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“We might work on this possibility that civilisation is a mistake and that we have taken completely the wrong track…”

Alan Watts

“The mystical experience is nothing other than becoming aware of your true physical relationship to the universe, and you are amazed, thunderstruck by the feeling that underneath everything that goes on in this world, the fundamental thing is the state of unbelievable bliss.”

Alan Watts

“It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.”

Robert Oppenheimer, “Father” of the atomic bomb

Alan Watts on the Most Difficult Task

“That’s what consists in being a [Zen] master. He’s not doing it because he wants to be superior, to put down other human beings. He’s doing it out of great compassion because he feels he knows something, which if you could find out, you would just be so happy and would want to give it to everybody else. But you can’t give it away because everybody’s got it, because what you’ve got to make them do is to see that they have it, that you don’t give it to them. And that’s the most difficult task. ”

Alan Watts

This line at the end — it’s at the very end of Chapter 6 of his lecture book You’re It — as the words come out his voice goes introspective, somber.

This to me is what he felt he was making his life about. I’m endlessly grateful for people like him who didn’t stop to simply enjoy themselves when they realized the whole name of the game was to enjoy yourself.

(Watts was a great enjoyer of himself as well. No bones about it.)

What Alan Watts Calls Himself

“… fake, rascal, philosophical entertainer, ego inside a bag of skin. ”

What Alan Watts Called Himself

How his friends remember him:

“He saw the true emptiness of all things. He taught us to be free. To see through the multiplicities and absurdities to the Great Universal Personality and Play. He gave us the Dharma Eye of a new age…”

“Wide Mind, Joyous Mind, Careful Loving Mind. For the true life is beyond life and death, origination, and extinction. We are with you in the many paths you opened for us…”

“Alan Watts was a philosopher, a poet, a calligrapher, a lover, a friend, a dharma reveler, a revealer, a great founder of the spirit for all of us…”

Alan Watts is one of those lights in my life. I want to learn more about him. I understand there’s some scandal in how he ended his days, but this recount of his life makes me wonder how much is true.

Dude was a badass mystic trickster.

Alan Watts on Good Government

“Chuang Tzu (Lao Tzu’s successor) put it this way: ‘people who speak of having good government without its correlative — misrule — or right without it’s correlative — wrong — do not understand the basic principles of the universe. One might just as well speak of having yang without yin. Such people must be either naves or fools.’ Of course, how would we know we were wise if there weren’t naves and fools? ”

Alan Watts

Chogyam Trungpa on the Wisdom of Emotions

“We have to be brave enough to actually encounter our emotions, work with them in a real sense, feel their texture, the real quality of the emotions as they are. We would discover that emotion actually does not exist as it appears, but it contains much wisdom and open space. The problem is that we never experience emotions properly. We think that fighting and killing express anger, but these are another kind of escape, a way of releasing rather than actually experiencing emotion as it is. The basic nature of the emotions has not been felt properly.”

Chogyam Trungpa

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives… There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.”

Annie Dillard

Emerson on Quit Bitching & Be Yourself

“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion—that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

More from this:

“Ah, that he could pass again into his neutral, godlike independence! Who can thus lose all pledge and, having observed, observe again from the same unaffected, unbiased, unbribable, unaffrighted innocence, must always be formidable, must always engage the poet’s and the man’s regards. Of such an immortal youth the force would be felt. He would utter opinions on all passing affairs, which being seen to be not private but necessary, would sink like darts into the ear of men, and put them in fear.”

How to Notice Your Own Evolution

“You can’t get rid of the fog, and you can’t always keep it thin, but you can get better at noticing when it’s thick and develop effective strategies for thinning it out whenever you consciously focus on it. If you’re evolving successfully, as you get older, you should be spending more and more time on Step 2 and less and less on Step 1.”

Tim Urban

From a really wonderful read about religion for the non religious.

Lewis Lapham on the Uses of Money

“Let men employ money as energy made by mortal men for the use of mortal men—as the active and productive wealth underwriting Hamilton’s projections of the public good, in the form of the Medici loans floating the speculation of the Renaissance—and money enlarges the sum of man’s humanity to man.”

Lewis Lapham emphasis added

From the same article:

“Andrew Carnegie would have seconded Wharton’s motion. The builders of America’s nineteenth-century industrial colossus, among them John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, tended to take money less seriously than did their heirs and publicists. As often as not, they were more interested in something else—an idea or a contraption or a problem in geography. Money was a secondary consequence, accumulating in the hall with the flowers, the dachshunds, and the art collection. ‘The amassing of wealth,’ Carnegie regarded as ‘one of the worst species of idolatry.’”

“Play a melancholy song.” Watch this if you’ve ever been a melancholy person nostalgic about your best moments.

It’s just a “video essay;” I shouldn’t think too much of it, right? I mean, it’s not like it can expose and diagnose the shadowy parts of us in light or anything, right?

Miscarriage from the father’s perspective

I woke up on our first full day in Dallas to the sound of my wife crying loudly from the bathroom. To my mind it could only be one thing. I was right.

We had been pregnant. 13 weeks. Just basically right at the time where you could expect things, statistically, to go well. But, as my wife, Mellisa, puts it, “I’m cursed so statistics don’t work on me.” She had started bleeding. It didn’t seem very heavy, but it was blood, and it brought back a rush of fear, sorrow and insanity.

In July of 2013, 2 and a half years ago, we lost our son Rowan in full term labor. Pregnancy with him seemed fairly normal. We moved ourselves down to the bay area from Portland to be closer to my family. In one emergency trip to the hospital all those plans extinguished, blown out, lots of smoke left over to live through.

