“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thought, so he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusions,” Alan Watts once remarked. A charming philosopher of the human spirit, he was one of the principle people responsible for bringing Zen Buddhism into Western thought, during an illuminating conference.

In explaining exactly what he meant by “thoughts,” Watts described them as “chatter in the skull.” It’s a simple, accurate way of speaking of the frequent (and avoidable) internal dialogues and calculations, enslaving repetitions of words which, when presented compulsively, are the main source of the anguish with which many people live every day.

compulsive-thinking-alan-watts
Thinking, a reflection of our rational mind, is “a good servant, but a bad master,” as Watts and Buddhist philosophy put it, and is not bad in and of itself. It’s perhaps one of the most powerful tools humankind has at hand. But it needs to be used in moderation, as an instrument for solving problems. Then it’s put aside when it no longer serves us. In this way, we live the rest of our time inhabiting reality. Otherwise, we confuse our symbols, words, ideas, and numbers with the real world.

Thoughts can be of epic dimensions, or as common as the idea that we have to survive in the world, to get ahead, to not to fail, and to stay alive (though we know that death is yet coming). To do it, to make money, or simply the notion that we have to be something else; such thoughts exhaust the mind by not allowing us to enjoy the world we inhabit, and all of that which exists outside of the mind.

For Watts, the solution is simple: we don’t have to be anything more than what we are, nor to feel a thing other than what we presently feel. When we surrender to just being ourselves, and to what we’re feeling in the present, the impasse allows us to walk, and it tells us something. It’s a message worth listening to.

The ego and the idea of ​​self are, according to Watts, the main problem. The heavy image we hold of ourselves is made of what we’ve been told we are or should be, our educations and our ways of life. There’s nothing further from what we really are than these very ideas. We’re the universe, just as is a river, a galaxy, or a cloud. We are the universe expressed in the place that we feel is here and now. In other words, it’s through our eyes that the universe observes itself.

Watts asserts that it’s through calm observation of the universe that we find the answer. And this is also the principle of meditation. If we don’t know what to do, we need to observe. Watts’ example is in the act of listening to music. We listen to music until we eventually understand it, not in words, but in another way, because the point is simply “music” until we become music. In the same way, life acquires a sensibility that we little suspect through the simple act of observing it. It’s not only what happens outside of us, but what goes on inside, too. Thoughts, emotions, and fears can be observed from the point of view of a spectator, not wanting to change or judge them, but like clouds passing overhead.

This is necessary for waking up to reality and for living in the present, Watts finally explains in a resplendent eloquence and with his characteristic sense of humor. We observe life until we can transform ourselves into it, we stop thinking and codifying life, and finally, we live it.

 

 

*Images: 1) Public Domain; 2) Jaen Madrid

“A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thought, so he loses touch with reality, and lives in a world of illusions,” Alan Watts once remarked. A charming philosopher of the human spirit, he was one of the principle people responsible for bringing Zen Buddhism into Western thought, during an illuminating conference.

In explaining exactly what he meant by “thoughts,” Watts described them as “chatter in the skull.” It’s a simple, accurate way of speaking of the frequent (and avoidable) internal dialogues and calculations, enslaving repetitions of words which, when presented compulsively, are the main source of the anguish with which many people live every day.

compulsive-thinking-alan-watts
Thinking, a reflection of our rational mind, is “a good servant, but a bad master,” as Watts and Buddhist philosophy put it, and is not bad in and of itself. It’s perhaps one of the most powerful tools humankind has at hand. But it needs to be used in moderation, as an instrument for solving problems. Then it’s put aside when it no longer serves us. In this way, we live the rest of our time inhabiting reality. Otherwise, we confuse our symbols, words, ideas, and numbers with the real world.

Thoughts can be of epic dimensions, or as common as the idea that we have to survive in the world, to get ahead, to not to fail, and to stay alive (though we know that death is yet coming). To do it, to make money, or simply the notion that we have to be something else; such thoughts exhaust the mind by not allowing us to enjoy the world we inhabit, and all of that which exists outside of the mind.

For Watts, the solution is simple: we don’t have to be anything more than what we are, nor to feel a thing other than what we presently feel. When we surrender to just being ourselves, and to what we’re feeling in the present, the impasse allows us to walk, and it tells us something. It’s a message worth listening to.

The ego and the idea of ​​self are, according to Watts, the main problem. The heavy image we hold of ourselves is made of what we’ve been told we are or should be, our educations and our ways of life. There’s nothing further from what we really are than these very ideas. We’re the universe, just as is a river, a galaxy, or a cloud. We are the universe expressed in the place that we feel is here and now. In other words, it’s through our eyes that the universe observes itself.

Watts asserts that it’s through calm observation of the universe that we find the answer. And this is also the principle of meditation. If we don’t know what to do, we need to observe. Watts’ example is in the act of listening to music. We listen to music until we eventually understand it, not in words, but in another way, because the point is simply “music” until we become music. In the same way, life acquires a sensibility that we little suspect through the simple act of observing it. It’s not only what happens outside of us, but what goes on inside, too. Thoughts, emotions, and fears can be observed from the point of view of a spectator, not wanting to change or judge them, but like clouds passing overhead.

This is necessary for waking up to reality and for living in the present, Watts finally explains in a resplendent eloquence and with his characteristic sense of humor. We observe life until we can transform ourselves into it, we stop thinking and codifying life, and finally, we live it.

 

 

*Images: 1) Public Domain; 2) Jaen Madrid