What Watts did masterfully, way back in 1951, was bring a sort of core spirituality down to earth, shorn of superfluous lofty religious, mystical, and supernatural abstractions. It's a purified philosophy of living -- ageless wisdom trimmed of dogmatic theologies.
So simple. So, so simple. What we're looking for has always been right before our eyes. Also, our nose, mouth, ears, hands, and every other part of us.
Here's how I'd encapsulate the basic message of the first five (of nine) chapters I've re-read so far:
Life is change. Take away the change in life and you've got death. No change, no life. But all that changing is scary. Also, wonderful. The same growing that enables us to mature from babies to adults also leads to old age, disability, disease, and death.
Observing this with our peculiarly human ability to cognize, we understandably, yet wrongly, conclude that the solution to all the problems that come with change is to stop the changing.
This arresting of change has external and internal aspects. Meaning, we want to find something unchangeable in the world outside of us, and we also want ourselves to be something unchangeable that's capable of enjoying an unchangeable world.
Religions, mystics, and other purveyors of eternal'ness give us what we're asking for.
Great example of free enterprise. Satisfy a demand. The market has spoken. People desire to be free of fearful change. So give them the promise (not the reality) of unchanging life in an unchanging world.
Heaven is such a world. So is nirvana, paradise, God's mansion, and all the other imagined eternal places that are thought to exist apart from our ever-changing everyday existence. But as noted before, an eternal abode isn't any good if there is no part of us equally eternal which can live on in eternity.
Our bodies, which includes our brains, which includes the minds that are brains in motion -- they clearly aren't unchangeable. Thus the human mind has come up with abstract concepts that offer a promise of the eternal existence which isn't evident in reality.
Soul. Spirit. God-consciousness. Atman. Astral form. Pure awareness. These are some of the many ways people have conceptualized an entity for which there is no evidence of, but it sure would be nice if it existed.
Because then the "me" which is my body could change and die, while the "I' which is my really real nature would live on... and on... and on, forever and ever, eternally. In that eternal abode which so pleasingly fits with my own eternal aspect.
Sounds great. Just like every other too-good-to-be-true scam. No down payment, no payments for eternity! Wow, what a deal!
Throughout "The Wisdom of Insecurity," Alan Watts points out the problems with this whole assumption that eternal I is going to spend eternity with eternal God, or whatever we want to call the Great Unchanging Essence of the Cosmos.
In the chapter I re-read this morning, On Being Aware, Watts presents the essence of Zen and other more-or-less non-bullshit forms of spirituality: there is no "I" that can be eternal, or even can be anything else. The "I" we consider ourselves to be doesn't exist.
All there is, is experience.
Ever-changing experience. No experiencer. Just experience. To paraphrase Zen masters, deal with it, dude. Show me your Buddha-mind, your Buddha-nature! Ha, you can't! You are your mind, your nature! Gotcha!
Here's some quotes from the chapter:
When you were thinking, "I am reading this sentence" you were not reading it. In other words, in each present experience you were only aware of that experience. You were never aware of being aware. You were never able to separate the thinker from the thought, the knower from the known. All you ever found was a new thought, a new experience.
To be aware, then, is to be aware of thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, and all other forms of experience. Never at any time are you aware of anything which is not experience, not a thought or feeling, but instead an experiencer, thinker, or feeler. If this is so, what makes us think that any such thing exists?
...When you see clearly that memory is a form of present experience, it will be obvious that trying to separate yourself from this experience is as impossible as trying to make your teeth bite themselves. There is simply experience.
There is not something or someone experiencing experience! You do not feel feelings, think thoughts, or sense sensations any more than you hear hearing, see sight, or smell smelling.
"I feel fine" means that a fine feeling is present. It does not mean that there is one thing called an "I" and another separate thing called a feeling, so that when you bring them together this "I" feels the fine feeling. There are no feelings but present feelings, and whatever feeling is present is "I."
No one ever found an "I" apart from some present experience, or some experience apart from an "I" -- which is only to say that the two are the same thing.
...The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the "I" out of the experience.
We pretend that we are amoebas, and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting ourselves into two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate "I" or mind can be found.