Douglas Harding Continued

Thanks Fiona.

I went to one of Douglas’ workshops about 10 years ago. At that time he was profoundly deaf and this severely limited his capacity to participate. Nevertheless, I was aware that I was in the company of someone who, in time, will probably be considered on of the greatest mystics of the past several hundred years. Which amounts to nothing really, as it is not about having rubbed shoulders with some celebrity guru. Indeed it is not about him at all. It is about you, about me, and our ability to bear witness to our own true nature, to our divinity.

What I found disarming was the simplicity of seeing into ones own real nature. There is no need to spend 25 years staring at a wall, no need to read arcane scriptures; no need for purification, transmission, merit, accomplishment, or anything else that needs practice. It is simply noticing the ‘no-thing’ which is aware of what is seen, heard, felt, etc.

And its simplicity is the problem. It’s not exotic enough for us; it does not come with bells or whistles. At the same time, paradoxically, we don’t want it because it is too radical. It threatens the hegemony of the ego, the ‘I, me, mine’ that sits on the throne, and pretends it is God.

‘Is that it?’, I said,  and went back to my usual ways.

To glance inwardly is all that I need to do, and I can do it in an instant. Indeed I must do it in an instant, and only for an instant. I must do it again and again, in each instant that it occurs to me to do it.

That is where the practice lies. But I can’t be bothered to do it again and again. After all, what’s the point? No host of angels singing, no celestial light. Just the simple presence of what is, free for a moment from the tyranny of the little ‘me’ who wants to believe that it is ‘I’ who have been the seer, the hearer, the feeler.

So I have to admit that I’m not ready for such a radical, simple message. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m much more comfortable with the delusion that I need to practice, to purify, to go on retreats, meditate harder, longer, better. That way I can continue to turn away from seeing who I really am. Because I know that to see who I really, really am will cost me, as Douglas has said, precisely everything.


30 thoughts on “Douglas Harding Continued

  1. Joe,

    I cant believe I am just about to write this….Everyone I know would laugh hysterically if they were to read this…. I spend at least an hour a day on meditation practices and this has made a profound difference to my state. If I could I would do more as there is always something within myself that needs due consideration. At the moment it is my lie to myself about ‘God’ I tell everyone who will listen that I have no time for any particular faith and I read about science in order to get rid of any feelings I may have about faith and this tortures me at times but I cannot at the moment accept it although I am asking myself why I sat and meditated for an hour each day in Salisbury Cathedral on top of all the meditation that is involved with the Headless Gathering that I was at. Since my eyes were closed I was not sat in the Cathedral admiring the stone work although I did admire it. Now in Tokyo I find myself annoyed that there is not a temple that will allow me in for the early morning or evening meditation. Not that it makes any difference as the practice can be done anywhere- it is better to find a space through.

    I have not found headlessness as simple as just looking although it was originally suggested to me that this was all that was required. The gathering included a total of at least an hour of meditation each day which took place at the start and end of sessions and after some of the exercises. Douglas Harding spent years tramping around Asia studying religion. He also taught comparative religion at Cambridge, I imagine this was a man who was desperate to find enlightenment for much of his earlier life and I am sure he spent many hours meditating. I would say that the majority of people I met at the gathering had an aura of profound spirituality around them or the intent to acquire it. Many were very serious about meditation. Douglas Harding was serious about faith one way or another.

  2. Fiona, try Thomas Merton. James Finley was a colleague of his in the monastery. I think I gave you Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, an audiobook by Soundstrue. It places the non-dual in the Contemplative Christian context, and is very powerful. You’ll never look at Christianity the same way again, and it is way over the heads of the happy-clappies.

    • Thanks Joe,

      I don’t have this one, I have Ken Wilber, Secrets of the immortal- 1-5 and the Politics of Lust. If you have time you could send them to me by We Transfer please, if not don’t worry can sort out another time. it is free and no more hassle than saving to a usb- stick all you need is to put in my email address and add the files. Very handy to know about for sharing music, video and any other stuff with friends as well.

      I looked Thomas Merton up on Wikipedia, very interesting. Where DH taught comparative religion at Cambridge Thomas Merton studied it about 5 years earlier.

  3. Seeing who you really are is very simple. Trusting this empty, formless capacity at the centre of your life is a different story. So, it does not seem that seeing who you really are is quite enough, there does seem to be an aspect of having faith in what you see here, at centre, that brings THIS to light in your life. In fact, to see who you really are and not trust, THIS, seems to be fairly useless. I see my arms backing into no-thing and trust this space, I can choose to not, but now, in this moment, I choose to not only see but trust THIS. It will write a response without thought, without analysis, to simply express the joy of trusting this space I am. The simple expression of the joy of being alive is to trust THIS. See and trust, breathe, move forward… Off we go! Trust this to meditate, practice, purify, go on retreats, THIS is capacity for all!

    • Matthew, thank you for that, and welcome to the conversation. I look forward very much to your contribution as we go along.

    • Hi Matthew, Firstly I join Joe in welcoming you to the conversation.

      The point you make about trust is a very important one. The more I trust what I feel to be right in relation to myself, the more my capacity is open to accepting external factors rather than fighting against them. This is making me more inclined to do what I believe to be ‘right’ as opposed to what I feel I should be doing or my ego tells me I should be doing. The headless approach seems to have the effect of minimising the power of the ego over the real self. I am finding my real self is fighting down my ego. This may cost me in material terms but I have decided to put the trust in my real self to guide me towards the right path whatever this may be.

