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August 2010

Post image for To My Fellow Skeptics (and Believers Too)

The first few times I heard about God, I was already suspicious. My earliest clear memory of it was when I was five, leaning against the screen door of our small town home with my older sister, watching a midsummer thunderstorm unfold.

We were in awe, like I have been at every thunderstorm since. I don’t remember if I asked, but my sister said it was God who made the lightning and thunder. Not that she was ever religious, that’s just what her eight-year old mind told me that day. I took note.

At that point, nearly all of my ideas about God had come from Family Circus comics. The kids each prayed every night before bed, depicted casually as if it’s something every normal person does. In one comic, Dolly prays for her father to make it home safely from his trip to New York. The opposite panel shows a rainy street scene in which a six-foot translucent hand stops her Dad from stepping in front of a speeding taxi.


Later on, in my teenage years, I would recognize the Family Circus to be a conservative, unapologetically fundamentalist cartoon, but at the time I wasn’t aware of the play of politics in the things I read and watched. I just knew that the God they depicted didn’t make a whole lot of sense. This was the idea of God I had, and I rejected it, because it made sense to do so.

Sometime in junior high, when I was becoming more politically aware, I remember being shocked one day when I realized that ordinary adults — too old for the likes of the Family Circus — actually still believed in this God thing. Not just the crazies on televangelist shows either, but real, respectable adults who could be found in church on any given Sunday, singing hymns while looking upward with their eyes closed, really believing that they were in contact with this big translucent man, presumably when he’s not busy casting lightning bolts over my hometown, or saving Bil Keane from the natural consequences of wandering into traffic without looking both ways. Read More

Post image for Five Useful Headless Resources

Well it turns out there’s been much more interest in Douglas Harding’s Headless Way than I initially thought. I’ve had quite a few lengthy comments and a lot more emails than normal. Evidently Headlessness has struck a chord with a lot of you, and people have a lot of questions.

I can’t explain everything about it here though, for three reasons. First of all, I don’t want to write about the same topic for too long because I know not everyone is interested. Secondly, I can’t do nearly as good a job describing headlessness as Douglas Harding can and already has. And finally, this is a method of self-enquiry, which means you’ll have to do most of the exploring and experimenting yourself to get the most out of it.

So here are five excellent resources on headlessness, all available from your computer chair. Read More

Post image for Headlessness FAQ

This is the fourth article in a series about Douglas Harding’s method of self-inquiry, called headlessness. The others are here: [Post one] [Post two] [Post three]

In the previous article, I described Harding’s discovery that he, in his first-person, singular, present-tense experience, did not have a head. He insists that anyone who gives it an honest, unbiased look, will find the same thing.

Obviously it’s a preposterous claim, and it raises some questions. Here are the most common sticking points.

What is the point of this?

The point is to experience your true nature instead of just experiencing your thoughts about your true nature.

We tend to see ourselves as what our thoughts tell us we are: separate, finite bodies, tiny compared to the world we inhabit.

Nearly all of your ideas about who you are have been derived from views of you at a distance, either from other people’s accounts, or from mirrors and cameras.

From a distance of a few meters, you do appear to be a finite thing in the midst of other finite things. From zero distance, your appearance is very different, but we tend to disregard what we see ourselves to be, in favor of what we’ve learned ourselves to be from non-first-hand sources. This collection of learnings is called the ego, and most people will never suspect that it isn’t who they are. All of it is second-hand, past-tense, misleading information about who you are, observed from angles that cannot possibly see what you see.

All the major spiritual teachings inevitably point to nonduality — that there is no real separation between you and the universe around you. Many people suspect this is true, believe it is true, or want it to be true, yet it remains only an interesting concept for most.

What the Headless Way (or “headlessness”) allows you to do is to see nonduality plainly. You can physically see the seamlessness between you and the universe that contains you. This has huge implications for our relationships with others, the ego’s negative effects on our lives, human evolution and a lot more. Read More

Douglas Harding was a modern-day English philosopher who made a remarkable discovery about human nature, and developed a simple and ingenious method for guiding others to see it for themselves. This post is the third post in a series about his method. [Post one] [Post two]

Though an architect by trade, Douglas Harding was strongly drawn to philosophy, and his primary interest was answering the simple question of who he really was.

