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Meditate at the Hand of Alan Watts


A 15-minute meditation guided by one of the most prominent scholars of Zen Buddhism in the Western world.

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

In its illuminating humility, the act of meditating is the most powerful tool for living in peace. Alan Watts, once an Episcopal priest in England, became one of the most important practitioners and promoters of Zen in the West. Endowed with a delightful sense of humor, he lectured and wrote books about Zen for the better part of his life. And, as it were, he translated an enormous body of Eastern wisdom into Western reality. This brief meditative exercise is a proof of it.

For Watts, everything could be summarized in being spontaneous and in the maintenance of a healthy mind.  Observing is better than thinking, he once said. It’s not simple when we live in societies that seem oriented toward anxiety: anxiety of being who we are, of not being what we should be, of self-definition, of heeding the definitions of others, of making money for survival, and a huge “etcetera” that might take an entire year to unravel.

As simple as it is complex, the act of meditating can be approached through multiple techniques, but always with the same purpose: to silence the thoughts and judgments that torment us (“chatter in the skull,” as Watts once put it). One might define meditation even more simply as the ability to use the mind as the powerful tool it is, and then to put it aside once we’ve finished. To meditate, finally, is to be in contact with reality.

In the following videos Watts’ beloved voice narrates a short meditation (with or without background music), using three resources to silence the thoughts. First, with the eyes closed and in a comfortable position, he asks us to listen, to attend to the surrounding sounds without naming them, without recognizing them, without judging them, but merely listening to them, as a spectator of them. The second part of the meditation invites us to pay attention to our thoughts, those that arise inevitably in our heads, and to see them without naming or judging them, as we did before with the sounds. This puts us in the place of spectators of both the world, and of our interiors (which, for Watts, are the same thing). Finally, the philosopher talks about breathing, an act both voluntary as it is involuntary, and the only one which accompanies us from the day we come to this world until the day we leave it. Together, these three tools (and Watts’ gentle direction) may take you to unsuspected places.




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