Man, I dig Alan Watts.
I just finished re-reading my favorite Watts book, "The Wisdom of Insecurity." He wrote it at a time, 1951, when "dig" was becoming part of the lexicon of the Beat Generation. But Watts' cogent understanding of what genuine spirituality -- for lack of a better term -- is all about: timeless.
And so simple. Here's how the basic message of the book, as summarized in the final chapter, Religion Reviewed, flows. Watts' quotations are indented. My words precede the quotes.
We long for security. For absoluteness. For something unchanging. But reality isn't like that. Living isn't like that. Movement is the stuff of life. Religions offer false promises.
We adopted the prevalent view that the existence of God, of any absolutes, and of an eternal order beyond this world is without logical support or meaning. We accepted the notion that such ideas are of no value for scientific prediction, and that all known events can be explained more simply without them. At the same time, we said that religion had no need to oppose this view, for almost all the spiritual traditions recognize that there is a stage in man's development when belief -- in contrast to faith -- and its securities have to be left behind.
When religion makes statements about the past or future, such as historical events or life after death, it enters the realm of science. Challenging those statements is fair game.
It states that this world was made by God, and that he made it for a purpose which will be fulfilled in the distant future, in "the life of the world to come." It insists, furthermore, that man has an immortal soul, and prophesies that it will survive his physical death and live everlastingly. The scientist therefore seems justified in saying that such predictions cannot be verified, and that they are made with precious little reference to past events known to have happened... Religious people hope or believe that these things will be true.
But there is another way of looking upon religion, upon spirituality, upon wise compassionate meaningful living: a way that focuses on what experientially is -- the present moment -- not what supposedly was or will be.
Nevertheless, in the history of every important religion, there have been those who understood religious ideas and statements in a very different way... From this other and, we think, deeper point of view, religion is not a system of predictions. Its doctrines have to do, not with the future and the everlasting, but with the present and the eternal. They are not a set of beliefs and hopes but, on the contrary, a set of graphic symbols about present experience.
This here-and-now reality can be described by words and other symbols, yet is not captured by them. Religious believers call it "God." Better to call it nothing, or if some term is desired, boundless mystery.
Metaphysical language is negative because it is trying to say that words and ideas do not explain reality. It is not trying to persuade us that reality is something like a boundless mass of transparent jelly. It does not speak of some impalpable abstraction, but of this very world in which we live. This experience which we call things, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, forms, and weights is, in itself, no thing, no form, no number, no nothing -- but at this moment we behold it. We are, then, beholding the God which traditional doctrines call the boundless, formless, infinite, eternal, undivided, unmoved, and unchanging Reality -- the Absolute behind the relative, the Meaning behind thoughts and words.
We need to be cautious, though, about getting carried away with metaphysical notions. They can be useful insofar as they point us toward the present moment; however, when they divide reality (and us) into unreal abstractions, those notions feed our unrealistic desire for a realm of security separate from the here-and-now.
It is easy to see that this kind of language, whether in its religious or metaphysical forms, can lead to all manner of misunderstanding. For when the mind is divided, and "I" wants to get away from present experience, the whole notion of a supernatural world is its happy hide-out. The "I" is resisting an unhappy change, and so clings to the "unchanging" Absolute, forgetting that this Absolute is also the "unfixed." When life provides some bitter experience, the "I" can only support it with the guarantee that it is part of the plan of a loving Father God. But this very guarantee makes it impossible to realize the "love of God," which, as is well known, requires the giving up of "I."
Our longing for eternal life is fine. That longing is easily fulfilled. The mistake lies in believing that eternity is endless individual existence, rather than the everlasting present moment.
The misunderstanding of religious ideas is vividly illustrated in what men have made of the doctrine of immortality, heaven, and hell. But now it should be clear that eternal life is the realization that the present is the only reality, and that past and future can be distinguished from it in a conventional sense alone. The moment is the "door of heaven," the "straight and narrow way that leadeth unto life," because there is no room in it for the separate "I." In this experience there is no one experiencing the experience. The "rich man" cannot get through this door because he carries too much baggage: he is clinging to the past and the future.
All that we really want, and will ever really have, is... each present moment. Grab it! Now!
When you are dying and coming to life in each moment, would-be scientific predictions about what will happen after death are of little consequence. The whole glory of it is that we do not know. Ideas of survival and annhiliation are alike based on the past, on memories of waking and sleeping, and, in their different ways, the notions of everlasting continuity and everlasting nothingness are without meaning... For there is no joy in continuity, in the perpetual. We desire it only because the present is empty... We do not really want continuity, but rather a present experience of total happiness. The thought of wanting such an experience to go on and on is the result of being self-conscious in the experience, and thus incompletely aware of it.
Genuine contentment, genuine happiness, genuine peace of mind -- it is blocked by feeling "I am content," "I am happy," "I am at peace." Feelings like these make us anxiously long for more of what the illusory "I" believes it possesses, and should possess in the future.
So long as there is the feeling of an "I" having this experience, the moment is not all. Eternal life is realized when the last trace of difference between "I" and "now" has vanished -- when there is just the "now" and nothing else. By contrast, hell or "everlasting damnation" is not the everlastingness of time going on forever, but of the unbroken circle, the continuity and frustration of going round and round in pursuit of something which can never be attained. Hell is the fatuity, the everlasting impossibility, of self-love, self-consciousness, and self-possession. It is trying to see one's own eyes, hear one's own ears, and kiss one's own lips.
There's nothing preventing us from experiencing the heaven of here-and-now. Just be here. Now. Not as two. As one: the experience of here-and-now.
If there is any problem at all, it is to see that in this instant you have no "I" to surrender. You are completely free to do this at any moment, and nothing whatever is stopping you. This is our freedom We are not, however, free to improve ourselves, to surrender ourselves, to lay ourselves open to grace, for all such split-mindedness is the denial and postponement of our freedom. It is trying to eat your mouth instead of bread.
...If, still thinking that there is an isolated "I," you identify it with God, you become the insufferable ego-maniac who thinks himself successful in attaining the impossible, in dominating experience, and in pursuing all vicious circles to satisfactory conclusions. When the snake swallows his tail he has a swelled head. It is quite another thing to see that you are your "fate," and that there is no one either to master it or to be mastered, to rule or to surrender.
...Discovering this the mind becomes whole: the split between I and me, man and the world, the ideal and the real, comes to an end. Paranoia, the mind beside itself, becomes metanoia, the mind with itself and so free from itself. Free from clutching at themselves the hands can handle; free from looking after themselves the eyes can see; free from trying to understand itself thought can think. In such feeling, seeing, and thinking life requires no future to complete itself nor explanation to justify itself.
In this moment it is finished.