As one of the most celebrated orators of modern history, Alan Watts (1915-1973) had a knack for getting to the heart of life’s biggest questions. Released in March 2017, his newest book — Out of Your Mind: Tricksters, Interdependence, and the Cosmic Game of Hide and Seek — is no exception.
Based on the best-selling Out of Your Mind audio series, this captivating book may be the most potent Watts publication in the last 45 years. (I truly mean that, as I’ve read them all.)
Having enjoyed the book twice, I selected 15 linguistic gems that reflect the depth, clarity, and power of Watts’ eloquent words on a range of topics. That was no easy feat because, like all of Watts’ works, insightful treasures abound — page, after page, after page.
Perhaps the quotes below will enliven you, like they have me and so many others, or inspire you to explore the incredible body of Watts’ written and recorded work.
While Watts is no longer with us today, his wisdom and legacy most certainly are. For example, Watts’ voice appeared in everything from the Academy Award-winning film Her (2013) and animations made by the creators of South Park to the mind-expanding video game “Everything,” and the award-winning film Zen Dog. Two extremely rich academic books about Watts’ lifetime of work have been recently published as well. With his alluring British accent, piercing wit, and joyous curiosity, it is no surprise that snippets from Watts’ riveting lectures have found their way online too, making him a bit of a YouTube celebrity in recent years.
In short, Alan Watts’ legacy lives on in many ways, as Out of Your Mind well illustrates. Truly timeless, Watts’ wisdom fosters individual and collective evolution just as much today as it did during the 1950s “Zen boom” and at the height of the 1960s counterculture.
15 Gems from Out of Your Mind
1. “Everything is change. Nothing can be held on to. And if you go with the flux, you flow with it. However, if you resist the stream, it fights you. If you realize this, you swim with the flow — you go with it, and you’re at peace.”
2. “You and I are as continuous with the physical universe as a wave is continuous with the ocean. The ocean waves, the universe peoples. But we have been hypnotized — literally hypnotized — into feeling and sensing that we exist as separate entities inside our own skin.”
3. “…references to the hereafter are correctly understood as pointing to the herein — that is, a domain deeper than egocentric consciousness. When you get to the bottom of egocentric consciousness, you get to its limits, which is figuratively its death. Then you go inward to the self, deeper than conscious attention, and in that way you go inward to eternity. You don’t go onward to eternity. To go onward means time — more and more and more time in which things go round forever. But to go in is to go to eternity.”
4. “We and our environment and all of us together are interdependent systems. Any good scientist knows that what you call the external world is as much you as your own body. Your skin doesn’t actually separate you from the world — it’s a bridge through which the world flows into you, and you flow into the world. …The problem is we’re not taught to feel that way. The myths underlying our culture and underlying our common sense have not taught us to feel identical with the universe. And that’s why we feel alien to it, as if we were separate parts confronting the world. But we quite urgently need to feel that we are the eternal universe, each one of us.”
5. “Apples are symptomatic of apple trees; roses are symptomatic of rose bushes; and we are symptomatic of the universe. The earth is not some big rock infested with living organisms any more than your skeleton is a series of bones infested with cells.”
6. “Eventually, you will become aware that this happening isn’t happening to you, because you are the happening. The only you there is is what’s going on.”
7. “When you try to grab a fish, it slips right out of your grasp; so how do you get a hold of it? You use a net. In the same way, we use nets to hold on to the wiggly world. If you want to control a wiggle, you’ve got to throw some kind of net over it. That’s our foundation for measuring the world. …this is how we break up wiggles into bits. … But in nature, wiggles don’t come “pre-bitted.” That’s just our way of measuring and controlling patterns and processes. If you want to eat a chicken, you have to cut it up in order to take a bite — it doesn’t come already bitten. In the same way, the world doesn’t come thinged.”
8. “We have been educated to use our minds in a narrow way. We have been taught to ignore that every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos experiences life. Every one of us is a hole from which the fundamental light — existence itself — looks out, but we’re playing the game of forgetting this fact, and we pretend to only be this little hole, this little thing we call me, or the ego, or Paul Jones, or whatever. But if we can maintain a sense of being Paul Jones while at the same time understanding we are the whole works, then that’s a very marvelous and agreeable arrangement. If you can carry these two perspectives at once, you will experience a most remarkable harmoniousness. It will bring your life a great sense of joy and exuberance, because you know that all the serious predicaments of life are a game.”
9. “The whole world is energy at play — it’s a kaleidoscope of jazz.”
10. “Every one of us is a whirlpool in the tide of existence. Every cell in our body — every molecule, every atom — is in constant flux. Nothing can be pinned down.”
11. “Now, I want to be clear what I mean by ego. I don’t mean something synonymous with our particular living organism, but something rather abstract. The ego has the same function and kind of reality as an hour or an inch or a pound or a line of longitude. It’s for the purposes of discussion, for convenience. We have an ego due to social convention, but the fallacy we all make is that we treat this abstraction as if it were something real and physical. But the ego is merely a composition of ideas and images about ourselves. This image is obviously no more us than the idea of a tree is tree. Additionally, the image we carry about ourselves is extremely inaccurate and incomplete. …In other words, the image I have of myself — my ego — is a caricature. …For a lot of people, the quest for identity means searching for an acceptable image. What role am I supposed to play? What am I supposed to do in life? Those questions are important, but they are extraordinarily misleading unless they’re backed up by deeper matters.”
12. “When you look for your own mind — that is to say, your own particularized center of being that is separate from everything else — you won’t be able to find it. But the only way you’ll know it isn’t there is if you look for it hard enough to find out that it isn’t there. That’s why gurus of all types tell you to know yourself, to look within, to find out who you really are, because the harder you look, the less you will find…”
13. “So, to be frank and sum up my metaphysics: there’s the central self — you can call it God or whatever you like — and it’s all of us. And it’s playing all the parts of every single being throughout the universe, and it’s playing the game of hide-and-seek with itself. It gets involved in far-out adventures, it gets lost, but in the end, it always wakes up and comes back to itself. And when you’re ready to wake up, you’re going to wake up.”
14. “Not too long ago, people believed the earth was flat. They knew it to be true with all their hearts. But then people started sailing all the way around the world and flying from here to there, and we gradually got used to thinking of the earth as globular. We just got used to it. Well, in the same way, it will one day be a matter of common sense to most people that we’re all one with the universe. It’ll be so simple. And maybe when that happens, we’ll handle our technology with better sense. Maybe we’ll act with love toward our environment, instead of hate.”
15. “Holiness doesn’t mean being good; good people aren’t necessarily holy. A holy person is someone who is whole…”
If you enjoyed these brief passages, check out the full-length book available on Amazon: Out of Your Mind: Tricksters, Interdependence, and the Cosmic Game of Hide and Seek
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