Monday 4 July 2022

Alan Watts Quotations


“The only Zen you’ll find on mountain tops is the Zen you bring up there with you”

Image by The Alan Watts Organization via Big Think

I first fell in love with Alan Watts because of his humour and profound wisdom.

He saw the world in such a lighthearted, playful, and brilliant way that it made my life more lighthearted, playful, and beautiful too.

After being on a spiritual path for a few years, I was taking my life a little tooseriously, so he came as a refreshing surprise.

During his 58 years, he was a self-proclaimed philosophical entertainer, fusing Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoist traditions.

The only thing he did more than making babies was write books, 25 of them in fact, which is 18 more than had children, just in case you were wondering.

So, here are 15 of my favourite quotes by the man himself. And if applied, can change the way you see the world forever.

1. “The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

He beautifully summed it up in another way too:

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

All children embody this wonderfully. But for us adults, we often forget.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” — George Bernard Shaw

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Life is in an ever-changing dance through time. We can either try and stop it or dance with it. Which one we choose ultimately determines our entire reality.

“But I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”

I don’t think I’ve ever quoted the bible but there’s nothing more fitting:

“Be humble. Don’t think you’re better than anyone else. For dust you are and dust you shall return” — Genesis 3:19

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

He also put it like this:

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”

And how beautiful we are.

“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”

The universe is in an ever-changing flux, pulsating and vibrating to the rhythms of life.

The real concern comes when anything stops. Take the heart or the breath, for example. We need them to keep beating and changing. The last thing we want is for them to stay permanent.

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up… now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”

The more I read this, the more it makes me smile. It brings me right back into the present moment and for that, I’m forever grateful.

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

I can’t help but wonder how loving and well-balanced humanity would be if we simply just accepted one another exactly as we are as if we were stars.

“We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”

What more is there to say?

“When we attempt to exercise power or control over someone else, we cannot avoid giving that person the very same power or control over us.”

How relevant is this one today?!

It reminds me of a beautiful story:

One day, a butterfly lands in the palm of a man who’s sitting quietly. This butterfly is so beautiful that his initial reaction is to close his fist and keep it. But close his fist only crushes the butterfly.

So, instead, he must keep his palm open, enjoy the butterfly’s beauty and risk it flying away. All the while knowing that if this beautiful butterfly ever does fly away, with an open palm, it can fly right back in again.

Holding on is easy. Letting go is hard. But only the latter creates freedom.

“The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath.”

How brave we are to fully accept life in and how brave we are to fully surrender and let go of life happens with every breath. It’s only by exhaling (letting go) that we can inhale again. If the breath ever stops, so do we.

“We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”

Quite simply: to know one is to know the other. To not know one is to not know the other.

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

When things are swirling and chaos is around, it’s tempting to try and fix it or calm the storm. But quite often, the best thing to do is nothing.

“We seldom realize that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.”

Mind-bogglingly, we think about 50,000 thoughts a day. But even more spectacular than that is that of those 50,000 thoughts, only 2% of them are new. Meaning that 98% of all the thoughts you and I think today are the same thoughts we thought yesterday.

But are even our new thoughts our own?

After all, we grow up with cultural biases and within an education system that someone else designed. We also grow up with our parent’s ideas of the world and their way of moving through it.

We get so lost in making it all so personal. Alan Watts invites us to see it from a new perspective.

“The first half of my life I went to school. The second half of my life I got an education” — Mark Twain

“What I am really saying is that you don’t need to do anything, because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.”

And as Osho once said:

“There is nowhere to go. Nothing to do. And no one to become”

Closing thoughts

To close, I’d like to leave you with one more pertinent quote from the man himself in case you’re still wondering just how magnificent you really are:

“How is it possible that a being with such sensitive jewels as the eyes, such enchanted musical instruments as the ears, and such fabulous arabesque of nerves as the brain can experience itself anything less than a god?”

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