The Web of Life (Part 1)

Out of Your Mind 3

Alan Watts explores the interconnectedness and interdependence of all things. He asserts that human consciousness excludes an awareness of the whole, instead focusing narrowly and seeing the world as disjointed parts. Watts aims to broaden awareness to encompass the fundamental unity underlying apparent diversity. Using examples like music intervals, Chinese philosophy, and weaving, he elucidates the inseparability of opposites like order and randomness, sound and silence, self and other. Watts contends that a recognition of the implicit wholeness of existence brings peace, joy and harmony. He encourages a view of life that pairs an individual persona with an understanding that each person is an expression of the total cosmos.



What Did You Forget?


The web of life. Let me try, from the first, to indicate the point that we’re aiming at. The point is this: that human consciousness is—at the same time as being a form of awareness, and sensitivity, and understanding—it’s also a form of ignorance. The ordinary everyday consciousness that we have leaves out more than it takes in. And because of this, it leaves out things that are terribly important. It leaves out things that would—if we did know them—allay our anxieties, and fears, and horrors. And if we could extend our awareness, you see, to include those things that we leave out, we would have a deep interior peace. Because we would all know the one thing that you mustn’t know. You know, according to the rules of our particular social game, the one thing you mustn’t know; that’s really not allowed, that is the lowdown on life—and that the lowdown, on the one hand, means the real dirt on things. But the lowdown is also what is profound, what is mysterious, what is in the depths. And the something left out. And our everyday consciousness screens this out in the same way that, when you say you have weaving, you have—say, on this rug here in front of us—when the black finishes here, the black threads will go underneath, and then appear again over here, then they’ll go underneath the white and they’ll appear again over here, you know? So that the back will be the obverse pattern of the front.


Now—the world is like that. Our sense organs are selective. They pick out certain things; they are receptive. For example, we have a small, small band of what you might call a spectrum of light, of sound, of tactile sensation, and so on, to which the human organism is sensitive. But we know that outside that small band there is a huge range of vibrations to which we have built instruments that are sensitive—things like cosmic rays, ultraviolet rays, gamma rays, hard x-rays, and so on—they’re all outside the band of our spectrum. And obviously, there are things that are outside the range of our instruments. We may build new instruments someday, which will evoke—bring into our consciousness—other orders of vibration altogether, that, as yet, we don’t know about them.


So you could imagine, you see, the universe as a vast, vast system of vibrations; and has infinite possibilities. All these vibrations, you know, are like the strings on a harp. And the harps that the angels are supposed to play in heaven are really this huge possibility. See, when you play the harp you select strings. You don’t play all the strings; it’s stupid to just run your finger along the whole edge of the harp back and forth, back and forth, and go “blrrbllrrblllbrrbllrrblllbrr.” What you do is, you pick out with your fingers—select, just like on the piano—you don’t go “brrrrrrmmmp”—you pick out certain notes, and these make the patterns. But at the same time as you pick out, you reject what you don’t pick out. But it’s all there, constituting a fundamental continuity; the kind of continuity of the thread as they go up to the back of the woven material, and make up the obverse of the pattern that’s on the front.


Now, the question that is absolutely basic for all human beings is, “What have you left out?” You see? You are focused on certain things that constitute what you call ‘everyday reality.’ Look: you single out people, and you see them sitting, sitting, sitting, all around, and you know they are things that are really there. And then, behind the people, are the houses—or whatever we live in—and the Earth, and behind all that the sky, and so on. But we see the world as a collection of rather disjointed events and things. And I might say to you, as you came in here today, “Now, my goodness! You all forgot something. What did you forget?” And you think, “My goodness, did I put my pants on? Did I wear a sweater? Did I—got my glasses, and my hair on, or my wig, or whatever?” And—no, no, it’s none of that. Something you’ve forgotten, you see? Everybody has forgotten something. You left it out; just missed it. See, see? And so I can bring this out—what you’ve forgotten—if I ask you, “Who are you?” Well, you say, “I’m Paul Jones,” or whatever your name happens to be. I say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, don’t give me that stuff. Who are you really?” And you think, “Well, of course I’m just—I’m just me.” “No! Don’t give me that! I don’t want to hear all that nonsense. You’re playing a trick on me. Really, deep down, who are you?” “I don’t know!” Well, that’s the thing to find out. That’s the thing that’s been forgotten, see? That’s the underside of the tapestry; the thing that’s been left out.


