Wanting what’s here

 

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.

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Inquiries as a structured reflection of how a clear and awake mind naturally functions

 

I love inquiries like headless experiments, the Big Mind process, The Work of Byron Katie, and the Living Inquiries.

They are all structured forms of a noticing that happens naturally when there is more awakening and more clarity. They reflect how a more awake and clear mind functions. They function as training wheels and stepping stones until we find that clarity for ourselves and it happens more naturally and fluidly here too. And no matter what clarity and awakeness are there, they can show us more.

Headless experiments reflect how an awake mind notices itself and the world, as capacity for the world.

The Big Mind process does the same while including a dialog with and among sub-personalitites. This dialog is something that happens more naturally in a mind that’s clear, healed, and used to working with parts of our human self.

The Work examines what happens when our mind holds a thought as true, how it would be without holding it as true, and the genuine validity in the reversals of the initial thought. This reflects a natural examination of thoughts that happen in a more clear and awake mind.

Living Inquiries helps us explore how the mind associated thoughts and sensations, and how sensations lend a sense of solidity to thoughts so they seem more true, and thoughts lend a story to sensations so they seem to mean something. This allows the “glue” binding them together to soften and perhaps even fall away. This reflects what happens more naturally in a mind that’s clear and awake and used to examine these things in a more finely-grained way.

So these inquiries – in their essence – reflect natural processes in a more awake and clear mind. And for anyone of us, I imagine they can help us explore certain things in an even more finely-grained way.

Awakening is differentiation

 

Awakening is not just oneness. It’s also differentiation.

Without differentiation, there is no awakening. At least, if we start out from separation consciousness and wish to see what awakening is about. And if we wish to actively support clarification, deepening, and embodiment of the awakening.

So what is it we need to differentiate?

Mainly, the difference between thoughts and reality. Obviously, a thought is as real – or unreal – as anything else. But what it says about reality has varying degrees of truth to it, and even the most accurate thought has no final or ultimate truth to it.

We may know this at a superficial conscious level. We may hear it and tell ourselves I know that. But the reality is often different. At some level, we – our system – takes several thoughts as true even if we consciously may know it isn’t. It requires a much deeper exploration to see this and see through it so the “glue” making these thoughts seem real weakens. (Our mind’s magical truth-glue that makes something that’s not completely true seem true.)

How is this connected to awakening?

When we – at any level – hold a thought as true, there is automatically identification with the thought’s viewpoint. We experience ourselves as the viewpoint of the thought. And that creates a sense of being something within the content of experience – within the world, and an I with the rest of existence as Other.

What the thought is about doesn’t really matter. Taking any thought as ultimately true – somewhere in our system – creates this dynamic. Although some of the core ones are thoughts saying we are a human being, a me, an I, a doer, an observer, and so on.

How can I explore this differentiation?

Through inquiry, whether natural, organic, and unstructured or more structured.

Structured inquiry can be a good way to start, and can help us go deeper wherever we are in the process. And the more natural and unstructured inquiry helps us trust our own wisdom and guidance. (Especially when we already are somewhat familiar with the terrain, perhaps with the help of structured inquiry.)

For me, a combination of Headless experiments (Douglas Harding), the Big Mind process (Genpo Roshi), The Work of Byron Katie, and Living Inquiries (modern version of traditional Buddhist inquiry) has been helpful. But there are many other approaches out there.

What about other forms of differentiation?

Yes, there is the conventional form of differentiation and discernment we need in daily life, to function in the world.

The differentiation I wrote about above is helpful for awakening and also healing for our human self. The daily life differentiation and discernment is essential for us to function in the world.

Just as what and who we are – oneness and this human self – these two forms of differentiation are two sides of the same coin.

Supporting the natural healing and awakening process

 

Most approaches to healing and awakening support the natural processes of healing and awakening that seem inherent to us and life.

What are some of the characteristics of the natural healing and awakening process?

For healing emotional issues, one essential is to be brutally honest about our stressful and emotional-issue creating thoughts. Is it really true? What’s the grain of truth in it? What’s more true than the initial thought? Another is to meet the feelings, allow them, perhaps befriend them, perhaps notice them as physical sensations.

For awakening, the essence is perhaps to notice that all content of experience comes and goes, and yet something doesn’t come and go. What experiences happens within and as doesn’t come and go. Perhaps that’s more what we are than any content of experience – like this human self, or any me or I?

These processes often happen organically, although it can take time and the process can get stuck for a while. That’s why some people have developed more structured ways to support these processes.

If the structured approaches are done with sincerity and under guidance of someone with experience, skills, insights, and experience in working through things on their own, then they often work. (If we try to “push” our system to conform to whatever ideas we have about healing or awakening, it can – in the worst case – create more emotional issues and stronger separation consciousness.)

In general, structural approaches to emotional healing mimic the natural processes of a mind that’s already relatively healed – and one that operates from some sincerity, clarity, insight, and experience – when it relates to and invites in healing for parts of itself.

For awakening, they mimic the processes of an already mostly awake mind to awaken less awake parts of itself.

Here are a few examples:

Emotional healing often involves a shift in how we relate to ourselves and the world. It involves coming to terms with, find peace with, and befriending different aspects of reality. Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries) helps us see through stressful beliefs and consciously be a little more aligned with reality. Heart-centered practices like all-inclusive gratitude practices helps us reorient and befriend. Therapeutic tremoring (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises) releases tension out of the body which makes befriending a little easier. Inquiry practices (Big Mind process, Headless experiments) that gives us a glimpse of what we are also invites a shift and reorientation in how we relate to the different aspects of reality.

