Touching The Void
A common objection to headlessness is:
“I can’t see my head, it’s true, but I can touch it, so I have a head here!”
Let’s explore this not through debate but through direct experience.
When I touch my head I see my fingers disappearing, followed by the experience of touch sensations.
Touch your head now. What do you experience?
Are those sensations happening on the surface of your head
– heads are solid, coloured, shaped things
– or in spacious awareness?
For me they’re happening in spacious awareness.
Here’s Douglas Harding on this subject:
“And if it occurs to me that all this is very visual, and that I can actually feel this solid thing here, filling up the seeming void at the centre of my world, why then I start stroking and pinching and pummelling this thing. Only to find it still isn’t any thing at all, let alone a pink and white and hairy and opaque and all-together-in-one-piece thing. Instead, I find a succession of touch sensations that are no more substantial than the sounds and smells and tastes and so on, which also come and go in the same space.” (On Being Aware
article, by Douglas Harding.)
Of course I’ve learned that a particular sensation
manifests to others (or to myself when I look in the mirror) as the appearance
of my mouth, say, or my ear, and so on. It’s vital to know this. It means I understand there’s a direct correlation between what I sense
here in this space and what others see
here – from over there
. Without this knowledge I couldn’t function as a person in society. But neither the appearance that others see here
, looking from over there
, nor the things I sense or feel here in this space, make me into any kind of thing right where I am
. When I LOOK FOR MYSELF rather than ACCEPT UNQUESTIONINGLY WHAT OTHERS SAY, when I ATTEND rather than BELIEVE, I discover everything is given in AWAKE SPACE here. What I look like from a distance and what I am at no distance are absolutely different.
I believe you’re courageous if, in this way, you question other people’s view of what you are. Why? Because to stand alone by questioning, and differing from, what others say is to risk rejection; because the voices of the many usually drown out the lone voice of the one; and because you are stepping into the unknown.
Do you want to live from the truth, or from a lie? Are you at centre awake no-thingness
which is capacity for all things, or are you a separate thing
? Only you can say.
In fact, the truth about who you really are dovetails perfectly with the fact that peripherally you are whatever others see you to be - No-thing here
appears as something there
. It makes sense. So you can have your cake and eat it!
Of course, sometimes people say things like: “If you don’t have a head you won’t mind if I hit you on your head then!” Yes I will! In a recent workshop a woman came up to me in one of the breaks and started playfully patting me on the head - but it began to turn into a bit more than a pat, more like several swipes! I told her to stop! She replied jokingly that if I didn’t have a head it couldn’t hurt! I said that wasn’t fair and that she knew it!
I don’t have a head
here, but there’s awareness
here, which can be capacity for pain! I won’t see
the bruise if you hit me – you
will see that. But I will certainly feel
it! (And you
won’t! Although, if I don’t restrain myself, you will
feel a sudden pain in your
There was a great film that came out a few years ago, a true story about two mountaineers, one of whom fell down a crevasse and nearly died. It was called Touching The Void
. When I touch my ‘head’ I don’t, I touch the void!
People sometimes say that if you don’t have a head, how can you have a headache? Well, for me the ache is in the void. It’s a void-ache! Actually, being aware of this helps me cope with headaches when I get them – I see that I am space for them. It helps me relax a bit more.
But if you don’t have a head, where do you put your hat then? I’ll let the great ninth century Chinese Zen master Huang-Po
comment on this one:
“This travelling hat may look small, but when I put it on it covers the whole cosmos.”
Being headless opens your eyes to a new world. And it’s also great fun!
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