Let’s start with the easier question: who was Alan Watts? He was a British philosopher best known for bringing Eastern wisdom to the Western world. His speech about "the real you" is one of his best-known works and asks the question: "Who are you?"
We all think we have the answer to that question. A child can tell you their name, their parents’ names and that they’re a unicorn. When we get older, we answer it when applying to university or when writing a resume or covering letter. Alan Watts is talking about the real you: who are you beyond your identity? In the grand scheme of things, when we remember that we are one small part of the universe... who are we in relation to that?
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Life and death is simply waking up and going to sleep
Unless you’re one of those lucky people who have vivid dreams that you actually remember, you fall asleep every night and then remember nothing from the time between when you fell asleep and when you woke up. Just because you don’t remember anything, though, doesn’t mean that there was nothing: you were still there, asleep, you just weren’t conscious of it.
Now apply that to life and death. Alan Watts encourages people afraid of death being some kind of eternity in a locked room to remember that every time someone dies, someone else is born; you aren’t doomed to forever exist in a state of nothingness, because there’s no such thing as nothing. Instead, the person who dies falls asleep in order to wake up as the person who is born.
What was it like to wake up after having never gone to sleep? You don’t know, because the person you were died, or stopped existing while they slept and then woke up as a part of the new you; a clean slate, if you will. Billions of people need to be born to accommodate the billions of people who die, as we can only be one person at a time.
What you are is a "fantastically complex" being that can do things you weren’t taught to do
You don’t remember your past because you don’t have to, in the same way the universe takes care of you knowing how to breathe, function and see so you can focus on being you and learning how to take your ability to talk and turn it into an ability to string together a proper sentence. Without getting too deeply into a discussion about evolution, if you believe we come from Neanderthals, then reincarnation and the progression of time explains how we walk better and talk better.
The real you and the unique you
So, if you accept that everyone comes into being thanks to a universe that wants us to play our part in our never-ending existence and that deja vu is something totally new to us that actually happened to our past selves, why are we all different? Because the universe is just a part of us, the real, deep down us. What we choose to do with the building blocks we’re given - how we dress, the decisions we make - is when we become our more superficial identity.
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Did Alan Watts’ speech inspire you? Has it woken up that part of you that doesn’t really think about such things, but is now attempting to process the meaning of life and change your views on death? Let us know what you believe!