Emotional healing also involves finding healing for specific emotional issues, and much of what I wrote in the previous section also applies here. Emotional issues are held in place by – among other things – beliefs and identifications, and inquiry can help us see through these. Heart-centered practices (tonglen, ho’oponopono) can help us shift out of the fear-based core of many emotional issues. Therapeutic tremoring helps release the tension out of the body that otherwise fuels emotional issues and stress. Noticing what we are (Big Mind, Headless experiments) can support emotional issues in resolving within this new context.

Awakening is a natural process, although one that doesn’t come to conscious fruition in most people’s lives. It’s supported by most of the traditional spiritual practices. Basic meditation (notice + allow) helps us notice what we are, and helps what we are notice itself. Heart-centered approaches helps us reorient in the way we naturally do in the context of awakening. Inquiry helps us see what’s already more true for us and align more consciously with reality. Inquiry practices like the Big Mind process and Headless experiments gives us a taste of what we are, helps what we are notice itself, and help us explore how to live from this context.

Since divine or energy healing is the approach I mostly explore these days, I’ll say a few words about it separately, and focusing on Vortex Healing which I am most familiar with:

Vortex Healing (VH) also supports the natural healing and awakening processes. Although it’s one of the approaches I have found that’s the most versatile and powerful, and I know very well it works from many experiences channeling for others and receiving, I still don’t have a clear sense of exactly how it works apart from the basics. It uses divine energy and consciousness to invite the body and mind to heal, and to remove energetic structures that allows the divine to temporarily and locally take itself to be separate – and this opens for awakening.

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Douglas Harding: On Having No Head

 

I just started listening to the audio version of On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious by Douglas Harding, narrated by Richard Lang.

Although it’s several years since I discovered this book, Douglas Harding, and the Headless experiments, it feels fresh and new. And I am reminded of how much I enjoy and love this approach to finding what we really are.

The approach is simple, direct, honest, and pragmatic, and can be profoundly transformative for anyone sincerely exploring it.

The best way to begin may be with this book, or the Headless Way website.

The dream of the divine

 

Sometimes, it can seem like the world is a dream and that may be more accurate than we realize.

Dreams at our personal level

At our local and personal level, we can explore how the world is as a dream in a specific way.

In dreams, all the content of our experience – all that happens in the dream – happens within and as consciousness. It can’t really be any other way. It makes logical sense. And we can notice it when we do lucid dreaming.

In our waking life, it’s the same. All content of our experience – including our human self and the wider world and anything else – happens within and as consciousness. We can notice this through different forms of inquiry. In my case, I have found the Headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and the Living Inquiries, to be especially good at revealing this.

From this, we see that what we are is consciousness, and what we often take ourselves to be – like this human self – happens within and as consciousness. In other words, who we are happens within and as what we are.

This can seem abstract at first, if it’s just an idea or something someone else points out. We can then get a taste of it for ourselves, perhaps through inquiry or spontaneous revelations. And we can then continue to explore it and get more familiar it and allow our life to be transformed within this noticing.

If the world sometimes seems like a dream to us, it may be because it’s more true than it first seems. Just as our dreams happen within and as consciousness, our waking life happens within and as consciousness.

The dream of the divine

Similarly, we can say that all of existence is the dream of the divine. It’s all consciousness and all of existence happens within and as consciousness. It happens within and as the divine. And this consciousness – right here and now – is no different from this consciousness. It’s the same consciousness.

These experiences – that we may take to be “ours” – are the experiences of the divine. These experiences of sights, sounds, sensations, taste, smell, movements, and thoughts are the experiences of the divine. These thoughts saying these experiences belong to “me” as this limited and local human self are the thoughts of the divine.

Alan Watts’ thought experiment

I love a thought experiment from Alan Watts.

Say you can decide what you’ll dream about. First, we may chose to dream very pleasant dreams. After a while, that may get boring and we throw in some challenges, and perhaps some that seem very serious and a matter of life-and-death. If we know we are dreaming while we dream, we won’t experience the full effect of it. So we may also decide to forget that we are dreaming while we are dreaming so the dream feels more real to us.

By following this process, we see that what we end up with is the life we have now. There are perhaps a lot of good and pleasant experiences. It’s mixed in with challenges – big and small – that makes it more rich, juicy, and interesting. And we – as the divine – have temporarily forgotten we are dreaming in order to make it seem more real and make us more invested in the dreams.

The play of the divine – lila

Why is this happening? Perhaps for the divine to express, explore, and experience itself. For the divine to explore and experience its own potential infinite richness made a little more manifest.

The world can be seen as the play of the divine. And this is not a new discovery or noticing or speculation. In the Indian traditions they call this lila.

The world is real… and a dream

Our world is real in a certain way and also a dream in a certain way. That’s why I said “a little more manifest” in the previous segment.

Although there is validity to all our conventional ideas about the world and our lives, it’s all happening within a larger context that changes how we see it when this context is more alive to us in our immediate noticing and experience.

Even what we tend to experience as most physical is still happening within and as consciousness. The physical is real in that we experience it as physical and this seems to be a shared collective experience. At the same time, it’s our own mind – through combining thoughts and sensations – that gives it a sense of solidity and physicality. (How the mind creates its own experience through combining sensations and thoughts can be explored through inquiry, for instance Buddhist inquiries or a modern version of these such as the Living Inquiries.)

As we explore all of this, we may find that the world is simultaneously kind of real and kind of a dream.

Accelerated awakening?

 

If we seek awakening, we can take the traditional slow and steady approach, or we can try to accelerate it or take shortcuts. The slow approach may be “safer” than the apparent shortcuts although one is not inherently better than the other. And in either case, it’s good to look at our motivation.

