Passage from Watts

Continuing on with my reading of Alan Watts, I came across these paragraphs, which express so well much of what I’ve been meaning to say:

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 it and define it; you must enter int it, be it, and feel 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.

On the other hand, the realization that the mind is actually undivided must have a corresponding and equally far-reaching influence on thought and action. As the philosopher tries to stand outside himself and his thought, so, as we have seen, the ordinary man tries to stand outside himself and his emotions and sensations, his feelings and desires. The result is a fantastic confusion and misdirection of conduct which discovery of the mind’s unity must bring to an end.

So long as the mind is split, life is perpetual conflict, tension, frustration, and disillusion. Suffering is piled on suffering, fear on fear, and boredom on boredom. The more the fly struggles to get out of the honey, the faster he is stuck. Under the pressure of so much strain and futility, it is no wonder at all that men seek release in violence and sensationalism, and in the reckless exploitation of their bodies, their appetites, their material world, and their fellow men. What this must add to the necessary and unavoidable pains of existence is incalculable.

But the undivided mind is free from this tension of trying always to stand outside oneself and to be anywhere than here and now. Each moment is lived completely, and there is thus a sense of fulfillment and completeness. The divided mind comes to the dinner table and pecks at one dish after another, rushing on without digesting anything to find out better than the last. It finds nothing good, because there is nothing which it really tastes.

When, on the other hand, you realize that you live in, indeed are this moment now, and no other, that apart from this there is no past and no future, you must relax and taste to the full, whether it be pleasure or pain. At once it becomes obvious why this universe exists, why conscious beings have been produced, why sensitive organs, why space, time, and change. The whole problem of justifying nature, of trying to make life mean something in terms of its future, disappears utterly. Obviously, it all exists for this moment. It is a dance, and when you are dancing you are not intent on getting somewhere. You go round and round, but not under the illusion that you are pursuing something, or fleeing from the jaws of hell….

The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance. Like music, also, it is fulfilled in each moment of the course. You do not play a sonata in order to reach the final chord, and if the meaning of things were simply in ends, composers would write nothing but finales….

When each moment becomes an expectation life is deprived of fulfillment, and death is dreaded for it seems that here expectation must come to an end. While there is life there is hope – and if one lives on hope, death is indeed the end. But to the undivided mind, death is another moment, complete like every moment, and cannot yield its secret unless lived to the full –

And I laid me down with a will.

Death is the epitome of the truth that in each moment we are thrust into the unknown. Here all clinging to security is compelled to cease, and wherever the past is dropped away and safety abandoned, life is renewed. Death is the unknown in which all of us lived before birth.

Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that “I” cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting it go he finds it.