Empty is Full and Full is Empty

Alan Watts on Brain vs Body

Brain against Body: Confusing Needs with Desires

We have been taught to neglect, despise, and violate our bodies, and to put all faith in our brains. Indeed, the special disease of civilized man might be described as a block or schism between his brain [specifically, the cortex] and the rest of his body. This corresponds to the split between “I” and “me,” man and nature, and to the confusion of Ouroborus, the mixed-up snake, who does not know that his tail belongs with his head. Scientists Lancelot Whyte and Trigant Burrow calls this disease the “European dissociation,” not because it is peculiar to European-American civilization, but because it is specially characteristic of it.

It is simply saying in “medical” language that we have allowed brain thinking to develop and dominate our lives out of all proportion to “instinctual wisdom,” which we are allowing to slump into atrophy. As a consequence, we are at war within ourselves – the brain desiring things which the body does not want, and the body desiring things which the brain does not allow; the brain giving directions which the body will not follow, and the body giving impulses which the brain cannot understand.

When we compare human with animal desire we find many extraordinary differences. The animal tends to eat with his stomach, and the man with his brain. When the animal’s stomach is full, he stops eating, but the man is never sure when to stop. When he has eaten as much as his belly can take, he still feels empty, he still feels an urge for further gratification. This is largely due to anxiety, to the knowledge that a constant supply of food is uncertain. Therefore eat as much as you can while you can. It is due, also, to the knowledge that, in an insecure world, pleasure is uncertain. Therefore the immediate pleasure of eating must be exploited to the full, even though it does violence to the digestion.

Despite the immense hubbub and nervous strain, we are convinced that sleep [which is also a form of meditation] is a waste of valuable time and continue to chase our fantasies far into the night, whether in sleep or in forced insomnia. Animals spend much of their time dozing and idling pleasantly, but, because life is short, human beings must cram into the years the highest possible amount of egoic-intellectual consciousness, alertness, and chronic insomnia so as to be sure not to miss the last fragment of startling pleasure.

The vague, nebulous and insatiable character of brainy desire makes it particularly hard to come down to earth – to be material and real. Generally speaking, the civilized man does not know what he wants. He works for success, fame, a happy marriage, fun, to help others, or to be a “real person”. But these are not real wants because thy are not actually things. They are the by-products, the flavors and atmospheres of real things – shadows which have no existence apart from some substance. Money is the perfect symbol for all such desires, being a mere symbol of real wealth, and to make it one’s goal is the most blatant example of confusing measurements with reality.

It is therefore far from correct to say that modern civilization is materialistic, that is if a materialist is a person who loves matter. The brainy modern loves not matter but measures, not solids but surfaces. He drinks for the percentage of alcohol (“spirit”) and not for the “body” and taste of the liquid. He builds to put up an impressive “front” rather than provide a space for living. Therefore he tends to put up structures which appear from the outside to be a baronial mansions but are inwardly warrens. The individual living-units in these warrens are designed less for living as for creating an impression. The main space is devoted to a “living room” of proportions suitable to a large house, while such essential spaces for living (rather than mere “entertaining”) as the kitchen are reduced to small closets where one can hardly move–much less cook. Consequently these wretched little galleys provide fare which is chiefly gaseous–cocktails and “appetizers” rather than honest meals. Because we all want to be “ladies and gentlemen” and look as if we had servants, we do not soil our hands with growing and cooking real food. Instead we buy our products designed for “front” and appearance rather than content–immense and tasteless fruit, bread which is little more than a light froth, wine faked with chemicals, and vegetables flavored with the arid concoctions of test tubes which render them so much impressive pulp.

One might suppose that the most outright example of civilized man’s beastliness and animality is his passion for sex, but in fact there is almost nothing beastly or animal about it. Animals have sexual intercourse when they feel like it, which is usually in some sort of rhythmic pattern. Between whiles it does not interest them. But of all pleasures sex is the one which civilized man pursues with the greatest anxiety. That the craving is brainy rather than bodily is shown by the common impotence of the male when he comes to act, his brain pursuing what his genes do not want at the moment desire. This confuses him hopelessly, because he simply cannot understand not wanting the great delicacy of sex when it is available. He has been hankering after it for hours and days on end, but when the reality appears his body will not co-operate.