Ways to accelerate awakening

We can have glimpses of what we are. Sometimes, this happens spontaneously without any apparent preparation, intention, or wish. We can also invite in these glimpses as a way to give us a taste of what awakening is. Some forms of inquiry, like the Big Mind process and the Headless Experiments, can give us a glimpse in a relatively short time and usually in a grounded way without the bells and whistles, and this can also give us more time to explore the different facets and dynamics around it.

Some also use psychoactive drugs, ideally under supervision of someone familiar with how to do it. Since this can come with side-effects, depending on the drug, I can’t recommend it and haven’t been drawn to try it for myself.

These glimpses can give us a taste of awakening and what we are, they can serve as a temporary guide (although can also be a bit misleading, especially as we add ideas to it), and they can – in that sense – accelerate awakening. As we dip into tastes of awakening through inquiry, we also get more familiar with what we are and it’s easier to notice it in daily life. And some forms of inquiry, like Living Inquiries, can help remove identifications and beliefs that typically prevent us from noticing what we are.

There is also the classic slow and steady approach to awakening. Here, we spend time with spiritual practices, with others on the path, and under guidance of someone familiar with the process. We spend time in prayer, meditation, body-centered practiced, and whatever other practices are available to us, and this provides a steady and gentle nurturing to the awakening process.

This more traditional approach is often seen as safer as it provides a lot of support and preparation work for the awakening which, in theory, makes it easier to function within the awakening if or when it happens. If done right, it also gives us a lot of benefits on the way in terms of grounding, healing, support, community, and so on. Of course, this all depends on the tradition, the community, the guide, and our fit with it and the fit with where we are in the process.

There is also the transmission or shaktipat approach. This may give a temporary spiritual opening or glimpse of awakening. Adyashanti describes this happening with retreat participants when he first started holding retreats (he stopped doing it since he found it less useful). This approach may also force the process and come with serious side-effects and challenges – sometimes because it happened a little too fast, and sometimes as the energy bangs up against blocks in our system. In some cases, energy transmissions may accelerate the process in a more balanced and integrated way.

And there is personal energy work, for instance through different forms of yoga. This can be a good way to nurture awakening, especially if combined with meditation and inquiry. As with the other approaches, it’s important to have good and experienced guidance.

These are all traditional approaches to awakening. Some cultures use psychoactive plants to offer glimpses or reality or shifts into it. Some traditions – especially in Asia but also other places – use shaktipat, inquiry, and/or personal energy work. And just about all traditions emphasize the more slow and steady approach, either on its own or in combination with the other approaches.

Personally, I have experience with all of these approaches with the exception of drugs. I have been mostly drawn to inquiry and the slow and steady classic approach. When it comes to energy transmissions, I have so far found only one that seems to be effective, predictable, and balanced, and that’s the awakening path built into being a Vortex Healing student.

Accelerated awakening and spiritual crises

An awakening process comes with different forms of challenges and sometimes spiritual crises. It’s tempting to say that the more accelerated paths come with more risk although I don’t really know. Challenges and spiritual crises seem to happen no matter which approach we take and whether our approach is slow and steady or more accelerated.

What I can say is that an accelerated path may also accelerate the crises (they may happen sooner rather than later). And a more slow and steady approach may allow us to prepare – in our mind, body, and energy system – for the different phases of the awakening process, which may make it a slightly smoother ride.

Mainly, there are no guarantees and we do what we are drawn to anyway.

Our motivation in wanting to accelerate awakening

Whether we seek awakening in the more traditional, slow, and steady way, or we seek a more accelerated path or shortcuts, it’s good to look at our motivation.

Typically, some of our motivations come from a sense of neediness, lack, and wanting to avoid suffering. There is nothing inherently wrong in this type of motivation. It can give us a drive that can be helpful for a while. At the same time, this type of motivation is inherently stressful and can drive us to make compulsive choices we otherwise wouldn’t have made.

Addressing the issues behind this slightly compulsive surface motivation – often some variation of neediness or lack – can reveal a deeper layer of motivation.

It may reveal a deeper, quiet and steady motivation that comes from – somewhere – knowing what we are.

Assumptions and context

I should mention that this view on awakening and ways to accelerate the process is based on an assumption that awakening is a natural, organic, and built-in process in all of us and – in the bigger picture – all beings. Everyone is on this path. For some, it may be far in the future and for others, it may happen now.

When it happens, there is a gradual preparation and build-up to it. It follows a similar process to a seed growing into a sapling, maturing into a tree, growing flowers, the flowers turn into a fruit, the fruit matures and eventually ripes and falls off the tree. In this analogy, the flowers may be early spiritual interests and perhaps practices, and the fruit is the awakening that ripes and matures over time.

We can support the ripening through practices and embodying it as best we can. As mentioned above, there are also other ways to accelerate this process. If we wish to accelerate this natural and organic process, it may be good to ask ourselves where that wish comes from and examine it. And it’s good to be aware that trying to accelerate, or even force, the process comes with some risks.

Finally, I want to mention that the awakening process tends to spontaneously accelerate at different parts of the process. It seems to have natural cycles of apparently slow phases and accelerated phases.

The bigger picture

Awakening is a natural and organic process. It’s what we are seeking itself, finding itself, noticing itself as all there is, and learning to live from and as it through this human being in the world.

What this looks like is a process of exploration or even a play, and many have called it the play of life, existence, or the divine – Lila.

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What is wholeness?

 

What is wholeness?

There are several forms of wholeness, all part of the main form of wholeness.

