What makes a person human and unique? It must be the emotions that inhabit their minds. Alan Watts, English philosopher (1915-1973), echoes this as he defines "man" in The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
"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."
Emotions are the fuel that drives an individual to act on a belief or on a dream. Emotions allow a person to change, to grow, to learn, and to love. Emotions are such personal, intimate feelings of overwhelming individual influence.
The need to wonder is an important feeling that humans must exercise to help facilitate a sense of their own existence. This understanding overcomes feelings of alienation from the universe.
Watts says, "Wonder, and its expression in poetry and the arts, are among the most important things which seem to distinguish men from other animals, and intelligent and sensitive people from morons."
He believes a person needs to "come into" this world rather than to "come out" of it. Watts thinks that a human must understand that every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe, a metaphorical wave on the sea.
"As the ocean 'waves,'
the universe 'peoples.'"
This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. One of the most strongly reinforced taboos is the taboo against "knowing who you are." In another of his works, Psychotherapy, East and West, Watts writes, "When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique. He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication."
So what does Watts believe a person must do with his or her unique emotions? If each is an incomparable wave, the answer seems natural. In truth, it is evidenced through a person's very creation. Watts explains, "You are this universe and you are creating it in every moment."
Watts inspires the actions stirred by human emotions with the following proclamation:
"Things are not explained by the past,
they are explained by what Happens Now.
That Creates the past, and it begins here...
That's the birth of responsibility."
I am a believer in the process of finding out who you are. It's work that is not always pleasant, and many who try to undertake it alone fail to make the universal connection that Watts explains. Perfection and final product are words that do not exist in my conception of anyone's "wave."
In fact, when I hear people boasting of even attempting such grand heights, I begin to do some wondering about their intentions and their sincerity. They may, indeed, be tsunamis, but they will still swell and rush as a fraction of an enormous ocean. They, too, will become memories of their mighty past.
Acceptance is a very comforting word to anyone interested in determining their real self purpose. As people explore their individuality, they must understand their limitations and accept their natural gifts in order to break the taboo and "come out" of a sleepy, gray existence.
This kind of acceptance does not mean that they allow others to control them or that they "sway" with the majority out of sheer frustration or stupidity. Instead, they must accept that the natural flow of humsn existence calls for them to accept responsibility and become a particular, contributing part that supports a larger whole.
To speak in religious terms, a Christian who accepts God's plan for his or her life must still exercise free will and act according to God's directives. To be content to hope and pray without putting that plan into operation does not advance a Holy intention. And, neither can that Christian be an island unto himself or herself. To deny missionary actions to any is both judgmental and selfish.
I believe we all are a significant part of a universe of the present. We are both creations of that universe and creators of the temporal universe we share on earth. Whether we see ourselves as a "brief light" or a "wave," that image is just a conception of our wonder.
The control we have over our emotions is what allows us to explore and discover a path most natural to our individual existence. Call it duty or responsibility, but never ignore the call to keep looking for ways to improve something through those unique talents. The most far-reaching plans are dreams. And dreams can only become realities through cooperation. A dream realized but unshared is fruitless.