Alan Watts – On Late Bloomers

Ultimately, of course, it is absolutely impossible to understand and appreciate our natural universe unless you know when to stop investigating.

~Alan Watts, What is Tao?

Stopping is the natural antidote to our ingrained belief that everything must be bold and fresh and ready in an instant.

To stop investigating, we assume, is to stop living, to retire from the world, to let the brain grow numb.  Yet Watts is telling us our need to be in constant motion is a cultural addiction.

Stopping is the most efficient way of getting sober, of re-collecting who we are.

It’s not a one-time act but a lengthy process of relinquishing.  We begin by stripping away our fascination with velocity, our need to mainline speed.  Slowly we move away from the RPMs to focus on the stillness at the center of the wheel. If we are lucky, we may achieve what T.S. Eliot called a state of simplicity “costing not less than everything.”

Insight, comfort, and a sense of being at ease in the world are achieved more readily once we cease to identify with the private “I” that is always prodding and investigating.  And once we step away from the heroic ego that craves another challenge and administers a harsh rebuke when we fail to keep up with its forced march.

Late Bloomers have no choice but to reject this pact and allow themselves to be made anew. We can’t get away with a surface renovation—a reshuffling and repackaging of old skills.  Or as Watts might say, with planning the same old trip and expecting to reach a different destination.

“In our restlessness, we are always tempted to climb every hill and cross every skyline to find out what lies beyond, yet as you get older and wiser it is not just flagging energy but wisdom that teaches you to look at mountains from below, or perhaps just climb them a little way.  For at the top you can no longer see the mountain,” Watts says.  “And beyond, on the other side, there is, perhaps, just another valley like this.”

Late Blooming is not about scaling another hill but stopping to look at the leaves that have gathered at your feet, marveling at the point where a frantic journey turned into an unexpected pilgrimage to the center of your soul.

Watts writes: “An old aphorism from India says,  ‘What is beyond, is that which is also here.’ And you must not mistake this for a kind of blasé boredom, or a tiring of adventure.  It is instead the startling recognition that in the place where we are now, we have already arrived.  This is it. What we are seeking is, if we are not totally blind, already here.”

If you are being called by “newness” I’d like to suggest that this depends not upon a change of scenery but upon a subtle integration and acceptance of what you have within.  To put it another way, you’ve been to the summit and planted your flags on distant peaks. But who has done the climbing? What awareness have you brought to the hand-over-hand ascent? Have you noticed more on the way up or on the way back down?

In the life cycle, we go through many reinventions, yet if we do our best to stay awake and aware, the essence of who we are comes clearer. Each articulation of our being is simpler, more pared-down, somehow closer to the truth.

Of course, the ego interferes with its constant worry: what will happen if I cease this endless chasing after summits?  As Late Bloomers, we have the task of slowing down and engaging in a different way. If you want endpoints and evaluation measures, think of Matisse entertaining himself with paper cutouts when confined to his sickbed, of Picasso’s vibrant energy condensed, in his late work, into a single line of eloquence, and of Beethoven’s last quartets, written when he was fully deaf.

After all your striving, you may realize what you have been seeking is a way of stopping, silently observing, settling in, realizing that there is no place else to go.

“…If you must follow that trail up the mountainside to its bitter end, you will discover that it leads eventually right back into the suburbs,” Watts says. “But only an exceedingly stupid person will think that is where the trail really goes.  For the actual truth is the trail goes to every single place that it crosses, and leads also to where you are standing and watching it.  Watching it vanish into the hills, you are already in the truth beyond…Every stream, every road, if followed persistently and meticulously to its end, leads nowhere at all.”

Take some time to sit quietly with these questions:

What is the one value I keep coming back to?

In what ways can I stop changing and adapting?

If I stop investigating, what remains?

More from Alan Watts:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.                          

Past and present are real illusions; they exist in the present which is all there is. 

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.  

Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water.  You don’t grab hold of the water when you swim because if you do, you will become stiff and tight…and sink.  You have to relax, and the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging and holding on.  

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who don’t realize they are one and the same process as the universe.”


Valerie Andrews
Valerie Andrews
VALERIE is the Chief Storyteller for Reinventing Home, an online magazine exploring how home shapes our culture, creativity, and character. Isabel Allende calls this publication Brain Pickings for the Home—a thinking person’s guide to the well-lived life. Our contributors explore home as a personal sanctuary and interactive hive, and how home contributes to our health, happiness, and productivity. Valerie calls her own features “a mindful approach to home with a Jungian twist” and considers everything from the secret lives of our possessions to how the dust underneath your bed is related to the creation of the cosmos. Reinventing Home is nonprofit journalism at its best—a virtual living room for an enlightened conversation about the way we feel about our nests and the bigger issues that are shaping home today, from technology to climate change. Read more at

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  1. This essay really resonates with my heart as I have gotten quieter in my being, Valerie. Thank you so much for this respite, for the words and wisdom of Alan Watts and for this: “Late Blooming is not about scaling another hill but stopping to look at the leaves that have gathered at your feet, marveling at the point where a frantic journey turned into an unexpected pilgrimage to the center of your soul.” Ah, I believe I found the Late Blooming in this bonus round of being alive. The one value I keep coming back to=Freedom and Love (okay that’s two). I love this essay so much!!!

    • Laura, I’m so pleased you are as calmed as I am by Alan Watts. This notion of saying “Stop” is a good one, and always leads me someplace fruitful.