I just finished Alan Watts’ autobiography “In My Own Way”.
It’s an amazing read and definitely going down as one of my all-time favourites. Interestingly enough I’ve always had a fascination with buddhism and an eerie appreciation for oriental mysticism.
We are attracted to the unfamiliar and growing up in the West, thought patterns which follow buddhism or taoism or shintoism are as unfamiliar as they come. Nevertheless over the years I have flirted with learning more about it, both from a learning and practical standing point.
While at NYU a girl friend of mine put me on to yoga to the people on St. Marks street where you could learn yoga, essentially for free. There was a “suggested” donation at the time of $5 but I was still eating one dollar pizza slices from 2 bros (aka broke college student) and easily finessed my way in for free.
Apart from the most beautiful women at these sessions, I really enjoyed the yoga experience. The instructor had us go through various yoga positions and at the end of the class we would have a five minute cool down session. This cool down session was basically a light form of meditation. We would sit still and focus on our breathing as the instructor hummed or chanted or spoke soothing words to us. I was terrible at achieving “no-mind” but I really enjoyed the experience.
About a year or two ago I found out about Alan Watts. I must have seen one of his speeches or short segments on YouTube and was immediately lost in the black hole of his writings, speeches and broadcasts.
I found him to be enlightened yet humorous, he never sounded too preachy about anything which is something that drew me in. Since a youngin I have always thought for myserlf. Anytime someone or a group of people are talking down on me or trying to persuade me of something I go the opposite way. It’s the main gripes I have with religion and politics. Watts held none of those traits, listening to him talk felt like you were apart of the conversation as an equal.
Last month I started reading the book and it immediately opened my mind to the nuances of buddhist thought and Alan Watts, the man.
The one key takeaway I took was the concept of yin & yang. In this society we are conditioned to a very binary way of thinking. “This is bad”, “this is good” and so on. I learned from Alan Watts that the world deals with the polarity as one. Yin = darkness, sadness, suffer, cannot exist without the Yang = light, happiness, joy.
We exist in a dualistic universe. Just as you cannot have a “back” without a “front”, every experience you go through in life can be looked at in a similar way. It’s all the same, yin and yang. Watts explains that he can be a deeply spiritual man but still enjoy and love the indulgences of sexuality, drink and LSD. He makes no distinction or line between the two. They are one as he is one. It is all the same.
Another eye-opening account in his book is concept of life and death. If there is one guarantee in life it is that we are all going to die one day, at least in the flesh.
Alan Watts offers this mind-twister: “Imagine yourself going to sleep and never waking up. Can you do it? That is what happens when you die. Now imagine having wakened up without ever going to sleep. That is the process of being born. Now tell me that these two events are unrelated”
Rattled. I’ve tried to imagine these two phenomena intensely over the last few days and it’s extremely difficult. Even thinking about your own death is a little weird in itself, but the man makes a good point. When you look at it that way it seems like life and death are two sides of the same coin.
And the bigger piece of enlightenment that this brings is that it frees you from the confines of this world. Once you understand, accept or at least have no issues with your own death, you are free to live your life to the fullest.
I’m still thinking about and trying to understand this for myself. I must say that the concept itself is thought-provoking to say the least.
Thank you Alan Watts. You have been a great teacher to me.