The Point of Life According to a Writer and Martial Artist

I don’t understand the point of life. I don’t think any of us really have. 

Whether our conclusions are based on what our parents, our great grandparents, our peers, our teachers, our government, our ancestors or our ancient ancestors have told us, it still comes down to an opinion…sprinkled with some cold-hard scientific research.

The more I observe life, the more I notice that people tend to use it as a means to “get somewhere.”

But where are we going exactly? One could think of it as “survival of the modern age” where “fittest” means one is adept at taking advantage of everything in order to live a meaningful life.

It’s a constant climb to the top, but when you reach the top, there’s just another valley to chase, and another mountain to climb. So what’s the point?

 A Musical Thing

There’s this long quote by a philosopher named Alan Watts. He is largely credited with bringing Eastern Ideology to West, particularly Zen Buddhism. And here’s what he has to say about life as it relates to music. 

In music, 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 wrote only finales. People would go to concerts just to hear one crashing chord — because that’s the end!

But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our everyday conduct.

We’ve got a system of schooling that gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is we put the child into the corridor of this grade system, with a kind of, “Come on kitty kitty kitty!” and now you go to kindergarten, you know, and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you’ll get into first grade. And then — Come on! — first grade leads to second grade, and so on, and then you get out of grade school. You go to high school and it’s revving up — The thing is coming! — then you’re gonna go to college, and by jove, then you get into graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school you go out and 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 “the thing” is coming — It’s coming, it’s coming! — that great thing: the success you’re working for.

Then when you wake up one day, about 40 years old, you say, “My God, I’ve arrived! I’m there!” And you don’t feel very different from what you always felt. There’s a slight let down because you feel there was a hoax.

And there was a hoax.

dreadful hoax.

They made you miss everything.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to 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 dance, while the music was being played.” 

Alan Watts

No End in Sight

In martial arts, the point isn’t the belt test. The point isn’t to go from one rank to the next. Your rank doesn’t necessary determine your skill level, because there are many other factors at play. Martial arts is a journey with no end in sight. Getting rid of the “end” altogether can allow growth the continue indefinitely, because—as we all come to understand—there is always something new to learn.

The point isn’t to become “10th Dan Black Belt” because then you’ve missed the music. You forgot to meditate in the present moment, to apply it to your daily life, the practical application, and being a part of the community that surrounds you. You’ve missed all the hidden subtleties that aren’t a part of the test, but are a large part of the process.

Martial arts is often said to take a “lot of work.” But it‘s an art…is it not? Why work when you can play? We often work to get to the end of something, because it’s grueling and harsh to the mind and body. But play constitutes a feeling of euphoria while in its current “expanse of existence.” Meaning, we live to enjoy the moment while it lasts, and dislike when it ends

Life Promises Nothing

In writing, something similar occurs. Writers always have “an end” in mind. A set word count. A number of books to sell. A number of readers to acquire. It becomes a race to secure this “great thing.” To feel somehow ahead of everybody else. But then you’ve died, and then where’s the “great thing” you’ve been promised? It’s over, and you’ve forgotten to dance and sing. So why on earth are we to view the act of writing as work instead of play?

And if you’re thinking that only work can secure you money, then I dare ask why people in sports are called “players” and not “workers.”

We do a job to “get something done,” and then moving onto the next thing that will “hopefully” bring us peace, but I dare say writing is more than just getting a novel ”done.” After all, we don’t listen to music just to get to the end. We enjoy the process as it plays out.

Another Mountain to Climb

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals. They can help us focus, because I don’t think anyone likes to stumble blindly through a forest without a least some direction. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be another forest ahead. Another mountain to climb. It seems to go on forever. At least enjoy the sunrise, the swish of the leaves against the cool caress of wind, the feel of the loose dirt beneath your feet, and the fresh smell of pine while it rains.

Because what’s the point of life if not a long, ever-expanding sequence of notes. One that we often forget to dance to. Forget to sing to. Forget to intertwine the fabric of our being into its cosmic embrace.

And perhaps there’s no point, but to make one up. That’s up to you.

“Life is like music for its own sake. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present.”

Alan Watts

Enjoy the process, not just the destination, my friends. 

Alan Watts Transcript found at: https://joshallan.com/2012/12/10/life-and-music-by-alan-watts-with-transcript/

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