Alan Watts – Overthinking Will Kill Your Reality

In this video, Alan Watts shows how a person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thought.


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a person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts so he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions by thoughts i mean specifically chatter in the skull perpetual and compulsive repetition of words of reckoning and calculating i’m not saying that thinking is bad like everything else is useful in moderation a good servant but a bad master and all so-called civilized peoples have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive because through excessive thinking they

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have lost touch with reality that’s to say we confuse signs words numbers symbols and ideas with the real world most of us would have rather money than tangible wealth and a great occasion is somehow spoiled first and less photographed and to read about it the next day in the newspaper is oddly more fun for us than the original event this is a disaster for as a result of confusing the real world of nature with mere signs such as bank balances and contracts we are destroying nature we are so tied up in our minds that we’ve lost our senses

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time to wake up what is reality obviously no one can say because it isn’t words it isn’t material that’s just an idea it isn’t spiritual that’s also an idea a symbol reality is this realize that anybody whom you consider in matters spiritual psychological and so on as an authority

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has this authority because of your opinion that he has or she has how do you know if you say for example like a protestant fundamentalist that you believe in the bible that the bible is inspired or you may say as a more liberal kind of christian that jesus christ is the greatest being that ever lived on earth how do you know it’s your opinion that that is so lots of people may have told you so and you may be very impressed by those people but you bought it and so therefore if you say well i would like to become like that that’s an expression of the way you

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are you couldn’t feel i would like to become like that like the authority like the christ except as an expression of the way you are now and the way you are now is the quaking mess and therefore your emulation your desire your idealism to become like christ is merely one of the appetites of your quaking mass it’s an expression of you as you are don’t fool yourselves i’m not trying to put you down by talking about the quaking nurse the quaking mess may be in fact something very very natural the way we are the state of affairs and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it i’m not ashamed of it i told you all attracting

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but it is important not to fool oneself about this but there does doesn’t there seem to remain a problem about existence about being alive now let’s go into what is that problem at the sort of nitty-gritty level very basic in our thinking is that we as it say one must live we need to survive to go on we need therefore money for food for this that and the other we must go on we know that we’re not going to get away with it for very long

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that after a certain number of years we’re going to die but the thing is going to end the thing that we call i is going to be as it is in sleep deep sleep with no dreams but that between now and that happening there may be the most ghastly pains not only perhaps the pains of physical disease or being wounded or hurt but the pains of worrying about our failure of responsibility to people who depend on us and we suffer other people’s suffering simply because we’re sensitive and have imagination and participate in their sufferings and our adrenaline and our chemicals respond simply by imagination to the sufferings of other people

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and what about that so we can look at these problems and say now quite obviously all these problems cannot be solved in a physical way that is to say we do not expect in our lifetime that medical skill will make us exempt from death we do not seriously expect that human beings will all learn to be nice to each other and will refrain from war and horrors of that kind racial prejudice and so on we don’t seriously expect to find a method of being protected by taking some sort of drug against all possible disease and pain so therefore we say now maybe there’s

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another way around maybe that instead of solving these problems at the technical level we could solve them at the psychological and spiritual level by so disciplining ourselves by so doing something with ourselves that we wouldn’t be afraid of it anymore and so in accord with that motivation we seek out spiritual teachers psychological teachers this that and the other could we somehow be made over so that we don’t worry about the quaking mass by a spiritual discipline or whatever and you see if you examine that

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that this wanting to overcome the quaking mess and not have it anymore that precisely is the quaking mass the thing that we object to about ourselves is precisely what we do about overcoming it in other words the activity that we employ in overcoming it is the mess that we object to do you see that and it’s very important to realize that then if you do realize it you raise the question then what can i do what can i do to transform the quaking

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mess into the state of mind of the true mystic into the state of mind of the true mystic well if you are the quaking mass there is obviously nothing you can do to transform yourself into the state of mind which you idealize as that of being the true mystic the christ the saint or whatever so you realize that uh everything is phony that all your ideals are simply manifestations of the quaking mess trying to get away from themselves and that you are put in the position of it is absolutely necessary for me to be different from the way i am but there’s absolutely nothing i can do about it because being the way i am i cannot be different

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from that let’s say this but we can put it in different ways i know that i ought not to be selfish and i would very much like to be an unselfish person but the reason why i want to be an unselfish person is that i am very selfish and would far more love myself and respect myself if i were unsolved you see i know that i ought to love god and whatever and why do you want to love god or because god is the biggest boss and it’s best to be on the side of the big battalions that’s really why i want to do it in other words because i’m looking for the safety of my own spiritual skin so i think i’ll love god oh sophisticated saints have known this

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sin paul understood it saint augustine understood it martin luther understood they didn’t know what the hell to do about it but there was nothing to do about it and yet something has to be done obviously but you realize when you really look into yourself there’s nothing you can do and this therefore is our point of departure that we here perhaps perhaps not mutually realize there is nothing we can do to be anything else than what we are

