Self defined not as individual ego, but the whole universe.
- Alan Watts believed that we can comprehend a greater sense of the self.
- The self is not alienated from the universe, but a part of the whole process.
- Scientists have conceptualized a similar idea that sounds like it's straight out of the Indian Vedanta.
Alan Watts and the self<p>Alan Watts touched upon this subject at length in a talk titled "Self and Other." Watts believed that we could shed the illusion of self and other through simple comprehension. No need for any difficult yoga meditations or even mind-shattering psychedelics. </p><p>It is plain to see that in our modern civilization many people lack meaning. As the scientific method has unraveled old mysteries and religions have lost their hold on ontological truth, there is no longer a binding authority to look toward for guidance on the nature of reality. </p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/existentialism-books" target="_self">Great existentialist thinkers </a>heralded this onslaught of meaning in the past two centuries. Science offers us no solace with its nihilistic undertones of blind chance and our supposed infinitesimal place in an infinite and indifferent universe. But the very act of our being is testament to the fact that we are more than a separate entity that is a stranger to this universe, but the whole meaning and process of it. As Watts once mused about the future, "It's going to become basic common sense that you are not some alien being who confronts an external world that is not you, but that almost every intelligent person will have the feeling of being an activity of the entire universe."</p><p>There is a prevailing concept endemic to modern cosmology that proposes that life is some kind of cosmic accident. That it's a rarity, an aberration or seen in a sometimes more positive light — a miracle. </p><p>Now in the Eastern view and especially in the view that Watts espouses, everything has led up to this point, but not in some kind of planned monarchical clockwork godlike guidance. It simply has come to be. All of the universal processes — from gravitational pulls from one galaxy to the next down to the starlight of our sun to the multiplicitous iterations of conscious life — are one interconnected process and, in a sense, one being. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"You see, if you become aware of the fact that you are all of your own body, and that the beating of your heart is not just something that happens to you, but something you're doing, then you become aware also in the same moment and at the same time that you're not only beating your heart, but that you are shining the sun."</p><p>We come to realize then that self cannot be defined. That we are interdependent on others to define ourselves socially, physically, and spiritually just as we are also the sum total of our environment, genetic makeup, and all matter-bound activities in the universe right down to the beginning of existence. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In other words, let's suppose that those cosmologists and astronomers are right who believe that this universe started out with an original Big Bang, which flung all those galaxies out into space. It's a continuous energy system. The energy which is now manifested as your body is the same energy which was there in the beginning. If anything at all is old, this hand is as old as anything there is. Incredibly ancient. I mean, the energy keeps changing shapes, doing all sorts of things, but there it all is."</p><p>Watts philosophical argument is compelling when integrated into our current understanding of the universe. Some modern day scientists are even conceding the point that was made thousands of years ago by early Hindu and Buddhist philosophies.</p>
Scientific theory on universal consciousness<p>For instance, the late scientist and philosopher John Archibald Wheeler remarked that every single piece of matter contained consciousness, which he believed made up a proto-consciousness field. The theory eventually was called "participatory anthropic principle," which explains how the human observer is a fundamental part of the process. He stated, "We are participators in bringing into being not only the near and here but the far away and long ago."</p><p>Some modern day scientists are taking this one step forward in the only way they know how and thinking about <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/the-universe-may-be-conscious-prominent-scientists-state" target="_self">testing for observational evidence</a> of consciousness transmitted through a quantum vacuum. Another name for this phenomenon is called <a href="https://bigthink.com/robby-berman/are-we-all-multiple-personalities-of-universal-consciousness" target="_self">panpsychism.</a></p><p>Perhaps we are the Brahmin who has forget itself. As the ancient Hindu scriptures once believed that we are the soul breath of Atman. The self as the cosmos and the cosmos as the self to experience itself. </p>
Discover the holistic and all-encompassing philosophies of the ancient East.
- Taoist philosophy teaches its adherents the paradoxical action of non-action.
- Over three thousand years ago, the I Ching conceptualized binary code and influenced major asian religions
- Ram Dass and Herman Hesse synthesized western scientific and philosophic views with traditional eastern religions to inform their teachings.
Perpetual worry doesn't have to be your default mindset.
- Anxiety doesn't exist for someone who has a life lived in the present.
- Our concerns for a spectral future fuel anxiety.
- Taoist philosophy teaches us a new way of living.