There is the wholeness of what we are. We are that which the content of our experience happens within and as, whether we call this awakeness, consciousness, or something else. This makes our experience into a seamless whole, whether we notice or not.

As soon as the mind believes its thoughts and latches onto the viewpoints of some of these thoughts, there is an experience of fragmentation and it’s more difficult to notice what we are.

The process of what we are noticing itself is called awakening. And the process of living from this in more situations in our life is called embodiment.

There is also a wholeness of who we are, as this human self. Again, the wholeness is already here. And yet, there is also a sense of fragmentation since we tend to identify with some of who we are and disown or ignore other parts of who we are. The process of finding our wholeness as who we are is what Jung called individuation.

There is also the wholeness of the world and the universe. The Earth is one seamless living and evolving system. The universe is also one seamless evolving system. And we – as human individuals and species with our culture – are an intrinsic part of those systems.

Finally, there is the wholeness of all of existence. Whether we use a small (psychological) or big (spiritual) interpretation of awakening, we can say that all of existence is one. We can also say that everything is existence exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself.

How do we explore these forms of wholeness? I have written many articles on each of them but I’ll say a few words here.

To explore the wholeness of what we are, we can use inquiry (Headless experiments, Big Mind Process, Living Inquiries, etc.), often combined with meditation (basic meditation, quiet prayer, training stable attention), and perhaps mindful movement (yoga, taichi, Breema, etc.).

To explore the wholeness of who we are, we can use psychology (parts work, shadow work, projection work), bodywork, relationship work, and more.

When we explore the wholeness of Earth and the universe, we can use systems views and integral (aqal) maps.

And what about the wholeness of all of existence? It includes all of the above, although we can most directly explore it as we explore what we are.

Note: The examples of approaches above are just the ones I have found useful. What works for you may be different, and what I use in the future will probably also change as I discover other approaches.

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What do I do if I am interested in awakening but have had no success so far?

 
What do we do if we have an interested in spirituality and awakening but have had no success so far? Perhaps more to the point, what do we do if that weighs us down and we feel hopeless about it? Here are some possibilities:

Explore forms of inquiry that can give you an immediate taste of what it’s about. Some I have found effective are the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, and – to some extent – Living Inquiries. This taste can give you a pointer for what it’s about, it can help you see that what you are seeking is already here, and it can serve as a needed disillusionment for the ideas you may have about what awakening entails. (Sometimes, people get an actual taste but dismiss it since it seems too simple and ordinary, and they continue to seek something more highfalutin and with more bells and whistles, and the disillusionment comes later.)

Inquire into beliefs you have about awakening and what not having it says about you. For instance, fill out these sentences and inquiry into them using The Work: Awakening is…. If I awaken, it will… Not being awakening means…. What I fear the most about not being awakened is…. Or use Living Inquiries to see if you can find the one who is unawakened, or awakening itself, or the drive to awakening, or anything else related to awakening and you in relation to awakening.

Along the same lines, clarify your motivation for awakening. What do you hope to get out of it? And what do you hope to get out of that? Continue until you find something very basic – and typically, universal – that you hope to get out of it. This, in itself, can be helpful, and it can also help you find other strategies to meet that need. As with any inquiry, take time with the question. Stay with it. Let it percolate. Allow the answer to surface on its own time.

Often, parts of our motivation for awakening is really a wish for healing. Identify what in you need healing, and may drive the desire for awakening, and invite in healing for those parts of you. Use whatever approach you are drawn to and that works for you.

If you have engaged in a particular spiritual path and don’t notice much results, consider revising your approach. Look at revising both your orientation and the tools and approaches you use. (a) Clarify your motivation for awakening. Inquire into your beliefs and identities connected with awakening and spirituality. Find healing for the parts of you that need healing and (partly) drive your wish for awakening. All of this can help you find a more helpful orientation to spirituality and awakening. (b) And you may consider trying out approaches or tools that may be more effective for you. If something doesn’t work in other areas of life, wouldn’t you try a different approach? So why not also when it comes to spirituality?

Awakening has a consciousness side and an energy side, and – for me – Vortex Healing is the most effective way to work with the energy side of awakening. Energetic structures hold consciousness in certain patterns and progressively undoing these will open for awakening. This won’t be the bells and whistles type of awakening some look for, but it will open a window to authentic awakening.

The approaches and tools I mention here are particular to me and what I am familiar with and have found especially helpful. As with anything I write here, this list is mostly meant as inspiration and to give some ideas for how to approach it. You’ll have to find what works for you. You have to make it your own. Read More

Douglas Harding: I find that I am not a thing /person /Douglas at all

 

By turning my attention around 180° I find that I am not a thing /person /Douglas at all but pure awake capacity in which the world is happening. This insight is not remarkable or world-shattering , no pillars of light break from the heavens , no “peak experience” overtakes me. It is all very ordinary, OBVIOUS – and immediately accessible.

– Douglas Harding

For more information on the wonderfully simple headless experiments, check out the Headless Way website. They work very well for some of us. (For me, some work better than others although they all have a different angle which is helpful.)

A simple logic

 

The world exists in and as time & space.

Something time- & spaceless must allow for it.

Both make up reality.

And that’s what we are.

It’s a simple logic. It has a mathematical simplicity.

And it’s also something we can explore for ourselves – in immediacy.

The easiest way I have found is through the Headless experiments and the Big Mind Process.

Note: When it’s said so simply, I see that calling it “spirituality” is too much. It’s much simpler than that. Much more immediate. Much more fundamental. And there is also a risk in making it so simple and so logical. The mind can tell itself that since it’s simple and logical, it gets it. But that’s not really getting it. Getting it is to find ourselves as the time- and spaceless that’s full of the world, and is the world. To find it in immediacy.

