Alan Watts: My philosophy is not concerned with what should be but with what is

People often ask me why I smoke and drink. I don’t preach, remember. My philosophy is not concerned with what should be but with what is.

– Alan Watts

Another beautiful Alan Watts quote, and, as usual, there is a lot to explore in it.

I too am interested in the descriptive more than the prescriptive. I am interested in the exploration and what I find. I am interested in what’s already here.

That doesn’t mean that the prescriptive doesn’t have a place. It has often been used by religions, philosophers, governments, and those in power to regulate society. In the best case, it can help society to function more smoothly.1 In the worst case, it’s used to maintain hierarchies and power for the few privileged and to justify inequality and injustice.

At an individual level, it can be used as a temporary (artificial and external) guideline to keep us out of trouble. For those on a spiritual path, it can also roughly mimic how we would live if we did live from our nature recognizing itself.

It also doesn’t mean that exploring our nature can’t be transformative. It often is. When our nature consciously recognizes itself – and recognizes that it’s forming itself into all of its content, including anything related to this human self – that creates a context that can be transformative for our human self and life in the world.2 This too is more about noticing, exploring, and describing more than anything prescriptive. The way this unfolds cannot be prescribed, no more than we can prescribe how a plant should grow.

When it comes to smoking and drinking and similar things, I take a pragmatic approach. I was never drawn to smoking, and alcohol doesn’t feel good in my body. I’ll have a small amount of wine or beer (oatmeal stout) very occasionally, and that’s it. My mind is weird enough as it is so I don’t need to make it weirder. My health is challenged enough so I don’t need to make it worse. It’s not from shoulds or morals. It’s just what happens to work for me, it seems.

To state the obvious (?), our nature recognizing itself doesn’t mean that our human self or our human life is automatically very different. Our human self and our human self may continue much as before, or it can shift in several ways. It seems different in each case, and it depends on how our human self – our psyche and patterns – responds to it. It’s fully possible for our human self to continue much as before, at least for a while until life catches up with us and brings up anything not aligned with oneness, inviting it to become more aligned with oneness. And even that is an ongoing process.

NOTES

(1) The Ten Commandments is an example of guidelines to help society run more smoothly. Other guidelines also have a practical function. For instance, when some religions say you should stay indoors during a solar eclipse (and add to the motivation by saying it’s “bad luck” to look at it), I assume it is so people won’t damage their eyes by looking directly at the eclipse.

(2) It seems that, over time and in its own time, the human self and psyche transform to be more aligned with this oneness. In the best case, old wounds, hangups, and traumas – which are created by and operate from separation consciousness – realign more with oneness, which is what we call healing, and when the human self operates less from these wounds it lives more from (a very ordinary kind of) kindness and sanity. This happens more easily when we actively join in with that process and invite in that healing for the wounded parts of us. I assume it’s an ongoing process without any finishing line, at least not within the relatively short lifetime of this human self.

Image dreamt up by me and Midjourney


INITIAL NOTES

Alan Watts quote 
What is, not what should be 
Nothing prescriptive in it 
Although can be transformative 
For me, descriptive 
Prescriptive has its place, regulate society, but not very interesting to me in this context 

And to state the obvious (?), our nature recognizing itself doesn’t mean that our human self or our human life is automatically very different. Our human self and our human self may continue much as before, or it can shift in several ways. It seems different in each case, and it depends on how our human self – our psyche and patterns – responds to it. It’s fully possible for our human self to continue much as before, at least for a while until life catches up with us and brings up anything not aligned with oneness, inviting it to become more aligned with oneness. And even that is an ongoing process.

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