13 weeks isn’t a long time for a pregnancy. But it’s a pregnancy. It’s life. It’s a thing you change your life and your self for. It’s a thing you have to open yourself to. And the life inside a woman starts speaking with her almost immediately. The language of the body, sickness, nausea, giddiness, hunger, premonitions.

We had one of those going. It is gone now.

We talk to some experts back home, “go to an emergency room if you can, get an ultrasound to check on things.” We did. Took the better part of that day. I tried not to be disappointed to miss time with my friends while we were in the same town, a rare time for internet friends. I did well. I know not to tread on the impulses of motherhood. We had to wait for the ultra sound technician, they don’t keep one on staff. We waited.

I knew this feeling, waiting on an ultrasound tech. This very same thing happened with Rowan. “I really don’t want another doctor to look up from an ultrasound screen and say, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this…’”

The images of an ultrasound are black gradients of blobs and bubbles. I saw one bubble I knew to be our baby (not my first ultrasound.. by a long shot). But 13 weeks is very small. Apparently, by 13 weeks the baby already has unique finger prints. I couldn’t see the finger prints from the black and gray blobs onscreen.

In a moment with emergency ultrasounds there’s not a screen for the mother to look at. They keep that view for the doctor. But dads can see. And I saw. With Rowan, I knew. There was no movement, utter stillness. His fully developed infant heart, usually so clear to see on the screen, stillness. I knew before Mellisa.

I knew this time too. That’s a lot of responsibility for a man, those moments between the screen and the pronouncement. In this case the technician had to leave, wasn’t allowed to tell us anything, by law needed to save that for “the guy who gets paid a lot more than me,” the doctor. Mellisa and I had about 30 minutes together before the doctor came.

I wasn’t sure if I should tell her what I saw. Because there was a moment in there where I think I knew. Well, I knew, but I wan’t to make room for possibility because I am not an ultrasound technician and I don’t know what’s what (especially at this early stage of pregnancy).

But there’s one part I knew real well.

When you go get a regular ultrasound in early pregnancy, the best part, the main event, is the heartbeat. They turn up the static and you hear gurgles and slushing as the tech moves around to find the baby before you hear a… wait… there it… in and out the tech moves to zero in on it. And, like a cinematic reveal, bang, slow motion, beauty shot of the heartbeat. You can hear it like a faithful old generator at a cabin, whirring away in time. You can also see, on the LCD screen, the blips on the time line as the heartbeat is measured visually. You can see it clear as day.

This day in Dallas, our tech didn’t turn up the volume, but the screen was clear as day. There was no heartbeat.

“Heartbeat.” When the tech left and we were waiting for the doctor, I wanted to tell mellisa what I saw, but “heartbeat” felt like too much of a word. It speaks to the person of our child. Doctors use terms like “fetal demise” to be exact and to, I can only imagine, protect somewhat from this kind of person-hood. (They have to do this shit all the time, I don’t blame them.) And in that space, when we were waiting for the doctor, I didn’t know how to tell what I saw to Mellisa, life giver, mother of the heartbeat. Eventually it just came out, “I really… I think the baby is gone… there was no heartbeat… like, in the little lines.”

It was during the ultrasound that the baby became a person to me. As a dad you don’t feel the impulses of pregnancy in your body. I didn’t really sense the personhood of my first son until he started showing signs of recognizing me. With Rowan, it wasn’t until I saw his intensely delicate and detailed finger tips. (I still lose a breath when I remember I never saw his eyes.) In this ultrasound I could vaguely see the arms and legs, the shape of this baby, him or her, and he or she became a bit of a real thing to me. What had, up to then, been plans and calendar dates, was now this isolated little person in some real way.

Maybe you become a person when your heart starts to beat. Doctors pronounce you dead, not when your heart stops, but when your brain activity stops. Brain activity begins to show itself pretty regularly (EEG something-or-other measurements) at 25 weeks into a pregnancy. Seems no matter where you draw the line on when someone is a human, you’re doing the same thing a concentration camp worker has to do: define boundaries, who’s in, who’s out.

When I felt for this baby, when I loved him or her, that’s when a real sense of loss came. Not just loss because we had timed it pretty well this time — some other friends having a baby close to us, with some holiday’s scheduled just right. Not just because we had been trying to have a baby for about 4 years, losing Rowan after a complete and healthy pregnancy. Not just due to the planning and calendaring and striving, but due to the loss of this person I just now realized I cared about deeply.

And you must know that miscarriages really happen. They happen often. 15–20% of pregnancies in the US come to a miscarriage. That’s pretty damn close to 1 in 4. We miscarried once before this, before Rowan, and before our healthy 6 year old Aiden. This was our 4th pregnancy. Only 1 of 4 survived for us.

It’s hard for my wife not to feel cursed. Instead of a warm and welcome space for her children, she can picture her body to be dangerous and uninhabitable. She wants to think of Aiden as our miracle child, the only one to survive the harsh climate of her broken body. Can you imagine feeling that way? Can you imagine how difficult to hold those thoughts at bay, to prop up a sense of hope and self love in the face of it? How tremendously tiring for her to stay in the mindset that life sprouts up abundantly, without help, all over this planet.

If that mentality takes root it chokes the whole garden. We prop ourselves up in the face of it. Pregnancy, motherhood, fatherhood, family, tribe, village, these are the names by which human life has survived, and the ways we’ll keep plowing on as a species. Most of us don’t deal with death and life regularly like our ancestors did, but we have the tools for it. It’s deep code in ancient language. You may not have felt deep personal loss before, chances are you will. And you may not have felt that singular experience of losing your own. If you reach toward recreating human life, whether your child survives or not, you will feel more than you knew possible.

Please, help us and help yourself to open to that great vulnerability. It sometimes seems that things all around conspire to close and harden us. But even now — maybe especially now — life is big. I want to keep greeting life with as big a love as I can muster.