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The Five Practical Lessons in the Teachings of Alan Watts

“I am not overly enthusiastic about the various spiritual exercises … for when practiced in order to get some kind of spiritual illumination or awakening, they strengthen the fallacy that the ego can toss itself away by a tug at its own bootstraps.” ~Alan Watts

Most of the lectures of Alan Watts do not contain anything that is suitable for translation into practical techniques. However, there are the few exceptions. Here are the five practical lessons I extracted from his books and lectures:

Lesson 1: become familiar with the basic assumptions you operate from, challenge them and discard what proves false or unfounded

What is the good life and what is not? What is right and wrong?

Lesson 2: explore the playful reframes of your work and other engagements

It is just as much correct to say that being a bus driver is not a very exciting job as to say it is as a subtle game of navigating a huge vehicle through an ever-changing environment.

Lesson 3: experiment with letting unpleasant feelings take over

Instead of resisting unpleasant emotions, either by dissociating or by looking for means of resolution, you could potentially also move towards them instead.

Lesson 4: retreat to an environment with less stimulation of your capacity to think conceptually until you become able again to think non-conceptually as well.

Watts considers concepts – anything from a glass to a country to words to yourself – only useful as long as they are seen as concepts. But, that is only the case when we are also able to have a non-conceptual perception of those concepts. The easiest way to do, is to temporarily have less stimulation of your mind to think in terms of concepts.

Lesson 5: arrange your life to cultivate a bi-focal perception

According to Watts, a skillful person lives on two levels at the same time. Once you learn how to shift between the conceptual and non-conceptual point of view, you gradually develop the ability to both see the entire world as one big stage play while you can also surrender to the role you’re inclined to play and be fully absorbed in it. However, in the learning phase the playing affects the ability to zoom out to the non-conceptual point of view and ideally you arrange your life in such a way that you can regain the non-conceptual perception every time before you get back on the stage and participate.

Any other successful effort like trying to be more in the present moment, letting go of desires or of fixed plans, would get you in the opposite direction of where Watts is pointing. The reason is that it reinforces your fixation on the conceptual perception of yourself.

The five lessons I extracted from Watts’ teachings are different, for they widen the range of levels of magnification from which you perceive reality, including the non-conceptual point of view, at which the conceptual perception of oneself also dissipates. As such, there is no self that could claim the achievement.

The coaching and private retreats I developed over the past five years revolve around each of these five lessons. It is one of my personal passions to optimize ways to use his work without reinforcing the ego. Should you be interested in working on any or all of these five practical lessons with my assistance, just let me know.


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