Alan Watts: I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware

I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware

– Alan Watts, quoted in There is never anything but the present

I have a deep love for Alan Watts and also this quote, although I have to admit I have only dipped into his writings (a few books and his autobiography) and talks.

TWO GENERAL ORIENTATIONS

In a sense, there are two general ways minds can operate.

One is to assume it most fundamentally is something within the content of its experience. In most cases, this means assuming it is this human self with its many identities. This content of experience can also be something more essential like an I or me, or observer, or even an idea of being awareness or something similar. In all of these cases, what the mind is identifying with is really an idea of being some or all of these things, and not what those ideas refer to.

Another is for the mind to recognize, as Alan Watts suggests, that it is the totality of its current experience, whatever that experience is. It is the whole field of its current experience, including any experience of this human self and the wider world. Here, it may also notice that it is more fundamentally capacity for all these experiences. Its nature allows it all to be here and allows and makes possible the shifting content of our experience.

The first orientation isn’t wrong. In a conventional sense, and for social and many practical purposes, we are this human self in the world. And yet, it’s not what we most fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. Recognizing what we more fundamentally are can be profoundly transformative and gives us a whole different context for our perception and life.

NOT REALLY A CHOICE

These are orientations deeply held in our system, and only a small portion of it is typically something we are conscious of.

We cannot choose to shift from one to the other, although we can engage in a process of exploring this for ourselves.

Ultimately, it’s not “our” choice as an imagined separate individual. Whether it happens or not, and how it happens, is an expression of infinite causes going back to beginning of time (if there is one) and out to the widest extent of existence (if there is any). What happens here through and as us is a local expression of movements within the whole of universe and all of existence.

Also, the two orientations are not binary. Our system can hold both awakeness and lack of awakeness at the same time, and does for most – or perhaps all? – of the awakening process.

ENGANGING IN EXPLORING THIS FOR OURSELVES

So if all of existence conspires to have the shift from the first to the second of these orientations happen here, locally, through and as us, how may it look?

Our conscious view only touches the very tip of the surface of our system. A shift here may be a good start, but it’s not in itself sufficient for any real transformation.

So what does it take to invite in a deeper transformation?

A few orientations are helpful, including sincerity, receptivity, curiosity, diligence, honesty with ourselves, and authenticity. Playfulness can also be very helpful, especially when it’s grounded by the other orientations.

As with any exploration and (un)learning, it helps to have the guidance of an experienced guide. Someone who is familiar with the terrain and the process, and knows how to guide others.

It can also be helpful to remember the bigger picture:

What we seek to find is what we already are. It’s not somewhere else. It’s not (just) “over there” in someone else or the past or future. It’s something already very familiar to us.

And this process is the local expression of all of existence. It’s far less personal than it may at times seem. And it’s also personal in that it’s happening through and as this person.

SPECIFIC EXPLORATIONS

What are some of the explorations we may engage in to (apparently) invite in a deeper transformation?

Here are some of the ones I am familiar with:

Basic meditation means to notice and allow what’s already here in experience, and perhaps even notice it’s already noticed (by consciousness before any thoughts come in to comment on it) and allowed (by life, mind, space). Here, we may also notice that all content of experience is shifting and always new, and this includes what I may assume I am within content of experience. If it’s all changing, is it what I more fundamentally am? Is there something that’s always here? Here, we may find that our more fundamental nature is something else. Perhaps capacity for it all. Perhaps what it all happens within and as. How is to notice this in daily life? How is it to live from this?

Through headless experiments, I explore what I am in my own first-person experience. Here, I may find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. As space for the world. As what it all happens within and as.

The Big Mind process can give similar insights and allow for a more elaborate exploration of this. Through simple questions, we may find our nature as infinite, timeless, and what time and space and all experiences within and as.

We can also explore this through our sense fields. I notice what happens in each sense field, perhaps one at a time. (Sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, thought, and so on.) I may discover that the world, as it appears to me, happens within and as my sense fields. I may notice how the overlay of thought labels, divides, interprets and makes up stories about what’s happening in the other sense fields, and that these are not inherent in the world itself. I may find that my mind associates certain sensations with certain thoughts so the sensations lend a sense of solidity and truth to the thoughts, and the thoughts give a sense of meaning to the sensations. (And that the mind creates tension in the body in order to provide a more reliable supply of sensations for this purpose.) Through all of this, I may find the same as through the other practices. I may find that my nature is capacity for all of this, and what I more fundamentally am is what my world – this human self and the wider world – happens within and as.