Because what we are carefully taught to ignore is that every one of us—fundamentally; deep, deep inside—let’s put it that way—is an act of, a function of, a performance of, a manifestation of, the works. The whole blinkin’ cosmos with all its galaxies, and forever, and ever, and ever, whatever it is beyond that; what you might call God in the Western tradition, or Brahman in Hindu philosophy, or Tao in Chinese. Every one of us is really that, but we are pretending we aren’t. And we’re pretending with tremendous skill and deception.


A Spontaneous Life


Now, what I would call a really swinging human being is a person who lives on two levels at once. He’s able to live on the level of being his ordinary ego, his everyday personality, and play his role in life, and to observe all the rules, and so on, that go with that. But if he is only on that level—if he’s only playing that kind of thing—and thinks that’s all there is, it becomes a drag. He starts being the kind of person who feels that he’s just got to go on surviving, see? It’s terribly important to go on surviving; to live. And he works at that. And his children learn the same attitude from him. And they—he says, “Well, I’ve got to survive because I’ve got all these children I have to support,” and so on, and so forth, and then they take the same attitude, and they breed up children, and they feel compulsive about supporting them, because they’ve got to go on. And so nobody really has any fun. It’s just… “Ungh! Ungh! Ungh! Ungh!” You’ve got to make this thing! You see? And you don’t have to!


See, whenever I get somebody who comes to me and says, “I really can’t go on. I have to commit suicide,” I say, “Well, that’s entirely your right. There’s really no reason why you should go on, and if you want to commit suicide, do it.” You can check out. Of course, this reduces anxiety; when they feel free to commit suicide they don’t really have to commit suicide so much. You know, you can commit partial suicide. So the sense that you just have to go on living, see? That life is a ‘must.’ When you say to anything spontaneous—see, life is spontaneous. It happens—in the words of the Taoists—zìrán [自然], which means “of itself so”—that’s the Chinese expression for nature, what happens by itself. What isn’t pushed, but it just pops up, you see?


Like—gee, I’ll never forget—there was a great Zen master I knew once, in New York. He was giving a lecture one evening, and he was dressed in his gold ceremonial robes, and he was sitting in front of an altar like this sort of thing—but he had a table in front of him with very formal candles on it and a sūtra scripture on a little desk—and he was lecturing on the sūtra. And he said, “Fundamental principle in Buddhism is: no purpose. Purposelessness. When you drop fart, you don’t say, ‘At nine o’clock, I drop fart.’ It happen of itself.” You know? And all these pious Western devotees, you know, kind of put their handkerchiefs in their mouths and tried not to laugh.


So—but, that’s the meaning of “something that happens of itself,” like “drop fart,” or “have hiccups,” or—just—you came into being, you know? It happens in a kind of a plop! way, like that—see? Now, you can’t tell that process, “You ought to happen! You must happen!” Because that puts a bind on it in the same way as when you have little child, and all the relatives have come to a party on Thanksgiving, and you put the child in the middle of all the relatives and say, “Now, dear, play!” See? It absolutely bugs the child to do it like that. And so this is the problem for every artist. Because an artist is a man who makes his living by playing—whether he’s dancing, or painting, or playing music, or whatever it is—and he has to overcome this problem. He has to know how to play in public at a given time on an appointment, see? And that’s not an easy thing to learn. But when you catch on to the trick of it, you can do it—to play on demand. That’s the hardest lesson of life: to contrive what is called by my Japanese artist friend Saburo Hasegawa a controlled accident.


Seeing Beyond Our Separateness


The thing is that we have been educated to use our minds in a certain way. A way that ignores, or screens out, the fact that every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos looks out. You see, it’s as if you had a light covered with a black ball, and in this ball were pinholes, and each pinhole is an aperture through which the light comes out. So in that way, every one of us is, actually, a pinhole through which the fundamental light—that is, existence itself—looks out. Only, the game we’re playing is not to know this. To be only that little hole, which we call “me,” “my ego,” my specific “John Jones,” or whatever.