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to feel any other way than what we feel at this moment and to be then this quaking mess which has the capacity for the horrors about what life can do to us however this isn’t as much of a blind ally a cul-de-sac as it sounds because if you discover a blind alley it tells you something watch the flow of water when it crosses over an area of land and you will see that it puts out fingers and some of them stop because they come into blind alleys

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the water doesn’t pursue that course it simply rises and then it finds a way it can go but it never uses any effort it only uses weight gravity it takes the line of least resistance and eventually finds a course now we will do the same thing only we’re ashamed of it but we’re going to do it anyhow we think that when we come to a dead end a blind alley oh i failed supposing the water at each place where a finger of water stretches out over dry ground and doesn’t go any further because the land is too high

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the water were to say to itself i failed we would say it was neurotic water just wait and it will find a way now when you find you see that there’s this predicament that i’ve been describing to you that there’s no way of transforming yourself to become this fearless joyous divine being is distinct from the quaking mass when you says no way this is not a gloomy announcement it is a very very important communication

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it’s telling you something because the like the land is telling the water this isn’t the way to go there’s another way try over here so in the same way life is telling you that’s not the way to go it’s telling you the the message underlying this is you cannot transform yourself is giving you the message that the you that you imagine to be capable of transforming yourself doesn’t exist in other words an ego and i separate from my emotions my thoughts my

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feelings my experiences who is supposed to be in control of them cannot control them because it isn’t there and as soon as you understand that things will be vastly improved now we can go into this what do you mean by the word i we’re going to make some experiments in this on some number of different levels but the ordinary way what do you mean by the word i i myself your personality your ego what is it well first of all obviously it’s your image of yourself it’s composed of what people have told

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you about yourself who you are how they’ve reacted to you and given you an impression that that’s the sort of person you are it’s all your education goes into this the style of life you put on and so forth but but it’s an image it’s an idea it’s your thought about yourself and i suppose yourself is in fact not this but is to begin with your total physical organism your psychological organism and beyond that an organism doesn’t exist as a an isolated thing any more than a flower exists without a stalk without roots without earth so in the same way although we are not stalked on the ground we are nevertheless inseparable from a huge social context

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of well to begin with parents siblings people who work for us and everything i mean it’s it’s just impossible to cut ourselves off from a social environment and also further more from a natural environment we are that there’s no clear way of drawing the boundary between this organism and everything that surrounds it and yet the image of ourselves that we have does not include all those relationships our idea of personality of ourselves includes no information whatsoever about the hypothalamus an organ of the brain the pineal gland really of the way we breathe but how our blood circulates

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of how we manage to form a sentence how we manage to be conscious how you open and close your hand the information contained in your image of yourself contains nothing about all that and therefore obviously it’s an extremely inadequate image but nonetheless we do think that the image of self refers to something because we we have the impression very strongly indeed that i exist and this isn’t just an idea we think my god it’s a feeling it’s it’s really substantially there in the middle of us and what is it what what what do you actually sense

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like you know when you’re sitting on the floor and you feel the floor is there and is real and hard okay what are you sitting on the floor what do you have the sensation of you know that’s you here when you’re not hitting yourself what is it well in what part of your body do you feel yourself the real eye existing we can explore this very deeply but i’m going to give you a preliminary and superficial answer the the sensation which corresponds to the image of ourselves is a chronic muscular tension which has absolutely no useful function whatsoever

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it is when you try say to concentrate what do you do when you try to pay attention when i was a little boy in school i had sitting next to me another boy who had great difficulty in reading and as he worked over the textbook with its perfectly piffling information he groaned and granted to try to read to get out the sounds as if he were heaving enormous weights with his muscles you know pop bruh

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[Music] and you know the teacher was vaguely impressed that he was trying phew he had absolutely enough but always tying yourself up into a knot has absolutely nothing to do with the way your mind works because look if you try to see hard you know look very intense and you make tight muscles around here and maybe you clench your jaws a bit if anything that will make your vision more fuzzy because if you want to see something

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clearly you must not make an effort you must simply trust your eyes and your nervous system to do their thing so you just look like that i was writing the other night and i completely forgot somebody’s name but i knew that eventually my memory would produce it and i just sat for a while and said to my memory you know very well who this person is please give me the answer it’s a boy there it was [Laughter] because that’s the way nerves work they don’t work by forcing them and yet we’ve all been brought up to try to force our nervous activity our concentration our memory our comprehension and indeed our very love

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we’ve tried to force it with muscles men will understand me if i say you cannot force by muscular effort yourself to have an erection women will understand me if i say you cannot force yourself with muscles to have an orgasm it has to happen and you must trust it to have and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it by using your muscles nothing nothing nothing so in precisely the same way well let’s complete the picture so therefore the the notion that we have of ourselves of ego is a compound of an image of ourselves which does not fit the facts and a sensation of muscular straining which is futile so that what you conceive to be yourself is the marriage of an illusion under

