Should You Read ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ by Alan Watts?

Should You Read ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ by Alan Watts?

Pia Sharma

The British philosopher and author Alan Watts was born in 1915 and died in 1973. Watts studied and practiced Eastern philosophy and religion. His works fall under the categories of religion, theology, philosophy, and divinity. The title, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ might mislead readers into thinking the term ‘insecurity’ refers to one’s insecurity with their physical or individual attributes. However, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ addresses the inevitable, broader sense of insecurity humans have with their own existence. 

Alan Watts explains how life is not a problem to be solved but something to be experienced. Those who spend their lives planning for the future, reliving the past, and searching for a purpose or a reason why their existence is significant isn’t living but instead an attempt to ‘fix’ something that is ‘flux’. Throughout the book, which happens to be incredibly and comprehensively descriptive and well-worded, Watts is able to lead readers down a trail of understanding where the reader is forced to draw the conclusion that the present moment is the only concept of time that truly exists while the future is a mere abstraction; a concept that is almost as unaccessible as that of the past.

Once the reader acknowledges that the present moment is the only reality one can become familiar with, Watts then begins to discuss the separation of the self and ego. The ego can be associated with one’s identity and characteristics and restricts the spiritual self-realization that life is infinite. The majority of people live their lives convincing themselves and others that they are their egos and nothing more. According to Watts, this couldn’t be farther from the truth because every living being at their core cannot be defined, or even explained, by the conventional use of modern language. The misconception surrounding acquiring a permanent identity is that because people are not separate from the universe and instead synonymous with it, attempting to ‘define’ themselves is to separate oneself from their own existence. People often believe that one’s identity is fixed which contradicts the notion that if one wants to be secure, meaning, “protected from the flux of life” they are wishing to be separate from it. In other words, the ego wants to remain fixed which opposes the flux of life and the universe. To wish for immortality, or to understand the purpose of life, or to have a clear unchanging identity is to wish for the separation of the self and the universe when the separation of such is quite literally impossible. 

One way Watts describes the perpetuation of the ‘ego’ is through our use of language. Using a name to identify our existence aims to fix our identity in the same way that using idols and religious texts to define God in the most literal sense is counterproductive. The reason that religious texts are limiting (rather than freeing) to the way people perceive the security of our existence is because words are only sounds created by man to symbolize an eternal truth. Interpreting words as concrete instead of a means of conventional communication is not having faith in what is God but instead closing one’s mind to everything but one’s own belief. Every physical representation we have of God is only a symbol for a divine being or force that we cannot comprehend and, therefore, there is no point in trying to decipher or decode the insolvable mystery of life because doing so is not living but instead it is wishing the present away.

Watts eventually reaches the conclusion that only the present exists and looking for a purpose outside of one’s own free will and desires is purposeless. Watts teaches his readers a lesson pertaining to optimistic nihilism which one can integrate in their perception of life and how there is only significance in what we give value to. Personally I believe everyone should read Watts once in their life becuase his texts change the way one might look at, perceive, or live their life. Watts actually credits eastern religion, specifically Asian and Indian religions, instead of whitewashing their fundamental principles and labeling it ‘spirituality’. One can gain so much insight from his texts which are all fairly short, another similar option of his writing might be ‘The Book’ by Alan Watts which addresses similar concepts, and I highly recommend reading his work but only to those who can keep an open mind.