I just (re)listened to the audiobook version of On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, mostly because it’s a relief to listen to someone taking such a simple, grounded, sane, and pragmatic approach to awakening (!)
Towards the end, he talks about actively wanting what’s here.
Why would we want what’s here?
We are capacity for what’s here – our human self and the wider world as it appears to us. It happens within and as what we are. It’s us in whatever form it happens to take here and now. So why not welcome it?
What’s here is here. It’s too late to do something about it. So why struggle with it? Struggle only creates suffering. It makes more sense to actively want what’s here. This also frees us up to be engaged and work on changing situations as needed.
The wanting-what’s-here pointer is a touchstone. It shows us how we relate to what’s coming up in us. Is it easy for us to genuinely welcome it? Or is there an impulse in us to avoid it or make it go away? And do we join in with that impulse or do we notice that it too happens within what we are capacity for? Having the pointer in the back of our mind can help us notice when suffering – unawake and unhealed – parts of us are triggered, and also whether we join in with it or notice ourselves as what it happens within and as – just like anything else.
How does it look in practice?
It’s a welcoming of what’s already here because we can’t do anything about it and struggling with it doesn’t help or make any sense. What’s coming up for our human self is already here. The situation our human self is in is already here. So why not join in with it and actively want it? Also, it’s what we already are so why not welcome it as another expression of the creativity of what we are?
It does not mean to be passive or resigned. We can still actively work to change the situation and circumstances we are in – or someone else is in. Often, wanting what’s here frees up our response. Instead of reacting we can respond a little more intentionally. There is access to more kindness, clarity, wisdom, and creativity.
How can we find this active welcoming?
When we notice ourselves as capacity for what’s here, including anything coming up in our human self, it’s easier to notice it all as happening within and as what we are and find a genuine and active welcoming and wanting of what’s here.
Said another way, the welcoming and actively wanting it is already here. It’s what we already are. So when we find ourselves as capacity for what’s here, we also find this welcoming and wanting.
Why don’t we always notice what we are?
Perhaps we haven’t noticed. Or we have noticed but don’t take it seriously. Or we don’t see any practical use of it.
Or we do notice and we take it seriously, and yet sometimes get pulled into old beliefs, emotional issues, and traumas, and “forget” for a while.
How can we notice what we are?
To have an initial glimpse of what we are, and to keep noticing in daily life, it helps to have some pointers. For me, the most effective one has been the Headless Way, Big Mind process (based on Voice Dialog and Zen), and Living Inquiries (a modern version of traditional Buddhist inquiry).
How can we train this noticing even when emotional issues come up?
There are two elements that stands out to me.
One is how we relate to what’s coming up in this human self. Do we get caught in it or do we notice it as happening within and as what we are?
The other is inviting in healing and awakening for any suffering parts of us surfacing, the one still operating from separation consciousness.
These two mutually support each other.
Noticing what we are while bringing presence into the suffering parts helps them relax and feel seen and loved. They receive what they need and want.
And inviting these suffering parts of us to heal and awaken makes it easier to notice what we are even when they are triggered. Some or most of the charge goes out of them.
I have written a lot about this in other articles so won’t go into it here.
What if we notice the shift is close?
If we are in a situation where we notice that the shift into actively welcoming what’s here is close, then a small pointer or question may be helpful. For instance:
How would it be to want what’s here?
Even if there are things coming up in my human self, I can often find this shift. And I can still notice what’s coming up in me and later get to know it better and invite in healing and awakening for it.
How does the overall process look?
Douglas Harding talks about seven stages or phases. I’ll just mention a very simplified version here.
First, there is an initial glimpse or noticing. This is always spontaneous although it can come without any apparent preparation or through inquiry or other spiritual practices.
Then, there is taking this seriously and wishing to continue exploring it and how to live from it in our daily life.
A part of this exploration is to investigate what happens when the mind gets pulled into old separation consciousness. We get more experience in noticing ourselves as capacity through more and more experiences, states, and life situations. And we invite in healing and awakening for the parts of us still stuck in suffering and separation consciousness.
As we keep doing this, the noticing becomes more stable and continues more often even when emotional issues surface.
Is Douglas Harding the only one talking about this?
Not at all, it’s common for mystics from all times and traditions to talk about it. Christian mystics may talk about God’s and my will becoming one. Byron Katie talks about loving what is. And so on.
NOTE: The first version of this article felt a bit off for me, and I know why. I focused too much on the stage-idea. It’s not wrong but didn’t feel necessary. So I rewrote it slightly and am including the initial version below.
I re-listened to On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, mostly because it’s a relief to listen to someone taking such a simple, grounded, sane, and pragmatic approach to awakening (!)
Towards the end, he talks about some stages of headlessness and the last one is actively wanting what’s here.
Why would we want what’s here?
