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Does Life Have a Purpose? And Is It Serious? - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Jun 30

"This is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."

Alan Watts

Short 14-minute video featuring a "performance" by philosopher, activist, wise man, and ecological pioneer Alan Watts, titled ‘The Benefit of Living With No Purpose’. Hilarious and highly recommended! Enjoy!

Dear readers and followers of A Biosphere Project,

Every time we become a little more aware of what is going on in the world, and we let our defenses down a little, in order to open our hearts and feel more connected to the world, a danger lurks around the corner: that we become very serious, and feel the weight of the world resting on our shoulders. We start to experience the pain of the world more, and we may even lose hope that the world will ever  be okay in the end.

If we embark on trying to save the world or hope to improve it, that can become a terribly serious business. And that seriousness can also become a problem and tempt us to focus only on the misery and problems and prevent us from enjoying life and continuing to play and see the real opportunities that are right in front of our noses. Too much seriousness is never any good, even in light of the convergence of crises, the "meta-crisis" we are going through.

Too much purpose can also become a problem: then we can do terrible damage while trying terribly hard to do good. From time to time we need to remind ourselves that "the situation is hopeless, but not serious," as the title of the 1965 comedy war movie starring Alec Guiness suggests. Too much seriousness is unwarranted, even when the situation seems terrible.

A great example of humor in times of catastrophe, is the sign that some shopkeepers in London at the beginning of WWII hung on the broken window of their badly damaged stores during the ‘Blitz’: "More open than usual”. Or another sign on the window of a pub that announced, "in case of invasion we will close for half an hour.

And this during a bombing campaign in which more than 40,000 civilians including tens of thousands of women and children lost their lives. Even in the most terrible circumstances, we must not lose the ability to laugh. 

It always touches me so deeply when I see images of children playing in war zones. In Gaza, or Syria, or Congo: even in the deepest depths of hell, people, and perhaps especially children, continue to find the energy and joie de vivre to play. And while that is certainly not true of all people or children especially in war or disaster zones, there does seem to be a particularly strong instinct and urge to play in human beings, even in times of deep misery.

Alan Watts, the brilliant philosopher, ex-priest, religious scholar, ecological pioneer and author of countless works that helped introduce Eastern thought to the West, was also a great "stand-up comedian”.

He was a gifted performer, and his lectures were far too much fun to call them "lectures”. They were fantastic performances in which he could clarify complex concepts from Zen Buddhism, Taoism, or Hinduism, and render them understandable to a Western audience, in a way that laughter was never far away.

In the above audio excerpt from one of his "talks," Alan Watts explains why it is good to think of life as "purposeless”. I previously shared this excerpt in the blog post about Alan Watts, "Playing Hide and Seek with Alan Watts," in which I outlined an introduction to his life and work but had also shared seven recordings of his "performances”. I would like to warmheartily recommend all of these recordings again to you, dear readers, because Alan Watts' wisdom is not only erudite and well-reasoned, but also always laced with a heartwarming sense of humor and perspective. This recording is a 14-minute excerpt from the talk "Man and Nature," which you can also find in this blog post.

In "The Benefit of Living With No Purpose," Alan Watts explains why the idea of "purposelessness" is so valuable. In the West, we usually see purposelessness as something very negative: being without purpose literally gets you nowhere in our eyes. But in the Eastern tradition, purposelessness is a compliment: everything in nature is purposeless. In Japanese, they call it Yugen: that is watching wild geese disappear in low-hanging clouds, or watching a ship disappear behind an island in the distance, or like wandering through a large forest without thinking of getting anywhere. Just being, and experiencing, and appreciating, and enjoying what is, without trying to extract anything from it.

For Alan Watts reminds us: even music, for example, is purposeless. "If the purpose of music were to arrive at the last note, the best conductor would be the one who gets there fastest."

And, "The purpose of dancing is not to arrive at a well-defined spot on the dance floor. No, the purpose of dancing is simply to dance".

And indeed: music has no purpose, any more than dancing or playing. If you play in order to work better afterwards, you are not playing at all!

And why is there a universe? What was God's purpose in all that? In the words of Alan Watts, "Well, God created all these stars and planets and they're roughly spherical, and then He said, "have a ball!

Is it all serious?

Alan Watts asked the question in another talk called "What Is reality," which you can also listen to in my earlier blog post about him. He put it like this, with his typical sense of humor:

“(Albert) Camus said there is only really one serious philosophical question, which is whether or not to commit suicide.

I think there are four or five serious philosophical questions. 

The first one is: “who started it?”. 

The second is: “are we going to make it?” 

The third is:” where are we going to put it?” 

The fourth is: “who's going to clean up?” 

And the fifth question: “Is it serious?” 

And that's a very good question. Is it really all serious? And aren't many of the problems we as a species get ourselves into a result of the fact that we may have forgotten that it is all not so serious? What do things like possessions, power, control, and so many other concepts because of which we create terrible problems mean, in light of the eternity and endless space we are whizzing through on our little planet Earth?

Not serious is not the same as meaningless or non-committal (just as purposeless is not the same as meaningless - music may indeed be purposeless, but music is by no means meaningless). It means that the problems we see are often a result of our concepts, fears, dependencies, illusions, wishful thinking, fixations etcetera. All these are illusions in our heads actually, mental creations that we then assign a weight that they really don't need to have at all.

What if, as a daily exercise, we regularly reminded ourselves that it is all

  1. without purpose

  2. not serious.

Again: that doesn't mean it would be meaningless or pointless. On the contrary, I think the meaning of life becomes clearer when we begin to see more that it is purposeless. Because goals often keep us away from the experience itself, and so we live our lives always thinking that the meaning and purpose of everything lie in something yet to come or to be achieved, rather than experiencing what wonderful things are all present at any given moment.And then we would also play more often perhaps. And not because we could work better afterwards: that is one of the questionable fallacies in the contemporary popularity of mindfulness and yoga and the like: they are often presented as means to "increase productivity”. To recharge the batteries in order to then be able to cope better and get back in the rat race. Playing in order to work better afterwards. And that is not playing at all!

To begin with, I wish you all much listening pleasure with Alan Watts in "The Benefit of Living With No Purpose”. The animated video that After Skool has included with the audio is also fun. After Skool is a media platform for disseminating wisdom from great thinkers and visionaries, and their usually short videos, found on their YouTube channel, are usually gems. 

In their words, "A good idea is like a raindrop falling into the ocean. Most raindrops hit the surface and barely make a ripple, but some ripples gain momentum, and become waves."

Heartily recommended channel for a daily or weekly dose of life wisdom.

And on this note, I would also like to recommend all of Alan Watts' performances in the blog post "Playing Hide and Seek with Alan Watts”. They all contain wonderful wisdom for times that are "hopeless but not serious”.

Because if we want to save the world, we shouldn't take even that too seriously. For then we become fanatics, bullies, crusaders, or worse. Most wars were started by people who thought they were on a mission to improve the world. No, improving the world (or even saving it) should not become too serious a matter either.

Thanks for reading and listening, until the next episode,

All the best to you,




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