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The Decapitation of Douglas Harding

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.

Of course, this “skin boundary” is hopelessly fuzzy by its very nature. We already know our bodies are made of the surrounding environment, constantly exchanging matter with it seamlessly during the acts of breathing, eating, shedding and regrowing skin, and eventually, dying and rotting. Any separation between a body and what surrounds it (or what it surrounds) is a made-up distinction, useful for categorizing and labeling, but ultimately misleading.

Who Douglas really was could not possibly be bounded by something as arbitrary and indistinct as skin.

Yet because he’d spent most of his time interacting with others at ranges of a few meters, Douglas had naturally identified most strongly (if not wholly) with his appearance at that casual, across-the-dining-room distance.

It still left him with a burning question: what would he look like from even closer than particle-range? Would he find himself to be nothing at all? In any case, he wasn’t content settling with the status quo — that his appearance at the few-meters-away range trumped the others, and that it was the appearance he should consider to be “himself.”

A Self-Portrait Like No Other

Harding’s answer came in the form of an extraordinary self-portrait by the physicist/philosopher Ernst Mach.

Most self-portraits are created using a mirror, and so the artist appears as he would from a distance of a few meters, like this one by Roger Fry:

Roger Fry self-portrait

Roger Fry's self-portrait

This is a typical self-portrait because it is the view of ourselves we are most familiar with, from looking in the mirror, from looking at photos of ourselves, and listening to what other people say about our looks. Most of our dealings with other people occur at distances of a few meters, as do our encounters with mirrors and cameras. So almost all of the information we have about our appearance is based on observations from some distance away from us. It’s no wonder we’ve grown to believe that the few-meters-away appearance illustrates what humans truly are, and that our appearances from all other distances don’t count: they’re too far or too close to see, or are somehow inaccurate in comparison.

Mach took an unconventional view of himself. Here is his self-portrait:

Ernst Mach's self-portrait

Ernst Mach's self-portrait

Evidently, Ernst Mach didn’t see himself the same way Roger Fry did. He drew himself in the first person. At first it appears to be just an amusing trick, the sort of mind-bending but merely entertaining cheekiness you might find in an M.C. Escher drawing.

But Harding saw something much more profound here, and I do too. Mach has drawn a portrait of himself as he appears to himself, as opposed to drawing it from the conventional viewpoint of a few meters away.

This self-portrait is completely unusual. It should shock us that it’s so unusual, because it is the perspective from which each of us lives every single moment of our lives. This is the “home” view of our lives, in fact it is inescapable, yet we think of ourselves in the third person nearly all the time.

More strikingly: though this is a picture Mach drew of himself, the artist’s head isn’t present. This is because from where he is looking — from where he always is looking  — there is no head to be seen.

It had never occurred to Harding that a human being’s most intimate, most central view, the one he is witnessing every moment of his life, was completely headless.

Years later, while he was walking in (of all places) the Himalayas, he had an experience that made Mach’s curious self-portrait take on a world-shattering new meaning for him.

In his own words:

The best day of my life—my rebirthday, so to speak—was when I found I had no head. This is not a literary gambit, a witticism designed to arouse interest at any cost. I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.

[…] What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

~From Harding’s book On Having No Head. A full account of his initial experience is available online here.

Finally, he had seen himself from closer than nanometers. He had seen, precisely, what he looked like from zero distance, and it was nothing like he looked to others. Other people sported heads, out there at a distance, but here, at zero distance, there was no head to be seen.

When he turned his attention inwards — at the empty space he was looking out of — he saw absolutely no evidence of a head. He saw boundless clarity, a cavernous, horizon-wide space, which did not protrude from his body like a head, but plainly contained his body.

Emptiness was not some far-off Zen concept, it was plain as day, all the time.

Harding was stunned at how incredibly obvious and ordinary all this was, yet it was a major revelation. He had lived his entire life from this same physical perspective, and in that perspective he clearly had no head.

Think about it: in every moment you experience, your head is never part of the scenery. Of course, you’d think you’d have one there, but except for in your imagination and memories, it is conspicuously absent. Even when you look in the mirror or at a photograph of yourself, that mirror and that photograph are contained within a boundless empty space that sits where you normally imagine to be a head, as are the rest of the scene around them, which includes your body.