If, however—you see—we can maintain, at the same time, the sense of being this specific John Jones with his role in life, or whatever, and know also, underneath this, that we are the whole works, you get a very marvelous and agreeable arrangement. This is a most remarkable harmoniousness—I mean, it gives one’s life a great sense of joy and exuberance—if you can carry on these two things at once. If you—in other words—you know that all the serious predicaments of life are a game.


Now, I want to put it two ways. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, something to be condemned, to take your own individual life seriously, in dead earnest, and to have all the problems that go with that. Do you understand that being that way—that being a real mixed-up human being—is a manifestation of nature that is something just like the patterns on the waves out here, or like a seashell? You know, we pick up shells—I always keep one around, as sort of an example for many things—and say, “My goodness, isn’t that gorgeous!” There’s not an aesthetic fault in it anywhere. It’s absolutely perfect. Now, I wonder. I wonder if these fish look at each other’s shells and say, “Don’t you think she’s kind of fat?” “Oh my, those markings aren’t really very well spaced.” Because that’s what we do.


See, we don’t realize that all of us—in our various goings-on, and behavior, and so on—are more marvelous, much more complicated, much more interesting. All these gorgeous faces that I’m looking at. You know, every one of them! Some of them are supposedly pretty, some of them are supposedly not so pretty, but they’re all absolutely gorgeous. And everybody’s eyes is a piece of jewelry beyond compare. Beautiful!


But we have specialized in a certain kind of awareness that makes us neglectful of that. You see, we specialize in more or less briefly concentrated pinpoint attention. We look at this and we look at that, and we select—from all the things we might possibly be aware of—only certain things. And as a result of that we leave out of our everyday consciousness, generally speaking, two dimensions of experience. One: amazing beauty of experience that we never see at all, and on the other hand—the very deep thing—the sense of our basic identity, unity with, oneness with, the total process of being.


See, because we are staring, as it were, at certain features of the landscape, we don’t see the background. And because we get fascinated with—you know, I could go into details of this shell, as I said, and put myself in the mind of a conch—or whatever it is that lives in this thing—and say, “Hm, that’s not so hot, that one.” Like that, see? And so I wouldn’t see the whole thing. But when I look at it like this, when anybody looks at it like that, we say, “Oh my God, isn’t that gorgeous!”


Intervals Between What Happens


Another way of talking about the web is that there are different levels of magnification. For example, supposing you take a piece of embroidery. And here it is, obviously, in front of you: an ordered and beautiful object. And then you take out a microscope, and you look at the individual threads. At a certain point, as you turn up the microscope, you’ll get a hopeless tangle which doesn’t make any sense at all. The wrapped fiber that constitutes the thread is a mess. Hasn’t been organized, nobody did anything about it. But at the level of magnification at which you actually see it with the naked eye, it’s all been organized.


Alright, now keep turning up that microscope. Take one of those individual threads in the fiber that seems to be so chaotic, and go into the constitution of that. And again, you’ll find fantastic order. You’ll find the most gorgeous designs of molecules. Then, keep turning it up. And again, at a certain level you’ll find chaos again. Alright, keep going. And at another level you’ll find there’s marvelous order.


Now, you see, order and randomness constitute—in other words—the warp and the woof. Where everything is—in order, everything’s under control; in randomness, it’s all over—it’s a mess. But we wouldn’t know what order was unless we had messes. It’s the contrast of order and messes that order itself depends upon. And so in exactly the same way, it is the contrast of on and off, there and not there—in other words, life and death, being and non-being—that constitutes existence. Only, we pretend that the random side of things, the disorderly side of things, could possibly win in the game of competition—or, I would rather call it collaboration—between the two.


When you lose sight of the fact that the order-principle and the random-principle go together, that’s exactly the same predicament as losing sight of the fact that all individually delineated things and beings are connected underneath. You know, just like mountains stick out of the Earth and there’s a fundamental Earth underneath them, so all of us, as different things, we stick out of reality and there’s a continuity underneath—but you ignore that, you see? That’s the thing that’s left out.


