His ideas about the nature of consciousness resonate with what many psychonauts experience during their trips. Therefore Alan Watts obtained a real cult status in the psychedelic scene and beyond.
"This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."
The former philosopher, writer and modern day mystic (1915-1973) published extensively on topics like consciousness, psychology, ecology and the interaction between Eastern and Western religions. Even up to this day many people enjoy listening to his inspiring lectures that are easily accessible online.
Watts himself experimented with mescaline, LSD and marijuana and volunteered in academic research into these substances. About the psychedelic experience he later said:
"Psychedelic experience is only a glimpse of genuine mystical insight, but a glimpse which can be matured and deepened by the various ways of meditation in which drugs are no longer necessary or useful. If you get the message, hang up the phone. For psychedelic drugs are simply instruments, like microscopes, telescopes, and telephones. The biologist does not sit with eye permanently glued to the microscope, he goes away and works on what he has seen..."
In his talks, he regularly puts from mystical, Zen Buddhist and Taoist traditions and suffuses them with a modern western interpretation. About the need (and challenge) to live in the present moment he for example says:
He applies a mystical worldview on everyday existence. If everything is interconnected, he argues, then everything is God. God is not somewhere out there, but every single being is part of it:
“What you are basically, deep deep down, far far in, is simply the fabric and structure of existence itself. And everybody is fundamental.”
Psychoactive substances can provide insight in the nature of reality. Watts compares them with medicines and advocates to use them with moderation. Integration of these experiences in daily life is at least as important as the trip itself:
As many people use psychedelics for religious or spiritual purposes, he argues making them illegal goes against the right to freedom of religion. Instead of persecuting users they should be protected by the state and psychoactive substances should be studied at the university.
Watts was born in London and became interested in Eastern traditions at a young age. He started formal training in Zen Buddhism when he moved to the United States in his twenties. Nevertheless he decided to pursue a career as Episcopal priest. After an extramarital affair he was forced to leave his job and went on to teach at the Academy of Asian studies in San Francisco. When asked to conduct radio talks at progressive broadcasting station KPFA, he quickly gained a large following.
Looking for some inspiration during the holiday season? How about watching his complete talk on psychedelics:
Written by: Juniper