Headlessness and radical subjectivity

The focus of the upper left quadrant of the aqal model, the individual and inner, is on what is alive in immediate awareness.

And the various practices here, such as meditation, prayer and especially self-inquiry, are all about radical subjectivity: what is alive right here and now, outside of any filters of thoughts – such as ideas, expectations, memories?


Headlessness is one way to explore this radical subjectivity. Is there really a head here in immediate experience?

All I can find are some sensations arising in space, coming and going, and a fuzzy pink blob where others see my nose, but there is no head here. The idea of a head is just that, an idea superimposed on an area of space. There is just space here, allowing anything and everything to arise, to come and go on their own: sensations, sounds, sights, thoughts, this body, arms, hands, desk, screen, window, a dog barking. There is capacity for the world, and the world arising.

Deepening familiarity

And as there is a deepening into this exploration, through meditation, prayer or self-inquiry, there is a deepening familiarity with what we find:

The seen, including this human self, is within space and time, come and go on its own, and there is no I to be found anywhere. How can there be an I there, if it is seen? If there is an I anywhere, it must be in the seeing itself.

The seeing transcends yet embraces time, space and the seen. It is free from the seen, from space and time. It is free from this human self. At the same time, is there really a separation here? Where do I as seeing end and Other as the seen begin? I cannot find that line anywhere.

So there is an early noticing of the Oneness of seeing and seen. They distinct from each other, yet not quite two.

When the sense of I was placed on the seen, there was a sense of I and Other within the seen, within form. Now, when the sense of I is placed on the seeing, there is a sense of I and Other as seeing and seen. Yet, the boundary between the two is not to be found anywhere. Maybe the whole sense of I is superimposed on the seeing and seen? Maybe it comes from the belief in the idea of I, which then the seeing and the seen is filtered through in different ways?

As this is explored, and it becomes more clear how the mechanisms of samsara (a sense of I and Other, of duality) functions and that there is no I to be found anywhere in seeing or seen, it sets the stage for a Ground awakening.

The Ground awakens to itself, as the Ground of seeing and seen, as emptiness and form, as emptiness dancing, absent of I anywhere. The whole sense of an I and a center falls away, and there is only the totality – without center anywhere, so with a center everywhere.

Always already

The irony is that this is what was alive in immediate awareness all the time. It was never not alive to itself.

Yet, since it was not taken seriously, since what was alive in radical subjectivity was not trusted, it remained in the background, overshadowed and (apparently) blocked out by a sense of I and Other, created by the belief in the idea of I, formed by what was being taught by society and those around us.

What is always already here, in immediate awareness, in radical subjectivity, was not trusted, so could not emerge into the foreground. Until it had been explored so thoroughly that the sense and filter of I fell away.

Radical subjectivity

In this sense, spiritual practice is all about radical subjectivity.

What is alive in immediate awareness? What is already alive here now, free from expectations, beliefs, ideas, memories, stories? How does it look when I gradually learn to differentiate what already is from how it is colored by ideas? How does it look, when thoughts arise as just thoughts, along with everything else?

6 thoughts to “Headlessness and radical subjectivity”

  1. A human head is an object in the upper right quadrant. Thus, searching for a “head” is an inquiry into an object in the upper right, not an inquiry into something in the upper left.

    More generally, spiritual inquiry includes inquiry into the nature of things in the upper right world “out there” (e.g., Buddhist inquiry into the emptiness of objects) as well as inquiry into the nature of things in the upper left world “in here”. Thus, it seems incorrect to characterize spiritual inquiry as “all about radical subjectivity” in the upper left. Rather, it is radical inquiry that reveals the emptiness of both inner and outer worlds.

  2. Hmmm…. I am obviously not as clear on this as I could be.

    This is what comes up for me for now, but I will sit with it some more…

    As headless inquiry is an UL tool, it will find UL phenomena – so no head there (only sensations in space, and a thought about a head.) And that seems to be the point of headless inquiry: to explore what is true in immediate awareness, and learn to be more familiar with it.

    The emptiness of phenomena is found in the UL quadrant, not in the UR.