See? I’m just giving you many examples of the same principle. But really, deep down, we are—each one of us—everything that there is. Doing it this way, and then again that way, and then again another way, and that’s what it keeps up doing for ever, and ever. Only, it has holidays which are called deaths. You know, in the story of the creation of the world, in the Bible, God works for seven days and rests the seventh. It’s necessary to have a holiday. Holiday is holy day. And the Sabbath for the Jews is Saturday, for the Christians it’s Sunday, because Saturday is the last day of the week, but Sunday is the first day of the week. And it’s a slight difference of alteration between the Jewish temperament and a Christian temperament. Some people like to take the holiday and then do the work, other people like to do the work and then take the holiday. And since the Jews do the work first and then take the holiday, they’re always a little up on the Christians in business!


But the point is that a holiday—this pause between something going on—is of the essence of the idea of a web. For example, there’s a famous Irishman who is supposed to have described a net as “a lot of holes tied together with string.” So the holes are very, very important. And these are the holy days, you see? The holes. It all goes together.


So there must be that interval, and it exists on all kinds of levels. It isn’t simply that there is—for example, a sound that is sounded is a vibration, and the sound goes on and off. Everything that we call sound is sound-silence. There is no such thing as pure sound; you couldn’t hear it. What you hear is that tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap against the eardrum, But it happens very fast so that you get more of an impression of sound than you do of silence. But between every little undulation of sound there is also an interval. When you listen to music you hear a melody. But what you hear, actually, that makes the melody significant, are the steps between the tones; what we call the intervals. And a person who doesn’t hear intervals is tone-deaf. He only hears noises, he doesn’t hear the steps.


So that interval between whatever happens is as important as what happens. So we’ll call these two things the sound and the silence, the life and the death, somewhat analogous in weaving to the warp and the woof. Now look at the marvelous way in which the warp and woof go together. A piece of cloth is an extraordinary thing when you consider it’s made of a line of string. There’s something that always struck me as a child; fabulous, that string—just thread—could turn into cloth. Why should it hang together? How improbable.


Existence As A Function Of Relationship


My mother was a very great artist in embroidery; did absolutely fabulous work. And she could do everything with thread: sewing, knitting, embroidery, make tapestries, repair tapestries—oh, just fabulous work. So I’ve grown up in a background where thread is of enormous importance. She made a living this way, for a while. So I was always amazed at the way—say you take a ball of wool, and with knitting needles, and suddenly it turns into a sweater. Fantastic! But I found out, you see, the secret of this, which is that it will do this—it will hold together—by this combination of warp and woof. By this process where one thread goes under the other, omits the next, goes under the other, and then the next thing does the same thing, but in the opposite way.


Connect that. And they hold each other up. For example, you can put two sticks of wood, and lean them against each other, and they’ll stand up. We know the Chinese character for man () looks more or less like that. And although this is simply the brush form, the brush abbreviation, of what were originally the legs of a little human stick figure, there’s a story that Japanese children sometimes learn from their mothers: that the reason this is the character for man is that two sticks, leaned together as I described, will keep each other up. And the one depends on the other; it’s mutual. And so in the same way, the existence of human beings depends on our supporting each other. Without that, no one of us can exist. But that, which may seem a little trite—a little, sort of, moralistic and so on—but it is absolutely fundamental. That anything that there is, whenever we can say that something exists—existence is a function of relationship.


Motion itself is a function of relationship. For example—forgive me if some of you have heard this one before, but it’s a very important basic lesson—if there is only one object, one small ball in the middle of endless space, nobody knows whether it’s moving. Because you can’t tell whether it’s approaching anything, or whether it’s going away from anything, because there’s nothing else. So in that state of affairs, no motion exists. But if we introduce a second ball into the picture, and the two either come towards each other or go away from each other, then we can say that both of them or either of them is in motion. We can’t decide which is the one that’s doing the moving, because it could be one, it could be the other. Now we’ll put three balls into space, and we find two of them staying together and the other one going away. Now, it’s up to the two of them to decide whether the other one is going away from them or they’re going away from the other, because two is a majority in this case, and the vote, of course, always goes to the majority; the universe being, basically, a democratic organization. And so it goes.


