Alan Watts: our most private thoughts and emotions…. were given to us by society

We seldom realize, for example, 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. We copy emotional reactions from our parents, learning from them that excrement is supposed to have a disgusting smell and that vomiting is supposed to be an unpleasant sensation. The dread of death is also learned from their anxieties about sickness and from their attitudes to funerals and corpses. Our social environment has this power just because we do not exist apart from a society. Society is our extended mind and body. Yet the very society from which the individual is inseparable is using its whole irresistible force to persuade the individual that he is indeed separate! Society as we now know it is therefore playing a game with self-contradictory rules.

– Alan Watts from The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Seeing this helps us take our thoughts and emotions less personally. It all comes from somewhere else.

We can go further and find that every single thing we take as most personal is given to us by the larger whole. Our thoughts, emotions, personality, preferences, likes, dislikes, insights, choices, consciousness, any sense of a separate self, and so on were all given to us by existence.

The most personal is not really personal at all.

It’s given to us by society, evolution, Earth, this Universe, and existence as a whole.

We can take something very simple in our life and find a cause for it, and then another, and then another, until it’s difficult to find anything personal there.

I am writing this here now. Did I – as this human self – cause it? I saw a partial quote on FB and looked up the full one. This brain and body writing it come from millions of years of evolution. The computer was put together by many people I don’t know, and all the parts and technology were developed by innumerable people I also don’t know who are. It’s the product of millennia of technological development and the work and insights of a great number of people.

I didn’t write the quote, it came from Alan Watts. And he, in turn, was probably inspired by innumerable people, who in turn were inspired by and learned from a great many people.

All of this is made possible by this living planet and this solar system and universe. It’s all, in a very real sense, the universe and this living planet that is taking the form of this evolution, this species, all the species we have co-evolved with and depend on, these people, these thoughts and feelings and insights, the technology making writing it here possible and for you to read it, and everything else. It’s all the local activity of the universe and this living planet, through and as us and our mind and consciousness.

Everything that’s part of me writing this here has innumerable causes going back to the beginning of time (if there is any) and out to the widest extent of existence (if there is a boundary).

The reason I was drawn to it and decided to put it here must have innumerable causes from society, culture, biology, personal history, and so on. That too is the local activity of the universe and this living planet through and as me.

I cannot find any room for an “I” here doing it or deciding to do it. It all comes from somewhere else.

And to me, there is an immense beauty in noticing this.

This post was brought to you courtesy of existence.

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