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Alan Watts: 4 Ideas

Updated on December 17, 2016
Alan Watts in thought
Alan Watts in thought

How I Found Alan Watts

I was just hanging out with my younger brother one day and we were talking about life and the human condition. We always have pretty interesting conversations. Anyways, then my brother tells me about Alan Watts. I say why don't you put on a video of his. So my brother and I are just sitting in his room listening to Alan Watts. It was a kind of experience of euphoria where you feel excitement because somebody understands the way you think and is cogently conveying profound ideas with an articulate flow. Anyways, he's a great thinker and I'd like to share some of the most striking ideas I learned from him.

What hermits realize
What hermits realize

But I'll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything.

— Alan Watts

Time and Thought

I learned that to be truly wise or to know anything for certain, one has to allow him or herself to think each thought to its end. In our busy lifestyle it can be near impossible to find the time to think all the thoughts one has to think. But when you do this, however you do this, if you need to go all the way out into the forest alone, you will have the time to think through each thought to its end. Anyone who does this will come to realize that everything is connected. Without the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, our sun wouldn't even exist. But more specifically, one cannot survive without relying on everything else on earth. You begin to realize that the air, the water, and every person or animal you've ever met is extremely important. Because we live in an interconnected system called life, the universe, and everything in it relies on everything else, and in this way there is no external, you are the universe.

Peeling potatoes
Peeling potatoes

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.

— Alan Watts

Zen

Zen spirituality always seemed a little airy fairy and wishy washy to me before coming across Alan Watts. Now I realize that 'zen spirituality' is really just a mindset of inner peace and of calm. To me, it's a kind of slowing down of the mind. To just be like a cat for while is a very stress reducing experience. If you can stop the incessant repetition of words in your mind then you can focus entirely on the present moment. So this spirituality is really a kind of relaxation and a way of coming to ease with the moment. I'm not much of a spiritual person so I need scientific data to be convinced of the value of most things. So after researching the benefits of practicing the zen state, I decided to do it everyday if even for only 5 minutes. My overall stress and anxiety have decreased, my memory has become stronger, I can focus easily and my lucid dreams are more common and I don't wake up before I want to. There really are profound implications to just peeling the potatoes.

Butterfly Nebula
Butterfly Nebula

The religious idea of God cannot do full duty for the metaphysical infinity.

— Alan Watts

Religion

Human ideas of religion always seem to be far too small and weak for an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent god. One of the main reasons I'm an atheist is because the human concept of god is just so pathetic in comparison with the true fathomless magnitude of natural phenomena. I mean, there are many trillions of galaxies that we can observe out there, each one with countless worlds of its own, and I'm supposed to believe that the creator of this universe cares more about what I do with my genitals than about those countless other worlds? Also it seems absurd that a perfect being would require the praise of tiny creatures he created for the sole purpose of testing. The quote above really does lead to a lot of thoughts about how miniscule religions really are in contrast to what they could or should be.

The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF) is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, containing an estimated 10,000 galaxies.
The Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF) is an image of a small region of space in the constellation Fornax, containing an estimated 10,000 galaxies.

Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.

— Alan Watts

Everything is Fine

This quote is something I'm reluctant to accept. I mean it's a completely accurate and true idea, but I struggle with the idea of nihilism. I know that the universe is meaningless and that all meaning and purpose is really just mental and social constructs that aid in our survival and reproduction, our biological continuation. And so while I know all this about the universe, I also know that I have a sense of right and wrong. I know that my inner sense of morality is entirely relative to our earth and the dna based creatures I share it with. To the rest of the universe my sense of right and wrong is nothing. So I kind of struggle with these two conflicting ideas now. Firstly I want to change the world, reduce suffering, and improve the living conditions for people and really anything that can experience suffering. But also I recognize that nothing matters, that eventually the sun will fry, boil, and consume the earth alive, and that an asteroid could strike and leave earth barren and empty within less than a month. So having an open mind like this leads to some pretty complex paradoxes and contradictions. I really do care about my planet and the beings I share it with, but also everything is fine and we're all going to die anyways. So I'm reluctant to fully accept this quote, but it is fully truthful, and it's something we should all consider.

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