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The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  13,709 ratings  ·  965 reviews
In this fascinating book, Alan Watts explores man's quest for psychological security, examining our efforts to find spiritual and intellectual certainty in the realms of religion and philosophy. The Wisdom of Insecurity underlines the importance of our search for stability in an age where human life seems particularly vulnerable and uncertain. Watts argues our insecurity i ...more
Paperback, 152 pages
Published September 12th 1968 by Vintage (first published 1951)
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Lee I read this book in my late teens and in my forties,and now again in my late sixties. I'm gaining on the bastard.
Peace…more
I read this book in my late teens and in my forties,and now again in my late sixties. I'm gaining on the bastard.
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 ·  13,709 ratings  ·  965 reviews


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Sanjay Gautam
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Any system approaching perfect self control is also approaching self frustration. Such a system is a vicious circle, and has the same logical structure as a statement which states something about itself, for example, "I am lying", when it is implied that the statement itself is a lie. The statement circulates forever, since it is true to the extent that it is false, and false to the extent that it is true. In other words: I can't throw a pebble so long as I am holding on to it- so as to maintain ...more
Brianna
Dec 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I think this book is bloody brilliant.

For the last couple of months, I've been very lost as far as my personal philosophy and religion. I used to be a Christian; I used to be an atheist; I used to be an agnostic; and then I couldn't even commit to not committing to anything. And I've been in a lot of pain, not from my philosophical and religious drifting but a medical condition beyond my control.

And then one day, on a whim, I decided to browse my local library's used bookstore and I saw this boo
...more
Fergus
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
You know, there IS a wisdom in insecurity...

Cause Insecurity can help us catch sudden glimpses of a HIDDEN side of our personas. It’s a lot like CATCHING yourself looking at your reflection in the mirror... in another nearby mirror. Spooky, isn’t it?

Maybe there’s some truth to its wisdom, the wisdom of the hidden - but I’m of two minds on that!

Because if you live in a recurring state of High Anxiety quite often (remember the HILARIOUS Mel Brooks movie?) you may not like this - but, on the other
...more
Daniel
May 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
It's funny..., I showed this book to one of my brilliant high school students and he took a look at it and called it a self-help book for people who aren't strong enough to think for themselves and read Nietzsche. (Sounds exactly like something I would have said when I was his age, how far have I fallen...)
Anywho, I wasn't sure whether or not i wanted to give this four or five stars...and I couldn't help it, not only does Alan do a great job explaining some nuggets of Zen Buddhism to the masse
...more
Tyler
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you are the type of reader that highlights the important parts, i would suggest just dipping this entire book in yellow dye. I read it in a little more than 4 hours but i could spend days talking about it. The clarity of Watts' writing amazes me. Highly recommended.
Ldrutman Drutman
Aug 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
To even attempt a review of this almost undermines the point, for Watts is writing about how definitions and descriptions always try and fail to fix what is fundamentally transient and flowing. But to attempt anyway: This is a book about living in the present moment, and it kind of messes with your mind in that great expansive sort of way. What if there really only is this present moment, unfolding forever? Watts was one of the early popularizers of zen buddhism in the west, and this book was wr ...more
Elizabeth
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011-project
Utterly disappointing. It's like listening to a reasonably intelligent person talk out loud while cleaning his navel.

Watts posits all sorts of random ideas without backing them up in any form (i.e. evidence or even further thought), and there is no clear logic to the order in which he presents these ideas. I was expecting a thought-provoking question or two to rise to the surface, so I kept at it, but in the end was left with the distinct feeling that I'd just listened to a stoner with a big ego
...more
CutFromAbove
It's unbelievable that this short book was written in 1951, foreshadowing massive amounts of today's popular "self-help" ideology. However, this makes the stunning revelations in the book less stunning than they would have been 60 years ago. There's some good work here on the layers that our minds add to the true reality, and some good metaphors to explain why those should not be important to us. But it's a bit idealistic and very difficult to apply in practice. It's a personal revelation, not a ...more
Doug Hagler
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alan Watts is an ex Episcopal priest who converted to Zen Buddhism and then to Taoism, and then sort of moved beyond both in his own way. The Wisdom of Insecurity is a book that was for me life-changing. It argues, among other things, that insecurity, indeterminacy, is the truth of existence, and that to cling to particular things as if they were eternal is to waste your time and strength. He says it far more eloquently than I can. If you are the kind of person who asks questions, this is a book ...more
Mark Bao
A number of very interesting insights, unfortunately couched in an overwhelming amount of unfounded speculation, illogical and mystical concepts, and baseless assumptions. Worth a reread at some point, in case I didn't "get it". There is some good stuff in here, and this is what I took away:

• Live in the present, because the present is essentially all there is; the past and future are mental memories that we evoke in the present.
• We have no assurance of a happy future, and if we make plans for
...more
Ken
My philosophical start to 2020 (an attempt to see clearly) continues with this, my first Watts book. The title says it all in that the odd bedfellows "wisdom" and "insecurity" are paired. Looking for answers, then, is suspect.

Although there's scant mention (though some) of Eastern philosophic thought (chiefly Hindu and Buddhist), it's clear that Watts has been there and that it informs his thinking. The first things to heave-ho are the hardest to let go: namely the past and the future. Think of
...more
Stephanni Bahr
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very simply written and accessible, yet very complex at the same time. An amazing book that I will come back to again later and he says so much more than what I am going to mention here. In this book, Watts often states the obvious. But only because it needs to be stated in order to remind the reader of what is important or to ensure it is not forgotten. Sometimes what is the most obvious is exactly what we don't see. I saw this book as a sort of manual on how to train the mind to experience or ...more
Isz
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book forever changed my life and irreversibly changed the way I look at anything and everything. Alan Watts has an ability to cut through the bullshit in human life and expose what it means to be alive: nothing.

Read it with a fresh mind, read it more than once, and remember that Watts will often sacrifice the clarity of his point for a play on words or a joke.
Mason
Oct 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Words could never do the contents of this book or the power of the author ANY justice.
Nathan
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very difficult to give a such a highly regarded book 2 stars, but I'm playing safe with Goodreads' system that 2 stars means 'It was ok'. Because if someone asked me what I thought of this book in conversation, that would be my likely response.

In many regards a book ahead of its time, and for that reason I can understand its long-standing adoration. However, from my point of view as a very pragmatic person (although willing to try and open my horizons and better myself in any which way), I strug
...more
Bruce
Dec 27, 2016 added it
Yes, I have been reading and rereading lots of Watts lately, partly the result of a felt need on my part. Watts was a pivotal figure in bringing an understanding of Zen Buddhism to the west and was conversant in religious and philosophical traditions of both East and West.

In this book he explores the reasons why so many of our religious and philosophical attempts to deal with anxiety and insecurity, epidemic to modern society, are misdirected and misguided, trying desperately to avoid and flee t
...more
Laura Noggle
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
"If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o'-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death."

Watts was amazingly prescient when he wrote this 70 years ago, it is just as relatable today. And quite the trip! Basically, being human is to be caught in a constant mental feedback loops from which there is (essentially) no escape.

“This, then, is the human problem: there is a price to be paid for every i
...more
Stephen Gallup
May 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
First read this slim volume way back in the early 70s. Picked it up one day last month thinking I could reread it during a lunch hour between depositions downtown. Wrong! Every paragraph is worth five minutes' thought. But at the same time the concepts are so basic and so fundamental to everyday life.

As I slowly proceeded, I was reminded of a great many other books from the same general time frame, including Aldous Huxley's Island and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five . However, the on
...more
Glenda
Feb 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I keep coming back over and over to this book. It helps me cope with tragedy, anxiety, and the pressures I put myself under. The simple message in this short book is one of surrender and non-duality. It is filled with simple examples illuminating eternal truths of all spiritual paths and applying them to the modern world.