In other words, what you look like to yourself does not feature a head. Why should we tend to our identity as seen by others, in preference to, and at the expense of, our identity as seen by ourselves?

Somehow or other I had vaguely thought of myself as inhabiting this house which is my body, and looking out through its two little round windows at the world. Now I find it isn’t like that at all. As I gaze into the distance, what is there at this moment to tell me how many eyes I have here — two, three, or hundreds, or none? In fact, only one window appears on this side of my facade, and that one is wide open and frameless and immense, with nobody looking out of it. It is always the other fellow who has eyes and a face to frame them; never this one.

~On Having No Head

It was only memory and imagination and the words of others that could suggest that he had a head. This he couldn’t deny, and it had disturbing implications. It meant that his entire life, what he was actually seeing had been superseded at nearly all times by his opinions about what he was seeing, namely that he wasn’t looking at the world from a vast, empty space, but from “two tiny holes in an eight-inch meatball” atop his shoulders.

See, you can’t ever see yourself from a distance, as others see you. But our most common way to experience ourselves is in the third person, through thought. We nearly always ignore what we actually see of ourselves in deference to what we think of ourselves — how we imagine others see us.

No wonder we have ego issues. In the previous post I said the ego is simply what you think you are. That collection of thoughts is what you normally regard yourself to be. Looking at yourself as you really appear to yourself allows you to see who you are outside thought. This is a rare state for most people, but it is always right there. There is nothing abstract about it.

Behead yourself! Dissolve your whole body into Vision: become seeing, seeing, seeing!


I know to some this all sounds like a cheeky, naive revelation with no real meaning. After all, we all know we have heads. We’ve seen them in mirrors, we’ve touched them, we can even see a blurry patch in the corner of our vision most of us would take for granted is a nose. And above all, of what use is this revelation?

Harding certainly had all those objections too, and with an investigative spirit like his, he wasn’t about to ignore them. On Monday I’ll show you why they didn’t change a thing.

In the mean time, rather that taking my word for it, why not introduce yourself to your own headlessness by doing an experiment to investigate what you actually see of yourself. This is the first of a half-dozen or so exercises Harding developed to help people investigate who they are outside thought. Harding’s friend Richard Lang will guide you in the video below.

It is crucial that you actually do the experiment, and not just watch the video of the experiment. Hearsay and conceptual understandings won’t get you anywhere here.

There is a text-and-graphic version of this experiment too, which some people might prefer, here.


It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words.

Maybe the red pill isn’t as bitter as we thought.


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Eric | Eden Journal August 19, 2010 at 8:12 am

I read the text-graphic version, so I may be jumping ahead here, but I liked the paper bag experiment the best. I didn’t actually do it, but could I picture it vividly. It’s a weird feeling that two faces at opposite ends of a tube are, from my view, only one face in a tube.

This type of stuff makes me think of a first person shooter video game. All you see is whatever is in the screen or field of vision, and the gun you are holding, and maybe a hand or an arm. In this case there is no head, and sometimes not even a body. Yet, I’m not actually in the game, I sit outside of the game and control the action. I liken that to our spirit being seperate from our physical, yet controling our actions in this physical world.

I have a little trouble following some of his thought processes, but what I’m gathering is that he’s trying to prove something that many of us feel already. That we are spiritual beings inhabiting or controling a physical representation of ourselves.

This also leads me to consider out of body experiences. I’ve had a couple and when I looked back on my physical body, I could easly see that the body wasn’t me. The me was external to the physical. I am tied to this physical body, yet I am not my physical body.

David August 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

It’s a weird feeling that two faces at opposite ends of a tube are, from my view, only one face in a tube.

It is weird. And what’s most weird is that this surprises us.

I definitely urge you to do the experiment though. It’s an experience to be had, not really something to understand. The best versions of the experiment videos are here.

At the end of the day it’s not important to understand Harding’s thought processes. All he’s trying to do is get people to experience what they actually look like to themselves. The only barrier to this is trying to refute or understand this by thinking about it instead of doing it. That’s why the experiments are absolutely necessary. Most people probably won’t take the few minutes to do it, or they’ll assume they can understand it just the same without doing them. If you have the experience he’s talking about (and it’s not something that’s hard, you just have to play a bit with the experiments) then what he says becomes a lot less cryptic.

