All quotes from Alan Watts’

Under the surface of both sky and water there is the grim business of preying. Men and birds against fish, fish against fish. The tortuous process of life continuing by the painful transformation of one form or body into another. To creatures who do not anticipate and reflect imaginatively on this holocaust of eating and being eaten, this is perhaps not so terrible. But poor man! Skillful beyond all other animals, by being able to think in time, and abstractly knowing the future, he dies before he is dead.

There is simply no way of getting around all this. The gull can’t really be said to be rapacious or greedy. It’s just that his being alive at all is the same thing as eating crabs. Sea birds are transformations of fish; men are transformations of wheat, steers, and chickens. A love for the food is the very agony of the food. To object to this inseparability of pleasure and pain, life and death, is to object to existence. But, of course, we cannot help objecting when our time comes. Objecting to pain is pain.

Observe the stages of this differentiation, the levels of abstraction: First, the organism from its environment, and with this knowledge of the environment. Second, the distinction of knowing knowledge from knowledge itself. But in concrete fact all this, like the finger-thumb opposition, is a difference which does not divide. The thumb is not floating in the air alongside the rest of the hand. At their roots both fingers and thumb are joined. And at our roots we are joined to the whole subject of nature. Of course, you might say that nature or the whole universe is nothing but a big abstraction. But tell me, is an orange nothing but an abstraction from its component molecules, skins, segments, fibers and fluids?

There is simply no way of thinking or talking about It, and the significance of this is not so much that there is indeed some unthinkable and transcendental It, but that there is absolutely no way of standing outside It and getting hold of it.

We are all lunatics trying to stick pins into their own points, and it is thus that our frantic efforts to set the world to rights and to extend our control over all happenings, inner and outer, are themselves the cause of most of our troubles. All force is tension against the stream.

Human life—and all life—does not work harmoniously when we try to force it to be other than what it is, for the very simple reason that this is based on the assumption that I, who would control things, am something apart from what I would control. This assumption is a hallucination supported by the force of almost universal social consensus.

So there was once a Big Bang… and before that? The child knows this intuitively when it asks, “But who made God?” Change the question a little, realizing that God is eternal, and ask, “Who makes God?” You do.

The brain itself is in and of that external world, a particular pattern of vibrations, and the organism as a whole is functionally inseparable from that brain. And, in turn, the organism is functionally inseparable from the environment, from a system of vibrations from which it can make those particular selections which it calls being alive. Thus the subtle environment of this particular planet, solar system, and galaxy grows human organisms as a tree grows fruit.

On the one hand, you do not and actually cannot do anything: it is all happening, as the stream flows of itself. On the other hand, you yourself are no other than this stream—however much you may feel yourself to be some distinct entity in the stream, occasionally controlling it, though mostly driven helplessly along.

Surely it is easy to see that all voluntary action is based on processes that are not voluntary at all, on the circulation of blood and the operation of neural circuits. Nevertheless, if “self” actually comprises both poles, the voluntary and the involuntary are equally your karma, or “action.”

The natural state of man is ecstatic wonder; we should not settle for less.

Frequent plunges into ecstasy transform one’s normal consciousness. The everyday world becomes luminous and transparent. The chronic neuromuscular tension against the world disappears, and thus one loses the sensation of carrying one’s body around like a load. You feel light, almost weightless, realizing that you are one with a planet that is just falling at ease through space.

It was, I think, first shown by a British architect, Douglas Harding, writing in the early sixties, that from this point of view, one has no head. The only directly perceptual content of the head, he wrote, especially through the eyes and ears—which are directed outward from the head—is everything except the head. Once this obvious but overlooked fact becomes clear, you no longer regard your head as the center of consciousness; you cease to be a central thing upon which experience is banging, scratching, and being recorded. Thus, the center of awareness becomes one with all it perceives. You and the world become identical, and this disappearance of oneself is, to say the least, a blissful release.