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The Man With No Head – Douglas Harding Documentary (video)

 

A documentary about The Man With No Head, Douglas Harding. I love the headless experiments and Douglas Harding’s way of talking about who and what we are. The documentary is created by Richard Lang.

Walking through myself

 

I am walking through myself.

Whether there is a spiritual opening, or a more stable shift in identity, or a taste through explorations such as the Big Mind process or Headless experiments, that’s a common noticing.

I – as a human self, am walking through myself – as the One (aka Big Mind, Spirit, Buddha Mind etc.). When I walk, I walk through myself. When I drive a car, I drive through myself.

I move through myself as this space I am moving through. This room. This landscape.

And as mentioned above, we can notice this through a spiritual opening where our identity is temporarily shifted out of our human self and more into what we are. Through explorations inviting in a similar temporary shift. Or through a more stable shift of identity out of identification as a separate self allowing our more real identity as the One to shine through or come more to the forefront.

And, for some reason, even if this can be noticed anywhere in any setting, it seems easier to notice when we are in a car and the landscape moves past us a bit faster than usual.

We can also experience being still and the landscape moving through us. That’s another aspect of this noticing. We are that which this human self moves through, and what the landscape moves through. We are all of it – the human self moving, the landscape moving, and what it all moves through.

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Headless interview with Anne Seward

 

I was a yes, buter, I took a long time to accept it. Under pressure, I would admit it. I would often go over and there were lots of friends who were obviously high on this thing, and I couldn’t help thinking that what I saw couldn’t be it because it didn’t make me high, it was so banal, there was nothing to it. RL: So what happened? I was yes, buting yet again, and Douglas (Harding) said there is some resistance. And I said, or at least I thought, no, I am not resisting, I really want to see this, I really want to get this. And it was very shortly after that, maybe just a day or two, that I was hanging up the washing, and I noticed that between these two hands, there was no head, no face, no brain, nothing, except the washing and the world, so I just said to myself OK I see it, stop messing around, accept it. It was very low key. Then it had a chance to start sinking in.
– Anne Seward, 7:10 – 8:45.

See www.headless.org for more info and the experiments.

Happening inside

 

Here are some simple questions:

Where do I find a sense of me as this human self? Where are it’s boundaries? Are they fuzzy? Clear? Do they change? What’s inside? What’s outside?

Do these boundaries happen within me? Do they happen within this field of awareness?

Is it true that what’s outside of these boundaries is not inside of me? Is it true it’s not happening within this field of awareness?

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Freedom to be deluded

 

Say that reality awakens to itself, and there is identification as reality awake to itself….

Is that what I really am?

If reality is free to show up as delusion or awake to itself, is what I really am anything other (or less) than that freedom? What is already free to show up as either?

If delusion and reality awake to itself comes and goes, is what I really am either of those?

And when that freedom is lived through a human self, and it is lived in a sane, mature, wise and kind way, how does it look? Can I find what I really am as inherently free to show up as delusion and reality awake to itself, yet seeking clarity out of compassion?

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Flavors of allowing

 

I find it fascinating to explore the different flavors of allowing experience: Shifting into Big Mind or headlessness. Choiceless awareness. Asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Shifting into gently and quietly meeting experience as it is. Bringing in a sense of kindness and the heart. And so on.

When I shift into allowing experience, I see, feel and love it as it is, for its sake. And the emphasis on each shifts between and within each form of allowing.

In Big Mind, headlessness and choiceless awareness, it seems that the seeing of experience is in the foreground, with feeling it anywhere between background to foreground, and the possibility of loving it is there are well – coming and going.

When I intentionally bring in the heart, the love for experience as it is comes into the foreground.

And there is also a way of being with experience where the felt sense is in the foreground. The sensations are invited in center stage, and welcomed there as they are.

Each one has its own flavor, and each one can be a helpful and valuable exploration. What happens when experience is resisted? What happens when it is allowed and welcomed? What happens when the seeing of it is in the foreground? The felt sense? Love and kindness?

In each case, a shift from (being caught up in) resistance to allowing is a shift from a sense of separation to that field which holds it all. When the felt sense is brought in, I “get it” with the body. I feel the difference. When love comes in, there is a sense of appreciation and gratitude for experience, as it is and for its sake.

And in terms of healing and maturing as who I am, this human self, that seems to be invited in when the felt sense and kindness is in the foreground.

What am I koan & tools for exploration

 

When I was at the zen center, my teacher gave me the “what am I” koan. I worked on it the usual Rinzai way, repeating it to myself with great intensity and otherwise not knowing what to do with it. It does fuel motivation and intention, which is very helpful, but it was also an exercise in spinning my wheels.

Along with giving someone the “what am I” koan, it is helpful to offer a few tools and pointers on how to use them…! After all, that is how we do it in any other area of life.

If I ask someone to dig a ditch, I show him or her the tool shed and where the shovels are, I’ll point out where the ditch is going, and if needed, I’ll give enough instructions to get the person started.

In the case of the “what am I” koan, there are – at least – two focal points for inquiry.

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Exploring a sense of doer

 

One of my practices lately has been to explore the sense of doer.

How does it appear when I shift into Big Mind or headlessness? I find that even the sense of doer happens within and as what I am. There is a release of an exclusive identification with a sense of doer and into the field that allows and is whatever is happening.

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Offering tools for working with beliefs directly

 

Vince has a good post on ways teachers and traditions sometimes speak about enlightenment, and what types of dynamics it may set up in the group.

The verbal level is of course important, partly because it sets up maps people use to navigate by.

