Become What You Are (Alan Watts)

A few excerpts from Alan Watts’ Become What You Are:

Though your thoughts may run into the past or the future they cannot escape the present moment.

A man does not really begin to be alive until he has lost himself, until he has released the anxious grasp which he normally holds upon his life, his property, his reputation and position.

The one important result of any serious attempt at self-renunciation or self-acceptance is the humiliating discovery that it is impossible. […] The people who have quite genuinely died to themselves make no claims of any kid to their own part in the process.

Our attempts to stand above (our) emotions and control them are the emotions themselves at play.

Your everyday mind is the Tao. Continue reading

Apocalypse (Twenty Thirty)

I confess to a love-hate relationship with stories about the apocalypse. Cringe-watching through my fingers, if you will. Thought it might be fun to collect a few of my favorites here. We’ll start with a couple of excerpts from Albert Brooks’ Twenty Thirty.

In the summer of 2018 two things happened. A heat wave swept over the East Coast, unprecedented in the United States, and caused temperatures to remain close to 105 during the day for almost six weeks. Global warming was not challenged anymore, not after the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica melted three hundred years before anyone thought it would. Sure, there were a few scientists who would say man had nothing to do with it, but it didn’t matter anymore, it was happening. Sometimes during very cold winters, there were still people who pooh-poohed global warming altogether. “Look outside, it’s a blizzard,” they would say. But of course the terrible winters were a sign of even further erosion. And when the eastern seaboard had forty-five consecutive days above one hundred degrees, skeptics melted away, along with everything else.

And something else happened late that summer. The United States had always said that the likelihood of a nuclear or biological attack was greater than fifty percent. And people always thought about it the same way they thought about earthquakes: They knew something was coming, but what could they do? Well, it wasn’t a nuclear attack, but on August 15, 2018, people started getting sick with flulike symptoms in San Francisco. Before anyone realized it, a smallpox virus had contaminated the city. The government’s best guess was that five or six terrorists had come into the country already infected with the disease and worked their was crowded streets, department stores, schools, supermarkets — everywhere it could be spread. Before it was over, twenty thousand people were the city came to a halt, the stock market fell fifty percent, and the fear level increased tenfold.

And as though things were bad enough, Mr. Brooks tosses in an earthquake.

So this was “the big one.” This was the one scientists said in 2010 had a fifty percent chance of happening in the next thirty years. Fifty-fifty. Red or black. The San Andreas Fault had not moved substantially in over three hundred years. “Overdue” was an understatement.

The initial shake was a 9.1. The first aftershock was an 8.7. The second was an 8.2. The third, an 8.0, was bigger than anything that had ever been predicted.

Los Angeles was not prepared for this. No city could be. No freeway was drivable, no buildings were okay, and many came down completely. Ninety-eight percent of the property in Los Angeles County was severely damaged.

The death toll was close to fifty thousand and the number of injured was incalculable. First reports said up to half a million people were seriously hurt. Hospitals could do nothing. They were damaged beyond repair; all they tried to do was keep the patients who were already there alive.

And then, after all was said and done, after all of the damage and death and destruction, there was one looming issue. Where in God’s name would the money come from to fix America’s largest city? For a country so deeply in debt, this seemed like an impossible task.

“We believe the future of TV is apps”

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that during the announcement of the latest version of Apple TV back in September. I didn’t give it much thought at the time but after using apps on the TV for a few days, I’m starting to get a sense of what he was talking about. Not sure I can describe it in any useful way.

Back in the 50s we had two or three channels and everything came through one of them (in real time). Cable brought us more pipes but you had to be watching the right pipe at the right time to see what you wanted (or what the network wanted you to see). VCRs and (later) DVRs allowed us to time shift and skip commercials but its was still a channels-of-programs world.