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futility so well what are we if that isn’t the case well obviously uh if you want to take a scientific point of view by that mythology then your your organism about which we know very little and the organism as we’ve seen is inseparable from its environment and so you are the organism environment in other words you are no less than the universe each one of you is the universe expressed in the place which you feel is here and now you’re an aperture through which the

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universe is looking at itself exploring itself and we’re going to go into that much more deeply so when you feel that you are a lonely upon isolated little stranger confronting all this see you have an illusory feeling because the truth is the reverse you are the whole works that there is that always was and always has been always will be only just as my whole body has a little nerve end

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here which is exploring and which contributes to the sense of touch you are just such a little nerve end for everything that’s going on just as the eyes serve the whole body and help it to find its way around so you are as it were serving the whole universe you’re a sewer and it’s exploring itself so that you as a function you you are a function of all that and therefore if this is so it just doesn’t fit the these facts do not fit the way we feel because we feel it the other way around i am a little lonely thing exploring all this universe and trying to get make something out of it get something out of it do something with it and i know i’m going to fail because i

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know i’m going to die one day so we’re all fundamentally depressed and think up all these fantasies about what’s going to happen to us when we’re dead and all that kind of thing uh what’s going to happen to you when you’re dead what do you mean you if you are basically the universe that question is irrelevant you never were born and you never will die because what there is is you and that should be absolutely obvious but it is not obvious at all that should be the simplest thing in the world that you the i is what has always been going on and always will go on forever and ever but we have been bamboozled

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by religionists by politicians by fathers and mothers by all sorts of people to tell us you’re not it and we believed it so you see now why if i put it to you in this very negative way you can’t do anything to change yourselves to become better to become happier to become more serene to become mystics or in it if i say you can’t do a damn thing can you understand this negative statement in a positive way what i’m really saying is that you don’t need to because if you see yourselves in the

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correct way you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as say trees clouds the patterns in running water the shape of fire the arrangement of the stars the form of a galaxy you are all just like that there’s nothing wrong with you at all except that i have to add this little flip you you you have and you you do think there’s something wrong with you see and there’s no question you do we all object to ourselves in various ways and i’m going to add there’s nothing wrong with that either because that’s part of the flow that’s part of what is going on that’s part of what we do

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so i don’t you see i’m i’m what i’m actually going to do is i’m going to deliver you from a sense of guilt because i’m going to teach you that you needn’t feel guilty because you feel guilty [Laughter] of course you feel guilty it’s like someone put a match on you and you feel hot so they taught you as a child to feel guilty and you feel guilty they say well but if someone comes along and says well you shouldn’t that’s not the point i’m going to say not that you shouldn’t but did you do it don’t worry about it and if you want to say further but i can’t help worrying about it i’m going to say to you okay worry about this is the principle called in japanese judah meaning the

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gentle way go along with it go along with it go along with it so therefore this is the beginning of meditation you don’t know what you’re supposed to do what can you do well if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do you watch you simply watch what’s going on like say somebody plays music you listen and you just follow those sounds and eventually you understand the point of the music the point cannot be explained in words because music is not words but after a while in listening to any

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music you will understand the point of and that point will be the music itself so in exactly the same way you can listen to all experiences because all experiences whatsoever are vibrations coming at you well they you are these vibrations as a matter of fact if you really feel out what is happening what you are aware of as you and as everything else is all the same it’s a vibrations of all kinds and they’re on different bands of a spectrum site vibrations emotion vibrations uh touch vibrations sound vibrations all these things adding together are woven all the different senses are woven and you get a pattern in the weaving

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and that pattern is the picture of what you now feel this thing is [Music] see now instead of saying what should i do about it because who knows what to do about it to know what to do about this you would have to know everything and if you don’t then the only thing that at least to begin with to begin with you can do is watch watch what’s going on watch not only what’s going on on the outside but also what’s going on on the inside treat your own thoughts your own reactions your own emotions about what’s going on outside as if those inside reactions were also outside things

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that you’re just watching and follow simply observe how they go note now you may say this is difficult i am bored by watching what is going on let’s say you you sit quite still and you are simply observing what is happening all the sounds outside all the different shapes and lights in front of your eyes all the feelings on your skin inside your skin belly rumbles thoughts going on inside your head chatter chatter chatter i ought to be writing a letter to so-and-so i should have done this they said all this bilge going on see you just watch it but then you say to yourself but this is boring

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now watch that too what is it what what kind of a funny feeling is it that makes you say but this is boring where is it where do you feel it i should be doing something else instead what’s that feeling what part of your body is it in is it in here is it in here is it in the soles of your feet where is it boring the feeling of boredom can be very interesting if you try to look it up so you simply watch at everything going on without attempting to change it in any way without judging it without calling it good or bad you watch it that is the essential process of meditation

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Alan Watts – Understanding Life

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Alan Watts – The Lost Interview (1973)