This will be brief. But we should chat, quickly, about Alan Watts. More specifically, we should chat about certain philosophies that he was able to articulate better and more simply than pretty much every other thinker/speaker/author that this writer has ever come across. There’s a Wikipedia page about Watts so I’m not going to relate material facts about who he is besides that he was a prolific author and speaker and is credited with popularizing (and helping make sense of) ‘Eastern’ thought (note: Zen/Buddhism) in the ‘Western’ world (note: USA / UK).
If you want an example of his philosophy and ‘lectures’, I cannot recommend the video below with more fervor. You will find it weird at first, probably, but please give it a chance… it’s the trailer for an interactive video game called ‘Everything’ and it borrows audio from many of Watt’s recorded lectures as the voiceover to the gameplay and it is simply marvelous. Don’t get too distracted by the visuals, the audio is the real gem here — though the visuals do help…visualize some of his thoughts, which can probably best be described as out there.
I mean, come on. Doesn’t that just melt your sense of self-importance in a universal, we-are-all-connected, all-for-one-and-one-for-all sort of way?? It does for my own personal person. How small, tiny, microscopic things literally make up larger, bigger, and seemingly more important things — but that the significance of each and every one of those things only depends on the level of magnification from which you view it. Neither is more ‘important’ than the other. In a lot of ways, they are the same ‘thing’, and each are part of a larger ‘thing’ that depends on them. And this is what I try to think about — when the rat-race of modern life, the hustle and bustle, the to-ing-and-fro-ing, feels like it’s grinding me down into over-caffeinated pulp. This is what I try to think about when I need moments of Zen.
More specifically, I try to think about one of Watts writings, titled ‘Importance’ from a collection published in 2003 called Become What You Are. And because it would be considered blasphemy for me to butcher his words by paraphrasing, I’ll include them here instead, edited for relevance:
“Beside the immensity of time and space, man seems a being of the most utter insignificance. In comparison with the vastly complicated problems of the modern world, the lesser hopes and fears of the individual seem of no consequence… While modern astronomy tells us of our insignificance beneath the stars, it also tells us that if we lift so much as a finger, we affect them… The magnitude of the world with whose destiny we are bound up increases rather diminishes our importance… And man is in himself a little universe; the ordering of his mind and body is as complex as the ordering of the stars. Can we say, then, that the governing of a man’s universe is less important because it is different in size?”
Well, to answer his final question: No, we cannot, Alan! We cannot say that the universe of man (for which he and I mean man, woman, child, etc.) is less important just because it is smaller! In fact, when you put it that way, it’s equally as important, isn’t it? Of course the “hopes and fears of the individual” are not ‘of no consequence,’ not to you, the individual. Those hopes and fears are what drive our day to day and week to week and year to year. They are who we are, in a very fundamental way. But sometimes it’s good, healthy even, to take a step back and realize the relative importance of those hopes and fears to your surrounding group of friends (who have hopes and fears of their own), your environment, your community, your country, your world, your solar system, your so-on and so-on. When you do that, don’t the problems feel less poignant? Doesn’t the drama feel less… dramatic? If they don’t, perhaps you’re not stepping back far enough to really look at things from a viewpoint other than your skull. Or, in a somewhat less likely scenario, me and Alan Watts are completely full of s*** and you can go about the rest of your day resentful for having read this and a joy to everyone around you, I’m sure.
I dunno… try to think of Watt’s words the next time you’re in line at the coffeeshop and you find yourself getting angry at the barista for taking so long with your complicated order. Try to think of that when you find yourself grinding your teeth at your work station, furious about another incoming email that hopes it found you well. Pretty soon you’ll come to realize that all of this, everything, is just one big glorious never-ending game that you have the ultimate pleasure of playing. And not only you, but everybody around you; everybody who has ever existed or ever will exist, gets to fiddle around and play this game. Everybody alive has been given an impossible gift and it is important to remember that, especially when things are going poorly, or seeming to.
When you are feeling small and insignificant it is important to remember that you a fundamental aspect of something larger. And when you are feeling holier-than-though, too big for your britches, and like your head could only fit through a doorway sideways, it is important to remember that you are but a tiny speck of dust in a universe of unconscionable scale. Remember what Watt’s says in the video of you & every living thing that feels like it exists: you’re in the middle. There is always something smaller, always something bigger; always something below, behind, above, beside. You’re in the middle.
Everything matters. And if everything matters, no it doesn’t. It’s both, and you’re in the overlap of the Venn diagram. So, on you go. Everything is groovy. Everything is good. Everything just keeps on keeping on. And so do you — you are everything, after all.