I had always thought of life as a journey. It seems that I need to challenge that paradigm, after listening to Alan Watts
Existence in the physical universe, is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn't going anywhere, that is to say, it doesn't have some destination that it ought to arrive at. But, it is best understood by analogy with music. Because music, as an art form, is essentially playful. We say you play the piano. You don't work the piano. Why? Music differs from, say, travel. When you travel, you are trying to get somewhere. One doesn't make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. Same when dancing - you don't aim at a particular spot in the room, that's where you should arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance!
We thought of life by analogy with a journey with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe Heaven after you're dead. But, we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played.
It made me think deeper. I get his point about the whole point of dancing is to dance, not to get to a particular spot in the room. When I meant life is a journey, I was alluding to those famous lines "It's the journey that matters, not the destination." So that's common ground.
But what's more interesting and paradigm-shifting for me is his first line, where he said existence is basically playful. There's no necessity for it, there's no going anywhere to a destination to start with. That's where my narrative for life as a journey fails. Because even if it's all about the process, the experience, the journey that matters, not the destination, there's still a destination in the end. There's still a sense that we are going somewhere, or have to go somewhere, even if we can stop and smell the flowers, or do detours, etc. The whole frame of mind about life is boxed within point A to point B, and that we have a mission to complete. His premise is, there was never any mission to start with. Just play and dance in the broadest sense of the word, using the life that we are given. We can make things up as we go, create meaning, signal purpose, and generate impact, but let's not fool ourselves that any of those things were ever inherent in the nature of why we exist.
Sometimes people get uncomfortable when they hear things like that, objecting to the nihilism, the life-denying pessimism. But I feel this is hardly pessimistic. It's counter-intuitive, but I feel it in fact opens us up to more possibilities in life, to greater optimism, yet tempered by a grounded, humbling sense of reality. Why? Because we no longer have to feel constrained by a mission, or any mission, or your mission, or someone else's mission. This mission can be from anywhere - parents, culture, society, religion, philosophy, yourself. We can play any mission, dance to whatever we want. That to me is optimistic. And then after we are done, we can shake it off, go on to the next mission, or to nothing at all. At the end of the day, life needs no mission from you, no work expected to be done. That's very humbling, because that immediately cancels out any illusion of self-importance.
In the end, it's all just boundless life unfolding and experiencing itself, playfully. I don't quite completely understand this myself either, but Alan Watts had created a little peek into the window of existence. A window that I will frequently come back to, for sure.