Alan Watts: You are it!

They say in the Upanishads, those ancient texts of Hinduism, they say: Tat Tvam Asi. You’re it! Ha! You are everything that’s going on. In other words, you are a partiucular place in which the whole universe is focused.

– Alan Watts, see this video on FaceBook

For me, there are two different parts to this.

One is that to me, I am everything that’s gong on. My nature is capacity for every experience I have and am. The world and universe as I experience it happens within and as my sense fields. The universe, to me, happens within and as what I am. This is something I can explore in my own first-person experience and find for myself.

The other is that I am a particular place in which the whole universe is focused.

As this human self, I am a part of the seamless and dynamic whole of the universe, a holon in a wast holarcy.

Every experience, thought, feeling, action, state, and so on, that I experience (and am, in that moment), has innumerable causes stretching back to the beginning of time (if there is a beginning) and out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is a boundary). What’s here as this human self – and any experiences and activities of this human self – is created by the universe as a whole.

As Carl Sagan said, I am the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. I am the universe bringing itself into consciousness. 

This is something I can find within stories, including western science, the universe story, the epic of evolution, and so on. 

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.


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.


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.


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.

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Confused Buddhas

A buddha would see you all as being exactly right; just where you are, all of you are buddhas. Even for those of you who do not know it, it is right for you not to know it at this moment

– Alan Watts

In a sense, we are all Buddhas. All beings are Buddhas.

To ourselves, we are capacity for our world, and what all our experiences – of this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as. All our experiences happen within our sense fields, and there is no inner or outer and no inherent boundaries in it. Any sense of boundaries comes from our mental field overlays, and they only appear real if we mistake them for being inherent in the world.

That’s how it is, whether we notice or not. In that sense, we are Buddhas whether we notice or not. We are oneness. We are the love that comes from noticing that oneness. We are the stillness and silence inherent in it. And all our experiences are that. All our experiences are capacity, oneness, love, stillness, and silence, taking whatever forms they take.

Whether we notice or not, this is what’s most familiar to us, more than anything else.

And since most of us don’t notice this consciously, or don’t notice it as fully as we potentially can, we are all not only Buddhas, but slightly confused Buddhas.

It’s how life shows up now. It’s an expression of all of existence and how it has unfolded going back to the beginning of this universe. It’s an expression of the creativity of life and this mind. Any ideas of right or wrong can only be found in our ideas of right and wrong. It’s perfectly imperfect.

And it’s also where a lot, and almost all, or all, of our discomfort and suffering, comes from, along with our confused actions in the world triggering suffering for ourselves and others.

Alan Watts: For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new

You have seen that the universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and that there is no separate ‘you’ to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real ‘you’ is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For ‘you’ is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new. You do not ask what is the value, or what is the use, of this feeling. Of what use is the universe? What is the practical application of a million galaxies?

– Alan Watts

There are two ways to look at this.

One is talking about existence itself, which is more of a third person view and philosophical.

And the other is how it is in our own immediate experience, which is from noticing.


We can say that the universe is existence exploring, expressing, experiencing itself in always new ways, including through and as innumerable living beings.

As Carl Sagan said: We are the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Our most fundamental identity is not as this local and temporary human being, but as the whole of existence taking all of these forms and always changing itself into new forms, expressions, and experiences.

This is a view that can be deeply inspiring and meaningful, and it can deepen our sense of belonging to the universe and all of existence.

We may also find that sensing, feeling, thinking, and living becomes meaningful in itself. And the more this is felt and visceral, the deeper is the sense of belonging.


We can also explore this through our own immediate noticing.

When I look, I find I am not most fundamentally this human being. I am what all these changing experiences – of this human self and the wider world – happen within and as. I am capacity for the world, and what my field of experience happens within and as.

In that sense, the world as it appears to me is a magical illusion and a fabulous game. It’s all happening within and as me. It’s all an expression of the creativity of existence and the mind. The only real “me” is capacity for all of it, and all the always-changing content of experience – whether I call this my human self or the wider self or the whole of the universe. To me, it’s all happening within and as consciousness, and it’s all – in a sense – existence looking at itself from a billion points of view.


Here too, we find that cosmology is a mirror.

We may have ideas about the universe similar to what Alan Watts describe, and what we find in the Universe Story and the Epic of Evolution, and these may be grounded in science and what we observe.

And we can find it here and now. We can find these mental representations here and now. And we can find what these stories point to in our own immediate experience.

In that sense, cosmology is both a projection and a mirror. We place our mental representations on the universe, and can use them as pointers to what’s already here in our immediate experience.

And there is likely some truth to both. We may be onto something about existence as a whole, and also – equally or more important – about our own true nature.

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.

Quote: You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago

You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago.

– (mis?)attributed to Alan Watts

The upside of consistency

In some situations and areas of life, the kind and wise thing is to show consistency. It creates predictability and safety for ourselves and others, and sometimes, that’s just the right medicine.

Examining our shoulds

At the same time, we are under no obligation to be the same as we were, even a moment ago. Life doesn’t require it of us, and there is no should inherent in reality. Any shoulds around this come from an idea, and it may come from a wish for predictability and safety.

We all know that situations and circumstances change. We have new information. We have new insights. And that means we will change too. Our views, responses, wishes, strategies, and so on all change. Often, the responsible thing to do is change when our information, experiences, and situation changes.

If changing seems wise and kind in a situation, for instance in updating our view on something, and we notice a should in us holding us back, it’s good to look at this. We can examine these shoulds and find what’s more honest for us, and we can befriend the unloved and unexamined fear behind these shoulds.

