Alan Watts: Delight in Rhythm

If work is what must be done in order to go on living, the proper activity of That-which-Is will obviously be play. Reality is what exists without effort, Blake's energy which is eternal delight. I have suggested that hide-and-seek, or lost-and-found, is the fundamental form of play because, at root, being is vibration. It is a state of yes/no, solid/space, here/there, positive/negative, come/go, inside/outside, symbolized in the fundamental up/down motion of the wave. Rhythm lies at the heart of play, and thus various rhythmic actions are the primordial forms of delight - bird song, the chirping of crickets, the beating of hearts, the pulsation of laughter, the ecstatic loss of self in drumming and dancing, the sonorous vibrations of voices and strings and bells. Absorption in rhythm can go on and on until energy fails, for when we survey the various cultures of humankind it appears there is nothing people would rather do than be lost all night in rhythm. This is why the Christian angels sing "Alleluia, alleluia!" forever before the Vision of God, and why their Buddhist counterparts are alleged to chant Tutte, tutte / Vutte, vutte / Patte patte / Katte katte!

I am quite sure, therefore, that an essential component of my heaven and preoccupation of the inmost Self would be absorption in rhythm; and as I look at light and water and listen to the pulses on my own body, I can hardly doubt that this is the truth. There is extreme delight in flowing with an unobstructed rhythm....

[An]...obstacle to the delight of rhythm is monotony, which play avoids by variety and complexity. But there must be some monotony or regularity for there to be any rhythm or pattern at all. Otherwise we should have only a succession of random intervals. The main problem in the art of rhythm is not to abolish monotony, but always to be in the process of overcoming it anew. Thus there is variety not only in the beat of rhythms but in the medium - drum, string, tube, bell, and then on to rhythm in bodily motion, in forms and visual pattern, in transformations of color, in songs and poetry, and in the complexities of pure ideas. And beyond this, the dramas and plots of human history, the fortunes of war, the stratagems of love, the gambling financiers, and the endless pursuit of the illusion of political power - all these are variations and complications of delight in rhythm. [pp. 41-3]

Alan Watts, Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship, 1964

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