I did the pointing home experiment before I ever read anything about Douglas Harding, and that’s definitely the better way to do it, now that I think about it. I should have begun with an experiment.

sampath August 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

we sure can feel our heads with our hands, can’t we?

David August 19, 2010 at 10:47 pm

This is one of the most common objections to headlessness, and I’ll address it in the next post.

Jeremy Ramsay August 19, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Excellent work David. For those that still need help to see this, and not just think about it, try the famous ‘tube’ experiment here. First, you need to make a tube by cutting the end off a paper bag. Then put the tube up to your computer monitor and let Douglas show you what this is about. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0okQCx9108 Don’t worry about looking stupid, it will make perfect sense and is better than winning the lottery.

David August 19, 2010 at 10:45 pm

That’s right. I may not have emphasized this enough: this isn’t something you can understand by thinking about it. Doing the experiments is the only way people ever get it.

Jeremy Ramsay August 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

If just noticed something extraordinary about the Ernst Mach drawing that may help readers of this post: Mach must have had his right eye closed when he drew it, like a lot of artists do when they draw. Shut your right eye and notice the contour that runs from round the left eyebrow and bridge of your nose, down the nose, and then round your left cheek. You can plainly see this contour in Mach’s drawing, with half his mustache flowing out from his nose. Here’s the drawing again: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Ernst_Mach_Inner_perspective.jpg

Michael August 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I doubt the point of this is to make us believe that we have no heads. It is more to have us realise that inside we are independent of body. Whether you are tall or short, slim or fat, black or white – it doesn’t matter, because inside we are all equal: this emptiness, this sight.

The body is just a variable; our true self is simply sight and senses and thought, and it has no form, no matter, no limits. Well, perhaps some limits, but certainly beyond those of a flesh blob.

Jeremy Ramsay August 21, 2010 at 7:27 am

Well, you are aware of sights, sensations and thoughts, so they cannot be what you are. Behind those is awareness – the subject – You. It’s easy to get duped, or hypnotised, into believing one is the content of that awareness. It’s like when you watch a movie and ‘become’ the actors and the action on the screen. Plato was on to this long ago.

Boris August 21, 2010 at 8:27 am

Thanks for the food for thought. I found you post and the concept explained, very enlightening.
All the best,

ben August 22, 2010 at 10:17 am

It seems to me that this whole idea is based on a zero kinesthetic sense and a fairly blunted sense of touch. Of the nine senses, these are the ones that actually will keep me from having this “headless” experience. I cannot be un-aware of the existence of my head; the unavoidable sensed shape of my neck, mouth, face, or the weight of my skin pulling against my fat and muscle tissue. This is part or sensory information that pounds out my understanding of my corporeal form cannot be purely visual. To limit ones self to sight alone is to be partially blinded from there most basic environment.

Did I miss something in these experiments? Is there some other step to turning off the 8 other senses that I didn’t get?

David August 22, 2010 at 10:58 am

It’s based on observations, not conclusions. There will certainly be tactile and kinesthetic sensations when you put your hand where your head is supposed to be, but it takes thought — memory and imagination — to conclude that it is a head like you see on others. We are going off of present evidence only, suspending conclusions, because those conclusions are built on views from outside of ourselves: views from distances other than the one at which you are always viewing yourself — zero. We are trying to experience how we appear to ourselves without being influenced by any view other than our own. Our idea of who we are comes from other people, so we’re trying to get a fresh look here.

The difference between observations and thoughts about those observations is difficult to perceive, because we are so used to projecting our thoughts and conclusions on what we see.

It is entirely possible to observe sensations without naming them or deciding what body part they are attached to. These are mental insinuations, not sensory ones. Look only at the sensation. Without doing this, we cannot see anything but what we think, and therefore we cannot experience ourselves other than our egos.

Barry Berman May 4, 2011 at 6:46 am

Very much appreciate your posting here. I met Mr. Harding back in the late 70’s in Denver at a conference. He took us through the experiments one by one and it made a profound difference for me which I carry along today in my life. Landmark Education’s course (www.landmarkeducation.com) called the Landmark Forum (est in the early years) has been the only reliable program I have experienced that directly allows you to “stop thinking” and experience who you really are…nothing. And, it happens in three days. remarkable.
Thank you.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) August 22, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I like Harding’s interpretation of the ancients~ I like your interpretation of Harding.

