There are some books that come into your hands at the most perfect of times. Before I left on my journey this year I found one of my favorite authors laying in a bargain box of books for fewer than five dollars. A worn paper back with bland illustration, and I still was drawn in. I had never heard of the text before, but I figured I wouldn’t be disappointed. Mr. Watts hadn’t disappointed me by then, and he still hasn’t as I have navigated through the pages of this particular find.
“The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You are” is quite an exceptional read. It’s one of those pieces that lands in your lap at the right time. A time of reflection, profundity, and of growth. My defeatist attitude towards my present situation was abruptly turned by Watt’s honest, but punitive words.
Since arriving in Christchurch I have realized the overwhelming misunderstanding I have with self, and union. I have been at odds with my mind, and heart as they wrangle with one another over inconsequential pursuits of elementary understanding. A long time ago I separated myself from the whole, not in the sense of community exclusion or in-experience. But in the sense that I recognized something, that maybe others did not. I felt that I personally experienced life in a distinctive way, from my peers. By having that somewhat personal, and unique experience, I began to feel separate from the whole. I began to feel a bit lonely.
I struggled very hard inside to find reason for this separation, and nothing made sense to me. So now….fast forward to the pages that began to unfold around me recently. I have always taken many walks in my daily life. To work, to the store, to the gym, to nowhere in particular….and I carry words with me. It eases my mind to get lost in someone else’s words for a while. Especially when my own mind will not stop throwing my own words at me long enough for me to contrive a clear thought.
Watt’s explains in this particular book, the relation between ego and human experience. He explains the need for humans to separate themselves from the whole. In Vedantic philosophy as a yoga teacher, we are taught the history of Maya, the cosmic illusion of separateness. And we are taught that until we are able to recognize Maya as it is, that we cannot truly begin our journey to understanding the self in its true nature.
Watt’s reflects not on theory or philosophy, but a basic understanding of our connection to one another and the human experience that surrounds us. We have deceived ourselves from infancy on this notion of separateness from all.
“Surely this is a deep and intense experience of the same double-bind that was placed upon you in infancy, when the community told you that you must be free, responsible, and loving, and when you were helplessly defined as an independent agent. The sense of paralysis is therefore the dawning realization that this is non-sense and that your independent ego is a fiction. The sense of ‘I’, which should have been identified with the whole universe of your experience, was instead cut off and isolated as a detached observer of that universe.”
We have taken the one basic attribute of human existence that links us all together and to the cosmos, and created this false identity or ego. Ego is layer by layer, a falsity of separateness from the whole. Each person experiences life from a different perspective, or different standpoint, but still of the whole. For each life is the universe experiencing itself in limitless variations.
“ If I am I because you are you, and if you are you because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you.” Watts.
Watts goes on to explain how we have become so dependent on one another that our identities are not only based on who we are, but also who we are in relation to the others we share our experiences with. We need people to be above us and below us to define where we stand in the mix. We need the good, as much as we need to the bad. And we use these exterior identities to portray ourselves in good or bad light, as well as in self-pitying or high beaming classes. We create our identities based on the identities of our neighbors, friends, co-workers, and foes. If we do not identity the egos of the people that surround us, we find that we ourselves have no ego at all. And that as an experience does not exist. For even in the least developed places of the world there are always classes, and there is always good and evil. And some where between, or above or below we find our place in the mixture.
I thought that I knew who I was, I thought I understood ego in the most basic of ways, and in the complex as well. I thought as an adult, and as my education and knowledge of the world began to expand that I had somehow found a way to lessen the ego by gaining knowledge of it. But in attempt to do so, I was only inflating it. And I realize now, that as a species we do this. It’s a simple developmental pattern. As we gain knowledge, we gain identity. We become more fixed on who we are, and what we know. We find strength in the gained knowledge, and overshadow our humility of it, by also finding pride in ourselves.
We reach out to self-helps books, religions, practices, diverse societies, and community to educate ourselves on the human experience, and rise above our limitations and immodesties. And in doing so we inherently separate ourselves even more so by falling into the idea that we are intellectually superior, or more spiritually enlightened than our counterparts. But in finding this new identity, we are only creating more illusion of separateness from the whole. We box ourselves into multiple identities, closing ourselves off from our one prime truth.
Do not misunderstand me; I do not think that I am above or below either of the sides of this particular equation. I am fully aware of my ego yes, but I am not above it. I struggle to contain it. I struggle with my ability to identify my own trivialness, and to truly see myself as part of the whole. I do believe that in educating myself and delving more into the topic, I find that again I am separating myself from the whole. So where does the cycle end? By attempting to understand the ego, do we break free of it or do we will build upon it? By gaining more knowledge, do we gain more of this illusion of cosmic separateness? By increasing our understanding of the human experience and our connection to it, do we become less participatory in it, and become mere observers of the present?
I think it’s a tricky situation to start asking these questions. My mind moves quickly between sentences on its own, without external reflection. So as Watts’ sentences enter my mind from the pages, I begin to question all of my previous experiences with the world. I begin to look at my attitude, and my behavior and my trepidations in a new light. And I wonder if I have always been such an egoist. Not in an offensive manner, but in such a way that I now realize that all this time I may have tricked myself. Tricked myself into thinking that I humbly fall into a separate category than my peers, when in reality I am exactly the opposite of everything that I may have worked towards in my life. Fighting for independence, fighting to be recognized for my own uniqueness, fighting myself to be different from the standard, and fighting for a place of my own in this seemingly short human occurrence.
“The feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. The fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated egos inside bags of skin.”
I think more than anything the message I have learned here is that we need to be tolerant of who we are, who we are not, and who people are in relation to us. We need to find the union there, the yolk. We need to find our reflections in one another. Finding compassion in areas where we find hatred, and division. And finding ourselves reflected in our enemies. We are not separate, as we once believed; we are united with the best and worst of us. The sooner we are able to recognize the human experience as a union of different experiences and perspectives, the sooner we will be able to be truly present. There is no dire need for us to understand all that ever was, and all that ever will be. But there is a need to know that although we may not understand it, we are all that ever was and that ever will be. We like the ocean are expansive, and ever lasting. We regenerate, and move fluidly through this existence until we move into another body of water just as the ocean does. We experience life in many folds, and although small in body we are large in perspective, and experience.
So instead of trying to acquire all of the knowledge that will give you insight into the most basic of cosmic illusions and expansions, try instead to enjoy your divine right at a present life. It is magic if you allow it to be.
“What, for instance, is the use of playing music? If you play to make money, to outdo some other artist, to be a person of culture, or to improve your mind, you are not really playing-for your mind is not on the music. You do not swing. When you think of it, playing or listening to music is a pure luxury, an addiction, a waste of valuable time and money for nothing more than making elaborate patterns of sound. Yet what would we think of a society which had no place for music, which did not allow for dancing, or for any activity not directly involved with the practical problems of survival?”
Knowledge is only prevailing if it turns back the deceptions of our cerebral upbringing. Until we use knowledge to advance ourselves as a whole, and to not distinguish ourselves as individuals ….knowledge will only push us deeper into our egoist ways. We must as a whole begin to understand ourselves in a more fluid manner. There is no division of self and whole, we are one connective living organism. We live, and feed off one another for survival. We cannot live without one another. The sooner we give into this truth with utmost humility, the sooner we will renounce our disunion.