Of all the many wonderful ideas I’ve absorbed from Alan Watts, the one I return to most often is the way he looks at incarnation. In “Behold the Spirit”, a book he wrote while he was still an Anglican priest, he discusses incarnation in terms of full attention to the present moment. The complete attention of mind to the unfolding experience, unclouded by personal ideas, is the way we open ourselves to the flow of spirit. The divine is experienced when we get ourselves out of the way and allow the extended consciousness to flow through us undistracted. The conditioning we call self can be endlessly preoccupying, patterns of response, constructed by many years of personal life, tend to dominate our awareness. We worry about our plans, where we stand with others, why we feel a certain way, straining to understand this construction made from our body’s participation in life in our place in space/time. Watts and other philosophers speak of the pronoun “I” as referring to location. Each of us is a particular place through which consciousness flows. We identify with the story we narrate about who we are. Yet when we can focus on immediate experience as it unfolds, the One Mind of the mystics and quantum theorists is allowed unobstructed access to living human experience. We are a source of knowledge, which may be why we are happiest when we’re deeply involved in activities that direct our attention beyond our own person. Pursuit of knowledge is the highest pleasure as we participate in the growth of the whole. Peak experiences occur when we’re fully immersed in what challenges us to exceed our previous limits. We lose awareness of our personal self and are fully engaged in active being. Brain chemistry assures that this state is its own reward.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, we’re mistaken to get wrapped up in the problem of self because there’s no self there. There is no more experimental evidence for an isolated consciousness than for a shared One. Neuroscientists have not found a pilot in the brain. We incarnate intelligent consciousness when we release the conditioned clot of ideas we think of as ourselves. All the drama and tension in the individual life story can be very absorbing and throughout history a central them of art. Even in religious art we’ve focused on the story, and though parable can be an excellent tool for making images in the mind, we lose the symbolic intent and become attached to the characters, miss the fact that it’s all within us, not out there. The challenge to the twenty-first century artist is to envision the incarnate spirit free of a divine protagonist. The reason we’re happiest when we’re most involved is because we’ve shed the narcissistic ego always evaluating itself. In full attention to immediate experience we incarnate spirit in awareness of non-personal intelligence.
The philosophical implications of quantum physics need images that show what it can mean for a new world view. Rather than a world of isolated objects and separate realities, how can we show being a part of an intelligent unbroken continuum, and the exhilaration of using whatever training our life has given us to participate more fully from the coordinates of our “I”.