Sunday, January 20, 2008

"This Is It," Alan Watts on Integral

"Psychologists with a slant to materialism therefore argue that mysticism is nothing more but sublimate sexuality and frustrated fleshliness, whereas the spiritists maintain that the love-imagery is nothing but allegory and symbolism never to be taken in its gross and animal sense. But is it not possible that both parties are right and wrong, and that the love of nature and the love of spirit are paths upon a circle which meet at their extremes? Perhaps the meeting is discovered only by those who follow both at once. Such a course seems impossible and inconsistent only if it can be held that love is a matter between alternatives, if, in other words, love is an exclusive attitude of mind which cleaves to on object and rejects all others. If so, it must be quite other than what is said to be God's own love, 'who maketh his sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth his rain upon the just and the unjust.' Love is surely a disposition of the heart which radiates on all sides like light."
This is It, Alan Watts pg 119

Yeah! That's what I've been thinking. It's an excellent metaphor for what it means to be 'integral.'  We simply observe any side, extreme, point of view in our awareness without demonizing it or rejecting it out right. It's accepted for what it is, just like when light shines, it does not shy away from the shadows, nor build fences to defend itself against the dark places. It simply resonates. We can do our best to reflect this ability in our lives. Applying this practically, Alan Watts was describing mysticism and the opposing views it had with his contemporaries. It still holds true today, however, when we look at magazines like Psychology Today, which typically reduce all spiritual and 'inner' experience to outer, empirical phenomenon. In that sense, and as Watts says, both sides are right and wrong. 


Bob said...

It's fascinating to read Alan Watts through the lens of "Integral." I got into Watts' books while my interest in Wilber's work was at its peak, so I couldn't help but compare and contrast. For sure there's a lot of overlap, but there's also some differences.

I thought it was cool when I found out that Wilber "taught himself to write" by copying all of Watts' books in longhand. I vaguely recall that Wilber's main criticism of Watts was the latter's attitude toward formal meditation practice. Watt's was fond of emphasizing the futility of trying to reach spiritual realization through effort, while Wilber's approach seems to be a "transformation through disciplined practice" kind of thing.

This paradox has frustrated me for a long time. I've always been a "how to?" kind of guy, wanting to know the best way to practically get from here to there. But then Watt's will give you something like this:

“The way of acceptance and spiritual freedom is found not by going somewhere but in going, and the stage where its happiness can be known is now, at this very moment, at the very place where you happen to stand. It is in accepting fully your state of soul as it is now, not in trying to force yourself into some other state of soul which, out of pride, you imagine to be a superior and more advanced state. It is not a question of whether your present state is good or bad, neurotic or normal, elementary or advanced; it is a question of what it is. The point is not to accept it in order that you may pass on to a ‘higher’ state, but to accept because acceptance in itself is that ‘higher’ state, if such it may be called.” (p.102) The Meaning of Happiness.

Or this from Beyond Theology

"[U]ltimate faith is not in or upon anything at all. It is complete letting go. Not only is it beyond theology; it is also beyond atheism and nihilism. Such letting go cannot be attained. It cannot be acquired or developed through perseverance and exercises, except insofar as such efforts prove the impossibility of acquiring it. Letting go comes only through desperation. When you know that it is beyond you--beyond your powers of action as beyond your powers of relaxation. When you give up every last trick and device for getting it, including this "giving up" as something that one might do, say, at ten o'clock tonight. That you cannot by any means do it--that IS it! That is the mighty self-abandonment which gives birth to the stars." (p.229)

Then again, Watts went to great lengths to show people how to meditate! It's all good, I guess. I know the paradox somehow gets resolved in the whole "Absolute/Relative" distinction. Yet, in terms of my experience, I seem to get caught up in the struggle time and time again.

shaman sun said...

Hey Bob, those are some great quotes. It's true, Watt's seemed to dance between the traditional path vs. the playful practice, and I don't think he really took the "vs." part too seriously, if at all. At the end of one of his essays in, "This Is It," he even quoted a poem:

"In the landscape of Spring there is neither better nor worse;
The flower branches grow naturally, some long, some short."

Personally I often find that just reading the work of Watts, Krishnamurti, Rumi, Wei Wu Wei, are meditations in themselves. They help your mind settle down and listen.

Bob said...

Yeah, reading/listening to Watts does often have a meditative effect on me as well.

For anyone who hasn't seen or heard Watts, I've gathered together some audio and video on my site.

Check it out.


georgeo said...

yes - rereading some Watts recently - three times in a row, actually, the little "this is it´ volumn with the also the beat zen square zen essay - does put me into a contemplative place. The book happens to be in my back pocket again, here in the Santa Cruz airport Bolivia.

I read him 20 years ago, then many of Wilbur´s books a few years ago.

onward into the blog...

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