Heart-centered practices can support these other practices And they can, in themselves, help shift our orientation from separation consciousness to finding ourselves as the totality of our experience. I especially find tonglen and ho’oponopono helpful.

All of this can be supported by a range of other practices. Training a more stable attention helps just about any activity, including these. Body-centered practices like yoga, tai chi, and so on, can also support these explorations. And following certain guidelines for living, mimicking how we naturally life from oneness, can help us avoid some distractions and also notice what in us is not yet aligned with the second orientation.

These are just a few examples of explorations that can be helpful.

INITIAL OUTLINE

  • quote
    • two general ways to operate
      • assume we are something within the content of our experience, e.g. this human self
      • or the totality of our experience
    • not really a choice
      • this is a deep orientation held in our system, only a small portion of it is typically conscious
      • can have an idea which is a good first step but not itself transforming
      • often learn the first orientation from family, culture
      • can invite in a shift through exploration – basic meditation, inquiry, heart-centered practices etc.
    • what may find
      • basic meditation
        • all content of experience is shifting, always new, including of what I may assume I am within content of experience
        • what is always here? capacity? What it all happens within and as?
        • perhaps that’s more fundamentally what I am?
        • how is it to notice this in daily life?
        • How is it to live from this noticing?
      • inquiry
        • headless experiments
          • find myself as capacity for the world, open space for the world
        • big mind
          • through simple questions, notice what I already am
          • infinite, timeless, what time and space and all experiences happen within and as
        • sense fields
          • the world as it appears to me happens within and as my sense fields
          • this is, in a very real sense, what I am
          • to me, the world is what I am, in my own first-person experience

….

DRAFT FRAGMENTS

TWO GENERAL ORIENTATIONS

In a sense, there are two general ways we can operate.

One is to assume we most fundamentally are something within the content of our experience. For most, this means our human self with its many identities. This content of experience can also be something more essential like an I or me, or observer, or even an idea of being awareness or something similar. In all of these cases, what the mind is identifying with is really an idea of being some or all of these things, and not what those ideas refer to.

Another is to recognize, as Alan Watts suggests, that we are the totality of our experience. We are the whole field of our current experience, including any experience of this human self and the wider world. Here, we may also notice that we are capacity for all these experiences. We are what allows it all to be here, and allows and makes possible the shifting content of our experience.

The first orientation isn’t wrong. In a conventional sense, and for social and many practical purposes, we are this human self in the world. And yet, it’s not what we most fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. Recognizing what we more fundamentally are can be profoundly transformative and gives us a whole different context for our perception and life.

….

A NOTE ON WORDING

There are ways of talking about this that are closer to conventional language and are more relatable for most. And there are ways that are more accurate and less relatable for many.

Here is how the first segment may sound if I write it in a slightly more accurate way:

In a sense, there are two general ways minds can operate.

One is to assume it most fundamentally is something within the content of its experience. In most cases, this means assuming it is this human self with its many identities. This content of experience can also be something more essential like an I or me, or observer, or even an idea of being awareness or something similar. In all of these cases, what the mind is identifying with is really an idea of being some or all of these things, and not what those ideas refer to.

Another is for the mind to recognize, as Alan Watts suggests, that it is the totality of its current experience, whatever that experience is. It is the whole field of its current experience, including any experience of this human self and the wider world. Here, it may also notice that it is more fundamentally capacity for all these experiences. Its nature allows it all to be here and allows and makes possible the shifting content of our experience.

The first orientation isn’t wrong. In a conventional sense, and for social and many practical purposes, we are this human self in the world. And yet, it’s not what we most fundamentally are in our own first-person experience. Recognizing what we more fundamentally are can be profoundly transformative and gives us a whole different context for our perception and life.

….

These are orientations deeply held in our system, and only a small portion of it is typically something we are conscious of.

We cannot choose to shift from one to the other, although we can engage in a process of exploring this for ourselves.

Ultimately, it’s not “our” choice as an imagined separate individual. Whether it happens or not, and how it happens, is an expression of infinite causes going back to beginning of time (if there is one) and out to the widest extent of existence (if there is any). What happens here through and as us is a local expression of movements within the whole of universe and all of existence.

Also, the two orientations are not binary. Our system can hold both awakeness and lack of awakeness at the same time, and does for most – or perhaps all? – of the awakening process.

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