      I would welcome your further thoughts on this

    • David, Thanks for joining the convo.

      I guess you must be suggesting Chekhov for his use of the stream of consciousness technique, something I believe was also used by James Joyce. I have not yet read either but plan to read Finnegans Wake by James Joyce as I became aware of some of the extracts from another book I read recently by an author called Anthony Peake who wrote The Labyrinth of Time: The Illusion of Past, Present and Future which looks in part at the role of consciousness within our perception of time

      • Fiona, Thanks! No it’s his descriptive rather than SOC technique. If I was starting Joyce I’d start with “The Dead” from Dubliners… as fine a description of the human condition as you will find. Finnegans Wake is very very difficult. It really needs to be heard as well as read, Chekhov’s short story in the url is quite similar to “The Dead” . I find that I draw more from these now than those who try to tell how to find the inner eye?

        • David, Joe was kind enough to copy and paste the most beautiful passage from ‘The Dead’ which of course you will know. I would be interested to know your interpretation of the story/ passage. I have put my own comments on this but I come from the position of knowing absolutely nothing about JJ. I am currently on a work trip in SE Asia and will get more into this when I return to the UK, meanwhile here is a link to my comments on Joe’s selected passage should you feel inclined to comment….

  4. Hi, I was at the Gathering in Salisbury that Fiona was talking about… We had a good time getting to know new people like Fiona as well as meeting many friends who’ve been coming for twenty years and more. Why do we keep coming? Well, we’re just a band of people who love being “headless”— i.e. noticing we’re not seeing the world from inside a box of bone full of mush, that our experience of being alive and awake is quite different … it’s being light and lightsome and open to whatever happens next. Doing Douglas’s experiments is like a ‘restore’ of our original innocence, exchanging simple seeing and hearing for all that mentalising we do so much of. And then, taking seriously finding ourselves so different from what we thought, we gain all sorts of insights into what spiritual teachings are actually saying. It’s not about changing what we are, nor even what we do, though I find it does change how I feel. Where we’re really coming from is likely to be more trustworthy than our small self-image isn’t it? Keeping up this state of simplicity is not so easy though … one of the best ways is showing other people, until coming to Salisbury next year of course. Judy

    • Hi Judy,

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation here- When the next gathering comes around we will put up some info on it, I also plan to write a review of Douglas’s books when I get the time. I have read Head off Stress which was a great follow up from the gathering and kept me busy on the long flight over to Tokyo. At the moment this blog has a fairly small following, once it expands it may be that we can put some sort of link through to from the side bar. Personally I think the gathering is a great retreat for anyone at any level of spiritual or self understanding. I will certainly make people aware of ‘Headlessness and the books, workshops and events if I think they may be interested.

      Thanks for the connection on FB also!


  5. F*ucking F*ucking very loud rant!!!!

    headlessnes failed me in this moment.Prayer may of worked. So much for not being scared of death. I was f*ucking scared in a taxi in china this evening which was driving at 120mph in moderate traffic with druck/ stoned driver wo spoke no english and did not know where he was going and neither did i- and neither did the map as was inEnglish. And is it turned out h could not read chinese either.

    After much prayer that my children needed a mother and that if i was to die could it please be instant ‘god’ may have been listening afterall a my hotel appeared out of the blue at a set of traffic lights so the nightmare ended.

    have never been so scared

    via mobile

  6. Hi Fiona and Joe,
    This is a lovely set of conversations, an so full of rferences that my breath is quite gone.
    I loved your description of your reaction to seeing Joe.
    The get-up-and-go spirit that you both have is really something I’m finding inspiring and humbling…I have severe limits in that area myself. All in all the buzzing of the spiritual bee seems to be alive and well..Hoorah…mankind may have a little more time on this earth yet!
    Much love,

  7. Hi Bill, it is really great to see you here and thanks for signing up for our email alerts. I know you are quite into spiritual poetry and you might enjoy one of Joe’s posts on this. Feel free to add your own favourites to this and they don’t have to be Irish…

    Also when you have got a bit further with the ‘seeing’ box and recordings send me any links and some blurb and I will publish it here

  8. Tell me,O Swan, your ancient tale
    From what land do you come, O Swan?
    To what shore will you fly?
    Where would you take your rest, O Swan?
    And what do you seek?
    Even this morning, O Swan, awake, arise, follow me!
    There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: where the terror of Death is no more.
    There the woods of spring are a-bloom, and the fragrant scent ‘He is I’ is borne on the wind:
    There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed, and desires no other joy.

    from “one hundred Poems of KABIR”

    slightly re-arranged by me from the translation by Rabindrath Tagore, assisted by Evelyn Underhill

  9. Bill this is a beautiful, I just looked up Kabir (who I had never heard of). I wonder how much meaning gets lost in translation?

    I especially like the 3rd from last line
    ‘There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: where the terror of Death is no more’

    • Reminds me of these lines from Morte d’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson:

      But now farewell. I am going a long way
      With these thou seëst–if indeed I go–
      (For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
      To the island-valley of Avilion;
      Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
      Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
      Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
      And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
      Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

      • Ah,,,those first lines of that poem…

        And all day long the noise of battle rolled
        Under the mountains by the silver sea

        Apologies to Alfred if I’ve misquoted slightly!!!

  10. Pingback: A Journey: Religions of the World by D.E Harding « Dr Joseph Bray's Blog

  11. Pingback: Awakening: Looking at yourself « What's it all about anyway?

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