“We say of something that is useless that it has no future. That’s the most awful thing you can say about it. I would rather say of something that’s not good – it has no present, not that it has no future.” -Alan Watts*
Upon a friendly recommendation from too long ago to remember exactly when and who recommended it, I finally got around to putting some lectures by Alan Watts into the rotation of my studio working noise. I usually listen to various playlists of music on Spotify, but sometimes I find music leaves too much room for my thoughts to wander about and wreak havoc (on my self esteem, my plans, etc.). Therefore, when I find my mind wandering off from music into dangerously anxious territory, I turn to spoken philosophy. In the past, I have found the words of Mooji to be quite meditative.
However, today I set up my painting supplies in a spot in the house that would allow for the most natural light (the closest I could really come to working out in nature without actually working out in nature, since I don’t believe the temperature ever rose above forty degrees today). As I prepared to begin a full painting based upon one of the watercolor marker studies I did while we visited California (see sketchbook), I decided it was the right time to turn on Alan Watts.
Let me give you a little back story – or, a lot, perhaps – we’ll see how verbose I am feeling today as I write this. Living with depression is not a new phenomenon to me. I have dealt with it as much of my life as I can remember. I am not stranger to certain mental illness. An unfortunate partner to this disorder is a fine-tuned ability to use self-deprecating language and mindsets in my inner monologue. This negative self-talk has woven its way so seamlessly into my conscious thought that it can’t even really be considered “conscious thought” anymore – every interaction, every task, every project is met with an internal barrage of fear, self-loathing, putdowns, etc.
So when I heard Alan Watts make the above statement about how awful it is to say that one has no future, I immediately turned this thought inward. I have been ruminating an awful lot lately on how to break free of this extra-depressive slump I seem to be wading through; how to use the knowledge of what it is that’s weighing me down to conversely bring me back up. So this thought struck me deeply – saying that something has no future…doesn’t that sound an awful lot like the way I talk to myself? Or, in so many words, anyways?
For instance, there are some profoundly unhappy variables that are within my control in my life right now that I am working to change. But when I start to think about exactly what steps it will take to change these variables, I start to self-berate: I’m never going to change. I’m never going to get better. It’s always going to be awful.
What if Alan’s right? (And spoiler: he is one hundred per cent right). What if, in this grossly negative line of thinking am I not only erasing my present potential, but my future potential as well? How is it that my self-deprecating mindset has so far permeated my subconscious thought that not only do I mentally put a stop to any hope for improvement upon my present situation but also my future situation?
Honestly, I can say that without a doubt, the way these thoughts struck me today absolutely marked a turning point in my attitude about my work and myself more generally. I know that changing the habits of negative self-talk is not a one-time challenge to be conquered – it’s an ongoing process of continually re-shaping bad thought habits. But even though the hard work is not done, it actually gives me comfort to know that it will never truly be done. If anything was that easy, would it even be worth doing?
And that is the thought that motivated me today.
*from the lecture entitled “Pursuit of Pleasure” by Alan Watts on Soundcloud