The Headless Way
A method of self-enquiry
pioneered by Douglas Harding
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Letter To Martin

Anne Seward

Mac Djerf, a long-time friend from Sweden who runs a meditation centre incorporating several Seeing experiments in his training programme, asked Anne Seward to write to his fourteen year old son, Martin, ‘explaining Seeing’. The two had once done the pointing finger experiment but Mac did not feel he’d managed to convey the point. Below is Anne’s response.

Hello Martin!
Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Anne Seward, a friend of your parents. You and I have never met but we have occasionally spoken briefly on the phone haven’t we? I am writing because your father has expressed a wish that I share with you some of my thoughts and experiences concerning the Subject on which our long-time friendship is based, about which I’m sure he has spoken to you from time to time. He thinks it would be valuable for you to hear about this from an outside source such as myself.  I hope so too.

*    *    *    *
I find myself wondering if, like me at your age, you have a big question lingering at the back of your mind somewhere, a kind of puzzle regarding life which you may never have articulated very clearly but which nevertheless feels deep and important and intriguing when you think about it. (Your father tells me his big question was "Who am I?" ) Of course, you may have no such question, and, anyway, it would be unlikely to be the same as anyone else’s, but I would like to share mine with you to help you appreciate just how "big" the answer turned out to be, and why it is that your father wants me to share it with you.

My "big" question first arose when I was about eleven during a classroom argument concerning different religions. (What’s changed!?) The argument more or less dissolved when someone threw in the casual comment: "Oh well, it’s supposed to be the same thing at the bottom of all the great religions isn’t it?" I was stunned! I had never heard of such an idea. I had been brought up to believe there was only one valid religion and that was Christianity.

From then on I began wondering what this "thing" or truth at the bottom of all religions could possibly be. If it was common to them it had to be of fundamental importance – in which case, why weren’t we taught it at school? Why wasn’t it general knowledge? Where was I to look for it? I found its apparent absence very puzzling indeed and had to wait thirteen years before the solution to the puzzle came. When it did, it was not at all the kind I was expecting, and it not only solved my "big" question: in a sense, it solved (and solves) every other question I had ever had or am ever likely to have. (A subject to which we shall return later.)

It turned out that the answer to my big question does not reside in the realm of concepts; it is not for thinking about so much as experiencing. In fact, in retrospect I could see that my question had encapsulated, or stood for, the mystery of life itself (which, when you stop to look at it, is very mysterious indeed wouldn’t you agree?). It is for this reason that the answer (if one can call it that) to my particular question might be of interest to you too, for whether or not you have a similar type of question, I’m sure ordinary questions and dilemmas crop up all the time which you might discover greatly benefit from being seen in the light of what was revealed to me then, which I hope to share with you in a minute.

But before I do that let us return to the story. Thirteen years after my first encounter with the idea of all true religions having a common origin, and having got no further in my search for what that might be, quite by chance I found myself attending a lecture on meditation (about which I knew nothing). The speaker, Douglas Harding, explained that meditation traditionally involves "searching within for the empty, but nevertheless real centre of one’s being, as proclaimed in different ways by all the religions." (Ah, this was getting interesting!)

Typically, the speaker told us, meditators were instructed to pay attention to the simple awareness within which everything arises and to which sooner or later it returns. The idea apparently was to become conscious of the Background to life, of which, it is claimed, we are normally completely oblivious.

This Background is said to have no qualities of its own, to be, for instance:


Think of anything and that’s not it! We should therefore expect to find no human being at the centre of our world apparently, just pure Being Itself extending infinitely in all directions.

And even these words, said the speaker, are only pointers, for no description can capture this mysterious Ground from which all words come. For this reason, if you are interested in participating in this adventure Martin, we will have to relinquish everything we had ever thought constituted our very being and have a fresh look at it.
To aid the necessary reversal of attention the speaker told us that the student of meditation is usually advised to sit quietly with eyes cast down if not completely closed in order to exclude the outside world as far as possible. However – and here he addressed his audience directly – "Is it necessary to meditate in order to see the Background against which life is now happening?" he asked. "Can you not SEE NOW, with open eyes, that you are empty for the world?" In other words, he was inviting us to attend to the Ground of Being right there and then without attempting to exclude the world, suggesting we could experience both at the same time by simply observing what was given. He claimed he was not a good meditator in the traditional sense of shutting out the world but that he could nevertheless See what meditators were aiming at any time he chose to do so, simply by paying attention to the ‘outer’ and the ‘inner’ simultaneously.