And now, once you’ve got that, you can see that motion is a form of relationship. Or, let me put it in another way: energy is a form of relationship. If the universe is basically a play of energy, then you can say energy and relationship go together. Now, what is this saying? This is saying that being—existence itself—is relationship. Let’s look at it in several other ways.


You know the old question, “If a tree crashes in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it, is there a noise?” This question has been discussed in many futile ways, but noise—basically—is a state of affairs that requires an eardrum and an audio nervous system behind the eardrum. When the tree falls, if there is—anywhere around—an ear with the appropriate nervous system, there will be a noise. Because noise is a relationship between motion in the air and ears. If there is not any ear around, there won’t be any noise—although there will be vibration in the air. And if there is some instrument around, such as a microphone attached to a tape recorder (which is a mechanical copy of a human ear) then, according to that, there will be noise; there will be a vibration.


In the same way, let’s suppose the sun sends out light into space. Now, the space surrounding the sun will be black darkness as if there were no light in it, unless a planet happens to float by. When a planet floats by, there will be light. In the darkness. But if there isn’t anything to relate to the sun in that way, then comes no light.


Now this goes right down to the root and ground of everything. It goes down to the essence of your nerves, of your whole being: that it’s all an interdependence. And that’s why one of the basic symbols of the universe is the Chinese yin-yang symbol, which, you know, is a circle with an S-curve in the center. One side of the S is black, the other is white. So it makes, as it were, two commas, or two fishes. And the eye of the fish is the opposite color; the white fish has a black eye, the black fish has a white eye. And these things are going like this, see? Curling in on each other. Now, this thing is called a helix, and that is the fundamental form of the galaxies; the great nebulae we see out in space are doing this. Curves. And this is, basically, too, the position of sexual intercourse. This is lovemaking. And this is, you know, when you hold hands, and so on. This is it. But there are two involved, and the two are secretly one.


Understanding The Unitive World


Now, this is what I really want you to understand: to get into the unitive world underneath, underlying, and supporting the everyday practical world, there have to be certain alterations in one’s common sense. There are certain ideas—and beyond these ideas, certain feelings—that are difficult to get across not because they’re intellectually complicated—not at all because of that—but because they’re unfamiliar. They’re strange. We haven’t been brought up to accommodate them.


In exactly the same way that, in past times, people knew that the planets were supported in the sky because they were embedded in spheres of crystal. And if they weren’t embedded in spheres of crystal—and, of course, you could see them, because you could see through them—they would fall down on the Earth. And now, when astronomers finally suggested that there were no crystal spheres, people felt unbelievably insecure. See? They had a terrible time assimilating this idea. Now, do you see what it involves to assimilate a really new idea? You have to do quite a flip.


For example, there are some people whose number systems only account four quantities: one, two, three, many. So they don’t have any concept of four corners to a table—see, a table has many corners. And a pile of pebbles is, in that sense, equivalent in many-ness to the four corners of the table. Now, they have difficulty, you see, in beginning to assimilate the idea of counting through, and numbering all those corners or all those pebbles. But we’ve done that, so—to us—that is perfectly simple. But imagine the kind of mentality, the kind of person, to whom that is not simple at all.


Now, in exactly the same way, there is, here—what I’m trying to explain—a new idea that most people don’t assimilate, and that is the idea of the total interdependence of everything in the world. The Buddhists in Japan call it jiji muge [事事无碍]. Jiji muge: “Between thing and thing, between event and event, there is no block.” And they represent this, imagistically, as a network.


Imagine a multidimensional spiderweb covered in dew in the morning, and every single drop of dew on this web contains in it the reflections of all the other drops of dew. And, of course, in turn, in every drop of dew that one drop reflects, there is the reflection of all the others again. And they use this image to represent the interdependence of everything in the world.