The iPhone introduced the concept of apps. The New York Times has an app; ESPN has an app; all gods children got an app. Now the world is mobile and apps is where it’s at.

reutersTVThis is where I was going to try to describe how “apps for the TV” delivers a fundamentally different experience than the current TV model but I don’t think I’m up to the task. I know it’s a cliche but you’ll just have to play with for a bit get it. But I do have one example.

The new (4th generation) Apple TV comes with an app for Reuters TV. You can watch individual stories (Trump on SNL) or categories (World News). Or you can let the app build a “newscast” for you. Tell it how much time you have (5, 15, 30 minutes) and it does the rest.

I’ve been impressed with the few of these I’ve watched. No high profile anchors and no famous network correspondents. I’m reminded of the early days of CNN Headline News with anonymous (but competent) reports told you what was happening. The reporters I’ve watched on Reuters TV are not slick or polished but they get the job done and the story is clearly more important than the people reporting.

The production values are excellent, they’ve just done away with a lot of the shit (glitzy graphics, etc) the networks have piled on over the years. And it’s rare to see an NBC newscast without at least one “story” promoting the network (“More on the TODAY SHOW tomorrow morning…”).

Reuters TV did toss in a couple of 10 second (?) ads but they were not intrusive and they weren’t aimed at the 65+ demo.

So, if I get home in the middle of the afternoon and want a summary of news, Reuters TV can give me what I want; the length I want; when I want it. On my new big screen TV. Apps do this well. Far better than networks and cable channels.

As I get more comfortable with TV = apps I’ll take another stab at describing this. I’d be very interested in hearing from others using the latests version of Apple TV.

Ten Books

  • Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharishi
  • I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaja
  • The Tao of Zen (Ray Grigg)
  • The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (Alan Watts)
  • The Way of Zen (Alan Watts)
  • Tao – The Watercourse Way (Alan Watts)
  • This is It: and Other Essays of Zen and Spiritual Experience (Alan Watts)
  • Still the Mind: An Introduction to Meditation (Alan Watts)
  • The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle)
  • God’s Debris (Scott Adams)

Reincarnation

I wrote this in 1988. I was 40 years old and I don’t recall what prompted this musing. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on eastern philosophies in the past 30 years and my thinking/understanding has evolved. But only a little.

Reincarnation. The word conjures up all sorts of mystical images. While I don’t recall any past life as a soldier at the Little Big Horn, it’s sort of like “the undiscovered planet” that makes sense of the orbits of the other planets.

As I think about the idea of a past existence, I feel a fondness for this “earlier me”. A sense of gratitude for whatever spiritual progress he was able to achieve. At the same time, I feel a sense of anticipation or expectation for my “next life”. And some responsibility to that future self. I’d like to move him (or her?) along as far as I can on this “cosmic lap.” To move him closer to…a perfect consciousness? Nirvana?

Mixed in with all of that is a sense of relief that I don’t have to complete everything in this lifetime. This is not the only shot I’ll get. And this awareness is vital because we all know –consciously or subconsciously– that we won’t “get it all done” in a spiritual sense. We hope (and work) for progress but a single lifetime seems hopelessly short.

So, how close am I? What if I’m only a single lifetime (only?) away from reaching this level of consciousness? Suppose I progress sufficiently in what I have left of this lifetime that I’m within “striking distance” in the next?

It’s possible I’m on my first “existence” and have many to go. Or I might have lived thousands of lives and have but a few remaining. The point is, it doesn’t matter where you are on this journey. There’s no race and no time limit. You finish when you finish and everybody finishes. And that’s a liberating thought. There’s no Heavenly Stopwatch ticking away. No point at which you must throw in the towel and face the fact you’11 never be “good enough” to get through those Pearly Gates. Eternity is not pass-fail.

Most of us fear death. We fear the unknown… what might be waiting for us. Most Western theology offers only heaven or hell. Or nothing. Poor choices, all.