Taoism takes us back to what is real<p>Our insistence on staying secure in a fluid and metamorphic world is an absurd concept when you get down to the bottom of it. Change is ever constant. The future doesn't exist. These adages are all ignored. And as they will be continually ignored by the masses in perpetuity — then it will come as no surprise that the concept of anxiety will stay with us.</p><p>Though, decide not to ignore this timeless wisdom and one will find a new way to live freely without anxiety. One of the great translators of Taoist ideas, Alan Watts, codified this way of living in his seminal work: <em>The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for An Age of Anxiety. </em></p><p>In this book, Watts argues that our primary way we delude ourselves from the present moment is by leaving the body and retreating behind our minds. The boiling pot of countless worries, thinking, categorizing and calculating space where anxieties and thoughts pouring over thoughts remove us from any truth of the real moment at hand. This is where Watts states that "the 'primary consciousness,' the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future." In other words, our thinking facilities are divorced from the actuality of experience. </p><p>Our more methodical thinking processes on the other hand creates memories, which we use for making predictions on what is to come. These predictions prove to be relatively accurate and we begin to rely on them. The future begins to take on as Watts says, "a high degree of reality — so high that the present loses its value." </p><blockquote><em>But the future is still not here, and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. </em></blockquote><p>Rephrasing the way we think about future events then is one such way that the Taoist philosophy does away with anxiety. It's really that simple. But as practice or non-practice, it is something that our modern civilization lacks. After all, the anxiety riddled addict is probably already thinking, "What are we to do!" </p><blockquote><em>To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more.</em></blockquote>
Applying the concept of wu-wei<p>Laozi's <em>Tao Te Ching</em> is a small book filled with immeasurable wisdom. It has instructed us on the basis of Taoism. From within this book comes an interesting concept called wu-wei, which literally means "without exertion." There are plenty of famous aphorisms from this text that explain this concept fully. </p><blockquote><em>If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.</em></blockquote><p>Wu-wei is the act of not going against the natural rhythms of the present, while learning to get out of your own way. Again, meditation and a silencing of the over analytic mind is what wu-wei proposes to offer us. It is also within this way that we begin to see what Buddhism, Tao, yoga and other assorted religions of the Ancient East offer us — a renewed psychology of the mind.</p>
Psychotherapy as philosophy in the Ancient East<p>There are many similarities between <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/similar-ideas-between-buddhism-and-western-psychology" target="_self">Eastern philosophical ways of life and Western psychotherapy</a>. Both deal with the concern of changing our consciousness for the betterment of humanity and availing us of negative ailments such as anxiety. Although, where they converge is within their categorization of what is considered a well-suited and enlightened individual. Alan Watts put it as: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The psychotherapist has, for the most part, been interested in changing the consciousness of peculiarly disturbed individuals. The disciplines of Buddhism and Taoism are, however, concerned with changing the consciousness of normal, socially adjusted people."</p><p>Modern Western approaches to mental well-being largely focus on the symptoms and not the root causes. The mechanization of mental health treatment often muddies the water even further. Contrast this to the way that Ancient Eastern religions have approached self-care for thousands of years. Through the act of meditation, breathing exercises, and a yogic life, those who are adept at centering themselves "in the now" are continually living in a state of self-directed care. </p><p>These approaches to emotional distress and anxious turmoil recognize that the issue stems from the delusion of self and future — two ironclad concepts we, in the West, still hold very close to our identity in our culture. From this renewed Taoist perspective, we become the arbiters and shrinks of our own psychology. When worries about scenarios that may never manifest are substituted with grounded, thoughtful deliberations, we regain a sense of potent agency. </p><p>This all said, it seems that an integrative Taoist philosophy may, indeed, reduce anxiety when followed by an individual.</p>
Unwind the mind with these thought-provoking Alan Watts quotes.
- Quotes on the immediacy of experience and life.
- Learn a Zen Koan or two and scramble rationalist thought.
- Ponder on the meaning of life with Alan Watts.
