Tuesday, April 12, 2005


"Responsiveness to the subtle motions of inner feeling is as much an art as sailing, and is entirely untaught in schools. Surely, if our neurologists are the first to admit that they do not understand the brain, isn't it possible that the brain -- and the nervous system as a whole -- is wiser than the conscious intellect? For conscious intellect is only a fragmentary use of the brain, bound to the cumbersome process of linear thinking, which cannot -- without long deliberation-- synthesize more than a few variables. But the brain regulates thousands of bodily processes at a time without having to think about them, and this -- not one's personality -- is the self."

-- Alan Watts
In My Own Way

This is me, and this is what I'm doing, and this is who...I...am.

What a joke!

According to Watts, that is.

Watts is the new-age, Buddhist, access-to-the-Orient dude that popped up in the fifties and sixties and essentially introduced Eastern philosphy to us tight-asses in the west.

I haven't read a lot of his stuff, but I'm making my way through his autobiography, which is a fascinating read. Didn't know that Watts, the quintessential Buddhist in my mind, was actually a Catholic priest (!) for a while, and his thoughts on religion, philosophy, life and our own, individual, essentially-meaningless-and-therefore-extremely-meangingful lives are compelling. His conception of what God is or isn't, could or could be, should or shouldn't be, is animist and Buddhist and Christian, all for the price of one -- God is us, and we are God, and He is none of us, and this Moment is God, and...

You know the deal.

As the old saying goes, if you're into this kind of stuff, then this is the kind of stuff you'd be into.

Watts' rebels against having to pretend to have some kind of authentic, permanent 'self'; his whole conception of ego is fundamentally a Buddhist one: a human construct that we selfishly and recklessly hide behind, a shield by which we try to construct and maintain a vision of ourselves when, in reality, no 'self' exists at all.

The excerpt I posted at the beginning of this, um, post, hints at a physical explanation for the metaphysical paradigm that Watts has built for himself.

We tend to think of our 'personality', as Watts points out, as our 'self'. In other words, the 'you' that watches Desperate Housewives and reads Plato and practices softball and strums the guitar -- that's you, the 'you' that the world will love and embrace or despise and reject. Essentially, 'you' are a laundry-list of your likes and dislikes.

But what about the 'you' that grows your hair, or moves your feet on the treadmill, or types the words on the keyboard, or scans the morning paper as you listen to morning deejays do their laugh and chuckle and let's-check-in-on-the-traffic? The 'you' that is responsible for getting you through the day safely, the 'you' that doesn't trip on the curb that would fling you headlong into traffic? (Is 'headlong' a word? If it is, it shouldn't be, and I apologize for using it.) The 'you' that is a series of motor-skills, neurons-in-the-brain pathways?

Why can't that 'you' be just as authentic and valid as the one who meets-and-greets the guests before dinner, taking off their coats, commiserating with their traffic-was-just-terrible stories?

In other words, once you start down the road of defining who you are and what you are, you start to realize that it's a no-win game. Where do you end? (Or even begin?) We are all the things that we do and the things that we are, physical things, and they're all connected, the thinking parts of us and the parts of us that are flabby and smelly and stale. We're all shifting, evolving, transforming all the time, constantly; we're all slinkies, in other words, crawling down the stairway of life. The slinky that gets to the bottom of the stairs is the same one that started at the top -- it just bended and swayed along the way.

My take on it, anyways.

(But that's just me. I don't know about you.)


Muktuk said...

I hear what you're saying, but I'm leaning towards Watts. A very small practical example of the application of his ideas might be this...We are not our emotions. We feel a lot of emotions all throughout the day every day, but we are not defined by those emotions. At the end of the day, we still live and eat in our space regardless of what our emotional state is, but sometimes we define ourselves according to how our ego perceives what's going on in the world and what is actually happening in our lives apart from what does not change in ourselves and what remains despite everything.

Almost like our self cannot be conceptualized by the socical filters that we currently have that don't allow us to realize our full potential - metaphysically - (Ex. manifesting your own reality, etc.).

On point to this topic is a movie called "What the Bleep Do We Know?!" I know you're not a big proponent, but if you were ever curious and wanted to watch something that spelled these theories out for you, it'd be that.

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