July 25, 2016

What does Awakening look like? (Remembering Alan Watts & the Summer of ’72)

cropped image from elephant archives

It was the summer of 1972, and I was living in Boulder, Colorado.

I’d moved into a house of yogis, nominally led and barely organized by Arcturus, a student of my soon-to-be spiritual teacher Goswami Kriyananda.

We were all practicing kriya yoga, studying the sacred texts and talking endlessly about the teachings. We were not alone—Boulder was a bubbling cauldron of spiritual practices.

There were Sufi dancers, Buddhist meditators, Jewish mystics, Christian contemplatives and Hindu Bhaktas.

I remember exchanging pleasantries with Bhagavan Das—whom I read about in the Ram Dass classic Be Here Now—as we both peered into the murky waters of the bulk tofu barrel at the Boulder People’s Coop.

Mo Siegel, who went on to found Celestial Seasonings, stood outside the store offering Mo’s 21 Herb tea, made with the wild herbs he’d gathered in the nearby mountains.

We were all seeking enlightenment—striving to awaken—but, what does awakening look like, really?

I learned something about that from Alan Watts. Our encounter took place outside my house—across the street from one of the university’s auxiliary buildings. That building was being used as one of the venues for a city-wide spirituality conference.

All the spiritual luminaries of the time were there—Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa, Pir Vilayat, Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, Brother David Steindl-Rast. They presented workshops, dharma talks, meditation sessions and experiences day and night.

We’d just listened to a brilliant—if slightly inebriated—presentation by Alan Watts. He wove a tapestry of luminous words that teased our minds to the edges of understanding, and then…dissolved into laughter. He embodied the energy and intelligence of the Trickster—presenting teachings that were equal parts theater, philosophy, personal narrative and cosmic banter.

As we left the building, there was Alan standing on the curb by our house. He swayed in the breeze like a Taoist tree or a tipsy Englishman—who could say? Arcturus penetrated the fog of pipe smoke and alcohol fumes, and with no small degree of judgment said, “Alan, what are you doing?”

Alan Watts turned towards us with fire in his eyes. Without missing a beat he declared, “I’m being me…so you can be you!”

His car and driver arrived, and he got in.

The last image I have of Alan Watts are of his eyes—looking out at me, burning through the window—as he drove into the night.

This is a deep teaching: Be who you are! 

Be yourself. Let go of the shadow voices that are directing your life; release the inherited values that you’ve been carrying for lifetimes.

Allow the life that is seeking to emerge through you and as you to blossom.

Eric Klein original illustration

What does awakening look like?

It looks like you—blossoming!

Go deeper: where in your life are you following an inherited set of instructions that inhibit the blossoming?

  • In your work?
  • Your relationship?
  • Your spiritual practice?

What would it look like if you were to…blossom?

Love & Shanti,


Author: Eric Klein

Images: elephant archives; original illustration by the author

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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