How it’s already true

We can’t be the same as we were five minutes ago. There is always change. What’s here now has never been before in just this way, and will never be this way again.

If we look a little closer, we may find that the past doesn’t exist apart from in our memory. We cannot be what we were since that person doesn’t exist anymore. This is something we notice directly if we pay attention to our sense fields over time, for instance through a form of meditation. (Training stable attention, notice and allow, etc.)

Only our mind creates a sense of continuity. It creates a mental overlay of a timeline of past, present, and future, and what’s in – or may be in – each of these. Without this overlay, there wouldn’t be any past or future for us and no sense of continuity.

The truth found in the reverse statement

As hinted at above, there is also some truth in the reverse statement.

You are under obligation to be the same person as you were five minutes ago.

–> Sometimes and in some areas of life, it’s wise and kind to stay consistent. If I agree to something, and there is not a good reason to change it, then it’s best to follow through.

–> And if we are unable to change even if we wish to, that’s fine too. It’s understandable and natural, and it can help us explore what’s going on in more detail. We may discover something important.

What doesn’t change

The above is all about our human self.

At the same time, we are the awake space that allows this change.

As awake capacity for this change, we are the same even with all the change.

We are what the change happens within and as.

Alan Watts: The meaning of life is just to be alive

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.

– Alan Watts, The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts

Alan Watts: You are a function of what the whole universe is doing

You are a function of what the whole universe is doing, the same way that a wave is the function of what the whole ocean is doing.

– Alan Watts

One way to explore this is to take a very simple action, like brushing the teeth. Then trace the causes back in time and out in the world. By doing this, we find that there are infinite causes, stretching back to the beginning of time and the widest extent of existence. This tends to make the me or I very insignificant, or even erase it completely.

Alan Watts: the dream of life

One of my favorite thought experiments.

Imagine you can control your dreams. The first night, you may decide to dream that you have everything that you have ever wanted. It’s very pleasurable, and you may repeat it for several nights.

Then, maybe you decide to forget that it’s a dream, while you are dreaming it. That makes it more interesting.

You may also decide to include some challenges in the dream, to spice it up. Maybe even some that seem a matter of life and death.

Eventually, you arrive at the life you have now. You have forgotten it’s a dream, and there is a mix of pleasant experiences and challenges.

After some more nights, you may decide to add another wrinkle to your dreams. Within the dream, you add hints that it’s a dream – perhaps through synchronicities or direct glimpses. These may cause you, the dreamer, to be curious about waking up within the dream. You may even actively wish for it, and work at waking up. That becomes another adventure within the dream.

And that too, may be the life you are living right now.

Alan Watts: Boat and wake

Adyashanti talks about this analogy in Ideal Spiritual Orientation.

Is the present created by the past, or is the past created in the present? Or are both true, each in their own way?

The boat and wake analogy invites us to explore this. A boat creates it’s wake, so is it similarly true that the present creates the past?

If so, in what way is it true? What do I find when I explore this through simple, real and specific examples?

And is it true in just a moderate way, or in a more profound sense?

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If I could decide the content of my own dreams

As I woke this morning, this question returned to me:

How would it be if I was aware of dreaming while dreaming? What would I do if I could decide the content of my own dreams? Would my choices change over time?

Most of us would probably first go for our “dream” life. All our goals met. Our wishes fulfilled. Perhaps an easy and interesting life, in a house at a nice location, with some travel, and shared with good friends and family.

It would get predictable and slightly boring after a while, so why not add unpredictability, surprise, and some challenges? It would helps us stay alert and interested, and help us push our boundaries and discover new things about ourselves and the world.

But even that may get slightly boring after a while. After all, we know it is a dream. The challenges are no more real for us than the ones we watch in a movie or read in a book. The stakes are not very high. How can we raise the stakes and make it more interesting? By forgetting that we are dreaming.

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A thought experiment: What if could chose content of dreams?

I keep coming back to this one as well…

Alan Watts suggested this exploration:

What if I could chose the content of my dreams, and each dream contained lifetimes of experiences, what type of dreams would I chose?

I may start out with choosing to get everything I want. (Everything my personality wants). Wealth. Leisure. Success. Security. Tropical beaches. Intimacy. Pleasure. Happiness.

After a while, that may get a little boring and stale, so I would introduce something to spice it up, maybe some light challenges. Some minor snakes in the paradise.

But knowing that it is a dream makes these challenges less interesting, so I may chose to forget that I am dreaming, as I am dreaming, just to spice it up further.

Even forgetting that it is a dream, light challenges may get a little stale, so I may chose to make the challenges more heavy, more dramatic. Poverty. Disease. Violence. Fall from grace.

To spice it up even further, I may chose to realize – or have an intuition – that it is a dream, and then strive to recognize it as a dream in the midst of the dream. Strive to know that it is a dream, even as it unfolds. And to recognize this consistently, through the different dream situations.

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What if we could choose our dreams?

I listened to the Alan Watts podcasts about Hindu mythology, which is specifically about Brahma and lila, God playing hide-and-seek with itself.

One part I found especially interesting is in the third segment where he explores what we would do if we had complete freedom to choose our night dreams?

For a few months, we would probably want to dream about having all sorts of riches and pleasures. But it would get boring and predictable after a while.

Since we know it is just a dream, and we can’t really get hurt by it, we may then choose to include some drama in the dream to make it more interesting. Something is at stake, and we may or may not get it.

And to make it even more juicy, we may choose to make it into a life and death drama, to see how far we can take it. After all, it is just a dream and we don’t really get hurt.

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