Alan Watts Explained: “Living in the Moment vs. Remembering to Remember
Some say not to dwell on the past and others say to honor the past and the memories associated with it. I have noticed these contrasts in various philosophies and Alan Watts has also picked up on them.
The New Age philosopher Alan Watts was known for pointing out different philosophical views, but usually tried not to make any definite statements about what exactly to think or do. And this is reflected in this example as well. Watts points out, but does not judge.
Here is the video, the excerpt of the said talk by Alan Watts on this topic. I recommend you watch it before we get into exactly what he meant by it (if you don't understand English just skip the video):
Explanation of this talk
"Beyond that, we were absolutely fascinated by the principle of remembering. So when we say to a gathering of people, 'I loved you: „This is a great day, what a wonderful picnic or whatever we do. Too bad no one brought a camera. That should have been photographed.„“
Alan Watts describes here a trend that he observed during his lifetime. Considering that this was more than 50 years ago, it is interesting that this trend is still being noticed. Today it is much more present due to the possibility of taking virtually unlimited amounts of images.
There is even a Studywhich proves that taking photographs reduces our ability to actually experience events. This phenomenon is called the "photo-taking-impairment effect".
„See now, there's both a win and a loss in this whole thing. Some say it should be photographed. The others say it should be let go.„
Here Watts introduces the two perspectives, pointing to a duality - as found in all things.
„When you walk around - we experienced this so much in Japan because all of our students brought cameras and we were constantly taking pictures of things, and I had a camera and I was constantly taking pictures of things, but I felt that as long as I had a camera with me, I was kind of distracted from reality. I had a little box that I used to capture life.„
This description shows Watts' curiosity and willingness to be playful, but also his self-reflection.
„Of course, it was great to come back and look at it in terms of photographs, but there's something about the photograph that's inferior to the actual experience you're photographing. But there's a great fascination with photography, with painting, with reproducing. And reproducing is the same as sexuality. It's reproduction, just in a different way. Because it shows you that you are there. You are alive. The thing reverberates. It reverberates.„
This concept is a more abstract but very apt way of explaining what actions like taking photographs do at the level of our consciousness.
"The duplicity in all of this is that one school of religious people says, "Let go of everything. Don't hold on to it," in other words. And they also say, "Live in the moment." Like Krishnamurti's teaching „Stop trying to remember everything.„ You may need some kind of factual memory for your name and address and a phone number and things like that, but don't hold on to memories and guard them and say: „I will keep my friend's lock of hair and take it out once in a while to look at it and feel wonderful„. That's how you cling to life, because that memory holds you captive. It holds you to the past. And it holds you to death."
Jiddu Krishnamurti was a philosopher, orator, and writer, and Watts refers to his teachings in this passage. In particular, the danger that focusing on the past can pose when practiced in an exaggerated manner.
"But then there's the other school of thought, you know. Quite the opposite of this one, which says: „Remember to remember. Keep everything in mind. Engage yourself. Keep your girlfriend's hair. Keep all the photos.„„
These lines are in contrast to the previously mentioned idea of living only in the moment. They show that there are also opinions among people to honor the past and memories. What to practice is not directly answered, but Alan Watt's general teachings and philosophical positioning give a rough idea, which we will now look at.
Own thoughts about this talk
Based on the fact that Watts often spoke of the need for contrasts, one could argue that both perspectives are correct. What sounds like a washed-up "everyone's a winner" phrase often used to appease everyone is actually a very interesting way of perceiving these two things.
As with pretty much everything, there is a duality of either getting rid of the past or remembering it. It takes both. Just as light implies darkness, self implies other, and life implies death (or should I say death implies life, as Alan Watts said?).
This would mean that both are very much needed and suggests that we take a neutral stance, a non-dualistic view. If we manage to see both for what they are (perspectives), we can take advantage of both.
If you want to learn more about the importance of Alan Watts' Talks, these are two articles for you that you might enjoy:
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