For many of us, the world feels like an insecure place. We don’t know what will happen next and we’re concerned. Yet, isn’t this always true of life? We never know for sure what’s ahead. So, how do we live wisely with this insecurity?
One of the books that meant the most to me last year was a classic by the philosopher Alan Watts – The Wisdom of Insecurity. The summary of the book on Amazon begins with the following line (remember that this book was written in 1951): “We live in an age of unprecedented anxiety.” So, this is something that is not new!
Below are some of my favourite quotes from the book, along with ideas as to how we can apply them now.
1. Stay Grounded
There is, then, the feeling that we live in a time of unusual insecurity. In the past hundred years so many long established traditions have broken down — traditions of family and social life, of government, of the economic order, and of religious belief. As the years go by, there seem to be fewer and fewer rocks to which we can hold, fewer things which we can regard as absolutely right and true, and fixed for all time.
Which rocks do you hold on to? What is absolutely right and true for you? Think values, not beliefs. Always go back to your center, no matter what’s happening.
2. Embrace Change
“Because life is likewise a flowing process, change and death are its necessary parts. To work for their exclusion is to work against life.”
Change and death are an integral part of life. Life is meaningless without them. Death feeds life. That truth doesn’t make it any easier, but does make it futile to resist.
“For the perishability and changefulness of the world is part and parcel of its liveliness and loveliness. This is why the poets are so often at their best when speaking of change, of “the transitoriness of human life.” For the poets have seen the truth that life, change, movement, and insecurity are so many names for the same thing.”
Create art, whether through photography, writing, poetry, cooking, or how you live your life. We need artists more than ever.
3. Remember, There is Only Now
If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.
Are you living in the real world? Notice for a day how much you are in your head, reviewing the past or worrying about the future. I know I catch myself doing this a lot. Find your happiness here and now. Instagram is a hotbed for this kind of thinking. Julie Lyons and Julie Darling are doing a project where they’re reporting on what’s good in their world. Search on the hashtag #wechoosegood2017.
“How are we to find security and peace of mind in a world whose very nature is insecurity, impermanence, and unceasing change? We need more light. Light, here, means awareness — to be aware of life, of experience as it is at this moment, without any judgments or ideas about it. In other words, you have to see and feel what you are experiencing as it is and not as it is named. This very simple “opening of the eyes” brings about the most extraordinary transformation of understanding and living, and shows that many of our most baffling problems are pure illusion.”
This is why I write about adventures in seeing. Our cameras can help us lead the way in experiencing life as it is and in following the light. After all, photography means “writing with light.”
Karen Walrond is starting a Making Light project, where she’s inviting others to share their stories on how they or someone else is choosing to make light. Search the hashtag #makelight on Instagram.
4. Join the Dance
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
You are living at this time and in your place for a reason. What is this time asking of you?
“The proper meaning of “theory” is not idle speculation but vision, and it was rightly said that where there is no vision the people perish. But vision in this sense does not mean dreams and ideals for the future. It means understanding of life as it is, of what we are, and what we are doing.
Photographer Ed Burtynsky demonstrates this idea beautifully. Recently, I watched his documentary Manufactured Landscapes, in which he attempts to understand the scale of consumption and waste in the world and how we got to this place. He makes no judgments, just presents the reality of the situation, allowing us to expand our view.
“Manufactured Landscapes extends the narrative streams of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our profound impact on the planet and witness both the epicentres of industrial endeavour and the dumping grounds of its waste. What makes the photographs so powerful is his refusal in them to be didactic. We are all implicated here, they tell us: there are no easy answers. The film continues this approach of presenting complexity, without trying to reach simplistic judgements or reductive resolutions. In the process, it tries to shift our consciousness about the world and the way we live in it.”
Start by understanding life as it is. By responding to what is happening now, we will create the future.
This week, I read these words by a modern-day philosopher, Stephen Jenkinson:
“In a time like this, contemplation tethered to the troubled world is courageous. Contemplative sorrow: that’s the kind that is willing to learn the trouble of its time in a way that principled anxiety is not. Trade faith and hope for a stranger love of life, one that befriends the darkening sky by learning it. Consequence, after all, is the true companion of grown ups.”
A clarion call for all of us.