The Headless Way
A method of self-enquiry
pioneered by Douglas Harding
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Sharing It With Children

By John Hawkins (written in the 1970s)

As adults, the realization has come to us that Here is the empty centre of the world, around and within which everything lives, breathes and has its being. In some respects this realization has little effect upon one’s life – one still looks the same, one’s history is unaltered, to an extent one reacts to events as before. From the inside, however, there is no aspect of life – from elusive feelings and thoughts, to the motion of a truck outside the window – which isn’t revolutionized by knowing it is all, ultimately, one’s own. This strange, almost magical knowledge is by nature secret. The individual need and ability to share it varies, as do all other human traits. One specific question sometimes arises – should we share this truth with our children?

Let us first look at the possible problems involved in spelling it out. I have conducted workshops in infant and junior schools. The exercises were greeted with great enthusiasm but the dominant feeling was always, “What’s next?” In conversation in the classroom or at home I pick up on any lead given by children to confirm or expand the truth (e.g. when Hans indicated that the place he was sitting at at the dinner table was empty). Yet the topic instantly changes to, “Which colour do you like?” or, “Did you see that programme last night?” Why is interest so fleeting? Why isn’t the point taken? Perhaps the answer is simply that there is no point to make. Children are in the process of creating individual identities, faces to live behind. They need to forget their original ominipotence in order to be accepted by society and function as what they appear to be – one of the crowd. Paradoxically, it falls to us ‘Seeing’ adults to put children in their place. Indeed, if we fail the outcome may be disastrous. (We have a Special Unit in our village for Autistic children and all their behaviour suggests that they have failed to make this most exacting transition. Some, for example, are terrified or furious at the sight of a mirror; some, on hearing another child scream, will ask if they themselves have been hurt.)

However, in the normal run of social life, the process of ‘giving a child its face’ occurs quite naturally and requires no special effort on our part. His parents are the first models for what the child supposes he must be like. Later, as he develops into a unique person, it follows that there will be some rejection of those early models – a reaction which peaks at adolescence. Is there a danger then, that sharing Seeing early on with our children, they will want no share of it in later life? Is Seeing a topic to be avoided at all costs? Must we deny to our children the one gift that we would most wish them to have?

The fact is that one cannot hope to conceal, even if it were desirable, the allegiance one has to living from this central emptiness. Children are so quick-witted one can always rely on them to discern one’s true values in life. Think of how soon they will exploit any weakness in a stranger, a baby-sitter or a new teacher – they seem to sense at once any area in which an adult is uncertain. Likewise, they will sense the one thing about which one is certain – their real identity.

What about direct sharing with children using paper bags, ‘face-removers’, etc.? I’ve found that the most natural approach is to do no more than leave the gear about the house. The kids inevitably pick it up and want a ‘go’. The rule then is to allow the Void to do the talking so that the discoveries are followed up only as far as the children’s interest and understanding permit. They will probably come back to the exercises again – just as they periodically dig out Monopoly – with the possibility of fuller understanding.

Should religious terms arise in any of these discussions, is there a danger of conflict with Christian instruction being received at school or in the community? Should we attempt to protect our children from the many inherent fallacies of popular religion? Happily, children aren’t much troubled by the incompatibility of ideas. They accept without question many logically incompatible views simultaneously, thinking of God as living in the clouds, for example, whilst understanding all about planetary movements, weather formation, space flights, etc. They can easily add God – as the Space one looks out of – to that list.

There are many parallels in sharing Seeing with children with sharing facts about sexuality. Both topics are taboo in many households and classrooms. The rule for adults is the same in each case: be honest in replying to questions and keep to the questions asked rather than display excess enthusiasm which tends to be self-defeating, making the subject appear special and off-centre from the mainstream of life.

It falls to us then, through simple attention, to create the space within which children may grow into unique individuals. In the process, we must be prepared to see them, at least temporarily, lose contact with Who they really are. Whether they will complete the cycle and come to value their True Nature in adulthood, is not for us to determine. For our part, a patient reliance on the Void to sort out what – in the end – are Its own problems, is the best of all policies.

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