Headless, so what? How the headless experiments work (in my experience)

I love the Headless Way and the headless experiments.

The Headless Way is simple, egalitarian, to the point, easily accessible, and aligned with what mystics throughout time and across traditions have talked about.

THE HEADLESS WAY & DOUGLAS HARDING

It was developed in the mid-1900s by Douglas Harding, and he continued to develop experiments, write books, and share what he had found with friends until his death in 2007.

I was introduced to it by a fellow Breema student in Oregon a few years earlier and immediately fell in love with the approach. He clearly got it, talked about it in a beautifully simple way, had simple experiments to help clarify it, and the organization is egalitarian and essentially non-hierarchical.

The best way to get started may be through their website and Harding’s book On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious.

HAVING NO HEAD

The main pointer is right in the title: We are headless. In our own first-person experience, we don’t have a head. We cannot see our own head.

I assume that may seem odd to many: So what if I can’t see my own head? I know it’s still here. I know I am this human self.

That’s because this is all about what we can discover and explore for ourselves. That’s where the magic is and that’s where it begins to make sense.

THE POINTING EXPERIMENT

The main experiment is quite simple:

Point at things where you are. Notice the shape, texture, color, and so on. Notice they are objects in space. Point to your legs, belly, and chest and notice they too are objects in space. Then point back to where you are looking out from. What do you find there?

And if we want to be more leading: Do you find a head? Or do you find you are space for the world?

WHAT I FIND

What I find is that in my own immediate first-person experience, I have no head. I can’t see my head. Where others see a head, I find a pink blob, sensations, and awake space it’s all happening within and as. My whole world happens within and as this awake space.

How is it to notice this? How is it to keep noticing it? How is it for this human self to live within and from this noticing?

HOW IT SEEMS TO WORK

It’s all about the noticing, of course. No explanation is really needed. But it can be interesting and helpful.

Here is a brief explanation of how it seems to work:

We are trained to think we most fundamentally are this human self. It’s not wrong that we are his human self. It’s here with us as content of our experience quite often, apart from in some dreams and occasionally other states and experiences. It’s what others take us to be. It’s what our passport tells us we are. It’s an assumption that works relatively well in a practical sense.

We may also have ideas of “having” a soul or consciousness, as some kind of appendix. We may even have ideas of being that or something similar.

Let’s set all of that aside. This is about our own first-person experience. What am I to myself, in my own first-person experience?

When I look here, where others see a head, I find a pink blob (what others may call my nose), I find sensations (roughly where others see a head), and nothing else really in terms of the content of experience.

I also find awake space. The pink blob, the sensations, and everything else including the wider world, happens within and as awake space.

Am I more fundamentally this awake space? Noticing there is no head here and noticing the awake space it’s all happening within and as helps me find that. I rest in and as that noticing. I rest in noticing myself as this awake space my world – the whole world to me – happens within and as.

To myself, I am not fundamentally anything within this world. I am not fundamentally this human self. I am not fundamentally a doer or observer. The world, and this human self, happen on its own. It all lives its own life. It all comes and goes. It’s all in apparently inevitable change.

I also notice other aspects of this.

What I am – this awake space – seems to form itself into the experience and forms of this human self and the wider world. It forms itself into what appears in (what a thought may divide into and call) the sense fields.

I notice that the world to me is like a dream. It has a dreamlike nature. It happens within and as the awake space I am, just like night dreams and any state and experience.

I also find that there is something even more fundamental in my nature, and that is capacity. I am even more fundamentally capacity for it all – the awake space and all it forms itself into.

A FEW OTHER HEADLESS EXPERIMENTS

There are other headless experiments to help us notice this, to bring our nature more into the foreground in noticing, and to help explore different aspects of our nature.

One I find powerful is making a face-sized hole in a sheet of paper. Notice what you see through the hole – notice them as objects with shape, color, texture, and so on. Then notice the opening itself, notice it as a clear and open space, a space full of the objects on the other side. Then move the paper closer to where you are looking from, and notice how you become that wide open space full of the world.

