Live in the present before making plans for the future

Live in the present before making plans for the future

“..making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.”

Alan Watts

My life is structured in what is often a seamless blend, so when someone asks me “what do you do?” and they are really asking “what is your job”, whatever answer I give tends to bemuse them. You see, I’m not playing the game of work, life IS the work, to me it is all in flow. Work, life, business, personal. It is all interwoven.

As an example, yesterday I had a sparkling conversation with Steve Chapman, partially captured in “The Power of Not Knowing“, then a meeting around a group I am a volunteer member of representing the Cayman Islands in London. I then went back to my home office for a video call to a client in California, a call that truly crackled and sparkled with energy and through which I wove some thoughts and ideas from meetings earlier that day and also in recent days. In other words, it all flows. As Alan Watts would say, it is all play.

Today, then, I’ll share a talk from the late Alan Watts, who Steve reminded me of when we chatted. Whenever I wish to look to understand what life is all about, Alan Watts is a frequent reference.

I’ve written previously about Alan Watts, sharing a talk and video from him in “Writing I love – Alan Watts and the meaning of life“, the essence of which was captured in this passage (full transcript in that earlier post):

..Look at the people who live to retire; to put those savings away. And then when they’re 65 they don’t have any energy left. They’re more or less impotent. And they go and rot in some, old peoples, senior citizens community. Because we simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line.

If we thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at 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.

Alan Watts

What Alan Watts said was always worth listening to, and please listen rather than read, his voice and way of speaking is indescribably beautiful.

Today I share another Alan Watts talk, with you, again first a video then a transcript. Again the closing passage is a crescendo of powerful meaning:

“making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.”

Playing the Game of Life

We have an absolutely extraordinary attitude in our culture, and in various other cultures, high civilizations, to the new member of human society. Instead of saying frankly to children, “How do you do? Welcome to the human race!” we are playing a game and we are playing by the following rules: we want to tell you what the rules are so that you know your way around, and when you understood what rules we are playing by, when you get older, you may be able to invent better ones.

But instead of that, we still retain an attitude to the child that he is on probation; he is not really a human being, he is a candidate for humanity. And in just this way, we have a whole system of preparation of the child for life which always is preparation and never actually gets there. In other words, we have a system of schooling which starts with grades. And we get it always preparing for something that’s going to happen.

So you go into nursery school as preparation for kindergarten. You are going to kindergarten for preparation for first grade and then you go up the grades ’til you get to high school, and then comes a time when maybe if we can get you fascinated enough with this system, you go to college. And then when you go to college, if you are smart, you get in the graduate school and stay a perpetual student and go back to be a professor and just go round and round in the system.

But in the ordinary way, they do not encourage quite that, they want you, after graduate school or after graduation, commencement as it’s called, beginning to get out into the world with a capital W. And so you know, you’ve been trained for this and now you’ve arrived. But when you get out into the world, at your first sales meeting, they’ve got the same thing going again, because they want you to make that quota and if you do make it, they give a higher quota.

And come along about 45 years of age, maybe you are a Vice President. And it suddenly dawns on you that you’ve arrived with a certain sense of having been cheated, because it is just the same life as it always felt. And you are conditioned to be in desperate need of a future. So the final goal that this culture prepares for us is called retirement – when you will be a senior citizen and you will have the wealth and the leisure to do what you always wanted, but you will at the same time impotence, rotten prostate and false teeth and no energy. So the whole thing from beginning to end is a hoax.

You are involved by and large in a very strange business system which divides your day into work and play. Work is something that everybody does and you get paid to do it because nobody could care less about doing it. In other words, it is so abominable and boring that you can get paid for doing it. And the object of doing this is to make money. And the object of making money, is to go home and enjoy the money that you’ve made. When you got it, you see, “you can buy pleasure.”

And in myriads of ways, you see, you go home, you are with the wealthiest people in the world and you would think that having earned your money and go home, you will have an orgy and great banquet and so on, but nobody does. They eat TV dinner which is just a warmed over airline food and then they spend the evening looking at an electronic reproduction of life which is divided from you by a glass screen. You can’t touch it, you can’t smell it, it has no color, except maybe for very wealthy it has color. But by and large, it doesn’t. And you look at this thing and you have a strange feeling, you see, that the whole procession of grades that was leading to something in the future, to that goody, that gorgeous voluptuous goody that was lying at the end of the line never quite turns up.

And this is because from the beginning, we condition our children to a defective sense of identity. We condition the child in a way that sets the child a life problem which is insoluble. And therefore attended by constant frustration, and as a result of this problem being insoluble, it is perpetually postponed to the future. So that one lives, one is educated to live in the future and one is not ever educated to live today.

Now I am not saying that, you know, the philosophy of carpe diem, “Let us drink today, for tomorrow we die” and not make any plans. What I am saying is that making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.


Also published on Medium.