It’s a liberating perspective from the social trance~

Partha August 23, 2010 at 8:41 am

Came across this site by accident, while searching for something else. I’d done these experiments earlier once, perhaps a couple of years back, but I did not then have any occasion to jump up with an Eureka, despite some very helpful guidance at that time over email from David (which did not, however, really help me then).

When I tried the experiment again today, I suddenly got this feeling that I’m this enormous creature looking on … the feeling lasted just for a second before someone asked me what I was up to, and I mumbled something or the other feeling entirely ridiculous … anyway, perhaps I was just being suggestible! … Anyway, I’ll try this again later …

Reason why I’m writing in now is because a thought occurs to me: WHAT IF A FELLOW’S BLIND? What then? Or, for that matter, if we try doing this with our eyes closed?

Using this technique, won’t we then conclude that there’s NOTHING at all anywhere, neither “out there” nor “in here”? That not only are we headless, but that we aren’t there at all? Not just me, there’s nothing nowhere, myself included?

Does what I just said mean anything at all, David, anyone, or am I talking nonsense?

David August 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Blindness is an interesting thought, and I’m pretty sure I remember reading an interview where Harding addressed that question. I imagine a blind person’s ego would develop quite differently than a seeing person, because they wouldn’t be able to fixate their self-concept so strongly on their appearance. But they would still be taught, in a number of ways, that any person (including themselves) is a finite creature, contained by an enormous universe. Sight is a major component of the ego, and it gives it a face, but most of it is mental. Blind people still have thoughts about themselves the same way the rest of us do, and likewise would learn to define themselves based on their thoughts about themselves.

Their experiences of other people would be based on the other four senses, but they would still imagine themselves to be quite like they experience others to be, which is a discrete, limited being, always at a distance.

From zero distance, although a blind man cannot see, he is still an enormous, boundless awareness, throughout which content arises and disappears.

While sight is the primary tool for discovering headlessness (which is really only a foot-in-the-door way of experiencing emptiness) it is not necessary.

Have you tried the Closed Eyes experiment?

Jeremy Ramsay August 24, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Hey David, why did you drop the word ‘Marvelous’ from the title? That made if for me!

David August 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Haha… I just looked at it and I thought: I’ve never used the word marvelous in my life, why am I doing it here?

Jeremy Ramsay August 24, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Fair enough. It’s still in the URL, though! Over here (England), that’s a pretty normal word. I know American’s find it kind of strange. I though maybe Canadians used it more. Glad to see you’re getting a good response to the posts and that you’re going to do more. By the way, have you tried the movement experiment’s? they are perhaps the easiest to do and are the one’s i do every day, whenever i’m walking, cycling or in a car or train. Never fails to astound me. The ground moves under my feet like a moving carpet as I walk, while i remain utterly still. That’s actually what’s happening; it’s the fact of it. Just a suggestion.

Jeremy Ramsay August 24, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Sorry for the typo – I put a apostrophe in ‘experiments’

David August 25, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Nah Canadians never say ‘marvelous’.

I do the movement exercise just about every day, usually when I’m driving but also when I’m walking through doors.

Partha August 24, 2010 at 11:28 pm

Just tried the closed-eyes experiments. Afraid it didn’t do much more than simply set me off on a good think, though (which is great too, but not I suppose what I was looking for).

And the “enormous creature” did not return either, despite my trying my best to recall him — except as a memory, that is — when I went back to the original experiment.

Drat the fellow who’d interrupted me the other day! And drat my embarrassment at that interruption, and my consequent snapping out of that enormous-creature feeling! (Or perhaps I was simply off on a trip, simply being suggestible to all the words flowing around me, and I should THANK him for snapping me out of it?)

Looks like I go out for a duck this time too! (Thanks for being there nevertheless, D.)

David August 25, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I wouldn’t worry about it. The fact that you described it as “enormity” says to me that you’ll have the same experience again sooner or later. It will find you.

James August 29, 2010 at 5:04 pm

So, do blind people have no ego then?

