Alan Watts was a writer, speaker and philosopher who brought eastern philosophy to western spiritual seekers. (1)
He was and still is loved by many in the spiritual community, and his large volume of writings and lectures is considered by many to be a great source of wisdom.
We can learn from his work and the example he set that social morality is just as important as personal. While it’s argued that personal change is the best way to change the world, we can’t forget that changing the way we interact with each other and the earth is also crucial if we want a society that reflects our growing spiritual awareness.
I’d like to share some quotes from Alan Watts that exemplify who he was and what he thought about life, spirituality and our connection with All That Is.
The quotes come from Allspirit.co.uk, and in the first one, he tells us that awakening brings awareness of our unity with all creation and the ego isn’t involved.
“…when you really understand that you are what you see and know, you do not run around the country-side thinking, ‘I am all this.’ There is simply ‘all this.’” (2)
He also tells us that the individual moments that make up life fade as quickly as they come. When we stop worrying about those moments, we’re left with the eternal Now; one endless moment of which we’ve been unaware.
“…our experience is altogether momentary. From one point of view, each moment is so elusive and so brief that we cannot even think about it before it has gone. From another point of view, this moment is always here, since we know no other moment than the present…
“It is always dying, always becoming past more rapidly than imagination can conceive. Yet at the same time it is always being born, always new, emerging just as rapidly from that complete unknown we call the future. Thinking about it almost makes you breathless.” (3)
Every moment is valuable and can we can miss out if we aren’t completely present, but no matter how many moments we miss, the eternal Now is always here. We’ve never been separate from it, and when we become aware of it, we won’t worry about those little moments we missed.
In reality, life is one big everlasting moment. It’s comprised of fleeting individual moments that don’t seem connected at the surface, but when we take the plunge into a higher consciousness, we understand that there is only Now.
Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has yet to come since we’re still bound by the illusion of time, but when we step outside the matrix, we see that yesterday, today and tomorrow are one conjoined moment.
For those of you who, like me, believe love is a powerful spiritual force that we can tap into, Watts has some sobering and enlightening words.
“…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.” (4)
Serving mankind is a great way to use love, but we have to have already found love in order to properly help others.
If we look to selfless service as a way to gain the love we feel we’ve lost, we’ll be disappointed because we’ll realize that love inspires service; not the other way around. Service can inspire love, but only if we have a little of it to begin with.
We can use our passions and talents to serve humanity once we have love, but we have to genuinely gain it first.
We’ll have to fail at loving ourselves to realize that ‘there is no self to love’ as Watts puts it, before we can truly awaken.
“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 all the bad names in the universe. It comes only in the awareness that one has no self to love.” (5)
We’re conditioned to think freedom lies in our willpower and our choices, and because of this, we make choices out of an avoidance of pain and a desire for pleasure.
“We are accustomed to think that, if there is any freedom at all, it resides, not in nature, but in the separate human will and its power of choice.
“But what we ordinarily mean by choice is not freedom. Choices are usually decisions motivated by pleasure and pain, and the divided mind acts with the sole purpose of getting ‘I’ into pleasure and out of pain.” (6)
Trying to avoid pain or plan to be happy is fruitless, he tells us.
“…the best pleasures are those for which we do not plan, and the worst part of pain is
expecting it and trying to get away from it when it has come. You cannot plan to be happy.
You can plan to exist, but in themselves existence and non-existence are neither pleasurable nor painful…” (7)
Pleasure and pain both have something to teach us, and while most of us prefer to avoid pain, it carries with it a lesson and an inherent awakening. Even though it’s liberating to wake up, we’d rather not experience the inevitable pain and difficulty that come with it. As a result, we avoid pain and seek pleasure.
The resolution to this problem lies in the understanding that, as Watts wrote, pure existence has nothing to do with pleasure or pain. It has everything to do with presence, centeredness and the simplistic joy of this eternal moment, and no thoughts of pain or pleasure occupy our attention when we’re still and centered.
To define reality in an effort to understand it would be impossible, Watts tells us, because it’d require us to be separate from what we’re defining. This separation prevents us from knowing it, and the only way to understand it is to experience it.
“In the strictest sense, we cannot actually think about life and reality at all, because this would have to include thinking about thinking, thinking about thinking about thinking, and so *ad infinitum*. One can only attempt a rational, descriptive philosophy of the universe on the assumption that one is totally separate from it.
“But if you and your thoughts are part of this universe, you cannot stand outside them to describe them. This is why all philosophical and theological systems must ultimately fall apart. To ‘know’ reality you cannot stand outside and define it; you must enter into it, be it, and feel it.” (8)
I could write book after book about reality and spirituality, but I’d only be sharing my views, observations and the resulting philosophy. To truly understand it requires us to lay down the stream of constant thought so we can live it, and anything else is the result of our opinions and the discoveries we’ve made so far.
While we can (and should) bring back what we learn and observe in a higher space for others to benefit from, our observations won’t help them much unless they also enter into the void, become ‘nothing’ and merge with this indefinable higher consciousness.
Writing is a great way to share love and knowledge, but words are limited when it comes to describing a true spiritual experience.
Don’t get me wrong; they’re useful and effective in showing the way, but nothing written by me or any spiritual writer will get you there. We can only help with a unique and personal journey that requires the exploration of one’s authentic spirituality.
In our final quote, Alan tells us that speculative philosophy is the result of man disconnecting himself from reality and then trying to mentally define, label and understand it.
“Speculative philosophy, as we know it in the West, is almost entirely a symptom of the divided mind, of man trying to stand outside himself and his experience in order to verbalize and define it. It is a vicious circle, like everything else which the divided mind attempts.”
“The common error of ordinary religious practice is to mistake the symbol for the reality, to look at the finger pointing the way and then to suck it for comfort rather than follow it.” (9)
How many people would rather put all of their faith into some spiritual or counterculture figure than themselves and their own abilities? Since spirituality is so valuable to us, we have a tendency to latch onto the person who seems the most enlightened and in doing so, we forget about our own potential.
While a good guru can show the way for some, the best way to learn anything genuine about spirit is to explore our consciousness. There’s nothing inherently wrong with listening to the teachers and hearing everyone’s perspective, but in order to merge with All That Is, we have to realize that we never left it.
It’s been inside all along, but we have to step out of the dense accumulated layers of thought and distortion to see that separation in every form is an illusion.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Alan Watts, and as you can see, he knew a thing or two about the ways in which an unchecked mind can enslave us.
We can become just as experienced and knowledgeable as any teacher if we’re willing to do the inner work, and while it requires us to jump hurdles that take us out of our comfort zone, we discover that everything we seek lives in this initially uncomfortable space.
Thankfully, Watts and countless other teachers have helped us get there by showing the way and leaving the rest up to us.
- Wikipedia: “Alan Watts” – httpss://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts
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- “Alan Watts Selected Writings” from Allspirit.co.uk – https://allspirit.co.uk/writings/alan-watts-selected-writings/
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By Wes Annac, Culture of Awareness, January 27, 2016 – https://tinyurl.com/h7rhkfe