Humani nihil a me alienum puto (I think myself estranged to nothing human)

In the magical way of stumbling, I stumbled across the famous Zen writer Alan Watts. He was one of the first people to popularize Zen in the West and was writing back in the 1930s. The lecture he gave in 1939 called ‘The Psychology of Acceptance’ is one of the wittiest, clearest and most engaging accounts of that core Zen/Taoist Life skill of acceptance. The whole lecture is wonderful (I can’t track it down on the net but it was published in a collection edited by his son in 1994) but I quote the closing flourish in full:

It has been said that the mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced, […] But if I am to say just how the magic gets in to these ordinary things of life, you must excuse my being slightly poetical, for no other mode of expression quite conveys the meaning.

The magic of life is in the fact that every littlest thing, both in and around you, expresses, and in action uses, the same power that hurls the stars through space and causes their fire; that bellows in thunder and whispers in wind; that produces giant trees from the microscopic germ of a seed and wears away mountains to thin clouds of dust.

[The magic of life] is in the fact that whatever you feel, think, do or say, you cannot cut yourself off from it. In spite of all your mistakes, in spite of all your imaginings and fears, never for a moment do you cease to use and share in its tremendous freedom. To exist, it must include all opposites, and hence cannot suffer from any of them. Thus you express it in living as much as in dying, in creating as much as destroying, in accepting as much as escaping , in being wise as much as in being a fool.

Therefore when the ‘mana’ personality [the personality that puffs up with its own spiritual knowledge] rears its subtle head and man becomes inflated with the conceit of himself as a spiritual giant who has accepted all life and reconciled the opposites, let him remember that life was never in need of being accepted not the opposites of being reconciled.

Worms, skunks, morons and drunkards are in fact accepting it as much as he, and the only difference is that he knows it while they do not. But that he has at last discovered it is less a cause for pride than for laughter at himself for not having seen it before.

2 Comments

  1. Kelly

    March 4, 2008 at 2:21 am

    Watts…always he leaves me breathless and in awe in the face of something so much larger than my rusty little mind. My father gave me “Wisdom of Insecurity” at age 8 and I’ve been hooked ever since. Many thanks for sharing these words!

  2. Vicky

    June 27, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Human life is not “a hope in vain”, wind-chasing,
    (but) it is from a dream into reality transfered
    confirmation for the maintenance of the NON-disappearing
    into the disappearing-mortal.
    “Magic’ is a mitacle,wonder.
    “Wonder” is an UNrevealed secret.
    Revealed secret is one
    gained TRUTH !!!
    Revelation of truth is “CONFIRMED hope”.

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