Part 3 - Alan Watts on How to make Yourself a Better Person

Transcribed from the video: Part 3 - Alan Watts on How to make Yourself a Better Person by AJ Fortuna - Link to the video

"Now when you find, you see, that this predicament that I have been describing to you. That there's no way of transforming yourself. To become this fearless, joyous, divine being as distinct from the quaking mess. When I say no way, this is not a gloomy announcement, it is a very, very important communication. The message underlying this is "you can not transform yourself", is giving you the message that, the you, that you imagine to be capable of transforming yourself doesn't exist. In other words an ego, an I, separate from my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences, who's supposed to be in control of them cannot control them because it isn't there. And as soon as you understand that, things will be vastly improved. 

Now we can go into this what do you mean by the word I? We're going to make some experiments, on a number of different levels, but in the ordinary way, what do you mean by the word I? I myself. Your personality, your ego. What is it? Well, first of all, obviously, it's your image of yourself. It's composed of what people have told you about yourself, who you are, how they've reacted to you, and given you an impression that that's the sort of person you are. It's all your education goes into this, the style of life you put on and so forth, but it's an image; it's an idea. It's your thought about yourself and I suppose yourself is in fact not this, but is, to begin with, your total physical organism, your psychological organism and beyond that an organism doesn't exist as an isolated thing anymore than a flower exists without a stock, without roots, without earth. So in the same way, although we're not stocked on the ground, we are nevertheless inseparable from a huge social context of well to begin with parents, siblings, people who work for us, everything, I mean it's, it's just impossible to cut ourselves off from the social environment and also further more, from a natural environment. We are that. There's no clear way of drawing the boundary between this organisms and everything that surrounds it, and yet the image of ourselves that we have does not include all those relationships. Our idea of our personality of ourselves includes no information whatsoever about the hypothalamus, an organ of the brain, the pineal gland, really of the way we breath, of how our blood cells flow, of how we manage to form a sentence, how we manage to be conscious, how you open and close your hand, the information contained in your image of yourself contains nothing about all that and therefore obviously it's an extremely inadequate image, but nonetheless we do think that the image of self refers to something because we have the impression, very strongly indeed, that I exist and this isn't just an idea. We think, my God, it's a feeling. It's, it's really substantially there in the middle of us and what is it? What? What do you actually sense? Like, you know when you're sitting on the floor and feel the floor is there and is real and hard. Okay, what are you sitting on the floor? What do you have the sensation of? It's you here when you're not hitting yourself? What is it? Well, in what part of your body do you feel yourself? The real I existing. We can explore this very deeply, but I'm going to give you a preliminary and superficial answer. The sensation which corresponds to the image of ourselves is a chronic muscular tension which has absolutely no useful function whatsoever. It is when you try say to concentrate, what do you do when you try to pay attention? When I was a little boy in school, I had sitting next to me another boy who had great difficulty in reading and as he worked over the textbook with it's perfectly piffling information. He groaned and grunted to try to read, to get out the sounds as if he was heaving enormous weights with his muscles... It was enormous weights he was heaving and you know the teacher was vaguely impressed that he was trying. 

All this tying yourself up into knot, it has absolutely nothing to do with the way your mind works because look if you try to see hard, look very intensely, and you make tight muscles around here and maybe you clench your jaws a bit, if anything, that will make your vision more fuzzy. Because if you want to see something clearly, you must not make an effort, you must simply trust your eyes and your nervous system to do there thing and so you just look like that.

I was writing the other night and I completely forgot somebody's name, but I knew that eventually my memory would produce it and I just sat for awhile and said to my memory, you know very well who this person is, please give me the answer. So boing there it was. Because that's the way nerves work. They don't work by forcing them and yet we've all been brought up to try to force our nervous activity, our concentration, our memory, our comprehension, and indeed our very love, we try to force it with muscles. Men will understand me if I say you cannot force by muscular effort yourself to have an erection. Women will understand me if I say you cannot force yourself with muscles to have an orgasm. It has to happen and you must trust it to happen and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it by using your muscles, nothing, nothing. 

So therefore, the notion that we have of ourselves of ego is a compound of an image of ourselves which does not fit the facts and a sensation of muscular straining, which is futile, so that what you conceive to be yourself is the marriage of an illusion and the futility, so, well, what are we if that isn't the case? Well obviously if you want to take a scientific point of view by that mythology, then you, your organism but which we know very little, and the organism as we've seen is inseparable from its environment and so you are the organism environment. In other words, you are no less than the universe. Each one of you is the universe expressed in the place which you feel is here and now. You're an aperture through which the universe is looking at itself, exploring itself, and we are going to go into that much more deeply. 

So when you feel that you are a lonely, put upon, isolated, little stranger confronting all this, see, you have an illusory feeling because the truth is the reverse, you are the whole works that there is, that always was and always has been, and always will be. Only, just as my whole body has a little nerve end here which is exploring in and which contributes to the sense of touch, you are just such a little nerve end for everything that's going on. Just as the eyes serve the whole body and help it to find its way around, so you are, as it were, serving the whole universe. You're a cell in it and it's exploring itself. So that you, you are a function of all that. And therefore if this is so, these facts do not fit the way we feel because we feel it the other way around. I am a little lonely thing exploring all this universe and trying to make something out of it, get something out of it, do something with it, and I know I'm going to fail because I know I'm going to die one day. So we're all fundamentally depressed and think up all these fantasies about what's going to happen to us when we are dead and all that kind of thing. What's going to happen to you when you're dead? What do you mean you? If you are the basically universe, that question is irrelevant. You were never born and you never will die because what there is is you. And that should be absolutely obvious, but it is not obvious at all. That should be the simplest thing in the world, that you, the I, is what has always been going on and always will go on forever and ever. But we have been bamboozled by religionists, by politicians, by fathers and mothers, by all sorts of people to tell us, you're not it. 

So do you see now why if I put it to you in this very negative way, you can't do anything to change yourself, to become better, to become happier, to become more serene, to become mystics, or anything. If I say you can't do a damn thing, can you understand this negative statement in a positive way. What I'm really saying is that you don't need to. Because if you see yourselves in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as say trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the shape of fire, the arrangement of the stars, the form of a galaxy, you all just like that. There's nothing wrong with you at all except that I have to add this little flip, you do you think that there's something wrong with you and there's no question you do. We all object to ourselves in various ways and I'm going to add, there's nothing wrong with that either because that's part of the flow; that's part of what is going on. That's what we do. So I don't, you see, I'm. I'm, I'm. What I'm actually going to do is I'm going to deliver you from the sense of guilt because I'm going to teach you that you needn't feel guilty because you feel guilty, of course you feel guilty. It's like someone put a match on you and you feel hot. So they taught you as a child to feel guilty and you feel guilty and they said, well, but if someone comes along and says, well, you shouldn't, it's not the point. I'm going to say, not that you shouldn't but that you do and don't worry about it, and if you want to say further, but I can't help worrying about it, I'm going to say to you, "OK worry about it.". This is the principal called in Japanese Judo, meaning the gentle way. Go along with it, go along with it, go along with it. So therefore, this is the beginning of meditation. 

You don't know what you're supposed to do, what can you you do? Well if you don't know what you're supposed to do, you watch. You simply watch what's going on. So you simply watch at everything going on without attempting to change it in any way without judging it, without calling it good or bad. You watch it."

-Alan Watts


  1. After reading some of Alan Watts profound teachings (this one included), I began to wonder how the world would have been if Alan Watts did not exist..
    He's more than a genius


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