A particularly significant example of brain against body, or measures against matter, is urban man’s total slavery to clocks. A clock is a convenient device for arranging to meet a friend, or for helping people to do things together, although things of this kind happened long before they were invented. Clocks should not be smashed; they should simply be kept in their place. And they are very much out of their place when we try to adapt our biological rythyms of eating, sleeping, evacuation, working, and relaxing to their uniform circular rotation. Our slavery to these mechanical drill masters has gone so far and our whole culture is so involved with it that reform is a forlorn hope; without them civilization would collapse entirely. A less brainy culture would learn to synchronize its body rhythms rather than its clocks.

For the brain, including its reasoning and calculating centers, is a part and product of the body. It is as natural as the heart and stomach, and rightly used, is anything but an enemy of man. But to be used rightly it must be put in its place, for the brain is made for man, not man for his brain. In other words, the function of the brain is to serve the present and the real, not to send man chasing wildly after the phantoms of future or escaping such from the past or vice versa.

Furthermore, in our habitual state of mental tension the brain does not work properly, and this is one reason why its abstractions seem to have so great a reality. When the heart is out of order, we are clearly conscious of its beating; it becomes a distraction, pounding within the breast. It seems most probable that our preoccupation with thinking and planning, together with the sense of mental fatigue, is a sign of some disorder of the brain. The brain should, and in some cases does, calculate and reason with the unconscious ease of the other bodily organs. After all, the brain is not a muscle, and thus is not designed for effort and strain.

But when most people try to think or concentrate, they behave as if they were trying to push their brains around. They screw up their faces, knit their brows, and approach mental problems as if they were something like heaving bricks. Yet you do not have to grind and strain to digest food, and still less to see, hear, and receive other neural impressions.

By Alan Watts

from:    http://theunboundedspirit.com/brain-against-body-confusing-needs-with-desires/

Alan Watts, Daniel Pinchbeck, Joyous Cosmology

The Joyous Cosmology: Prologue



After many years being out-of-print, Alan Watts’ classic account of the psychedelic experience, The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness, is being reissued by New World Library. What follows is an introduction to the new edition by Daniel Pinchbeck, followed by Alan Watts’ prologue.

Introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck

The Joyous Cosmology inevitably sends me into a state of poetic euphoria and anarchistic delight. Alan Watts wrote this wonderful little book in the early 1960s: that long-lost moment of innocence when psychedelic substances like LSD and psilocybin were starting to permeate the culture of the modern West but no final decision had yet been made on their utility or fate-or their legality. It was a time when a handful of philosopher-poets had the chance to muse on the power of these compounds — “to give some impression of the new world of consciousness which these substances reveal,” Watts wrote.

Reading it again, I can’t help but recall my first forays into the soul-unfolding and mind-opening qualities of the visionary plants and chemical catalysts. Those first trips unmasked the brittle delusions of our current culture and revealed that deeper dimensions of psychic reality were available for us to explore. Watts is such a fluid stylist — such a master of evanescent, evocative, pitch-perfect prose — that it is easy to gloss over or to entirely miss the explosive, radical, even revolutionary core of his message and meaning: the Western ego, the primacy of self that our entire civilization is intricately designed to shore up and protect, simply does not exist.

When one uses the magnifying glass or microscope provided by one of a number of chemical compounds that, Watts cannily noted, do not impart wisdom in itself but provide “the raw 
materials of wisdom,” one finds nothing fixed, stable, permanent — no essence. Only relationship, pattern, flow. Watts’s psychedelic journeys provided experiential confirmation of the core teachings of Eastern metaphysics: that the Tao is all, that consciousness is “one without a second,” that there is no doing, only infinite reciprocity and divine play.

This book retains the freshness of precocious notebook jottings. It also, almost accidentally, gives a beautiful sense of life in the dawn of the psychedelic era on the West Coast, when groups of friends would gather in backyards beside eucalyptus groves to explore together, with the gentle humor of wise children, the infinite within. “All of us look at each other knowingly, for the feeling that we knew each other in that most distant past conceals something else — tacit, awesome, almost unmentionable — the realization that at the deep center of a time perpendicular to ordinary time we are, and always have been, one,” Watts wrote. “We acknowledge the marvelously hidden plot, the master illusion, whereby we appear to be different.”