What if we’re just as frightened of “being born” as we are of dying? Once you accept the idea that our souls or spirits or consciousness do not die, but are eternal, you can imagine how frightening it might be to face being born into a new existence. There is symmetry here that feels right. If my soul or consciousness is eternal, can it really be that it magically sprang into existence at the moment of my conception? One instant it didn’t exist, the next it did? It came from nowhere, out of nothing? No. I think eternity stretches in both directions.

I wish I could tell the “earlier me” that things worked out fine. There was nothing to fear. I don’t remember “dying” or being born and this life has been terrific. And why not assume the “next me” will do just as well? And will be a little more spiritually evolved thanks to the progress “this me” is making.

Why don’t (most of us) remember our “past lives?” I think it would be an awful distraction. Our purpose is to live each moment of this life fully. To grow through each day’s experience. Not to dwell on and puzzle over a life already lived. Lessons already learned. So we remain unaware of past and future lives, focused on the only life we can ever really live, this one.

And what about Heaven? Can it really be the cosmic end-of-the-line we’ve been taught? Have you ever really believed in this Sunday School heaven with streets of gold and God sitting on his judgment throne? Isn’t there more hope, more promise, in the ongoing spiritual journey?

As for Hell, we are all quite capable of creating our own, anytime, anywhere. And we do.
The idea of timeless existence fills me with a wonderful sense of anticipation. If, after 40 years, I’ve learned to stop worrying, does that mean I can go on to new challenges in this life (and the next)? If I’ve lived a life afraid to take chances, to risk, for fear of failure, will I conquer that fear next time? Can I take the spiritual progress f this life on to the next one? It seems right, doesn’t it?

And equally logical that I’ll take unsolved challenges with me as well. But how many people do you know who expect to leave their enemies behind when they go to “their reward”. Smug in the knowledge those enemies are now paying for their sins.

No, I think He or She would say, “Don’t talk to me about right or wrong, your job is your own spiritual growth. As long as you feel hate, or anger, or guilt, or worry… keep working on it. And to help you, I’ve got a limitless number of real-life situations for you to practice on.”

Does this mean I can coast through this life, dodging spiritual challenges, procrastinating on into eternity? I don’t think so. I’d love to hit that next life free and clear (to the extent that is possible). Unencumbered. I want to put worry and fear and self-doubt behind me now. I want the “next me” to have every opportunity for continued growth. Let’s drop some of this baggage. God knows how many lifetimes I’ve been hauling it (for those who need another reason for not recalling past lives).

The idea of the spirit or consciousness living on past what we call death raises the question of friends and loved ones living (again) among us. Should be sad we don’t recognize them nor they us? No.

First, they have new lessons to learn and new people and experiences will help. In our own lives we tend to find and remain in comfort zones. We do the same things, with the same people, throughout most of our lives. Only when we force ourselves (or are forced) into new situations, do we see real growth and progress. It would be like staying in the first grade for 12 years. We know the teacher and our classmates and the lessons. It’s safe and comfortable. But instead, we are forced to move on to new schools, new rooms, new teachers and classmates, new lessons. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, there is a unity of all consciousness. The essence of each of us, exists in all of us. That essence is part of the reborn consciousness of friends and loved ones. One more lesson: Look for and recognize the things we loved about that person, in all people.

Invisible Atheists

“In today’s Arab world, it’s not religiosity that is mandatory; it’s the appearance of it.”

“Religion is a form of surveillance. It’s not about God; it’s about the power wielded by those who act in his name.” Habib, Willoughby, and many others have switched to atheism as an act of rebellion. But their rebellion is less against Islam than against the abuses committed by religiously powered individuals and political systems.”

“Despite the risks and the social and political challenges they’re facing, all the atheist activists I interviewed said they were confident that the future of the Arab world belongs to secularism. Willoughby told me that “atheism is spreading like wildfire” in the Middle East. Brian Whitaker views it as “the symptom of a much bigger thing, which is the battle against oppression.”

From an article in New Republic »

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

sapiens-book-coverAmazon: “Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.”