Was he a really only a six-foot bag of meat, animated by some mysterious biological energy? Or was he what the religious and spiritual masters said he was: pure, empty consciousness, undivided from the rest of the universe?

He wasn’t about to take anyone’s word for it.

While thinking about the principle of relativity, he realized that his identity depended on his distance from the observer. Looked at from a distance of a few meters, he appeared to be what could only be described as a man. But from a distance of an inch or so, “patch of skin” would be a more honest descriptor of his appearance. Zoom in further, and he became cells. At closer ranges still he became molecules, atoms, and particles.

He recognized that it worked the other way too. Observe from far enough away, and his close-range appearance as a man gives way to that of a city, then a continent, a planet, and so on.

Careful to avoid assumptions and going only off of objective observations, it was clear that what he was at three meters was nothing like what he was at three nanometers, or three billion meters.

He couldn’t deny that he had many layers of appearances, quite inseparable from one another, and all of them dependent on the distance from which he was observed.

It was also undeniable that he needed all of those layers to survive. Clearly he needed the surrounding planet to breathe and sustain himself, which in turn needed the surrounding solar system to keep it in its life-sustaining position, which in turn needed the surrounding universe to put it where it was, and so on. Looking in the other direction, he knew he also needed his constituent body parts and cells, which in turn needed their constituent molecules and atoms.

This led him to the idea of nondualism, as fabled in religious and spiritual teachings. There was no perceivable separation between the six-foot human he always figured himself to be, and the universe that surrounded it and comprised it. The only separation between Douglas the person and the remainder of the universe was an arbitrary, imagined one: the common, generally unquestioned thought that a human being ends strictly at the limits of its skin. Read More

“The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.” ~Carl Jung

Imagine just having been born.

You don’t know anything. You’ve never experienced anything.

But suddenly there is light, and chaos. You’re exposed, and cold. Blurry shapes are moving all around you. Sounds strike you with an edge much sharper they ever had in the womb. The whole scene is bright and loud, and the shapes move so quickly.

There is so much happening. It is all completely alien and extremely intense. It’s upsetting. You cry.

Among other things, you are seeing what you will later learn to call faces. But they are not faces yet. They are shapes, with a pattern that will soon become familiar to you.

You are hearing what you will later be told are voices. One of them is already very familiar to you. You will be told to call it “Mommy.”

The one thing you are certainly not aware of, is you. You are aware of all these shapes and sounds and feelings, but you aren’t perceiving them as happening to you or to anyone else. You are only aware that they are happening.

How will you ever make sense of it all?

Luckily, you are human (though you’re not aware of that yet) and human minds have the power of association. Without even trying, you begin to associate certain shapes and sounds with certain thoughts. You associate your mother’s voice with comfort. Your mother’s voice becomes comfort. You might associate the dark with sleepiness, maybe loneliness too. You might associate bathtime with fun, or horror, depending on what happens emotionally during your bathtimes.

Associations like this accumulate. From experience, X makes you expect Y. Then X begins to symbolize Y. Eventually X may become indistinguishable from Y. You’ll keep adding them over time.

This is handy for sorting out the chaos around you. You can tell, for example, that the thing with the warm hands and soothing voice is usually good news for you. It’s a simple association. This is the primary tool you’ll use to make sense of the whirling scenes around you.

You are still only looking outwards, and it has not yet occurred to you to inquire as to what is doing the looking. After all, the entirety of existence — every shape, sound, character and story — appears to be there, somewhere outwards. You don’t yet have a reason to contemplate what is at the center of all this action. Read More

I want to introduce you to someone.

His name is Douglas Harding. He was a kindly, well-spoken Englishman, born in 1909 and died in 2007, but for reasons you’ll soon understand, that doesn’t really matter.

I have wanted to write about Douglas Harding for a long time, but I hadn’t yet because I think his ideas are so important to my life and to humankind that I wanted to make sure I had the time to do them justice.

