Alan Watts: Seeing Through the Game
Such a great commentary on how any spiritual tradition offering transcendence or liberation also carries within it the system from which the practitioner is to be freed. Reincarnation and karma in vedanta and buddhism represent a form of cosmic justice that is a social tool made to keep society in order. Liberation from this perspective is seeing these concepts for what they are: a creative game that allows us to keep the society organized. Liberation — in general — is not to be freed of karma and rebirth, but to be freed from whatever basic assumptions about your relation to the universe keep you from being free.
As a person seeking liberation from social constructs and ego, there’s a danger in adopting spiritual traditions that originate in foreign cultures because the concepts from which we must be liberated are particular to the society in which we are conditioned. As a Westerner raised in the late 20th century, I was instilled with certain ideas about identity and motivations for social welfare that did not exist in any ancient culture. Thus I don’t need take on the trappings of these cultures in order to be freed from them. Rather, I must re-apply the root principles of these traditions toward my own basic assumptions of who/what I am and what my role in society is.
It seems true to me that liberation implies a reduction of identification with the ego (and vice versa) but the philosophy and stories that will help us to reorient ourselves to the ego structure are by no means universal. As modern Westerners, we need our own myths and philosophies of liberation oriented toward our particular trappings: the cult of personality, social darwinism, our blind addiction to the claims and fruits of science, to name a few. Who knows what the tools for liberation from these particular social constructs will look like.
As a way forward on the most basic level, I really like the following essay by Osho as a starting point for reorienting oneself to one’s ego that seems relatively free of cultural bias:
We are fire
Eager to grow, expand and conquer. Frantically racing to burn it all down. Resting only when there is nothing left to consume. We’ll leave behind nothing but ash.
Let Go of the Story
Don’t think that You’ll be somebody else later. You won’t. You’ll just be You without the story. That’s all. So let go of the story over and over and don’t be lusting after experiences. I know you want all kinds of experiences because you think that will change things. It won’t. It will make it worse. Because when you get like that, you’d knock somebody over to get over there and get that experience.
The Plague of Envy
For the longest time I thought my deepest fear was that I was inadequate, unloveable. But while on this quest to shine light on fear (operation the monster under the bed is just a pile of socks) I’ve noticed how fears tend to hide their origins. How having glimpsed a terrifying monster, one is safer forgetting its name. The surface-level understanding of the fear obscures it’s own resolution by hiding its origin in places I’d never think to look: in its own contradiction.
And so it is that this fear of inadequacy hides a deeper fear: that I am actually brilliant, talented, fabulous, and insanely special. Immediately this thought is met with inward disbelief and ridicule. Something is guarding this path. And so I continue. I start to see how this fear of inadequacy is a disease that infects each new generation. I see how it spreads in a culture through repeated contact. One who is infected responds with fear and aggression to a healthy individual that she feels might be brighter, more talented, more beautiful than herself. And — seeking love — the one who is met with such fear and aggression attempts to shine less brightly so that he will not be pushed away. After years of pretending to be small he forgets how all this began and starts to believe that he actually *is* small. And believing this watered-down version of himself to be real, he feels inadequate around those who shine too brightly; spreading this complex further by reacting with fear and aggression.
So many people.
Each is unique, true.
But a composition of archetypes.
These are still many, but far fewer.
And which are you my dear?
You are the priestess and the matriarch.
Keeper of hearth and altar.
Perfect wife, mother, and vessel of spirit.
I’d be honored to complement you
in some legendary tale told by us
and recited by our children.
But the best tales take us by surprise.
So it is with life and love:
(I know you know this well)
All the beauty that’s meant for us
can neither be sought nor avoided.
I can’t see the future
but I can sense it.
Like Isis, I feel you then
as powerful, loving, generous, fierce.
I see these embers in you now.
Hurricanes and tornados
will fan the flames harshly
and you’ll burn bright.
Like carbide, I feel you now
as strong but delicate.
So capable. So beautiful.
Such potential and grace.
But you aren’t meant for me.
For now your gravity pulls me in
but I’m more comet than satellite:
my path leading past you.
Like two daring acrobats
we lift each other up to
build the trust and courage
to let each other go.
I have no justification
for how I feel about you
of course, in reality
these feelings are groundless
like everything else
but still, it’s unsettling
I feel an impulse to tie it all together
to write a story that makes sense
one that feels descriptive
it’s probably more embellishment than excavation
but by connecting these dots here to those dots there
I’ll form a constellation
and I’ll examine it for hours
and I’ll come up with a hypothesis
and I’ll test it for days
Scientists have this concept
they call it the uncertainty principle
it says that once you look too closely at something
you’ve changed it
I feel that way about you
from where I’m standing, I wouldn’t change a thing
and so I won’t look too closely
because you’re just so perfectly