David August 29, 2010 at 6:21 pm

We talked about this a few comments up.

G October 11, 2010 at 11:33 am

Harding’s inventive teaching-style tries very hard to be accessible, to take the student by the hand, without watering down the essential teaching. Usually I find these are ideas that people either ‘get’ or they just don’t, no matter how exhaustively one explains. I would like to know how effective his experiments have been in provoking substantial transformation.

When I read first read Harding’s ideas and experiments I had already been through similar thought-processes. What is sometimes dispiriting to me is that understanding them, even on a level that could be called experiential, does not necessarily lead to a permanent and thoroughgoing extinction and transformation of the self.

Feeling this despair I realise that this is a gargantuan and inescapable task: wandering off into pleasantly distracted states of mind will only terminate in the return of an even more painful sense of futility. The despair guides you, not a premature sense of relative ‘peace’. Glimpses of reality expose illusion as tacky and paltry even while it maintains the wavering power to compel. Everyday desires and habits start to look suspect, like escapism. But a drowning man will clutch at straws.

The young Harding was a man deeply dissatisfied with himself. Sometimes when I see how contemporary ‘spirituality’ is packaged, to me it fits too neatly in with the professional career and the conventional aerobicising, Smart Car-driving life. It gets wrongly conflated with the pursuit of ‘self-esteem’. It can seem like yet another palliative adornment that makes the ego more nice and smiley without shattering the ego. Shattering the ego is dying. No one likes dying. And existential despair does not make you fitter, happier and more productive. Bodhidharma sat in a cave staring at a wall for nine years. He must have stunk like a tramp.

I don’t want to set up some ‘hardcore’ aesthetic/ethos against the Oprah-Winfrey-kibbutzing-with-celebrities-while-losing-10lbs-and-achieving-your-dream-career aesthetic/ethos. I just want to do the thing right, for itself, as the most worthy task a human can – must – undertake, and not to achieve any secondary external goal like positive moods and social kudos.

I like Harding; I have occasionally directed people to him and I know a teacher of the Kyoto Zen school who gave him a thumbs-up (with reservations), but I sometimes get the feeling reading him that there should be a warning-sticker: ‘know what you’re getting into here and don’t be complacent about trivial results’. Something like that. A ‘headless’ seer is still a limited subject that must be eliminated. Egoes are very flexible and can seem to disappear when they have merely changed shape and colour.

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Li Po

lynnea kay November 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Could we used this information for after death? Maybe who we are does not appear to us until the death of our body/mind. Furthermore are we merely inhabitants of our own bodies until move on or until we inhabit another body?

Somy January 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

That firrst person self potrait thing – Genius ! Something so simple yet so elegant. Its hard to believe i missed this perspective even thoughts kind in my face every moment. As a child i knew this but somehow i forgotten this.

David October 27, 2012 at 7:49 pm
Jackson January 1, 2013 at 6:53 am

This is definitely worthwhile, particularly if you watch all 8 parts of the film (1A to 4B) and try all the experiments. Looking in a mirror is never going to be the same again! Which is a good thing for me :-). It probably helps that I’ve already done a fair bit of mindfulness practice and am old enough that it’s well and truly time to move into the fourth stage of life as described towards the end of the film. Perhaps one has to be ready for these things.

While walking I came up with the idea that each person’s body and senses are like one of the many peripherals of a large computer, the large computer being [a metaphor or model for] the enormous creature someone mentioned in an earlier comment.

I have a question he doesn’t answer. This all makes sense (in the literal..er.. *sense*.. of the word;-), but only as long as I’m awake. What about when I am deeply asleep (or otherwise unconscious)? Everything seems to go away. My
‘capacity for the world’ seems to go away. Which makes me suspicious of this whole business. I mean, if I am really a timeless clear divine empty capacity that contains everything, if all of us are, if there is only One, how can that capacity just seem to disappear while I sleep? It feels as if grasping that is the key I need to unlock here.

in saying that everything goes away, I was looking at myself from the outside, right? Thinking about time passing, and a *period* of nothingness… whereas from the inside, from *my* viewpoint, time itself doesn’t exist while I’m deeply asleep or unconscious, the moment of going to sleep and the moment of waking are the same moment, so the awareness *is* unbroken? Is that it?