Fred Darbonne
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fair warning: This work is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who desire every writer to flatter what they already believe or to help them prove that they are “right,” and others are “wrong.” Alan Watts does none of these things, but instead challenges our constant striving for security and permanence in a world that in reality is always changing, exposing our endless search for security for the illusion that it is. For Watts, “this insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.” We can ...more
Donna Quesada
May 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-5-star-50
His wit, his piercing insight and cleverness at explaining the unexplainable has been duly noted, so I'll leave that to the side and comment on something a bit more subtle but equally delightful and delicious: His nuanced way of speaking, his style and elegance, his ease with the subject matter, and his sense of humor about it all. His voice is at once conversational and authoritative. And no one can turn a phrase with quite the same panache.

Nowhere is this flair more evident than in these "Wat
...more
Thomas Lønn Hammer
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You worry. Realizing that you're worried you think to yourself that you ought not to be worried. But still you can't stop worrying, so now you're worried about worrying. Next you will worry that you can't stop being worried about worrying. And as such the vicious circle of worry tightens in on itself and worsens, turning into anxiety, which devolves into anxiety about the fact that you're anxious. And so it goes ad infinitum, or until suicide, which will present itself as the only escape if this ...more
Mackenzie Brooks
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
"How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it come faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?

The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of its course. You do not play a sonata in order to reach the fina
...more
Nathan
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
Beginning to think that everyone should read this book. Everyone.
Rishi
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Reluctant Anesthetist

ﺯﻣﺎﻧﮯ ﮐﯽ ﻳﮧ ﮔﺮﺩﺵ ﺟﺎﻭﺩﺍﻧﮧ
ﺣﻘﻴﻘﺖ ﺍﻳﮏ ﺗﻮ ، ﺑﺎﻗﯽ ﻓﺴﺎﻧﮧ
ﮐﺴﯽ ﻧﮯ ﺩﻭﺵ ﺩﻳﮑﮭﺎ ﮨﮯ ﻧﮧ ﻓﺮﺩﺍ
ﻓﻘﻂ ﺍﻣﺮﻭﺯ ﮨﮯ ﺗﻴﺮﺍ ﺯﻣﺎﻧﮧ

The real reason why human life can be so
utterly exasperating and frustrating is not
because there are facts called death, pain,
fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing
is that when such facts are present, we
circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to
get the “I” out of the experience. We
pretend that we are amoebas, and try to
protect ourselves from life by splitting in
two. Sanity, wholeness, and integr
...more
Willer Daza
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting book. Alan Watts was one of the firsts to bring elements of eastern cultures into western thought and forms. The writing is timeless, for even today I can read and relate to most of the things he mentions in this book that was published in 1951. In fact, the reason why everything he mentions can perfectly fit into any day an age is that it reflects the relentless pursuit of human beings for meaning. But it is exactly this pursuit that has tampered many efforts of humanity to rea ...more
Ashraf Bashir
Jul 05, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: philosophy
Super boring, super unorganized, worst style of writing, and unpractical. This book is overrated!
Julia
Second read: Returning to this book felt like a completely necessary recalibration for my mind. I still have difficulties with his conception of "I", but I absolutely love chapters 4 to 6, and the book in general is such an excellent diagnosis of certain issues with modernity and epistemology.

This is why modern civilization is in almost every respect a vicious circle. It is insatiably hungry because its way of life condemns it to perpetual frustration. As we have seen, the root of this frustrat
...more
Codfather
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
This book had one central theme that the author pushed in every chapter. Although this was not an original idea and can be found in many other philosophers works, there were a few chapters that offered a little insight.

The writing is muddled in places and the continual pushing of the one idea that you understood from the first chapter was repetitive and eventually annoying.

It's not a bad book, but I can think of far better works to spend your time with.
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4,679 followers
Alan Wilson Watts was a British philosopher, writer and speaker, who held both a Master's in Theology and a Doctorate of Divinity. Famous for his research on comparative religion, he was best known as an interpreter and popularizer of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. He wrote over 25 books and numerous articles on subjects such as personal identity, the true nature of reality, higher con ...more

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