Alan Watts weaves together many layers of the human experience in a liberating expression of truth. It’s one of those essential truths I wrestle with more often than I care to admit to myself. But. The more I admit it, the more it’s about the music and less about what I’ve accomplished, where it is I think I’m “going.” The way we’re set up, at such young ages, to look for the grand trophy, the major accomplishment, the big prize…it’s a defeating march. Chronic illness, or any recurring struggle, will either highlight the defeat or push us against that wall, the one we can stand and look at until it melts away and the music is the thing, once again. On with it…
“Perhaps the song of birds is ‘explainable’ simply as a device for sexual attraction; perhaps the radiant wings of insects are no more than protecting colouring; perhaps the beauty of the morning-glory is merely to entice the bee, appealing no doubt to his acute aesthetic appreciation of colour and form. Perhaps. But if the aim of so much splendour is merely to stimulate the sexual processes of purely instinctual organisms, the mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse.” Alan Watts – Behold The Spirit
It’s a mood. It will pass. But this quote expounds on what is valid of this passing mood…
“In the Western world it is second nature for us to assume that all creative action requires the incentive of inadequacy and discontent. It seems obvious that if we felt fulfilled at each instant and no longer regarded time as a path of pursuit, we should just sit down in the sun, pull large Mexican hats over our eyes, and put bottles of tequila at our elbows. Even if this were true it might not be so great a disaster as we imagine, for there is no doubt that our extreme busyness is as much nervous fidgets as industry, and that a certain amount of ordinary laziness would lend our culture the pleasant mellowness which it singularly lacks. However, it does not seem to occur to us that action goaded by a sense of inadequacy will be creative only in a limited sense. It will express the emptiness from which it springs rather than fullness, hunger rather than strength.” Alan Watts – Nature, Man and Woman
And this, my friends, is why when my back starts screaming after days of driving around wondering how it is so many people can find the holiday frenzy inspiring when it’s cram jammed with little time to breathe or be human (ok, i’m mothering 3 kids with no partner and that DOES have some affect), lifting furniture, moving mountains (ok, that was in my dream), dishing out comfort to the brokenhearted, hounding shops for everything from white lights (not the surreal spiritual kind! just the Christmas kind!) to gifts to that special cream for teenage skin to stressing over the missing black belt for the pants for the son who’s playing in the concert that is meant to bring seasonal cheer to…it’s TIME TO LIE DOWN. Lunch break is back break or my back will break.
There. is. too. much. on. most. of. the. plates. out. there. and we are not fat with satisfaction for it either! And don’t get me started on how this season is a tightrope walk between year markers and philosophies. For many it’s all about Jesus. For some it’s just offensive. For me it’s all about how great it is that this holiday provides space and time (precious little!) to pause with my family, to recognize where we are, how sweet life is, and yes, how pretty the tree is (ignore sustainability and how the tree yeah, nevermind). But the materialism collides with “sweet family time” and I find myself growling. Loudly. Especially if my back is not happy. And I don’t have that Mexican hat!
Where’s the authentic creativity in a season that, by all it has become culturally in the U.S., asks more than even one family can manage and therefore leaps from the platform of inadequacy straight into the fire of “holiday cheer?” I realize there are exceptions living it out right now with no complaints. But yeah. Guess what? The word is EXCEPTION. And I’m complaining!
So, bah! (insert stomping sounds here. que the music. tomorrow my more balanced perspective will win.)
The road curved ahead of me through woods of ancient peace, ancient peace smiling at my anxiety, every knot in my center bracing for the next challenge. I drove with my hands tight on the steering wheel, noting the discordant vibe within, fatigue pounding a rhythm in my core. Every stretch of ruth-limb marveled, marveled that there would be such stillness, such strength in the solidarity of trees stretching to blue skies, sinking roots in earth yearning and that I was going down a road not planned. How would this visit go? Why did it worry me so much? When did I last feel a sustained stretch of something other than frustration with the journey? Why had I not called last night? How could she say anything but yes when you were only 5 minutes away? Gnawing, anxious hunger surreal. Alan Watts says that spontaneity is total sincerity (Nature, Man and Woman, pg. 112) and “the whole being involved in the act without the slightest reservation–and as a rule the civilized adult is goaded into it only by abject despair, intolerable suffering, or imminent death.” Agreement with Alan Watts isn’t a given for me but this statement rings true…most of the time. There are sustained moments for many when joy surprises the hours of duty, of commitment and habits of excellence, rushes into every cellular jive seemingly from nowhere. And a melting spontaneity inevitably unfolds. Some have lived so long in peace and self-acceptance, wrested from the past by hard work and self-delivered into a radical grace so beautifully pervasive they cannot even think of spontaneity because it would be like biting your own teeth. Or thinking of not thinking or thinking of. Of. My hand gripped the wheel and while the decision had been spontaneous, I was anything but spontaneously peaceful or wholly involved beyond a scraping anxiety but sincere? Was I sincere?
I was. I am. Sincerely in need of an infusion of something other than just enough to endure, cope, survive. I understand it’s not an uncommon reality for many these days. When a body goes into push mode for a sustained period of time and is second-guessing the choices during those push phases, second-guessing and mistrusting self, survival is everything in spite of the feast unfolding in vistas all around, within reach, just there on the ground and up, past tangles and leaves found.