Yet, something else is as important: The tools we are given. First, to have an immediate taste of what we are. Then, to work with beliefs and stories directly, no matter what they are about.

The tools I am familiar with here are the ones I have written about many times before.

Some tools for inviting in a taste of enlightenment include headless experiments and the Big Mind process. These give a taste of what we are and ways to explore it for ourselves, although obviously not with the same clarity as a full blown awakening. Doing this can be helpful in letting go of some of the more exotic ideas about enlightenment. What we are is something that is quite simple, available to be noticed here now, and not really out there in others or the future.

And there are also good tools available to help us unravel beliefs and stories about enlightenment, teachers or anything else. The Work helps us explore the effects of beliefs, and find what is already more true for us. And exploring the sense fields helps us see thought as thought, and how an overlay of thought on each of the sense fields create gestalts. It also helps us find ourselves as what we are, outside of what any story tells us.

At least for me, having and using these tools – with some sincerity – is far more important than any models, mainly because they first help me explore the terrain for myself, and then because they help me unravel beliefs and attachments to any story and identity.

Also, any model can become a belief, an identification with a story. So it is helpful to work with any model we are presented with – or come up with on our own – in this way, no matter how accurate it appears to be. In a conventional sense, some models are more accurate, meaning they have more practical value. But really, all models are equally far away from what they appear to be about.

I also see that I personally prefer practices aligned with awakening, but with an emphasis on the practical and day to day aspects of it. So in that sense, I would be more in the “no need to talk about it too much” camp. (Although I obviously explore it quite a bit here, but that is on my own.)

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Two masters

 

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Matthew 6:22-24

This whole passage is interesting. From a conventional point of view, the two first paragraphs don’t make much sense, and the third is taken literally and maybe seen as overly harsh.

Yet when there is a shift into headlessness or Big Mind/Heart, it becomes clear and is revealed as a beautiful and true passage.

The single eye is awareness itself, that which all happens within, to and as. When it notices itself, all is revealed as luminous both metaphorically (clear insight into what we are) and literally (sense of luminosity in all there is).

If it doesn’t notice itself, there is darkness. We are confused about who and what we are, and also don’t notice the luminosity inherent in all form and experience. This confusion is the root of all that is conventionally seen as evil, including all suffering and unease.

We cannot serve two masters. We cannot be confused and identify with content of awareness, and at the same time notice what we are.

Or more accurately, we can – and inevitably do – for a large stretch of the awakening process. Both may be present simultaneously to some degree, with one shifting into the foreground and then the other. But there comes a time when we have to make a clear decision.

Am I going to continue to indulge in whatever comes out of this mistaken identity, even as I know it is a mistaken identity, or am I going to wholehearted give myself to what I already am?

And this shift may involve strong resolve which is reflected in the somewhat harsh language of the passage above.

Dimensions of allowing

 

Allowing experience, shikantaza, headless experiments and the Big Mind/Heart process are all flavors of a similar shift.

And they can all fall a little differently on several dimensions, often depending on intention, experience and more.

The shift into allowing experience, into headlessness, Big Mind, realized selflessness, can be more or less partial, more or less clear.

It can be done with an emphasis on Big Mind, seeing all as awareness itself.

It can be done with an emphasis on the heart, on kindness, Big Heart.

It can be done with an emphasis on the felt sense of the shift, how it feels in the body.

It can be done with an emphasis on our human self, on who we are.

It can be done with an emphasis on what is here now, as it is, or on what is here now unfolding over time, revealing a process and a journey within content of experience.

And it can be done as a combination of any of these, simultaneously or shifting attention over time.

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Not stage specific

 

There are of course stage specific tools, both teachings and practices, and these have practical value.

But at the same time, I can’t help noticing that the tools I am currently using are not stage specific. They can be used by anyone, from novices to people familiar with the terrain, from those firmly in grips of a great deal of beliefs to those verging on the border of selfless realization.

The Big Mind process can be helpful at any stage of the path, inviting our human self to function better in the world, refining our insights into dynamics, finding ourselves as Big Mind/Heart, and bringing it more fully into the life of this human self.

The Work can be used by anyone, including children, those with few beliefs apart from a subtle one of being a separate I, and also those from whom awakeness is awake to itself, helping them gain a more detailed insight into the dynamics of stories and their effects.

Allowing experience can be used by anyone, at any time. Can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Can I fully allow it, wholeheartedly, in a heartfelt way, as if it would never go away? Can I allow it all, including resistance and what is resisted? This invites a release of identification with resistance, and a release of identification out of content of experience in general. It also helps us notice how content of experience appears one way when resisted, and often a quite different way when allowed.

Headless experiments can be used by anyone, and most of them can be used any time and any situation. We find ourselves as headless, as the no-thing that things arise within, to and as. And we explore how this is lived through our human self.

Exploring the sense fields can be done by anyone, at least after a short period of inviting in a more stable attention. It helps us explore impermanence, notice thoughts as just thoughts, noticing the difference between attention absorbed into the inside of thoughts and not, exploring how thoughts form gestalts with the other sense fields that may seem very substantial and real, and much more.

Each of these are tools available to anyone, with just some basic pointers. Most of them are largely self-regulating, having built-in feedback mechanisms to guide us. All of them can be used by novices and those more familiar with the terrain, up to selfless realization and beyond.

Forms of inquiry

 

Initial draft…

Some forms of inquiry…

First we have the ones focusing on awakeness itself, on awakeness noticing itself, such as the Big Mind part of the Big Mind process, the headless experiments, other forms of pointing out instructions, and – to some extent – question number four in The Work. We can also explore the content of awareness, see that it is all content, coming and going on its own time, yet something is not coming and going? What is it?

