Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

You Play the Piano

--by Alan Watts (Feb 20, 2017)

The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at. 

But it is best understood by analogy with music, because music, as an art form is essentially playful. We say, “You play the piano.” You don’t work the piano.

Why? Music differs from, say, travel. When you travel, you are trying to get somewhere. In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crackling chord… because that’s the end!

Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.

But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our conduct. We have a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, “Come on kitty, kitty.” And you go to kindergarten and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade. Then, “Come on” first grade leads to second grade and so on. And then you get out of grade school and you got high school. It’s revving up, the thing is coming, then you’re going to go to college… Then you’ve got graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school you go out to join the world.

Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And they’ve got that quota to make, and you’re gonna make that. And all the time that thing is coming – It’s coming, it’s coming, that great thing. The success you’re working for.

Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, “My God, I’ve arrived. I’m there.” And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt.

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.

Because 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.

by Alan Watts, a British philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

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Previous Reflections:

On Feb 17, 2017 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

oh my yes! Enjoy the journey each day even with the smallest actions or words or dance or song or story. Today I needed this reminder. it's been an intense work week preparing to present at MIT and I got caught up in the feeling of pressure. I live in Washington DC an intense city with many intense people who have a challenge relaxing. Well, I have learned that life is a musical... we can choose to enjoy a bit of song, dance, and music or we can get bogged down in a storyline. <3 Today I just booked a massage over lunch. Last night was enjoying sacred songs in the cathedral, and Wednesday was 600 people drumming in the cathedral. All for JOY and to live the journey. Valentine's Day I dressed in the pink heart onesie I sewed myself (it's far from perfect, but it's warm and fun) and I took my Free Hugs sign and walked down to the Columbia Heights metro stop and I just offered hugs. It turned the day around for me too. I've been doing Free Hugs since 2008 and V Day is now one of my fave days to share hugs and love. Yes, here's to enjoying the journey because it may be the only one we receive. Hugs from my heart to yours! Kristin 

On Feb 17, 2017 Rajesh wrote:

This is a beautiful passage. Humorous and yet pointing out deep truths at the same time. That we "play the piano" and not "work the piano" is such a wonderful point. Indeed, to be a good "player" in daily living is such a hard thing. Ironic but true! Points to the fact that perhaps what is needed is Unlearning of patterns. As we unlearn, play comes naturally.  

On Feb 17, 2017 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 Living is an art like music and dance. The art of living fully in the moment is the way of living.When our mind is occupied by the future we  miss the existential unfolding beauty and joy of the present moment. A mind that is present enjoys the present of presence. The mind that is absent misses the present of presence. When we are fully engaged and absorbed in the present, we are in the flow, in the being zone. 

I have been practicing mindfulness, the art of being fully present, attending to what is happening inside and outside without being hijacked by the past or the future. It has been a great blessing to me. This way of living is enriching my life personally and relationally.I have been able to appreciate the gifts coming from nature and people,  feeling my heart with gratitude.

I am 91 years old and I am accepting my aging mindfully and gracefully. If I compare myself with the past, I am sure I will make myself impoverished and miserable. If I worry about the future, I am going to reject, diminish or even destroy the  gifts of the present. I have realized the wisdom of living in the here and now. When I step out of the flow of the river, I miss the water of living and get thirsty.When I wake up from my illusion, I quickly get connected with the flow of life which is beyond space and time. I love Deepak Chopra's book "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind".

May we learn and practice the art of living life fully and share our gifts with others!


Jagdish P Dave

On Feb 19, 2017 david doane wrote:

The best and happiest of living is like playing music in a way that is enjoying each note, not playing to get to the end of the piece.  I suppose improvisational music or jamming is the ultimate playing music to enjoy the process of playing.  I remember a book called Finite and Infinite Games, out of which I got that it's important to live life as an infinite game played for the joy of playing, not a finite game played to win.  Life is an infinite game, at least for most creatures except for us screwed up humans.  As an experiential psychotherapist, I have opportunities every day to experience time with others as playing music, responding to what is happening as it happens, being spontaneous, focusing on process and not outcome, operating out of my guts as well as and sometimes more than out of my head.  What helps me avoid living a deferred life plan for future success and enjoy the music is my knowing that happiness is in the way of living, learning to keep process ahead of progress or product, and knowing that life is what happens in between plans.  My happiest times are times I play life rather than work life.

On Feb 21, 2017 Annette wrote:

 Thank you for your post as it was what I needed to read at this time in my life.  I have recently gotten involved in a new relationship with a delightfully enlightened man and find it hard to get used to the idea that he finds me so beautiful.  I'm turning 60 in a few months and have been mourning the way that I used to look just 20 yrs ago, but aware that should I live to be in my 80s and beyond, I may be looking back at how I looked at 60 and finding myself beautiful 'then'.  But with age comes wisdom (it's obvious in your post) and I'm thinking by then it won't matter how I look and will actually find how I look then as a different kind of beauty.  Intellectually I realize that looks really don't matter, so whatever longing I have for my past looks is superficial and doesn't offer me anything positive.  Your post has been a real eye-opener and for that I am grateful. 

On Feb 21, 2017 Mary Burcher wrote:

 as an addition to the concept of "working the piano", a guitar instructor I had once told us never to say we were "practicing" the guitar; instead we were "playing" the guitar anytime we picked it up and plucked a string. A paradigm shift that allows me to be content with whatever I produce.

On Feb 21, 2017 Koriander wrote:

 At 59 yrs. old, I am sometimes faced with the fact that I'm not a "professional".  I not a "this" or a "that".  When I was a kid and people would ask me "What do you want to be when you grow up?", my typical answers were, "A renaissance woman" or "A Jack-of-All-Trades"  (We didn't have Jills-of-all-Trades back then!).  I held to that commitment throughout life; playing many different melodies, dancing different movements.  I see many people in my age group, and even much younger, are doing this thing that Alan writes of.  They are running for the end of something, thinking THEN they will be contented, successful, happy, loved, etc. They imagine that, when they retire, they will have another 20 vital years to do everything they've put off!  Sometimes they are aware that they've bought into something, a career, job, relationship, ideology, that has turned them into a slave.  But they no longer have the resiliency to break out.  They've allowed that creative capacity: to play instead of work, to dance instead of drive, to atrophy.  So they find their "fixes" in order to tolerate the grief of being dead while still living.  Life isn't a linear thing.  Life is spherical.  It expands in all directions.  Our capacity to reinvent ourselves is the result of practicing with letting go of getting anywhere, letting the mind serve the heart, and approaching things with child-like curiosity. 

On Feb 21, 2017 Elizabeth Russell wrote:

 Wow, a person after my own heart! I too am a Renaissance person with many interests, talents, and directions. I am so glad to hear I am not alone. I have felt alone in the past, and suffered from feeling like a "dilletante". Barbara Sher's book, Refuse to Choose, was really helpful. I so appreciate your point of view. Following my interest has been a way to enter deeply into life. Enjoy learning, exploring, discovering.

Thank you! I wish we could talk! 

On Feb 22, 2017 Ranjeet Deshmukh wrote:

 What an Extra Ordinary Message brought up by NIPUN. I wish every living human should get the message. Awesome and liberating at the same time. Now that it is known to me...the fall out is ......I am going to work at office is changed to I am going to office to work in rhythm with other colleagues and  need of the job at hand......The end of becoming is fallen down and I stay afloat on the wave of time.....Thanks - NIPUN once again for marvelous contribution to society...

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