Surviving at a feast, further bulletins as events warrant…
But spontaneity became me becoming at rest as I got out of my car and looked into woods caressed in morning light, the Eno a bit beyond me but sending liquid sustenance into air, filling my breath. I felt rest seep into every ache. I was prepared to stay for hours or leave in minutes. But I needed to be heard, to be known and to know more. I needed to hear words of advice, of guidance, of perspective a couple decades ahead of me and even to hear if maybe I oughta, shoulda done thus and so by now and oh. Wow. I left hours later, enriched by the culture of sincerity and spontaneity, knowing more and known more of and by my aunt. I would so rather experience such feasts every once in a while than a dozen friendly episodes empty of awareness every week after week surreally wearing me out.
I survived my way through and to a feast in order to find, not for the first or last time, that the survival mode was at once both inevitable and avoidable through a surrender, not of my will, but of my resistance. This is no news flash for me, nor a new experience. But. But when there are few resources for the resource, few motivators for the motivator, few people actually present in body as well in spirit and in my face declaring life and grace, survival becomes inevitable until the next great oasis ride through woods ancient.
They feed the soul, those trees and their people. They send you back down the road and into the stream of sincere bankruptcy exploding a wealth no bank can hold, no feast can convey and no lover can conjure. As soon as we quit the scramble to retain the last ounce of reserve or energy or gold, the hands of the heart open wide and life comes flooding in, spilling love on fields no one can sully with civil seeds bred in manufactured schemes. But I digress.
Life is good even when it’s horridly overworked, disgustingly overrun with real, valid demands and too many needs to be fulfilled at once. And when you arrive back in town, in your driveway with your son and the sun is singing a sweet song, you stop. There is no other more sincere unfolding but to stop right there and soak. Soulful feasting is the inevitable tide when long rides through forested peace bring release from self-blame, from pride, from the endless questioning, disturbing the trust of life itself. And you sit there and soak, door open wide, demands calling quietly and then going silent in the sound of spontaneous acceptance, released into the life of life itself.
“…our clothes, our skins, our personalities, our virtues and our vices are as transparent as space. We cannot lay claim to them, and there is no one to lay the claim, since the self is as transparent as its garments.
Empty and nihilistic as it may sound, this recognition of total nakedness and transparency is a joy beyond all telling, for what is empty is not reality itself but all that seems to block its light.” Alan Watts – Nature, Man and Woman
“In this present world-order God does not normally intrude the full light of his glory upon our minds, but rather reveals himself as the mysterious Void whose content wholly transcends normal thinking and feeling, and can only be known to the intellect by analogy. We may transcend images, ideas and symbols but we are then confronted with a Reality which we experience but do not comprehend, a living mystery which imparts life, power and joy, though we cannot say how. When we stop to examine it, there seems to be nothing in it, but in use we find it inexhaustible…the realization produces definite effects, though no amount of striving for and imitating these effects will produce realization. It infuses our life with a deep undertone of love, joy, peace and spiritual freedom.” Alan Watts – Behold The Spirit
Perpetually we are brought back to the only point, which is, of course: love. And we don’t get there by trying hard. We don’t get there by thinking about it. We get there by realizing we ARE there now. We unfold, receive, swim through/with our days, our ways in acceptance and sometimes even with vision. And it just so happens love is who/what/why we are.
I have precious little else to contribute after the miscarriage of justice yesterday in Georgia. Alan Watts reminds me why I feel so alienated from this culture.
I’d heard at least a couple of these recordings on an alan watts website (the “official”) without the South Park interpretation, these are really worth a look (and very short).
“Anyone who becomes conscious of role-playing will swiftly discover that just about all his attitudes are roles, that he cannot find out what he is genuinely, and is therefore at a loss what to do to express himself sincerely. Thereupon he is self-conscious and blocked in his relationships, finding himself in the double-bind predicament where every road is closed. This leaves him in a state of complete paralysis if he persists in thinking that there is some ‘right’ course of action and some particular set of feelings which constitute his real self. Where he expected to find the specific truth about himself he found freedom, but he mistook it for mere nothingness. For human freedom does indeed comprise an order, yet because it is the nonlinear order of li and of the Tao, it cannot be classified; it cannot be identified with any particular role. Therefore at this point of the double bind he must wait, and see what happens of itself, spontaneously. He will find that the sensation that every road is barred abruptly switches into the sensation that every road is open. He can play all roles, just as in Hindu mythology the true self is pictured as the godhead acting all the parts of the multitude of finite creatures.
Strictly speaking, it is not quite true that one must wait for something to happen spontaneously. For the heart is beating, the breath is moving, and all the senses are perceiving. A whole world of experience is coming to the organism of itself, without the slightest forcing…” Alan Watts – Nature, Man and Woman
My blog(s) and website have much to say of authenticity and I cringe every time I read some of the bits of expression, not because they are not genuine but because authenticity is a confusing reality, beautifully articulated above in Watts wonderful book. There is such release in allowing it all to flow, watching the roles, watching the people with whom we interact and relate, watching the self’s reaction, learning and just unfolding. In these watchful times we can note whether we are instantly motivated by a fear of how we’ll be perceived (and this is not always a bad fear!), whether we are hoping to be accepted and if that hope comes from a place of restful acceptance of self or semi-desperate alienation from the beauty of one’s own soul and life.
It’s a powerful work, requiring the patience to just watch, to turn up the volume of sensitivity and find that place of freedom. Eventually, the watching is lessened, the unfolding is more instinctual and the unhindered, less inhibited life blooms brightly. What creates a truly rich flow? Times of contemplative growth, where we face issues in life, big and small, and we determine what matters to our own unique unfolding, what we want, what we value, what we will protect, what we will never compromise and what we’ll fight for (of course, it requires we get out and get our hands in the dirt of life).