For instance, I can take a ruler and measure something. I find there is a specific distance between any two objects. If I turn the ruler 90 degrees so the two ends align and measure the distance between something and where I am, I find there is no distance. Everything happens within and as the awake space I am.

I can also notice that when this human self moves within a landscape, for instance in a car, the landscape moves through me. This human self moves within the landscape, and the landscape moves through me. When this human self moves within a room, the room moves within me.


INITIAL DRAFT

HEADLESS – SO WHAT?

I love the headless experiments and often use it as a reminder in daily life to bring my nature more into the foreground.

I assume it may seem an odd pointer to many. So what if I can’t see my own head? I know it’s still here. I know I am this human self.

The essence is that in my own first-person experience, I have no head. I can’t see my head. Where others see a head, I find a pink blob, sensations, and awake space it’s all happening within and as. My whole world happens within and as this awake space.

It’s all about the noticing, of course. No explanation is really needed. But it can be interesting and helpful.

So here is a brief explanation of how it seems to work:

We are trained to think we most fundamentally are this human self. It’s not wrong that we are his human self. It’s here with us as content of our experience quite often, apart from in some dreams and occasionally other states and experiences. It’s what others take us to be. It’s what our passport tells us we are. It’s an assumption that works relatively well in a practical sense.

We may also have ideas of “having” a soul or consciousness, as some kind of appendix. We may even have ideas of being that or something similar.

Let’s set all of that aside. This is about our own first-person experience. What am I to myself, in my own first-person experience?

When I look here, where others see a head, I find a pink blob (what others may call my nose), I find sensations (roughly where others see a head), and nothing else really in terms of the content of experience.

I also find awake space. The pink blob, the sensations, and everything else including the wider world, happens within and as awake space.

Am I more fundamentally this awake space? Noticing there is no head here and noticing the awake space it’s all happening within and as helps me find that. I rest in and as that noticing. I rest in noticing myself as this awake space my world – the whole world to me – happens within and as.

To myself, I am not fundamentally anything within this world. I am not fundamentally this human self. I am not fundamentally a doer or observer. The world, and this human self, happen on its own. It all lives its own life. It all comes and goes. It’s all in apparently inevitable change.

What I am – this awake space – forms itself into the experience and forms of this human self and the wider world. It forms itself into what appears in (what a thought may divide into and call) the sense fields.

I notice that the world to me is like a dream. It has a dreamlike nature. It happens within and as the awake space I am, just like night dreams and any state and experience.

I also find that there is something even more fundamental in my nature, and that is capacity. I am even more fundamentally capacity for it all – the awake space and all it forms itself into.

There are many other headless experiments to help us notice this, to bring our nature more into the foreground in noticing, and to help explore different aspects of our nature.

For instance, I can take a ruler and measure something. I find there is a specific distance between any two objects. If I turn the ruler 90 degrees so the two ends align and measure the distance between something and where I am, I find there is no distance. Everything happens within and as the awake space I am.

I can also notice that when this human self moves within a landscape, for instance in a car, the landscape moves through me. This human self moves within the landscape, and the landscape moves through me.

………..

DRAFT FRAGMENTS

Point at things where you are. Notice the shape, texture, color, and so on. Notice they are objects in space. Point to your legs, belly, and chest and notice they too are objects in space. Then point back to where you are looking out from. What do you find there?

……

I love the headless experiments and often use the headless reminder to bring my nature more into the foreground1.

The Headless approach was developed by Douglas Harding, and it’s called the Headless Way since the main pointer is that we cannot see our own head.

I assume that may seem odd to many. So what if I can’t see my own head? I know it’s still here. I know I am this human self.

NOTES

(1) I mostly use a shortcut and notice there is no head here, instead of doing the actual pointing.

…..

THE MAIN POINTING EXPERIMENT

That’s because this is something for us to discover and explore for ourselves. That’s where we can find the magic in it.

Point at things where you are. Notice the shape, texture, color, and so on. Notice they are objects in space. Point to your legs, belly, and chest and notice they too are objects in space. Then point back to where you are looking out from. What do you find there?

This is all about what we find in our own exploration. What am I in my own first-person experience?

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