Alan Watts explains how it’s necessary to lose your ego in order to save the environment, and how saving the environment is essentially the same as saving yourself, because you are literally the earth – the entire universe – just as a wave is the entire ocean and an apple is the entire tree.
“To borrow an old Chinese saying, that when the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way. In other words, there’s something wrong with the way that we think, and while that is there, everything we do will be a mess. Now what is it that’s wrong? Now as far as I can see, the basic mistake is that we’ve invented this wonderful system of language and calculation and that it is at once too simple to deal with the complexity of the world, and also we are liable to confuse that system of symbols with the world itself, just as say we confuse money with wealth. A lot of people are in business to make money itself, when they make the money they don’t know what to do with it. And so in the same way, we confuse happiness with status, and we confuse ourselves as living organisms, which are one with this whole universe, with something we call our personality. Now what is our personality? Our personality is what we call our image. Our image of ourselves, and also our thought of ourselves, our idea of ourselves. This is the person. In order words, what people meet and understand, and what I understand as Alan Watts is a big act, which is not really me. Because in the image of Alan Watts, there are not all my unconscious processes, both psychological and physical, the construction of my brain is not contained in the concept Alan Watts, and the concept Alan Watts does not contain the inseparable relationship with all the rest of the universe, and therefore that concept is a fraud! When it’s mistaken for the real me, there’s a confusion because if someone says Alan Watts, do something about it! The concept Alan Watts can’t do anything! In other words, because it’s only a concept, you can’t make it lift a weight. Just as three is a concept, you can’t make plain three do anything. Just as you can’t wrap up all parcels with the equator – it’s a useful imaginary line but it can’t do anything.
But we all feel this concept of ourself which we call our personality or ego to really do something, WE think it really exists, and I’ll tell you why we think it exists. What happens if I were to say to you, now look hard at the television screen, really look at it! What do you do instead of watching it in the ordinary way. What do you do? Notice that you tighten muscles all around here, that you frown a little, you clench your teeth perhaps. What has that got to do with seeing anything clearly? Absolutely nothing to do with it. Same thing when you listen carefully, catch everything that’s said, and you start tightening up around your ears. That has nothing to do with hearing clearly. Now from the moment when we were little children, teachers in class screamed at us, Pay Attention! We go tight in either way, either to see or hear more clearly, to concentrate, or to will something, which is supposed to be difficult to do. And that constitutes a habitual tension over the whole body, which is ther all the time. That feeling of unnecessary tension is at it were the material on which we fashion this concept of ‘I’. We hang it on to that feeling. That concept is not us, the feeling of tension completely phony. It has nothing to do with success, in seeing, hearing, or acting. So we get the marriage of an illusion with a falsehood, and that we call ourselves. No wonder we feel cut off from everything, alienated, frightened of death.
So what has to happen is that we have to come back to a saying, view of our own life, which is the way we really are: an organism functioning in terms of the whole environment, with the whole environment, instead of this funny little separate personality. You can’t change human nature over night. You’re asking us to give up the ego, and that’s the most difficult of all things to do. Actually, it isn’t, because the ego doesn’t exist. But of course if you try to give up your ego with your ego, then it will take you to the end of time. Because this is the point: you can’t transform yourself. You can’t make yourself sane, you can’t make yourself loving, you can’t make yourself unselfish. And yet it’s absolutely necessary that we be that way. It’s absolutely necessary if we are going to hand over the direction of nature to nature, which is what it comes to. It’s absolutely necessary that we let go of ourselves, and it can’t be done. Not by anything that we call doing it, acting it, willing, or even just accepting things. You can’t do it. Why? Because you don’t really exist as that kind of separate ego or personality. Because you don’t really exist as that separate ego or personality. It’s just an idea, based on a phony feeling.”