“the prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East.”
~ Alan Watts
In alignment with this month’s thought letter, I found this intriguing note from Alan Watts. A philosopher from the 50’s – 70’s, Watts shared wisdom about practices, both physically and mentally, that have now become popular. Meditation, yoga, and reflection are daily prescribed answers to many of life’s dilemmas. Finding peace and balance through discovering a purpose in life while becoming part of this world is a way of thinking that Watts developed through fusing Western and Eastern philosophy.
Diverging a bit away from Freud’s philosophy about the, yet sympathizing with its idea, Alan Watts expands on his belief that we are not a sole ego, but part of a larger picture.
“This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.”
Watts even goes so far to explain how some religions limit our perspective of the universe. When left unchecked or questioned, they become divisive and quarrelsome as they become dependent on the line drawn in the sand that separates the saved from the damned.
This example can lead to the positive sides of the ego, becoming an unattractive quality which is so commonly attributed to the word “egotistical.”
This sense of “one-upmanship”, as Alan Watts calls it, is expressed in all facets of politics, education, athletics, etc. Not always, but again, when left unquestioned or evaluated can become that segregator to a greater sense of togetherness.
“Our normal sensation of self is a hoax, or, at best, a temporary role that we are playing, or have been conned into playing — with our own tacit consent, just as every hypnotized person is basically willing to be hypnotized. The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego.”
Whether you are the one drawing the line in the sand, or the one crossing to either side, without searching for another option or accepting many options, you may never discover who you really are. We are all driven by our id, but if we are forced to act and speak a certain way without reason, we never know what it is like to march to the beat of our own drum, or better, how to dance to the music within us all.
Alan Watts philosophy isn’t for everyone, however if you like thought provoking words that don’t attempt to make your mind up for you, please check out his work. Quotes and philosophies in this article can be found in his book, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
By: David Joseph Leingang