Quotes from Alan Watts
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in
flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living
organisms) in the sciences. We do not "come into" this world; we come out of
it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every
individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of
the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most
individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel
it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of
Irrevocable commitment to any religion is not only intellectual suicide; it is
positive unfaith because it closes the mind to any new vision of the world.
Faith is, above all, open-ness - an act of trust in the unknown.
the sense of "I" and the illusion of its separateness from the rest of the
universe is so pervasive and so deeply rooted in the infrastructure of our
language, our institutions, and our cultural conventions that we find
ourselves unable to "experience selfhood except as something superficial in
the scheme of the universe." The antidote lies in recognizing not merely that
we belong to and with the rest of universe, but that there is no "rest" in the
first place - we are the universe.
All your five senses are differing forms of one basic sense-something like
touch. Seeing is highly sensitive touching. The eyes touch, or feel, light
waves and so enable us to touch things out of reach of our hands. Similarly,
the ears touch sound waves in the air, and the nose tiny particles of dust and
gas. But the complex patterns and chains of neurons which constitute these
senses are composed of neuron units which are capable of changing between just
two states: on or off. To the central brain the individual neuron signals
either yes or no - that's all. But, as we know from computers which employ
binary arithmetic in which the only figures are 0 and 1, these simple elements
can be formed into the most complex and marvelous patterns.
In this respect our nervous system and 0/1 computers are much like everything
else, for the physical world is basically vibration. Whether we think of this
vibration in terms of waves or of particles, or perhaps wavicles, we never
find the crest of a wave without a trough or a particle without an interval,
or space, between itself and others. In other words, there is no such thing as
a half wave, or a particle all by itself without any space around it. There is
no on without off, no up without down.
While eyes and ears actually register and respond to both the up-beat and the
down-beat of these vibrations, the mind, that is to say our conscious
attention, notices only the up-beat. The dark, silent, or "off" interval is
ignored. It is almost a general principle that consciousness ignores
intervals, and yet cannot notice any pulse of energy without them. If you put
your hand on an attractive girl's knee and just leave it there, she may cease
to notice it. But if you keep patting her knee, she will know you are very
much there and interested. But she notices and, you hope, values the on more
than the off. Nevertheless, the very things that we believe to exist are
always on/offs. Ons alone and offs alone do not exist.
Attention is narrowed perception. It is a way of looking at life bit by bit,
using memory to string the bits together - as when examining a dark room with
a flashlight having a very narrow beam. Perception thus narrowed has the
advantage of being sharp and bright, but it has to focus on one area of the
world after another, and one feature after another. And where there are no
features, only space or uniform surfaces, it somehow gets bored and searches
about for more features. Attention is therefore something like a scanning
mechanism in radar or television. . . . But a scanning process that observes
the world bit by bit soon persuades its user that the world is a great
collection of bits, and these he calls separate things or events. We often say
that you can only think of one thing at a time. The truth is that in looking
at the world bit by bit we convince ourselves that it consists of separate
things, and so give ourselves the problem of how these things are connected
and how they cause and effect each other. The problem would never have arisen
if we had been aware that it was just our way of looking at the world which
had chopped it up into separate bits, things, events, causes, and effects.
The self-conscious feedback mechanism of the cortex allows us the
hallucination that we are two souls in one body - a rational soul and an
animal soul, a rider and a horse, a good guy with better instincts and finer
feelings and a rascal with rapacious lusts and unruly passions. Hence the
marvelously involved hypocrisies of guilt and penitence, and the frightful
cruelties of punishment, warfare, and even self-torment in the name of taking
the side of the good soul against the evil. The more it sides with itself, the
more the good soul reveals its inseparable shadow, and the more it disowns its
shadow, the more it becomes it.
Thus for thousands of years human history has been a magnificently futile
conflict, a wonderfully staged panorama of triumphs and tragedies based on the
resolute taboo against admitting that black goes with white.
Today, scientists are more and more aware that what things are, and what they
are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the
definition of a thing or event must include definition of its environment, we
realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and
inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the
thing and its surroundings.
"Individual" is the Latin form of the Greek "atom" - that which cannot be cut
or divided any further into separate parts. We cannot chop off a person's head
or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as
effectively by separating him from his proper environment. This implies that
the only true atom is the universe - that total system of interdependent
"thing-events" which can be separated from each other only in name. For the
human individual is not built as a car is built. He does not come into being
by assembling parts, by screwing a head onto a neck, by wiring a brain to a
set of lungs, or by welding veins to a heart. Head, neck, heart, lungs, brain,
veins, muscles, and glands are separate names but not separate events, and
these events grow into being simultaneously and interdependently. In precisely
the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only
in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name.
Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name
makes you a separate being. This is - rather literally - to be spellbound.
Unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There
is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able
to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other
future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment
and say, "Now, I've arrived!
Our practical projects have run into confusion again and again through failure
to see that individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not
exist in or by themselves. This is not to say only that things exist in
relation to one another, but that what we call "things" are no more than
glimpses of a unified process. Certainly, this process has distinct features
which catch our attention, but we must remember that distinction is not
separation. Sharp and clear as the crest of the wave may be, it necessarily
"goes with" the smooth and less featured curve of the trough. … In the Gestalt
theory of perception this is known as the figure/ground relationship.
The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the
universe - only the "single glance" of our spotlight, narrowed attention,
which has been taught to confuse its glimpses with separate "things," must
somehow be opened to the full vision.
In immediate contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity
to the sensation, as if you were a leaf blown along by the wind, until you
realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside your skin
is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably, and
at first you feel a little out of control because the world outside is so much
vaster than the world inside. Yet you soon discover that you are able to go
ahead with ordinary activities-to work and make decisions as ever, though
somehow this is less of a drag. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego
has to animate and lug around. There is a feeling of the ground holding you
up, and of hills lifting you when you climb them. Air breathes itself in and
out of your lungs, and instead of looking and listening, light and sound come
to you on their own. Eyes see and ears hear as wind blows and water flows. All
space becomes your mind. Time carries you along like a river, but never flows
out of the present: the more it goes, the more it stays, and you no longer
have to fight or kill it.
Once you have seen this you can return to the world of practical affairs with
a new spirit. You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion
and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate "you" to get something out
of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real "you" is the one
that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every
conscious being. For "you" is the universe looking at itself from billions of
points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.
You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what
use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies?