Alan Watts wrote in 1966 (1):
..the prevalent sensation of oneself as a separate ego enclosed in a bag of skin is a hallucination which accords neither with Western science nor with the experimental philosophy-religions of the East..Here is a source of confrontation I (and some others) have had with modern science since beginning my studies:
"....our attention — which has been aptly called “an intentional, unapologetic discriminator” — works by dividing the world up into processable parts, then stringing those together into a pixelated collage of separates which we then accept as a realistic representation of the whole that was there in the first place." (2)Alan Watts wrote:
Attention is narrowed perception. It is a way of looking at life bit by bit, using memory to string the bits together — as when examining a dark room with a flashlight having a very narrow beam. Perception thus narrowed has the advantage of being sharp and bright, but it has to focus on one area of the world after another, and one feature after another. And where there are no features, only space or uniform surfaces, it somehow gets bored and searches about for more features. Attention is therefore something like a scanning mechanism in radar or television. . . . But a scanning process that observes the world bit by bit soon persuades its user that the world is a great collection of bits, and these he calls separate things or events. We often say that you can only think of one thing at a time. The truth is that in looking at the world bit by bit we convince ourselves that it consists of separate things, and so give ourselves the problem of how these things are connected and how they cause and effect each other. The problem would never have arisen if we had been aware that it was just our way of looking at the world which had chopped it up into separate bits, things, events, causes, and effects. (1)But this is the way we are trained from birth. Dissect, tear apart, and stuff all the pieces in boxes, unable to see and grasp all that ties everything together. I remember experiencing how hard this is to unlearn when I was taught tracking in my early 20's by a Native American. Who always shook his head and wondered aloud how Europeans and their descendents ever survived, and only so because of technological invention. For which we pay the price of losing our ability to 'see' and thus continue falling down into our own holes that we dig ourselves into.
"....And therein lies the crux of our human struggle" (3):
The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear, or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buzz, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the “I” out of the experience. We pretend that we are amoebas, and try to protect ourselves from life by splitting in two. Sanity, wholeness, and integration lie in the realization that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate “I” or mind can be found.The last, I was taught by my father.
To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.
These are the foundations of Zen, of meditation, of phenomenology, of tracking, of being present in the world. Of really being alive.
(1) Excerpt from The Ego and the Universe: Alan Watts on Becoming Who You Really Are, by Maria Popova and the website, "brainpickings".
(2) Quote from: The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (1966), by Alan Watts.
(3) Excerpt from An Antidote to the Age of Anxiety: Alan Watts on Happiness and How to Live with Presence, by Maria Popova. Quote by Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety (1951).