The last day of the last trip to Eliot, Maine, where I spent a week at the Baha’i summer camp, something happened as I was leaving. As I stood looking around the dormitory where I had stayed the past week, I became overwhelmed with a parting sadness. In a completely spontaneous burst of emotion predicated on no particular event, I started crying in way that I never had before. I knew in an instant that I would not return to the camp, ever. I knew, somehow, that my life was about to change, at least the inner life. I could sense the shift even if I could not find words to describe it. I could not stop crying to the point of utter embarrassment.
If I remember correctly, I was in between Junior and Senior year of high school. My senior year was a “do or die” situation as far as school work went. I had squandered my education for the last three years, digging myself into a hole deeper and deeper each year. The only reason I made it out of 11th grade was by the grace of the NY state Regents program and the rules of engagement. After failing every class that year I crammed for the Regents finals the entire month of May, passed all the tests which entitled me to move on to 12th grade. Shortly after I graduated, I heard they had changed the rules and no longer allowed such shenanigans, and perhaps, rightly so.
Anyway, after graduating I began to drift, feeling no sense of direction, and bogged down with self loathing, fear and misery. I felt as if I didn’t get life, as if some common assumption that others were capable of making, allowing them to get up each day and know what to do and what to want, was lost to me.
And drift I did, for several years. But one thing remained true, that I was still on some level wanting to make sense of life, wanting to know everything. Perhaps, not knowing much of anything, I just didn’t know where to start, and so stumbled in and out whatever path I happened to find myself on.
One day, I was in a bookstore and I came across a book with the most curious title “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.” Hmmm, instantly I knew I must read this book. I didn’t know I was going eastward with this read, but certainly if one travels eastward long enough, he will eventually get back to the west.
Alan Watts, the author, was a former Anglican Priest who had become disillusioned with western culture and began to study eastern thought, from Taoism to Krishnamurti. Many of his books talk about what he calls western man’s split between mind and body. Here is a four-minute sampling of Alan lecturing: http://www.alanwatts.com/ra/OP_Thinking.mp3
His idea that we are not what we think, nor who we think we are, was enticing to me and spoke to my very lost and restless sense of self and being. So, as is typical of most everything I attend to, I devoured all of his books. I knew he was saying something of importance to me and his ideas helped me to sense that there is a split between one’s inner world, or mind, including all our thoughts, opinions, and intellectual knowledge and the totality of who/what we are. One cannot ever explain how they manage to beat their own heart. Our mind is but a part of our entire being. Whatever it is that keeps us alive, you know, what a scientist my refer to as homeostasis, is not consciously in our control, thankfully, you might say.
This may seem obvious, but Watts was not convinced that we live as whole beings. He suggests that language has the ability to trick us and split us off from the totality of who/what we are. His primary example, we say we have a body, but really we are a body. So, who is the “I” that has the body? Well, there’s the split, if we mistake the language we use for reality.
Watts seemed to think that western culture, more than other cultures, lives in an unnecessarily psychologically divided way, which keeps one cut off from himself and others in a way that is unhealthy. But as I studied his writings I also studied his life. He struggled with alcoholism, and by some accounts was hell-bent on having out-of-body experiences to the point of obsession. He died at age 58 of heart failure.
Oh no, there’s more?