On Having No Head – Douglas Harding

The best day of my life—my rebirthday, so to speak—was when I found I had no head. This is not a literary gambit, a witticism designed to arouse interest at any cost. I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.

It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily. However that may be, a very still clear day, and a view from the ridge where I stood, over misty blue valleys to the highest mountain range in the world, with Kangchenjunga and Everest unprominent among its snow-peaks, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of “me”, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.

Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

-Douglas Harding

Excerpt from On Having No Head, Inner Directions Publishing

Available from: http://www.innerdirections.org/mm5/cp/books-spirituality/978-1-878019-19-6

Stillness – Douglas Harding

In appearance I’m moving about in Space Itself. In reality I’m that unmoving Space Itself. Walking across the room, I look down, and my head (no-head) is the infinite and empty Stillness in which those arms and legs are flailing. Driving my car, I look out, and my human body (no-body) is this same Stillness, in which the whole countryside is being shuffled like a giant’s pack of cards. Going out at night, I look up, and my Earth body (no-Earth-body) is the same Stillness in which those heavenly bodies are swinging and dancing. (No: I can find no head here to turn to and fro, to bob up and down!) Finally and most importantly, I “go blind” (shut my eyes, they say) and my Universe body (no-Universe-body) is the same infinite and empty Stillness, now revealing itself as the unmoving No-mind whose mental contents refuse to stay still for a moment. Besides confirming yet again one’s true Identity, this aspect of our submission to the Obvious—of our two-way looking, our meditation for all seasons—happens to take the rush out of “the rush of modern life”: or rather, out of the one who thinks he rushes. He never moved an inch. All his agitation is illusory. He neither needs nor can do anything to calm down—except stop overlooking the place where he is forever at rest, where the Peace that passes all understanding is so brilliantly self-evident. This yearned-for tranquility, which he imagined was always evading him, is discovered at this very centre, begging to be noticed!

-Douglas Harding

From On Having No Head, Inner Directions Publishing

Available from: http://www.innerdirections.org/mm5/cp/books-spirituality/978-1-878019-19-6