You can scan my favorite nuggets after the jump: Continue reading

Tao: The Watercourse Way

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at Mon, Sep 22, 2.13.57 PMExcerpts from Tao: The Watercourse Way by Alan Watts.

The Tao which can be spoken is not the eternal (or regular) Tao.

Our organisms have ways of intelligent understanding beyond words and conscious attention.

The supposition that knowing requires a knower is based on a linguistic and not an existential rule.

Alphabetic writing is a representation of sound. A sign for a sound which is the name of a thing.

Li is the pattern of behavior which comes about when one is in accord with the Tao, the watercourse of nature.

We and our surroundings are the process of a unified field, which is what the Chinese call Tao. #

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.

It is the great and imaginary terror of Western man that nothingness will be the permanent end of the universe. We do not easily grasp the point that the void is creative, and that being comes from nonbeing as sound from silence and light from space.

I find it impossible to conceive any form whatsoever without the component of relatively empty space. […] I cannot get away from the sense that space and my awareness of the universe are the same.

How would you know that you are alive unless you had once been dead? How can one speak of reality or is-ness except in the context of the polar apprehension of void.

There is something in us which may be called upon for a higher wisdom than can be figured out by logic.

The nervous system can integrate more variables than the scanning process of conscious attention.

It is a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process. […] The whole cosmos is implicit in every member of it, and every point in it may be regarded as its center.

There is no point in trying to suppress the babble of words and ideas that goes on in most adult brains, so if it won’t stop, let it go on as it will, and listen to it as if it were the sound of traffic or the clucking of hens. # Tao is just a name for whatever happens. […] Yet the Tao is most certainly the ultimate reality and energy of the universe, the Ground of being and nonbeing.

Tao cannot be defined in words and is not an idea or concept. #

Verbal description and definition may be compared to the latitudinal and longitudinal nets which we visualize upon the earth and heavens to define and enclose the positions of mountains and lakes, planets and stars. But earth and heaven are not cut by these imaginary strings.

It is basic to the Taoist view of the world that every thing-event is what it is only in relation to all others.

Nature has no “parts” except those which are distinguished by human systems of classification.

The Tao is the pattern of things, but not the enforced law. […] The universe is a harmony or symbiosis of patterns which cannot exist without each other.

Just as every point on the surface of a sphere may be seen as the center of the surface, so every organ of the body and every being in the cosmos may be seen as its center and ruler.

As the universe produces our consciousness, our consciousness evokes the universe.

The only single event is the universe itself.

Pantheism: The idea that the universe, considered as a mass of distinct things and events, is simply God by another name.

But if, as is the case, the Tao is simply inconceivable, what is the use of having the word and saying anything at all about it? Simply because we know intuitively that there is a dimension of ourselves and of nature which eludes us because it is too close, too general, and too all-embracing to be singled out as a particular object.

Taoists do not look upon meditation as “practice,” except in the sense that a doctor “practices” medicine. […] Meditate for the joy of meditation.

“You” cannot go along with “things” unless there is the understanding that there is, in truth, no alternative since you and the things are the same process — the non-streaming Tao. The feeling that there is a difference is also that process. There is nothing to do about it. There is nothing not to do about it. […] In realizing that you are the Tao, you automatically manifest its magic.

As a way of contemplation, (Tao) is being aware of life without thinking about it. #

To be anxious to survive is to wear oneself out. […] If, deep down inside, you want most desperately to survive and be in control of things, you cannot genuinely take the attitude of not worrying about it. You must allow yourself the freedom to worry — to let the mind think whatever it wants to think.”

Hebrew, Islamic, and Catholic scholastics, as well as Protestant fundamentalists, are like tourists who study guidebooks and maps instead of wandering freely and looking at the view.

True knowledge can be encompassed only by instinct and by actual experience.

Openly Secular

“The Air Force was ready to end a man’s military career because he would not submit to its religious demands. To secular Americans, requiring an oath to God is like asking a Jewish airman to swear, “So help me Jesus” or a Christian to say, “So help me Allah.” More »