Then, on explorations of the sense fields, differentiating sensations, sounds, smells, taste and thought, how thoughts combine with the other sense fields to create gestalts that in themselves may look very real and substantial, and seeing thoughts as just thoughts.

Then, all the ones that invite us to investigate the nature of thoughts, such as investigations of sense fields, headless experiments, the Big Mind process, and The Work. Through these, we get to see the nature of thoughts as mimicking the other sense fields, as ephemeral, insubstantial, as just tools of practical value for this human self. And we get to see what happens when these thoughts are taken as more than just thoughts, when they are believed in, forms unquestioned gestalts with the other sense fields, and their content appears substantial and real.

Then, the ones that focuses on the content of thought, such as The Work, investigating beliefs in detail.

And one that is involved in most forms in inquiry, and also in how these writings come about: Allowing a question to sink in, as a seed, and an answer to surface later on its own time. A question comes up, is allowed to sink in, and something then surfaces seconds, minutes, hours, days or weeks later.

Inquiries can be structured, such as the Big Mind process and The Work, and also the headless experiments and exploring the sense fields, where the outcome is – to some extent – known in advance, if not by us then by others who have done it for themselves.

Or they can be more open, where attention just follows what happens with quiet interest and curiosity, allowing it to unfold, reveal itself, lead us along its own path, to something different, new, unexpected. We can do this with whatever arises, either informally in this way, or using specific techniques such as in Process Work.

And then there are some general pointers and orientations that are shared by many of these forms of inquiry, such as interest, curiosity, sincerity, receptivity, a stable attention, willingness to discover something unexpected, taking time and allow the questions and what comes up to sink in, inviting in the heart and a felt-sense of what is happening, allowing our human self to reorganize within the process, and so on.

There are also a group of inquiries I am not sure where fit in, for instance asking ourselves Adyashanti’s question what do I hope to get out of this? and is it true that this is not already here? This is a structured investigation, helping us to see what is already here. (Which they all do, by the way.)

Mechanisms of samsara

 

Some of the ways to explore the mechanisms of samsara…

The main mechanism of samsara is a belief in thoughts. We take thoughts as somehow inherently true, or as reflecting something inherently true in the world. We put all or most truth into one story, and take out the truth of its reversals. In this way, a sense of I and Other is created, and this sense of a separate I is usually anchored in this human self (although it could also be this alive presence, the soul level, or witnessing itself, the causal level). And from here, the whole human drama we are so familiar with unfolds… with all its excitement and also sense of something being off.

Through The Work, we can explore these beliefs directly. We notice stress, find the belief behind it, investigate it, find the truth in its reversals, and through all this, the attachment to the story tends to release.

Through the Big Mind process, we explore each voice, and see that there is no separate I inherent in any of them. We release identification with those we have been identified with, and embrace those that have been disowned, excluded through the attachment to those same beliefs and identities. They are all there, each one with its own purpose and function for this human self and its life in the world, and yet, there is no “I” inherent in any of them.

We can shift into headlessness through the headless experiments, and see that all content of awareness is just that, content of awareness. Sounds, sights, thoughts, all just content of awareness. Trees, cars, people, sensations, thoughts, all content of awareness. They are all part of the same field. It is only thoughts that say that some are “I” and others are “Other”, and these thoughts are content of awareness as well. If “I” am anything, it is what this content arises within, to and as. All content comes and goes, but what they all arise within, to and as does not. It is what time & space and all content, including that which we previously identified with, arise within, to and as.

We can use labeling practice, temporarily differentiating the field of content into sensation, sound, smell/taste, sight, and thought, which helps us see thought as just thought, and how it combines with the other portions of the field to create gestalts that seem very real and substantial when taken only at the level of gestalts.

And lots more practices as well. These are just the ones I happen to be familiar with and use right now.

Headlessness and identity

 

Whenever there is a clash between our stories about what is and what should be, or life and our beliefs, or circumstances and identity, what happens can be interpreted in two main ways.

First, from headlessness (Big Mind, awake void awake to itself), we are what arises, yet there is an identification with a story and an identity which does not fit what we find ourselves as. Of course, as soon as there is this identification, we don’t realize that we inevitable are what arises, but filter it through a sense of I here with a particular belief and identity, and Other out there which clashes with I in here. What arises is split into an inside and outside, and the two appears to not get along very well.

It is a comical situation, especially when we see this directly.

We have no choice but to become and be what arises, because that is what we are. We are this awareness and its contents, this wide open space full of the world as it arises here and now. Yet when this is split into a sense of I and Other, we are sometimes shocked by it and struggle with it, resist it in every way we are able, because it does not fit with who we take ourselves to be.

The other way to look at this, is through a more conventional view, taking who we take ourselves to be – a separate self, an object in the world, a small region of content of awareness – as real and substantial.

Here, we can also say that life shows up in a particular way that does not fit with our beliefs and identities, or rather the stories and identities we are identified with. But now, life reminds us of something in our human self that does not fit these beliefs and identities.

Our beliefs and identities has shadows, which is the truth in the reversals of the beliefs and ourselves as also what is outside of our conscious identities. And life reminds us of these shadows, which brings up discomfort, and a filtering of anything in our shadows as only out there and not (also) in here, in our human self.

Either way, a sense of resistance to what is is an invitation to find in ourselves what we see out there.

When there is resistance, or rather, identification with resistance, a taking of it as I, it is a reminder to find ourselves as headless and Big Mind. And it is also an invitation to find in our human self what we see out there.