Over the past forty or so years, we have suffered from the cultural delusion — put forth by a corporate media and government working overtime to keep consciousness locked up, as our industries suck the lifeblood from our planet — that the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s was a failure. Revisiting Watts’s Joyous Cosmology reminds me that the psychedelic revolution has barely begun. The journey inward is the great adventure that remains for humanity to take together. As long as we refuse to turn our attention to the vast interior dimensions of the Psyche — “The Kingdom of God is within” — we will continue to exhaust the physical resources of the planet, cook the atmosphere, and mindlessly exterminate the myriad plant, animal, and insect species who weave the web of life with us.

When on psychedelics, we tend to find that each moment takes on archetypal, timeless, mythological significance. At one point, Watts and his friends enter into a garage full of trash, where they collapse with helpless laughter. “The culmination of civilization in monumental heaps of junk is seen, not as thoughtless ugliness, but as self-caricature — as the creation of phenomenally absurd collages and abstract sculptures in deliberate but kindly mockery of our own pretensions.” Our civilization mirrors the “defended defensiveness” of the individual ego, which fortifies itself against the revelation of interdependence and interconnectivity, the plenitude and emptiness of the void.

We are lucky to have Watts’s testament of his encounters: The Joyous Cosmology is a carrier wave of information and insight, which has lost none of its subtlety, suppleness, or zest. It is also an expression of a larger culture process, one that is unfolding over the course of decades, through a “War on Drugs” that is secretly a war on consciousness.

Dr. Thomas B. Roberts, author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, among other works, has proposed that the rediscovery of entheogens by the modern West in the mid-twentieth century was the beginning of a “second Reformation,” destined to have repercussions at least as profound as those of the first one. In the first Reformation, the Bible was translated into the common vernacular, printed, and mass-produced, providing direct access to the “word of God,” which had previously been protected by the priests. With psychedelics, many people now have direct and unmediated access to the mystical and visionary experience, instead of reading about it in musty old tomes. As Watts’s scintillating prose makes clear-and all appearances to the contrary-the future will be psychedelic, or it will not be.

–Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 
Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey 
into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism. New York City, 2013

Prologue by Alan W. Watts

Slowly it becomes clear that one of the greatest of all superstitions is the separation of the mind from the body. This does not mean that we are being forced to admit that we are only bodies; it means that we are forming an altogether new idea of the body. For the body considered as separate from the mind is one thing — an animated corpse. But the body considered as inseparable from the mind is another, and as yet we have no proper word for a reality which is simultaneously mental and physical. To call it mental-physical will not do at all, for this is the very unsatisfactory joining of two concepts which have both been impoverished by long separation and opposition. But we are at least within sight of being able to discard altogether ideas of a stuff which is mental and a stuff which is material.

“Stuff” is a word which describes the formless mush that we perceive when sense is not keen enough to make out its pattern. The notion of material or mental stuff is based on the false analogy that trees are made of wood, mountains of stone, and minds of spirit in the same way that pots are made of clay. “Inert” matter seems to require an external and intelligent energy to give it form. But now we know that matter is not inert. Whether it is organic or inorganic, we are learning to see matter as patterns of energy — not of energy as if energy were a stuff, but as energetic pattern, moving order, active intelligence.

The realization that mind and body, form and matter, are one is blocked, however, by ages of semantic confusion and psychological prejudice. For it is common sense that every pattern, shape, or structure is a form of something as pots are forms of clay. It is hard to see that this “something” is as dispensable as the ether in which light was once supposed to travel, or as the fabulous tortoise upon which the earth was once thought to be supported. Anyone who can really grasp this point will experience a curiously exhilarating liberation, for the burden of stuff will drop from him and he will walk less heavily.