When I ask myself the seemingly meaningless question what it is like to be nothing and never to have been, I think first of the way my own head looks to my eyes. For, going by the sense of sight alone, there is not, right behind my eyes, a dark place, or a hazy place. There is a positive sensation of nothing—which is quite different from saying that there isn’t anything, because, after all, I see out of this nothingness.

It is, then, just as reasonable to say that my self is the whole whirl as to say that it is just this particular body, for I don’t consciously manage either. I don’t warm up the galaxy. I don’t design my nervous system. It happens, and I happen. My self does not manage itself as if it were something outside itself like an automobile or a typewriter. So if I don’t manage my self—if only defined as the body—there is no reason why I shouldn’t define my self as the whole universe.

The universe is a system which, by means of living bodies, becomes aware of itself.

My body, your body, everybody is the universe eyeing. Presumably to go beyond partiality and prejudice, it eyes with myriads of different bodies and keeps changing them.

If any apple could become fully aware it would say, “I am what the tree is doing.”

You will have realized that to be or not to be is not the question, because you are a repeatable act of eyeing on the part of a system, a universe, that has perfectly well been able to take care of itself for at least 10,000 million years.

Just as we do not confuse a televised image of the president with the president himself, we should not confuse our linear models of the world (in terms of words, numbers, or other strung-out signs) with the world itself.

We are not in nature; we are nature.

I have no self except everything which is happening, and it sees itself from all the different standpoints called sentient beings.

When everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful, then there is ugliness. When everyone recognizes goodness as good, then there is evil. Thus being and non-being arise mutually. Easy and difficult are mutually implied. Short and long are mutually contrasted. High and low are mutually posited.

What is the matter with us? The basic problem of civilization, whether it is American, German, British, Chinese, or Japanese, is that we confuse our systems of symbols and descriptions with the real (or natural) world, the universe represented with the universe present, the money with the wealth, the figures with the facts, the thoughts with the things, the ideas with the events, the ego with the organism, and the map with the territory.

How many of us now realize that space is the same thing as mind, or consciousness? That when you look out into infinity you are looking at yourself? That your inside goes with your entire outside as your front with your back? That this galaxy, and all other galaxies, are just as much you as your heart or your brain? That your coming and going, your waking and sleeping, your birth and your death, are exactly the same kind of rhythmic phenomena as the stars and their surrounding darkness? To be afraid of life is to be afraid of yourself.

It is obvious to any informed student of the history and psychology of religion that Jesus was one, of many, who had an intense experience of cosmic consciousness—of the vivid realization that oneself is a manifestation of the eternal energy of the universe, the basic “I am.” But it is very hard to express this experience when the only religious imagery at your disposal conceives that “I am” as an all-knowing and all-powerful monarch, autocrat, and beneficent tyrant enthroned in a court of adoring subjects.

None of us are brief island existences, but forms and expressions of one and the same eternal “I am” waving in different ways, such that, whenever this is realized to be the case, we wave more harmoniously with other waves.

You yourself are the eternal energy which appears as this universe. You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.

Every individual as a limb of the central and eternal self.

The individual is an aperture through which the whole energy of the universe is aware of itself, a vortex of vibrations in which it realizes itself as man or beast, flower or star—not alone, but as central to all that surrounds it. These centers are not, as it may seem, apart from their surroundings, but stand in mutual relationship to them—center to circumference—in the same way as the magnetic poles.

If you have understood all this, you are simply aware of what is happening now, and we might call this state meditation or, better, contemplation. But it is not that you are something which is just watching what happens. “What happens” is just using your organism to watch itself. It is the universe centering as a particular being.

The effort to transform one’s own mind should collapse, and along with it the whole illusion that one is a separate center of consciousness to which experience happens and for which these happenings are problematic. This collapse would then become the state of contemplation, the realization that all is One.

What is important here is not the meaning of the words but their actual sound and the movement of the breath and lips, giving direct experience of the basic energy of life as it comes from the void.

You yourself are the universe which you are observing.