In other words, if we give this dewdrop-image—if we put it into a linguistic analogy, we would say this: “Words have meaning only in context.” The meaning of any word depends upon the sentence or upon the paragraph in which it’s found. So that, if I say, “This tree has no bark,” that’s one thing. And if I say, “This dog has no bark,” that’s another thing. So, you see—always—the meaning of the word is in relation to the context.


Now, in exactly the same way, the meaning—as well as the existence—of an individual person, an organism, is in relation to the context. You are what you are, sitting here at this moment, in your particular kind of clothes, and with the particular colors of your faces, and your particular personalities, your family involvements, your business involvements, your neuroses, and your everything—you are that precisely in relation to an extremely complex environment.


So much so that, if—let’s take, for example, this piece of wood that forms a support to the beam out here. Now, believe me, this is true: you can see that has little nubbles on it, and so on. If it were not the way it is, you would not be the way you are. The line of connection between what it is and what you are is very, very complicated. Also, we could say if a given star that we observe didn’t exist, you would be different from what you are now. I don’t say you wouldn’t exist, but you would exist differently. But you might say the connection is very faint, is something you don’t ordinarily have to think about, it’s not important. But basically, it is important, only you say, “I don’t have to think about it, because it’s there all the time.”


See, for example, the floor is underneath you all the time. Some sort of floor, some sort of earth, and you really don’t have to think about it—it’s just always there; it’s always around. If you become insensitive you stop thinking about it. But there it is. And so, in the same way, our subtle interdependence with—mind you, it’s not just our plain existence, it’s the kind of existence we have—is dependent upon all these things. Also our plain existence, but that gets way down. But the fundamental thing is: existence is relationship.


In other words, if my finger, up here, is all alone, and the wind doesn’t move, and nothing touches it, it stops knowing that it’s there. But if something comes along and does tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch-tch; immediately, it’s aware that it’s there. So, you see, it takes two. We could have so much fun, but it takes more than one, and she don’t wanna! But in this way, you see, what we call duality—you can see, can’t you, how duality is fundamental. It takes two.


An Implicit Agreement


But duality is always—secretly—unity. Take the contrast between the words we use: explicit and implicit. They’re very valuable words. What is explicit, what’s on the outside, that’s, say, how we come on publically—explicitly we are thus and so. We have a fight. We’re in competition, say, in business, explicitly. But implicitly, we’ve worked this out: that we’ve agreed, in a secret way that nobody knows about, that this competition is extremely valuable to both of us.


Take it politically, for example: let’s take the situation of Russia versus the United States. Explicitly, in public, this has to be a big fight. These two ways of life, these two ideologies, are opposed. They say, “Brrrrrraaaagh,” you know? But behind the scenes it’s all been carefully worked out. You bet it has. That this opposition has to happen because our economy depends on it, and their economy depends on it, and everybody knows this who’s got a little smart. But there are a lot of people who get taken in by the propaganda, and they should be taken in, because that makes the thing work. It’s crazy, but that’s the way it goes.


And everything works this way. There is, for example—when swans start to mate, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, and they begin to fight. I had a long talk about this with C. G. Jung. He lived on the edge of Lake Zürich, and he had a little summer house right on the water’s edge, and there were many swans there. And I was getting up after the end of a conversation with him, and we were beginning to walk back to the main house, and I said, “Isn’t it true that swans are monogamous?” And he said, “Yes, they are.” He said, “Do you know, I have had most interesting relationships between these swans and many of my female patients who thought they were homosexual.” I mean, Jung wasn’t a sexual snob—I mean, he understood all the legitimacy of all kinds of sexual variations—but he said, “It has been a point of departure for our discussions.” And he said, “It’s a very funny thing that, when they begin to mate, they start fighting. And they don’t know what it’s all about, and then, suddenly, the fight turns into lovemaking.”


So that’s what I mean. Underneath opposition there is love. Underneath duality there’s unity. That Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle. So you see, here’s that weaving principle. That things hold together by over-under, under-over, over-under, under-over, over-under, under-over, and that creates a stuff, it creates a fabric, it creates clothing, it creates shelter, it creates what we call matter. Matter. Mater. Mother. And also, the same word, māyā, “illusion.” See? The world as a marvelous illusion.