I have put the words ‘outer’ and ‘inner’ in inverted commas because, in fact, when I (and really I can only speak for myself) pay full attention to what is actually given I find no separation between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’. I mean, for instance, that these black marks and the cursor and my computer screen, the window and the trees and the blue sky beyond, are not exterior to me, for ‘here’ (where I
thought there was Anne) I find nothing but wide open Space extending to and embracing all these things, a Space acutely aware of being both empty and full!

*   *   *    *
In order for you to get a taste of what I’m talking about Martin, I am going to invite you to take a look at the inward aspect of this vision to see if your view of you is anything like my view of me. The outward aspect will obviously be unique to each of us and changes all the time but perhaps inwardly we shall both be able to see what I was being invited to see some forty years ago.

If you are interested and willing then, here’s a little experiment.

Simply look back at the one who is looking at these words. What’s given on your side of them? A head? Eyes? A brain? Waves? Particles? Mathematical equations? Anything at all? To Whom, or in What are these black marks appearing?

I’m talking about what’s real concerning yourself in your own firsthand experience now, not what science says is going on, or what other people may see, but what’s true from your own point of view. Others’ views of you are no doubt valid from where they are, but what’s it like from where you are?

For myself, these black marks, this blinking cursor, the computer screen, the window beyond, and the trees and sky beyond that, are all appearing in..... well, in space, a space which contains not only black marks, computer, window, trees and sky, but also sunshine, warmth, and the sound of tapping fingers and tummy rumbles, and an occasional thought as to what you may be making of all this.

How rich this Space is, full to the brim with life! A singularly peculiar Space it is too: no one else looks to me the way I look to myself. On the contrary, every body else looks very solid indeed and not at all spacey – at least until I inspect them under an electron microscope, which I don’t do very often. When I do, or a scientist does it for me, well, then they do begin to look a bit thin, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) there’s no point in asking a molecule what it’s like being a molecule, though if it could answer, and would answer truthfully, no doubt it would report that it was not a molecule to itself but was absolutely empty, just as you are, I suggest.

But to return to ‘me’, sometimes this Space includes Anne in the mirror. If you would like to extend our experiment, next time you look in the mirror notice Who or What is doing the looking. Ask yourself if there are two faces, or if there isn’t just one ‘out there’ looking back at ‘you’ ‘here’ (whatever ‘you’ might be – and that’s the question!). Then, applying the same respectful attention to the next person you meet, you might like to ask yourself the same question our speaker asked his audience: "Have you ever been face-to-face with anyone in your whole life? Isn’t it, rather, a case of being face-to-no-face?"

What a relief! My face is everyone else’s problem. It never ever appears here. If it did appear here it would block out the other person’s face wouldn’t it? It would block out the whole world!

Are you getting the hang of the nature of this enquiry Martin? Haven’t we convinced ourselves over the years that the outside view of us is the same as the inside, whereas in actual experience, if we
will only be simple enough to just look as if for the first time, we will find I think that this is not the case at all. Essentially one has never grown up (or is it grown down?) into a human being, not centrally. In the mirror of course I find my ageing human appearance, and wash it and tidy its hair every day. After all, that’s what other people see, and I enjoy interacting with them and don’t want them to turn away in disgust!
*    *    *    *
We could continue exploring the infinite applications and implications of this simple two-way seeing (feeling, thinking, hearing, tasting, etc.) with closed eyes, for instance (in case I gave the wrong impression earlier), but I have no way of knowing whether any of this interests you or not.  Everyone reacts differently to the enquiry. Perhaps the whole thing bores or confuses you, makes you feel frightened or angry – or perhaps, on the contrary, it makes you feel joyful and free.

Actually, while feelings have their place –  and an important place – they are changeable to say the least, and, in terms of our particular approach, are really beside the point, for, as in science, the appeal is primarily to the evidence regardless of how one happens to feel about it.

No one of course is compelled to consciously live from the evidence, though it might be a good idea to try!

