On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

“The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego. I am not thinking of Freud’s barbarous Id or Unconscious as the actual reality behind the façade of personality. Freud, as we shall see, was under the influence of a nineteenth-century fashion called “reductionism,” a curious need to put down human culture and intelligence by calling it a fluky by-product of blind and irrational forces. They worked very hard, then, to prove that grapes can grow on thornbushes.

As is so often the way, what we have suppressed and overlooked is something startlingly obvious. The difficulty is that it is so obvious and basic that one can hardly find the words for it. The Germans call it a Hintergedanke, an apprehension lying tacitly in the back of our minds which we cannot easily admit, even to ourselves. The sensation of “I” as a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful and commonsensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, to our laws and social institutions, that we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe. I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time—a rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual, sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever.

Under such conditioning it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body. At this level of existence “I” am immeasurably old; my forms are infinite and their comings and goings are simply the pulses or vibrations of a single and eternal flow of energy.”

—Alan Watts

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