I’m still not entirely convinced that that makes death no big deal though

Jackson January 1, 2013 at 6:56 am

(my comment got a bit messed up… trying again. Apologies if it appears twice)

This is definitely worthwhile, particularly if you watch all 8 parts of the film (1A to 4B) and try all the experiments. Looking in a mirror is never going to be the same again! Which is a good thing for me :-). It probably helps that I’ve already done a fair bit of mindfulness practice and am old enough that it’s well and truly time to move into the fourth stage of life as described towards the end of the film. Perhaps one has to be ready for these things.

While walking I came up with the idea that each person’s body and senses are like one of the many peripherals of a large computer, the large computer being [a metaphor or model for] the enormous creature someone mentioned in an earlier comment.

I have a question he doesn’t answer. This all makes sense (in the literal..er.. *sense*.. of the word;-), but only as long as I’m awake. What about when I am deeply asleep (or otherwise unconscious)? Everything seems to go away. My ‘capacity for the world’ seems to go away. Which makes me suspicious of this whole business. I mean, if I am really a timeless clear divine empty capacity that contains everything, if all of us are, if there is only One, how can that capacity just seem to disappear while I sleep? It feels as if grasping that is the key I need to unlock here.

(thinks some more…)

in saying that everything goes away, I was looking at myself from the outside, right? Thinking about time passing, and a *period* of nothingness… whereas from the inside, from *my* viewpoint, time itself doesn’t exist while I’m deeply asleep or unconscious, the moment of going to sleep and the moment of waking are the same moment, so the awareness *is* unbroken? Is that it?

I’m still not entirely convinced that that makes death no big deal though (rueful laugh>)

George January 5, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I don’t have ‘answers’ to your interesting questions — but they stimulate a few thoughts. “Everything going away” or “nonexistence” is a totally theoretical idea that perhaps in fact does not “exist” — we only know what we experience (in some way or other) in our ‘aware capacity.’ We don’t experience deep unconsciousness (anaesthesia being an instructive example) except through circumstancial evidence (eg, like, what others tell us — a very unreliable source). So should we even speak of the absence of awareness in “states” that are quite theoretical. When it comes down to it, awareness is all we know (as the one experiencing it) — the rest is total speculation (taking place within our awareness). Also — in sleep as we know it (experience it), awareness is in fact present all the time — we are just usually not aware that we are aware while dreaming or lying semi-awake (although very occasionally one can experience one self as aware capacity even then). After all, this is not so different from our ordinary “waking” state in which most of the time (at least for me) we are not aware that we are aware. Or, as Douglas might put it, only the finger pointing outward is present (ie, attention/awareness is only directed outward), without awareness of ourselves as aware capacity.

Agree that death remains an apparent big, big deal :-) when one has not died to the little self, which seems so impossibly difficult. Wish Douglas could tell us what it was like …

I chanced on this site while researching Mach’s self-portrait. Appreciate your recent note, as well as those before it.

Mark January 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Absolutely tremendous, astonishing. With this series of posts I crossed the threshold. I’ve been dreaming about enlightenment and how it must feel my whole life (I’m 52) and now I know! Granted there are levels of this experience, but I have entered the door. The fruit was ripe and just fell. Indescribable feeling walking home last night after reading and trying the first experiments. Lost in gales of laughter/tears of joy. Thank you!!! Looking forward to the rest of my headless life!

Mark January 10, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I found my mind filled with hilarious new koans:
What does your nose smell like?
What does your tongue taste like?
What is the sound of one ear listening? Or two for that matter?
What does your hand feel like?

My whole life became profound and absurd at the same time. All this striving to find something that could not possibly have been closer at hand.

Nora Bone November 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Dying to yourself or being released from a self-imposed life prison of your own making is a life changing wonderful experience.

Unfortunately getting caught up in it and trying to re-experience it again for the next 25 years slightly less so.

That’s the ego for you though. Give it a taste of the divine and it wants to have it all to itself. No pain, no suffering, instant love for all humankind, universe your backyard who could want more. Oh yeah, ME, and unfortunately it’s the one thing I can’t own. Also it’s a bit scary, not to mention contradictory, having to give up being me inorder to experience super me. Hey-ho could be worse, might never have had the experience in the first place.