The first invites Ground to notice itself.  The second allows this human self to become a little more part of humanity, to find our shared humanity right here in ourselves, and see that we are all in the same boat.

Both opens for some wisdom and a more open heart.

There is a seeing all as phenomena arising, inherently free from an I and Other, which in turn opens for natural love and compassion. And a finding in this human self any quality and characteristic I see out there, in others and the wider world, which opens for seeing myself in others and, again, a natural empathy and compassion.

Differentiating 3rd and 1st person identities

 

I went to a headless workshop in Portland a couple of weeks ago. It was led by Richard Lang, who did an excellent job – making it simple, accessible, very clear, and doing it all in a very personable and heart-centered way.

One of the things that became clearer to me is how the headless experiments help us differentiate between our 3rd and 1st person identities.

Our 3rd person identity is how other see us. It is our appearance at different distances, our name, our age, occupation, and so on. It is our identity in the world, as a human being. It is ourselves, as a he, she or it.

Our 1st person identity is our immediate experience of ourselves, which is as no thing allowing all things, no form allowing all forms, emptiness allowing fullness, no color allowing all colors, no identity allowing all identities… or in other words as headless, as capacity for the world, as awake emptiness and its content (which is no other than this awake emptiness). It is ourselves as awake void and all forms as this same awake void.

When our 3rd and 1st person identities are confused, it leads to suffering. When they are seen as distinct from each other, there is clarity and a sense of ease.

When they are mixed up with each other, my first person identity tends to go in the background, and is sometimes not noticed at all. I take on the third person identity and become a thing in the world, up against innumerable other things. I am completely caught up in a world of desire, fear, longing, anger, sadness, loss, and much more.

When they are differentiated, I am awake void full of the world… I am free from anything happening, allowing it all, and everything happening is revealed as this awake void. And there is full freedom for the little one, this human self, to use the 3rd person identity to function in the world as well. Nothing is left out.

Perceptual center as anchor for a sense of a separate self

 

I keep noticing how this perceptual center – this physical body and especially this head with its eyes, ears, nose and mouth – is made into a center for a sense of a separate I.

There is a sense of a separate I, as a belief in an idea of a separate self, almost as a weird cardboard cutout in the mind. Then there is a looking for a good place to put this sense of a separate I, a good anchor for it. And then the – very understandable – decision to place it on this body, especially this head, and in particular on sensations in the head area, and even more specifically on sensations of tension, contraction and density in the head area.

It is really quite funny… although it sometimes has quite tragic consequences.

And this process of making a perceptual center into a center for a separate-self sense is of course why the headless experiments can be so effective. They bring our attention directly to the physical center of a sense of I, and reveal that there is nothing there. No thing, allowing all the things of the world, including those sensations previously used as an anchor for a sense of a separate I.

Brilliantly awake emptiness, a spaceless, timeless, crystal clear void, allowing all the forms of the world (as perceived by this body) to arise within and to it, and as nothing other than awake emptiness itself.

Headless and fullness of being

 

I paid attention to the slight shifts between headlessness and being with experiences today. They are very similar, although in being with the form is slightly more in the foreground, and in headlessness the awake emptiness is slightly more in the foreground. And of course, within each, there are also shifts in which of the two are more in the foreground.

I also noticed a curiosity about how it is when both are more fully present, and had that answered a few minutes later when I walked into the public library and listened to a surprisingly good live performance of baroque chamber music (Bach, Corelli etc.). The sound, which was full, rich and clear as water, evoked a similar sense of fullness of being at human and soul levels, and also brought into the foreground the awake emptiness.

So at once, there was a deep and rich sense of fullness of being, as an individual, and also the awake emptiness within which and as all form arises. A fullness of being as individual, and also the field arising absent of a separate self.

Shifting of who and what in foreground

 

I am noticing how who and what I am shift in being in the foreground.

When who I am (individual) is in the foreground, the what (Spirit/Ground) is either less noticed, or comes up as a context, a sense of time/spacelessness. The personal arises within and as the universal.

When what I am is in the foreground, the individual arises within the field, as a grain of sand in the Sahara, or one thread in a vast tapestry. There is a sense of the impersonal and universal even in the individual.

The shifts are usually quite gentle and happen throughout the day, especially if I sometimes remind myself of headlessness – as capacity for the world. Then the personal is in the foreground as I am engaged in different tasks, shifting into the impersonal in the foreground as I notice my headlessness.

Soul retrieval

 

After exploring headlessness again today, I see how so many explorations are really soul retrieval, if we use that word in a wide sense. It is about retrieving – in the sense of allowing, noticing, owning – who we are at an individual level, and what we are at the headless/Spirit level.

Working with projections, we find here in this individual life what we see out there in the wider world. As long as we only see it out there (or only in here), there is a split, not only between this self and the wider world, but within this self.

Working with being with experiences, as they are, there is again a retrieval of what was divided and split off… through a sense of I and Other. We find ourselves as the space holding both sides of the dividing line, the division, and the content on both sides.

Doing the Byron Katie style inquiries, we also work with the split through releasing attachment to beliefs in thoughts, and we find ourselves as that which already is and allows it all.

And through the headless experiments, we find ourselves as capacity for the world, full of the whole world… as it appears one piece at a time to this human self.

In each case, there is a healing of the split, simply by finding ourselves as that which already is and allows it all. The Other, that which was split off, is finally allowed and owned, the sense of I and Other falls away, and this reveals the field always and already allowing it all.

It happens on our individual level when we work on projections, and it happens on a Spirit level when we find ourselves as headless.

In either case, there is a sense of retrieving a bit of our soul, of what we already are but didn’t notice or didn’t allow.