*    *    *    *
What does living from the self-evident mean for me? Well, the short answer is everything because it means seeing the whole world in a new way. Being alert to how it really is, instead of drifting back into the old habit of imagining I am merely a human being, has become my reason for being, for the world consciously experienced from Emptiness is my world. Looking now, I can find no point where "I" end and the world begins. (See if it is the same for you.) Things are all inside out, or outside in, and the opposite to what I thought was true: I am not in the world, the world is in me. In other words, the world is me – and experiencing the world as myself makes all the difference.

On the other hand, living from an imaginary thing here at the centre distorts and muddies the view out. Keeping up appearances where there aren’t any takes a lot of doing. One tends to find oneself plotting and scheming to present oneself in a good light, which can get complicated. One doesn’t perhaps realise what a lot of energy this consumes until one allows it to dissolve back into where it came from, back into the simplicity of Being ItSelf.

In English we have an expression "losing face" which is a kind of shameful thing where the self-image we had been trying so hard to maintain evaporates – temporarily at least. Yet, interestingly, one remains all too present in such circumstances, feeling now "shame-faced", wishing one could hide what’s left of it! The truth is, one never had a face here in the first place. I expect you have similar self-concepts in Swedish. Listening to the words we use can be quite revealing.

*    *    *    *
Another way of putting all this is to say, as I did earlier, that two-way seeing (or, more comprehensively, two-way attention) answers every question.

Questions, and the answers they attract, fill and shape our days don't they? What's the time? Why do I have to do this? What will happen if.....? What's the point? What's religion really about? How can I hurt that person who's been so mean to me? Why me? What's for lunch?  And on, and on.

My question right now is: Where do questions come from? Answer: Don't know! OK, but If I really need to know, which I do, I must trust this empty not-knowing space, letting the question sink to the level from which it's arising.  Hmmm..... Next question: In whose interests am I asking this? Answer: in the interests of my Real Self.

So this is where this particular question is coming from, the Ground of Awareness Itself. Now, if I'm convinced I'm only that appearance in the mirror, then the questions I ask and the answers I get will be based on that illusion and the world I experience will reflect just that. It might give me what I want – sometimes! – but it will not serve my real needs which relate to my Whole Self, not to just one little bit of it. That 'little bit' acts as a unique, and therefore, indispensable channel through which One's Whole Self may realise and express ItSelf – if we will let it.

*    *    *    *
As to why this knowledge isn’t more readily available, one can see this in historical terms (necessarily much oversimplified here).

Largely because it is so often capable of giving us what we want (and because human beings, as such, are never satisfied) it is science that increasingly drives the modern world. This seemingly rogue element turned its back on the Source we have been investigating (the Christian view of which was unable to accommodate Copernicus’ theory that the planets revolve around the sun) and set off on its own objective path. The result is the secular West of today in which the objective view is what counts.

We are beginning, however, to recognise the obvious, that no object is conceivable without a subject.
And the subject, when investigated with the same kind of rigorous, unprejudiced attention as science demands, turns out to be The One Subject of All, not the tiny, separate, human self-object which science investigates and which we imagine ourselves to be.

The imbalance in favour of objectivism is what underlies the current state of disorder everywhere. Instead of an integrated cosmos, whose deepest Resource is honoured and deferred to, and whose world is experienced as ItSelf, we have disintegration and chaos. The Background – or perhaps we should say Foreground – has been all but forgotten. Having trained ourselves to ignore This which we truly are, we find ourselves in limbo, uprooted, without the kind of guidance which only reality as a whole can yield.

Bring on two-way science I say! It is time to recover our equilibrium. We cannot go backwards, only inwards to dissolve the layers of illusion covering the Subject. And out of this two-way attention comes authenticity, wisdom, joy, love, compassion...... and true objectivity. But one has to experience this as and for OneSelf. Where religion no longer serves to point us in the right direction, we can employ the Spirit of science to return to our true Centre of gravity.

A life dedicated to Beholding this Centre on behalf of All is challenging in the extreme – but the rewards infinitely outweigh any cost. This is a wonderful time to be!

*    *    *    *

Well, Martin, your father wisely limited me to five pages on this Infinite Subject, so here I will end.

I send you my very best wishes for a Reality-Centred future!

Your friend in the Spirit of science (and true religion everywhere)

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