The dualism of mind and body arose, perhaps, as a clumsy way of describing the power of an intelligent organism to control itself. It seemed reasonable to think of the part controlled as one thing and the part controlling as another. In this way the conscious will was opposed to the involuntary appetites and reason to instinct. In due course we learned to center our identity, our selfhood, in the controlling part — the mind — and increasingly to disown as a mere vehicle the part controlled. It thus escaped our attention that the organism as a whole, largely unconscious, was using consciousness and reason to inform and control itself. We thought of our conscious intelligence as descending from a higher realm to take possession of a physical vehicle. We therefore failed to see it as an operation of the same formative process as the structure of nerves, muscles, veins, and bones — a structure so subtly ordered (that is, intelligent) that conscious thought is as yet far from being able to describe it.

This radical separation of the part controlling from the part controlled changed man from a self-controlling to a self-frustrating organism, to the embodied conflict and self-contradiction that he has been throughout his known history. Once the split occurred conscious intelligence began to serve its own ends instead of those of the organism that produced it. More exactly, it became the intention of the conscious intelligence to work for its own, dissociated, purposes. But, as we shall see, just as the separation of mind from body is an illusion, so also is the subjection of the body to the independent schemes of the mind.

Meanwhile, however, the illusion is as real as the hallucinations of hypnosis, and the organism of man is indeed frustrating itself by patterns of behavior which move in the most complex vicious circles. The culmination is a culture which ever more serves the ends of mechanical order as distinct from those of organic enjoyment, and which is bent on self-destruction against the instinct of every one of its members.

We believe, then, that the mind controls the body, not that the body controls itself through the mind. Hence the ingrained prejudice that the mind should be independent of all physical aids to its working — despite microscopes, telescopes, cameras, scales, computers, books, works of art, alphabets, and all those physical tools apart from which it is doubtful whether there would be any mental life at all.

At the same time there has always been at least an obscure awareness that in feeling oneself to be a separate mind, soul, or ego there is something wrong. Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body he “has” a body. Instead of living and loving he “has” instincts for survival and copulation. Disowned, they drive him as if they were blind furies or demons that possessed him.

The feeling that there is something wrong in all this revolves around a contradiction characteristic of all civilizations. This is the simultaneous compulsion to preserve oneself and to forget oneself. Here is the vicious circle: if you feel separate from your organic life, you feel driven to survive; survival — going on living — thus becomes a duty and also a drag because you are not fully with it; because it does not quite come up to expectations, you continue to hope that it will, to crave for more time, to feel driven all the more to go on. What we call self-consciousness is thus the sensation of the organism obstructing itself, of not being with itself, of driving, so to say, with accelerator and brake on at once. Naturally, this is a highly unpleasant sensation, which most people want to forget.

The lowbrow way of forgetting oneself is to get drunk, to be diverted with entertainments, or to exploit such natural means of self-transcendence as sexual intercourse. The highbrow way is to throw oneself into the pursuit of the arts, of social service, or of religious mysticism. These measures are rarely successful because they do not disclose the basic error of the split self. The highbrow ways even aggravate the error to the extent that those who follow them take pride in forgetting themselves by purely mental means — even though the artist uses paints or sounds, the social idealist distributes material wealth, and the religionist uses sacraments and rituals, or such other physical means as fasting, yoga breathing, or dervish dancing. And there is a sound instinct in the use of these physical aids, as in the repeated insistence of mystics that to know about God is not enough: transformation of the self is only through realizing or feeling God. The hidden point is that man cannot function properly through changing anything so superficial as the order of his thoughts, of his dissociated mind. What has to change is the behavior of his organism; it has to become self-controlling instead of self-frustrating.

Excerpted from The Joyous Cosmology ©2013 by Alan W. Watts.  Published with permission of New World Library.

from:    http://www.realitysandwich.com/joyous_cosmology_prologue

Alan Watts: This is It

The Road to HERE ~ Alan Watts


Alan Watts was profoundly influenced by the East Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Buddhism, and by Taoist thought, which is reflected in Zen poetry and the arts of China and Japan.  After leaving the Church he never became a member of  another organized religion, although he wrote and spoke extensively about Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoisim. Some American Buddhists criticized him for not sitting regularly in zazen, even though he recorded several guided meditations teaching a variety of mediation techniques. Alan Watts responded simply by saying: “A cat sits until it is done sitting, and then gets up, stretches, and walks away.”
from:    http://alanwatts.com/life-and-works/
Check out this video:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeyss0Ng4T8&feature=player_embedded#!