The Human Game

The Human Game (Alan Watts)

“Now existence you see is something that is spontaneous, the Chinese word for nature (Tian ran), means that which happens of itself. Your hair grows by itself. Your heart beats by itself. You breathe pretty much by itself. Your glands secrete their essences by themselves. You don’t have voluntary control over these things, so we say it happens spontaneously. So when you go to sleep and you try to go to sleep, you interfere with the spontaneous process of going to sleep. Try to breathe, you know, real hard and you find you get balled up in your breathing.

So if you go to be human, you just have to trust yourself to have bowel movements, go to sleep, and digest your food; of course if something goes seriously wrong and you need a surgeon that’s another matter. But by and large, the healthy human being doesn’t right from the start of life need surgical interference. And he lets it happen by itself. And so with the whole picture that is fundamental, you have got to let go and let it happen. Because if you don’t, you’re going to be all clutched up. You’re going to be constantly trying to do what can happen healthily only if you don’t try. But we have a strange anxiety in us; that if we don’t interfere than it won’t happen. Now that’s the root of an enormous amount of trouble.

The basis of it all is this then. If we say you must survive, or I must survive, life is earnest and I’ve got to go on. Then your life is a drag and not a game. Now it’s my contention and my personal opinion (this is my basic metaphysical axiom, shall we put it that way) that existence, 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.

So then, in music though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition – the point of the composition. If that was so the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord, because that’s the end. Say when dancing, you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room – that’s the where you should arrive; the whole point of the dancing is the dance. But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct. We’ve got a system of schooling which gives us a completely different impression.

It’s all graded and what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of – come on kiddie, kiddie, kiddie. And now you go to kindergarten and that a great thing because once you finish that you get into first grade. And then come on first grade leads to second grade, and so on. And then you get out of grade school and you go to high school, and its revving up – the thing is coming. Then you’ve got to college, and then maybe grad school. And when you’re through with graduate school you go out and join the world. Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And then you have that quota to make, and you’re going to make that. And all the time the thing is coming, it’s coming; that thing, the great success you’re working for. Then when you wake up one day when your about forty years old, you say “my god, I’ve arrived.” I’m there! And you don’t feel very different than what you’ve always feel. And there’s a slight let down because you feel there is a hoax. And there was a hoax – a dreadful hoax. They have made you miss everything; by expectation. Look at the people who live to retire and put those savings away. And then when they’re 65 they don’t have any energy left. They are more or less impotent and they go and rot in an old people’s senior citizens community; and because we’ve simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line. Because 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 your dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing and to dance while the music was being played. But you had to do that thing, you didn’t let it happen.

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Alan Watts

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