the Hindus have called it, the Dance of Shiva. He is enlightened who joins in this play knowing it as play, for man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun. Thus man only becomes man when he loses the gods’ sense of levity. For the gods (or buddhas, or what you will) are simply our own innermost essence, and this could shatter the universe to nothingness in a moment if it willed. But it does not, and it keeps the worlds moving for the divine purpose of play, because, like a musician, it is a creator and delights in the fashioning of a rhythm and a melody. To play with it is therefore not a duty but a joy, and he who does not see it as a joy can neither do it nor understand it.

However, living a life in a certain way is a choice that every human is allowed to take. There are always options. You can seek lightness, or you can carry heaviness on your shoulders. Watts observes that basically every fundamental principle of life can be expressed in two opposite ways. According to the philosopher, there those people, who states that in order to attain happiness and wisdom we stay still and calm. And those, who say we must let go and move on without regrets, with courage and bravery. Which concept is the right one? Both. Because no matter how slow or fast, how heavy or light you move through life, it is still you who are making those movements and choices.

The former are as those who listen to music, letting the flow of notes pass through their minds without trying either to arrest them or to speed them on. […] The latter are as those who dance to music, keeping pace with its movement and letting their limbs flow with it as unceasingly and as unhesitatingly as clouds respond to the breath of wind. […] Both points of view, however, are true, for to attain that highest wisdom we must at once walk on and remain still. Consider life as a revolving wheel set upright with man walking on its tire. As he walks, the wheel is revolving toward him beneath his feet, and if he is not to be carried backward by it and flung to the ground he must walk at the same speed as the wheel turns. If he exceeds that speed, he will topple forward and slip off the wheel onto his face. For at every moment we stand, as it were, on the top of a wheel; immediately we try to cling to that moment, to that particular point of the wheel, it is no longer at the top and we are off our balance. Thus by not trying to seize the moment, we keep it, for the second we fail to walk on we cease to remain still. Yet within this there is a still deeper truth. From the standpoint of eternity we never can and never do leave the top of the wheel, for if a circle is set in infinite space it has neither top nor bottom. Wherever you stand is the top, and it revolves only because you are pushing it round with your own feet.

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