Here's another installment in my sharing of notes I'm taking as I listen to audio recordings of Alan Watts that Sam Harris has put on his Waking Up app.
This talk focuses on the fascinating subject of who the "I" is. Most of us believe that this refers to someone inside our head that we consider to be Me. But Watts disagrees, viewing us as basically being the same as the cosmos.
In a bit of synchronicity, a few minutes ago I checked my email and found a message from a local spiritual teacher, Jessica Amos. Echoing Watts, she wrote in part:
In his book Going Home, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the concept of "This is, because that is," using the visualization of ocean waves...
Here's my notes of Watts' talk. Enjoy.
Myth of Myself
"I" is a profound mystery. You can't touch your finger with your finger. Or "I" with "I." Most believe we are a skin-encapsulated ego. We regard our self/ego as being inside our head.
Not so in other cultures. Japanese/Chinese would point to their heart or solar plexus as the seat of self. But we locate our self between the ears and behind the eyes. We have an idea of ourselves as a little man in the head getting signals from outside and controlling the body voluntarily.
A child asks: "Mommy, who would I have been if I had a different father?" The child gets an idea from their culture that mommy and daddy pop the child into a body. The idea is that we're a soul or spiritual essence imprisoned in a body.
So we speak of confronting reality, of coming into the world, of being an island of consciousness. What is outside of me is not me. This results in estrangement between me and the outside world.
Actually, we don't come into the world. We come out of it. Each of us is a symptom of the state of the universe as a whole.
There are two great myths, ideas we try to use to make sense of the world.
(1) The world as artifact, like clay made into a pot. Everything has been made. But the Chinese disagree. They see things growing naturally, like a seed turning into a plant. Others, though, believe there's a celestial architect.
God is a mastermind who knows everything. Unfortunately, this becomes too much for modern man, being watched by a cosmic judge. Everywhere is this eye judging and watching you.
(2) Instead, we get another myth, that of the purely mechanical universe. The idea of the universe being run by a kindly gentleman doesn't make sense. Outside the human mind, there's just a chaotic interaction of blind forces.
Energy is totally stupid. Our intelligence is an accident. The universe doesn't share our feelings. It must be beaten into submission. These ideas also don't make any sense.
You can't get an intelligent organism living in an unintelligent environment. An apple tree apples. Our Earth peoples. We grow out of this world just as apples grow out of an apple tree. A tiny seed has the potentiality of an giant oak within it.
The usual notion of us being isolated egos in a bag of skin is a hallucination. When you try to describe the behavior of an organism, you must also describe the environment. Walking requires a description of the floor.
You couldn't see me without the background. In order to see me you must see not just what's within the boundary of my skin but what's outside too.
The only thing to know to understand the deepest metaphysical secrets is this: For every inside there's an outside, and for every outside there's an inside. Different, but they go together. What is hidden is implicit. What is obvious is explicit.
Your behavior can't be separated from the world around you. Each of us is a waving of the entire cosmos. But we feel that we're a stranger in this world. This depends on a false notion of ourself.
We have two kinds of consciousness. Spotlight is conscious attention, or concentration. Floodlight is what lets you drive a car while you're talking to a friend. But our culture says that conscious attention is me.
We ignore floodlight consciousness, which is always operating. So we have a sensation of ourselves as just the spotlight, leaving us unaware of most of our being. Our real deep self is the whole of being.
Being is infinite variety. You are what the whole thing is doing. Each one of us is the world playing this way for a while. Yet we fear death. We tell our children, you've got to be educated and whipped until you're really human.
We get the ghastly Christian ego who feels he's homeless, an orphan. We have a sensation of being a stranger on the earth.
We speak of confronting reality, of facing facts, such as we're an island of consciousness in an alien world. We feel estranged from the external world.
We need to realize that the real self is not just the conscious ego. We don't know how we know. We're unaware how we grow our hair or digest our food. Our unknown self is inseparably connected with all there is.
You never die. What you are just appears in different forms. If you want to know how the inside of your head feels, open your eyes and look. That's how the inside of your head feels.