    To explore UR phenomena, the outer and manifest forms, we need to use UR tools such as those from western science. Here they find that 99.999% (or so) of even “solid” matter is space, and even that which was assumed as “solid” is far more ephemeral than so, as shown by quantum physics. But these are, at best, only UR correlates of emptiness, not the true UL realizations of emptiness.


    As an aside: These apparent UR correlates with UL emptiness are are merely interesting, they of course don’t “prove” or even really touch on the claims of mystics.

    The views from science on these things will change, probably dramatically, as western science changes and moves on, so it may not be a good idea to connect the UR correlates too strongly with UL realizations of emptiness, and especially not to take them as “proof” of emptiness as some folks do. That seems a naive approach.

    To go into it in a little more detail:

    We can play around with the apparent UR/UL correlates, and take views from science as loose metaphors of UL realizations, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is fun.

    And taking the UL/UR correlations further may be tempting, especially in our society where “science rules” and is taken as the ultimate validation of anything being “real”.

    Maybe we can get UR science to support and “prove” what mystics and sages have said all along?

    So we may take certain current UR interpretations as “proof” of timeless UL realizations, for instance of emptiness and the inseparability of emptiness and form.

    But the maps, views, models and interpretations of science are in flux. These particular views are current today, and old-fashioned and even obsolete tomorrow. There is not even any guarantee that tomorrow’s UR views from science will be closer correlates to those of the timeless UL realizations. They may move in a different direction.

    Which is why it seems naive, to me, to hitch the always changing views from UR science too closely up with the timeless UL realizations from mystics and sages from all traditions.

    Why use one particular snapshot of always changing views to support timeless realizations?

  3. Another aside, looking at the other side of the coin:

    It may be naive to use current UR views as support for timeless UL realizations.

    But it may be equally naive to use UL realizations as proof, or even indications, of UR/LR realities.

    Something is alive in immediate awareness, something is even clearly realized there. But to take that as an indication of how things are in UR/LR is a projection.

    For instance, I may see how the world comes into being in immediate awareness, and project that out into the world, and into past and future, as a creation story of the world.

    Or I may realize the inseparability of emptiness and form in immediate awareness, and make a story out of how this fits in the UR quadrant.

    But again, these are at best metaphors for UL/LR realities. Maybe a guideline for what to look for there, using UR/LR tools.

    UR/LR findings may be taken as correlates and metaphors of UL realizations, and UL realizations may be taken as correlates and metaphors of UR/LR realities, but they are not much more.

    UL is about what is alive in immediate awareness, us UL tools such as mediation, prayer and self-inquiry.

    UR/LR is about what we find in the manifest world, using UR/LR tools such as those from western science.

  4. Another aspect of this UL vs. UR/LR connection:

    In an awakening, which is UL, there is the realization that all is Spirit, emptiness and form, emptiness dancing.

    So it is of course tempting to export this realization into the UR/LR realm, which is fine – even inevitable – on a personal level.

    But at our collective level, it does not work so well. At our collective (social/cultural) level, we’ll need to use UR/LR tools, such as those from western science, to explore UR/LR questions.

    Again, UL realizations can be used as metaphors for UR/LR realities, or even as a guidelines for what to look for, but that is about all.

    We can’t use UL realizations to colonize UR/LR, no more than we can use temporary views on UR/LR from science to colonize UL.

  5. You wrote: “The emptiness of phenomena is found in the UL quadrant, not in the UR. To explore UR phenomena, the outer and manifest forms, we need to use UR tools such as those from western science.”

    Emptiness, being the lack of inherent existence, is found in all quadrants. For example, when investigating objects in UR using tools of science, only measurable properties are found. Never is any inherent existence of any objective “thing” found. Therefore, everything in UR is empty of inherent existence. Thus, emptiness is directly verified in UR, independent of any verification in UL. This is not an export from UL to UR, or a colonization of UR by UL, because it uses the tools of UR to investigate UR.

    Perhaps emptiness is a truth of both UR and UL because even the UR/UL distinction itself is empty…

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