Now, we’ve got to go into this. Look at another form of the thing: you can play it not only by two as one, but you can play it by three as one. You know the trademark for Ballantine’s Ale, which is three interlocked rings. Now, the way these rings are interlocked is such that they are joined only if the three of them are present. If you take one away, the other two fall apart. This is a very interesting phenomenon, but it can be created physically, with steel rings. Their cohesion depends on all three of them being present.


To Beware Of The Melody


Now, we have tried, scientifically, to understand the world and explain its mysteries by analyzing the smallest, smallest particles of things that exist. Inquiring down, down, down: what is this thing we call flesh, or call steel, or stone—what is it made of? Go down into the midst of it. And that’s given us a certain understanding. But only half of the understanding. Equally important is not what is the tiniest particle, but in what context is the tiniest particle? You see? In relation to what is it?


Just as the word “bark,” as I showed you, has different meanings in different sentences, so cells, molecules, atoms have different properties in different contexts. So what the scientist equally needs to study is not, simply, what is anything when very, very minutely analyzed, but where is it? When is it? That makes all the difference.


So, do you see that a lot of people who get anxious when they hear that everything is relative have no need to get that anxious? Relativity isn’t some kind of slippery morass in which all standards and all directions get lost. Relativity is really the soundest situation that there is. See? It’s the one supporting the other. It’s this thing.


Do you know this? This is wonderful. X marks the spot. Imagine this going on and on. Supposing my finger were indefinitely long—both fingers—and they were doing this. See, they’re just crossing each other. Now, on one side of it it’s a pair of scissors, and it cuts. What is it on the other side? Why, it’s opening female legs saying, “Please, come in.” Utter softness, utter receptiveness; on the other side it’s “Krrrrck!” But on this side it’s, “Please, please, please, please! Yes! Welcome!” And everything’s based on that. See? It’s “Krrrck” this way; sharpness, teeth, biting, spines, crab shells, all that kind of thing, you know? On the other side it’s the melting softness of life, see? They go together, just like that. “Shhhhhwwwt.” And goodness knows what it is on these outer two sides. I haven’t thought about that yet!


So if you see that, if you get that principle, you can feel yourself not sort of just rattling around in the world—as kind of a, you know, somebody’s been stuck down there—but you can feel yourself going on in absolutely exact relationship with everything around you. And this is very beautiful. It isn’t just that you are here looking at what’s out there—like you might be photographing it with your eyes—it’s that if that, there, wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be here. The outside thing that you see, and the inside thing that you are, are poles of the same magnet. Or back and front of the same coin. And without one there isn’t the other.


That means, of course, then, that we are living in the midst of a world of animals, vegetables, minerals, atmospheres, astronomical bodies that’s highly intelligent. It’s intelligence concentrated, crystallized, in our brains. That’s where it comes out, you see? In any field, let’s say—let’s take any field of forces. Take a chemical solution, and at certain critical points in this chemical solution, the crystals start to form. And so, in the same way, the total intelligence of this whole universe crystallizes in human brains. Also in other kinds of brains. But that’s where it really comes out. But it’s the total intelligence of the whole field that does this.


So we go with the whole thing; interdepend with it. We don’t live in an environment which is just rock, just air, just atmosphere, and so on. The environment’s only like that when we think about it analytically and try to explain it. But when we think of, “It isn’t just rock and air,” see, but “those things go together.” When you see the interconnectedness, when you see, in the simplest way, how flowers go with bees and other insects; they don’t live without them. Humans go with cattle, they don’t exist without them. Plants, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When you see the intervals, the significance of the relationships between these things—it’s only then, when you see that, that you are aware of the melody.


Go back to the illustration I gave of the person who can’t hear melody, who is tone-deaf. He only hears a succession of sounds, because he’s not aware of the intervals. Now, most people are brought up to be tone-deaf in respect to their own existence and the rest of the universe. They don’t see the relationships. They’re not aware of the unity. And so, once you spot that, you spot how everything goes with the thing, but you are one end and that, out there, is the other end. And they really go together. Then you may be said to be living a harmonious life.

The Web of Life (Part 1)

Alan Watts

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