Most readers of Raptitude have a pointed interest in learning simple ways to improve their quality of life. That’s what this blog is all about. Harding’s teaching is so profound, that once you really get it (and it’s not hard!), you will experience, to say the least, some of the greatest improvements to your quality of life that you’ve ever had. It will tie up loose ends you didn’t know existed.

I left some cryptic hints about this teaching in the comment discussion that followed my April 12 post, Die on Purpose. Those of you who were at all intrigued by that post should not miss this.

In this post I just want to introduce you to Douglas, and I’ll really get into the teaching in subsequent posts. For now all I will say is that I will be writing a lot about Douglas Harding in the future. Those of you who are intrigued enough to look into him will understand why.

The video below is an excerpt from a talk given by Douglas in 1991 in Melbourne, Australia. I won’t explain any more about it today, but I urge you to invest 12 undistracted minutes watching this.

Many of you might not know what to make of it at first. Some will find it moderately interesting, but won’t find anything really compelling in it, and will soon forget about it entirely. Some of you will hit your boredom threshold sometime before the twelve minutes video is through, click it closed and go busy yourself with something.

But a minority of you will catch a hint of something extremely profound here, something markedly more concrete and less ambiguous than most “spiritual” talks. Those few will follow this up, investigate Douglas’s work, and discover something incredible about themselves — something they never suspected yet, paradoxically, always knew.

I’m sounding a bit mystical here, I know, so don’t worry if you don’t see what I’m getting at yet. In upcoming posts, I will explain.

I’m not talking about something that’s hard to ‘get.’ In fact, it’s so unutterably simple, that it’s at tremendous risk of being overlooked. It’s so obvious that most people will try to find the metaphor behind it — a poetic analogy of the sort behind all Zen sayings and Bible verses — but there isn’t one. It’s a plain, obvious-in-hindsight realization, with colossal implications. Read More

Post image for How to Make Life Agreeable

It was a scorching afternoon and both of us had given up on doing any serious work for the rest of the day. We’d surveyed most of a disused section of railroad tracks past the suburbs, when across the field I saw Mark pause, look at his watch, and begin packing up the equipment.

“F this. Time for Slurpees,” he announced over the radio. “We’ll finish up Monday.”

We loaded the trunk and jumped into his tiny, sweltering Honda. Already beading up with sweat, I grew impatient as he took his time fiddling with his CDs before starting the car. I needed A/C, or at least power windows. Fast.

He noticed my sense of urgency, and smiled at me as he slowly, mockingly, brought the keys up to the ignition.

Finally he started it. “Let’s see who’s the tougher man,” he said ominously, tapping off the A/C button, and cranking the heater. “First one to open the door buys the Slurpees.”

Friday-giddy and possibly already delirious, it sounded like a fun idea to me.

The car was already at sauna temperature, the sun was cooking our bluejeaned legs through the windshield, and there was hot air blowing in our faces.

Now that I was playing this game on purpose, I knew I would beat him. A few years earlier when I worked as a hotel housekeeper at a ski resort, I had learned a powerful life skill which would come in very handy here. Read More

Post image for The Only Reason to Behave Ethically

At playtime in the early grades, teachers always told us we were supposed to share our toys.

We always did it grudgingly. None of us actually wanted to share them. But we figured there would be consequences if we didn’t, just as there were for not doing anything else they told us we should do.

“It’s not nice not to share,” they would say. And why should I find it preferable to be “nice?” Nobody ever explained that.

Whenever I inquired, I’d hear things like:

“Because it’s important.”

“That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“It’s the right thing to do.”

I always knew what I was supposed to say, but inside I knew would rather have the firetruck to myself than take turns with some other kid, and nobody ever gave me a meaningful reason why there was something wrong with that.

We grow up with this rigid idea that we should behave ethically, as if the word “should” itself is all the reason we need. Few of us were ever given a genuine reason for why we should want to do “the right thing”, without the implicit threat of being punished or ostracized for not doing it. Read More

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