Follow Your Heart (Maybe)

In the below video, Alan Watts makes a provocative point: do what you really want. If you fail at it, then you can money grub and settle later, or you can even starve to death. Better to live a short life going in the direction of your heart than to live a long life slowly consumed from the inside out. Money grubbing is always there to settle for, so don’t start life settling for it. That wouldn’t really be practical at all (in relation to your deepest desire). Instead, treat your deepest desire as your default life-mode, and don’t be “practical” and conformist in the conventional sense.

I wonder if it’s that simple. But I like the sentiment.


To pour a bit of cold water on Alan Watts’s view: hunger focuses the mind. If Watts asked a hungry student–as opposed to a well-fed student–what he or she wanted to do, the reply might be more proximate than some larger heart goal: first, to eat.

Now to warm-up the water again: the “first, to eat” answer suggests to me that we have at least two desire areas in our brains: an immediate gratification area and a delayed gratification area. The money-grubbing life flatters itself as the grown-up choice; the big-picture choice; the delayed gratification choice. But maybe it’s the choice that actually caters to the risk-averse, the timid, the weak. That is, to the majority of us.

I can’t help but think of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, in The Brothers Karamazov, facing off with Jesus at the time of the Inquisition: the way of freedom is too hard, says the Inquisitor to Jesus. The people want miracles, mystery, authority–and bread.

Jesus replies to the Inquisitor by giving him a kiss.

When he was alive, Alan Watts was, like Dostoevsky’s Jesus, calling people to a heart path; a freedom path (which Dostoevsky presented as being actually a hard path; a path requiring unusual grit and discipline).

What to do, Hamlet? Which path–that of the conventionally pragmatic or that of the visionary heart–really represents infantile gratification and which adult delay? And which should you choose?

Now choose.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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