Because we are capacity for it and it happens within and as what we are. It’s us in whatever form it happens to take here and now.
Because what’s here is here. It’s too late to do something about it. So why struggle with it? Struggle only creates suffering. It makes more sense to actively want what’s here.
Because it’s a touchstone. It shows us how we relate to what’s coming up in us. Do we welcome it? Want to avoid it or make it go away? And it shows us the parts in us still in suffering and operating from separation consciousness. The parts we can meet and include, and that may seek their own healing and liberation.
What does it mean and not mean?
It means to accept what’s already here because we can’t do anything about it and struggling with it doesn’t help or make any sense.
It does not mean to be passive or resigned. We can still actively work to change the situation and circumstances we are in – or someone else is in. Wanting what’s here frees us up to respond with more clarity, kindness, wisdom, and receptivity. It frees us up to be more fully engaged and involved when that’s needed.
How does it look when we explore this for ourselves?
I can only write about my own experiences and how it is for me.
I generally notice that what I am is capacity for this human self and the world as it appears to me. And if my attention goes somewhere else, it’s just a shift in attention that’s required to notice it again. From this place, it’s easier to notice that I want what’s here.
Wanting what’s here is not something that needs to be created. It’s more noticing it’s already here. And that noticing requires that I first notice that what’s here – whatever is coming up for this human self and what’s in the wider world – happens within and as what I am.
Mainly, I pay attention to when this goes away. And that’s when emotional issues are triggered and mind gets caught up in it and takes the stressful stories within these issues as true. Sometimes, it takes a little while to shift out of it and sometimes it’s faster.
From here, a few things are helpful.
Notice headlessness. Again, notice headlessness or that I am capacity for the world and what’s coming up for me as a human being. Allow this to sink in. Allow what’s coming up for my human self to live within this context.
Welcome and meet. Bring presence into what’s coming up in me as a human being. Feel the sensations. Notice the space the sensations happen within and as. Rest with the sensations.
Notice the scary stories. Listen to what they have to say.
Say to respectively the sensations and the scary stories….
You are welcome here. Thank you for protecting me. I love you.
Stay as long as you want. Spread out as much as you want.
I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono.)
What can I do for you? What do you need from me?
Invite it to heal and awaken. Bring awake presence into the issue. Allow it to reorganize within awakening and headlessness. Invite it to heal through whatever approach you have available and what works. For me, it’s Living Inquiries, The Work of Byron Katie, dialog, and what I use most these days – Vortex Healing.
Is it really so clear cut as stage models makes it look?
Yes and no. Many seem to go through a similar process with discernible phases – at least in hindsight. And yet, it’s usually not as clear cut as shifting cleanly from one to the next. It’s a more messy process. And moving from one to the next doesn’t come from a should or because we know about the map. It comes as a natural unfolding.
For instance, when we notice headlessness and how emotional issues can pull our center of gravity into the issues, there is a natural impulse to work on this. To stay in headlessness through more daily life situations and to return to it a bit faster when the mind gets pulled into contractions. There is also a natural impulse to want to invite in healing and awakening for these suffering parts of us that still operate from separation consciousness.
Over time, and if this happens with sincerity and some skills, it’s perhaps also natural that we gradually shift into the last phase Douglas Harding described.
As far as I can tell, my process is somewhere on the fuzzy border to this phase so I can’t say a lot about how it is to be there more fully and stably.
And even if it seemed to be more clear and stable, I know very well that I cannot say it will continue in the future. For instance, there may well be new and currently “hidden” layers of old contractions and trauma that can come up and my mind may well get caught up in them again.
There is a lot to say about these types of maps and I won’t go into it very much here. I’ll just say that we tend to create or be drawn to maps that fit our own experience and it may well be different for others. Also, maps are not the terrain – they are abstractions and highlight some features and leave a lot else out. And although they can give us some idea of the terrain as it may be for us, they may also not fit so well – or we may interpret them in a misleading way – so it’s helpful to hold them lightly and as a question.
Finally… it’s not only Douglas Harding talking about this?
No, it seems pretty universal. Byron Katie talks about loving what is. Adyashanti talks about it. Some talk about God’s and my will becoming one. Mystics from all the different traditions talk about it.
I notice I hesitate publishing this article because it feels a bit off.
Perhaps it’s because it’s about stages and it feels a bit too map-heavy for me right now.
Perhaps it’s because something I don’t know from personal experience – a stable active wanting of what’s here. I don’t even know if it’s a fantasy. What I do know is that even if it appears to be a stable wanting of what’s here, nobody knows about the future. It can change at any time.
If I were to write it again, I would leave out any mentioning of stages. I would just focus on my own explorations and the pointers I find helpful. And that’s what I do in most articles here.
Writing this feels more honest, and with this addition the article as a whole feels a bit more OK.