A.T. February 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I wonder how all this would relate to a blind person, never having experienced the reality of self, in either first or third person perspective, since.. by the lack of sight.. they are, from what they experience, headless. ?

Jack Dempsey March 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm

The sense of seeing with your eyes is a metaphor and the same thing is with other senses

Bakari March 27, 2013 at 11:58 am

I am completely and 100% in agreement of the idea here: that a person is defined simply by that which is doing the experiencing of those things which happen to them, that all “identity” is unnecessary and in fact misleading.
However, the whole idea of headlessness also demonstrates our rather extreme focus on only one sense, that of sight.
Of course we have evidence of our own heads! We can feel it. Touch is no more or less valid than sight. We experience far more with out other 4 external (and half a dozen internal) senses than we consciously realize. Try this sometime: go a full day blindfolded. Do all your normal life activities (except driving or bike riding!!) You will be surprised at just how much you can do, at how easy it is.

The way I always express this concept is being like a cat, or a baby. They spend their time inside there own minds, looking outward, rather than what so many people do, trying to project themselves into what other people must see them as. A cat doesn’t care what that other animal over there thinks of them. They only care about they think of the animal.

A lot of people think it is important to have high-self-esteem. I disagree. Whether it is high or low, self-esteem is about trying to judge what other people’s opinion of you is. What one should aspire to is to have NO self-esteem. Not “no” as in “zero”, but “no” as it “not applicable”.

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Carl August 8, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I don’t agree that we have no boundaries simply because those boundaries are permeable. Transport between outside and inside is selective through the various parts of our perimeters. Distinctness is necessary for Being, and we are part of that diversity of being, which is only possible because of our relative separateness. The fact that we are limited in time, and therefore will eventually dissolve our spatial boundedness, is merely the extension of that spatial boundedness onto the temporal plane – i.e, yet another boundary that defines our distinct being.

The nature of spiritual inquiry is to focus on the relationship between the finite and the Infinite, and we cannot understand that relationship by simply denying the finite and dissolving it into the Infinite.

ThinkOfWhy August 18, 2013 at 9:30 pm

The references to the inward and outward layers is technically known as the levels of order of the observable space-time continuum, or what I refer to as non-linear (as in discontinuous) hyper-dimensions. And it is true that nothing exists except AS the in betweenness of the inward and outward levels of order of Universe. Everything is a whole/part or wave/particle duality. Everything is both a whole of parts and a part of a whole.

And if the foundation of existence is pure consciousness then It, as conscious awareness, Is aware of things because It Is entangled with a physical body. So, as soon as that body collapses into lesser levels of order It, as conscious awareness, will untangle and cease to exist as conscious awareness, returning to the One Pure Consciousness. Which is nothing, Eternal Now.

Nora Bone November 18, 2013 at 5:34 pm

There’s no real point in theorising about Douglas’ stuff you’ve got to do it. Try holding the lobes of each ear between your forefinger and thumb of each hand. Squeeze gently so that you feel some pressure, then ask what’s in between. Simple but amazing!

We’re all energy. Stardust. Same molecules and atoms that the rest of the universe contains. Your energy will transform back into the one energy when you die. This is your original face before your parents were born.

Nora Bone November 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

…..and you can do this with eyes open or shut (which may partly address earlier comments in the thread about what if you’re blind) just so long as you simply ask the question in your present awareness of the feeling of pressure on each ear lobe and…….. rather than attempting to think about a response.

simon November 25, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Interesting post. These experiments strike me as good examples of theory laden observation. It is a difficult concept to teach. People are very committed to the belief that what they observe can somehow be untainted by what they think about what they observe. I think I will steal this head example. :)

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Pedro June 6, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Thank you for this article, after reading it I have watched several videos of Harding in YouTube. I am in shock.
Some days ago I purchased On having no head.
I’ve tried to think about this Void. When I was young, maybe 14, it came to me automatically. Later and as adult this has gone. This is coincident with the steps that Harding describes on his book. Really amazing discovery. Thanks again.

Gastrointestinal surgeon in dubai June 9, 2014 at 3:51 am

Interesting post. These tests attack me as cases of theory packed statement.

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