Alan Watts and Zen philosophy<p>What is Zen? Better to ask what isn't Zen. Watts was one of a kind when it came to articulating what cannot be said. The ineffable comes down to an Earthly speakable form when Watts wanted to probe into the peculiarities of paradox. </p><blockquote><em>Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.</em></blockquote><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Zen… does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I prefer not to translate the word Tao at all because to us Tao is a sort of nonsense syllable, indicating the mystery that we can never understand — the unity that underlies the opposites."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A proper exposition of Zen should tease us out of thought, and leave the mind like an open window instead of a panel of stained glass."</p><blockquote><em>Nirvana is right where you are, provided that you don't object to it.</em></blockquote>
Alan Watts on God<p>Having obtained both a master's degree in theology and becoming an Episcopal priest, Watts had a thoroughly rounded Christian education on the concept of God. With his boundless knowledge of Eastern traditions, mysticism and ancient history — Watts had a refreshingly comparative and unique take on the word and concept.</p><blockquote><em>Buddhism has in it no idea of there being a moral law laid down by some kind of cosmic lawgiver.</em></blockquote><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"So in this idea, then, everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality. Not God in a politically kingly sense, but God in the sense of being the self, the deep-down basic whatever there is. And you're all that, only you're pretending you're not. And it's perfectly O.K. to pretend you're not, to be perfectly convinced, because this is the whole notion of drama."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god."</p><blockquote><em>Few of us have ever met an angel, and probably would not recognize it if we saw one, and our images of an impersonal or suprapersonal God are hopelessly subhuman — Jell-O, featureless light, homogenized space, or a whopping jolt of electricity.</em></blockquote>
Alan Watts on the meaning of life<p>Watts wasn't afraid to tackle one of the great philosophical questions that has faced all of humankind since time immemorial. He answers it with irreverent wit and a life-affirming answer that'll swing the worst of nihilists among us.</p> <blockquote><em>The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.</em></blockquote> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The physical universe is basically playful. There's no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn't going anywhere; that is to say, it doesn't have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by analogy to music, because music as an art form is essentially playful."</p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What happens if you know that there is nothing you can do to be better? It's kind of a relief isn't it? You say 'Well, now what do I do?' When you are freed from being out to improve yourself, your own nature will begin to take over."</p> <blockquote><em>I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.</em></blockquote>
Alan Watts on Love<p>Love ranks up there with the other mysteries of life. There are many degrees of love that we float and flounder through each day. Whether it's the whirlwind romantic kind, the love of god, country or self – Alan Watts sets the record straight.</p> <blockquote><em>There is no formula for generating the authentic warmth of love. It cannot be copied. You cannot talk yourself into it or rouse it by straining at the emotions or by dedicating yourself solemnly to the service of mankind. </em></blockquote> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self love bad names in the universe. It comes only in the awareness that one has no self to love."</p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing."</p> <p style="margin-left: 20px;">"And so when the essential idea of love is lost there comes talk of fidelity. Actually, the only possible basis for two beings, male and female, to relate to each other is to grant each other total freedom."</p> <blockquote><em>No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now."</em></blockquote>
Alan Watts and humankind<p>Humans are an interesting and humorous species. Watts loved to riff and pick apart the hypocrisy and idiocy endemic to culture and mankind's perception of itself. Whether it was ripping apart the <a href="https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/alan-watts-education" target="_self">nonsensical education system</a> or<a href="https://bigthink.com/personal-growth/alan-watts-and-the-art-of-meditation" target="_self"> ersatz self-help meditation</a> — Watts was an expert in the takedown of such mendacity.</p><blockquote><em>We seldom realize, for example, that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.</em></blockquote><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em></em>"When you tell a girl how beautiful she is, she will say, 'Now isn't that just like a man! All you men think about is bodies. O.K., so I'm beautiful, but I got my body from my parents and it was just luck. I prefer to be admired for myself, not my chassis.' Poor little chauffeur! All she is saying is that she has lost touch with her own astonishing wisdom and ingenuity, and wants to be admired for some trivial tricks that she can perform with her conscious attention. And we are all in the same situation, having dissociated ourselves from our bodies and from the whole network of forces in which bodies can come to birth and live."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is not a materialistic civilization at all. It is a civilization devoted to the hatred and destruction of material, its conversion into junk and poison gas. And therefore, one of the most sacred missions to be imposed upon those who would be liberated from this culture is that they shall love material, that they shall love color, that they shall dress beautifully, that they shall cook well, that they shall live in lovely houses, and that they shall preserve the face of nature." </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The word 'person' comes from the latin word 'persona' which referred to the masks worn by actors in which sound would come through. The 'person' is the mask — the role you're playing. And all of your friends and relations and teachers are busy telling you who you are and what your role in life is."</p><blockquote><em>We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.</em></blockquote>
Finding your own truth without a guiding mythical worldview.
- Joseph Campbell's monomyth as a guide to finding one's self.
- Alan Watts explores the notion of symbolically returning to the forest.
- How to set ones own meaning in a world of confusion and chaos.