Begin by listening
A beautiful and simple description of presence — and a way to practice — from Alan Watts, reknowned British Philosopher and spiritual teacher.
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.
Learning to observe the world around you without judgement is key to living in presence.
Our experience of the world tends to be very visual. What we see takes most of our attention. So, if we follow Alan Watts advice and begin by listening, our experience changes. The same people are there, the same things are there, but observed in a new way. Things are just what you observe — they can be around you close and far, or your own thoughts. Accept everything as part of what is happening to you.
More awareness of what is happening around you brings more of the world to you. Start with the breath and just listen. Then, as Alan Watts describes, you begin to be in the state of meditation.
This short dialogue contains a simple and profound teaching. One that can be accessed by anyone, at any time. What is true can only be known in a meaningful way through experience. Begin by Listening by Alan Watts gives us that experience. All we need to do is to put our attention on what is happening now. Let it happen and let it just be as it is.
Alan Watts was a British Philosopher (1915-1973) and author who wrote countless essays, over 25 books (inc. The Way of Zen in 1957 and The Joyous Cosmology in 1962) and recorded nearly 400 lectures on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion. All of which are still in shockingly high demand.
The critic Erik Davis said Alan Watts works “shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity”.
He was an author, a poet, a radical thinker, a priest, a mystic, a teacher, a critic of society and one of the first to interpret Eastern wisdom for a Western audience. He understood the concept of stepping back from all of the drama we create in life. He understood the cosmic humor of it all.
The full transcript of Alan Watts Begin by Listening is as follows
Begin by listening.
Allow yourself to hear all the sounds that are going on around you.
Just listen to the general hum and buzz of the world as if you were listening to music.
Don’t try to identify the sounds you are hearing.
Simply allow them to play with your eardrums and let them go.
Don’t judge the sounds.
It doesn’t matter if somebody coughs or sneezes.
I want you to listen to the sound of my voice just as if it were noise.
You don’t have to try to understand anything.
As you hear sounds coming up in your head — thoughts — you simply listen to them as part of the general noise going on.
Just as you would be listening to the sound of my voice or just as you would be listening to cars going by or birds chattering outside the window.
Look at your own thoughts as just noises and soon you will find that the so-called outside world and the so-called inside world come together.
They are a happening.
Your thoughts are a happening just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you are doing is watching it.
You can see that everything is happening to you and on the other hand you are doing everything.
When you breathe for a while — just letting it happen — and not forcing it in any way you will discover a curious thing.
That without making any effort you can breathe more and more deeply.
And watching your breath as a happening that is neither voluntary nor involuntary you are simply aware of these basic sensations.
Then you will begin to be in the state of meditation.
Just be entirely content to be aware of what is.
More about the life and work of Alan Watts — and a large library of audio recordings — can be found online at the Alan Watts Organization.