Opinion philosophy

Reality Reveals Itself To You (Week 34 Of Wisdom)

The rascal/philosopher Alan Watts gained notoriety for popularizing Eastern ideas in the Western world. He thought of himself as an entertainer, but do not mistake levity with insincerity. Watts describes is the difference between the East and the West in their identifications with the Passive and the Active. This is similar to the dichotomy of brain lateralization that Ian McGilchrist discusses in his book, The Master and His Emissary.

The West has traditionally identified with the active, as an enterprising culture, it holds the core belief that life is a process to be determined by the individual. The subject is responsible for consciously creating the plans of the future and altering it, and he is responsible for forming the right ideas about the world and discovering them through an incessant process of study and research. Whereas the East take a different position. Truth is not revealed through knowledge, but through meditation. It is the absence of thought, the emptiness itself, that is the source of truth. If you want to know something, it can only come from within, and you cannot force it to do so, you can only facilitate its arrival.

In the East, truth is something that reveals itself, rather than something you can purposefully discover. In fact, the harder you try to discover it, the quicker it will run away from you. This is one of the most important ideas that has a wide application in seduction, the search for truth, and mastery. The more you are fixated on something, the more difficult it becomes to achieve it. If you are so intent on success, you will never be successful. If you obsess about seducing women, you will never be seductive. If all you think about is losing weight, you will stay fat. This reminds me of the famous quote by Charles Bukowski, “Don’t try.”

What it means is let go of the need to please and cater to your ego, to get reality to conform to what you want it to be. In this way, you only push success away from you. It is like the person who wonders why they cannot find happiness when they spend most of their time obsessing about how to find happiness.

Happiness, like success, is a by-product of something else, usually the pursuit of meaning or purpose, whatever that is to you. The minute you have thought about it, you have spoiled the trick, you have derailed the magical process.  

Children are the happiest creatures in the world, Watts tells us, because they are free from a different kind of trick, the ego trick. They are too young to obsess over “I” so they are free to experience the world, without artificial limitations. Of course, the adult cannot be like the child, he must plan and think about the future, but he can be more like the child in some ways. He can create time in his life where he allows for the pursuit of strangeness and wonder, where he is not constantly practical and serious about everything. If you are deadly serious all the time, planning each moment of the day, and allowing for no spontaneity, then you preclude reality’s potential to reveal truth to you.

Alan Watts never thought of himself as a guru but thought of himself as an entertainer. Among the archetypal figures, he is the joker or the fool – the person who has many faults but is ashamed of none of them, and has no trouble pointing and laughing at the contradictions of everyone else.

One of the embarrassing truths that Watts tells us about is this fake sense of agency that we all have. We believe that we are all consciously in control, and so we constantly think of ourselves as something that needs to be disciplined and structured. We believe that in the past, we were less aware and informed, so we had less conscious control, but now… now things are different. Now, our consciousness is finally in the driver’s seat and it’s here to put everything in order. But all this is a hoax. It was us all along. We always believed that. At each point in our lives, we always felt that we finally had a grip on reality. And that could be explained. We do learn more about life as we get older, and this information changes our perceptions of the world and of our role in it. So, we may become more active or passive. But Watts is saying that this isn’t because of some change in your being that was brought about by a conscious decision. It was simply an extension of your unconscious. It is like the child with the practice steering wheel in the passenger seat. He thinks he is the one who is driving, while his father is in the driver’s seat.

In a way, the philosophy of Watts can be summarized in the following way: Do not get in the way of your Self. This is different from the psychoanalytic or even Jungian belief that your unconscious is something to be discovered and integrated. And it is different from the purely eastern idea of being exactly like the monk, who practices for years and disciplines themselves only to discover that there is nothing to be discovered, after leading a boring existence. It is something of a combination of both East and West.

The idea is that you are neither supposed to be the analytic philosopher or psychologist who tries to peer into the depths of your unconscious, nor should you be living in pure awareness, but simply to allow your self to take its own shape. When you want to discover what you should do, allow the answer to come to you rather than forcing it out of yourself. When you want peace, learn to leave your mind alone rather than try to constantly pull it this way or that.

In other words, be agile. Alternate between states of self-consciousness.

Don’t overstimulate your brain with information because that will remove your ability to think about things other than thoughts, but don’t remove all thoughts from your consciousness because that will make you as boring as a rock. Be more in touch with what you are feeling at each moment and allow your curiosity to lead you. It is like the artist, who paints three canvases, each representing a different mood, and each morning, rather than setting a deadline and making sure that they finish this canvas or that, the artist follows listens to their own feeling, and allows it to guide him to the appropriate canvas. There is planning and foresight involved, but there is no strict schedule that stifles joy and creativity altogether.

The problem with total estrangement from the ego is that it is impractical. You need to have some kind of fixed conception of your identity across time to be able to imagine what future you would like to have, which ideals you want, and which plans are worthwhile.  

The problem with the preoccupation with the “I” or the ego, is that it leads to a vicious circle. Let’s say that you lost your job, and now your sense of security about the future has been compromised.

And since this worry leads to behavioral changes, such as an unhealthy lifestyle, this creates another reason to be worried. So now, you are worried about the fact that you are worried. But this is not the end of your troubles, because now you have recognized that there may be something wrong with you psychologically for being excessively worried, and this makes you even more worried.

This precipitates a new cycle of anxiety and so on, and this can be solved if you learn to detach yourself from your addiction to thoughts, the ultimate product of the “I” (in your estimation).

The first thing to realize is that you are not totally in control of your thoughts, that they are ephemeral events that happen to you. The second thing to realize is that you cannot get rid of your addiction to your thoughts by thinking about it. We go back to the former insight. The more you try to grasp at something, the more difficult it becomes to attain. The analogy Watts gives is, “you will be like someone trying to make rough water smooth with a flat iron.”

The mind will take care of itself when left alone. Don’t try to force yourself to think in this way or that, simply allow your mind to wander, and to do whatever it is it wants to do.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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