I am a huge fan of the late English philosopher Alan Watts. Of the many great teachers I have encountered, few have made such a profound impact on the way I see the world, and — on my better days — the way I try to live my life. Fewer still have provided such immense support and inspiration during the darkest periods of my retroactive jealousy.
If you are unfamiliar with Watts’ work, it can be a daunting prospect to “dive in” — YouTube videos concerning the Watts canon are legion, and during his all-too-brief life the man recorded thousands of hours of lectures, and wrote dozens of books. Therefore, I have selected here a brief excerpt from one of his TV specials, “Time and the More it Changes,” as it is among the most accessible and concise introductions to the man’s work, his metaphysics, and his spirit of being.
I found the central analogy that Watts presents here especially comforting during my struggles with retroactive jealousy. In the midst of jealous thoughts and anxiety, it can be difficult to maintain the necessary perspective. There is such enormous peace in the present moment if we can be open to it; safe and secure in the knowledge that “the wake” left by the past truly does not determine the now.
I hope you enjoy.
For a wonderful and moving article by the writer Tim Lott on his struggles with depression, and subsequent life-changing encounter with Alan Watts, see here. The article also provides a very good overview of Watts’ life and bibliography, as well as a primer on Zen:
The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps Zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our Western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. Zen, more than anything else, is about reclaiming and expanding the present moment.
It tries to have you understand, without arguing the point, that there is no purpose in getting anywhere if, when you get there, all you do is think about getting to some other future moment. Life exists in the present or nowhere at all, and if you cannot grasp that, you are simply living a fantasy.
Please understand that in sharing this material, and promoting Watts, I am in no way trying to “convert” anyone over to any spiritual path, or way of thinking (and neither was Watts). I am simply attempting to provide hope and inspiration to other sufferers of retroactive jealousy, and present some possible viewpoints on time, and our relation to it, which I have found helpful in my own struggles with retroactive jealousy. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate the present moment for all its immense worth.