IN-SEEING EXPERIMENTS FOR THE BLIND
Like many other people, I have been knocked clean off my perch by Douglas Harding's teachings - especially as presented in his experiments. When I first tried the most basic of these experiments, the in-pointing finger, it was with little hope of anything significant happening. This was because I had been blind for several years. But to my astonishment, I 'saw' what was intended: empty capacity.
When I tried to make sense of this experience, I thought at first that this 'seeing' must be contingent on my once having been sighted. I had in fact used visual memory to conjure up the image of an in-pointing finger. I found myself wondering if the same experiment would work for a person born blind. I also began to think about possible supplementary experiments for blind people.
I soon concluded that a person born blind would indeed be able to experience the deep meaning of the in-pointing finger. In fact, it might be suggested that such a person could have an odd sort of advantage in the in-pointing experiment, as compared with sighted folk. To understand this, it is necessary to grasp what 'pointing' means to the congenitally blind.
If you as a sighted person point at an object, you identify or single out that object within a visual array. And you establish direct sensory contact with it through vision. When a blind man points toward that same object, in response to an instruction such as "thirty degrees left", he does not sensorally find it or contact it. He only indicates its general direction. To the blind man himself, the object does not yet exist. The directional indication 'exists', for him, as an experience of kinesthesis - as the introsensed orientation of his arm/hand/finger.
But what this pointing really amounts to, at a level of consciousness deeper than introsensing or the five external senses, is a vectoring of the arrow of attention. consciousness is directed outward, in a state of expectation, anticipating a potential object. When Douglas invites the blind man to turn that finger around and attend to what is doing the attending, something happens that has nothing to do with objects.
Twisting his hand and finger about so that consciousness now says 'attention inward', the man finds - as always - that the finger poised in space does not pin down an object. The pointing finger finds no-thing, no-I, in this zone of feeling where an embodied I is supposed to reside.
This is a revelation. The blind man's limitation, his non-seeing of things, has been transmuted into the seeing of no-thing.
If the basic principle of noumenal seeing is the reversal of the arrow of attention, it should be possible to devise more experiments that reorient that arrow in non-visual ways. When I thought about this, it seemed important that experimental design take account of the special significance of the head.
A finger pointing at one's own head can pack a noumenal whallop because of our common assumption that the head is the locus of the I. We implicitly define the I as the perceiver or knower, and it is the head that contains all the organs of perceiving/knowing except for generalised touch.
This is true as well for blind people, who lack only the visual mode of knowing. As perceiver in the mode of listening, tasting and smelling, and above all as the thinker who processes touch information, the blind person implicitly locates 'I' exactly where a sighted person does - just behind his forehead.
The point of many of Douglas' experiments is to reveal the non-existence of this capitated or heady I. So I decided that my experiments too would direct attention first outward from the head, then back toward it.
The following two experiments can be done by blind or sighted people, the latter with eyes closed. A blind person would access these experiments on cassette tape, just as I did with a transcription of Head Off Stress. As a sighted reader, you can have a friend transcribe these experiments onto tape or read them to you aloud. If a friend isn't available, reading through what follows will at least give you the general idea of how these non-visual experiments work.
The first one relies upon introsensing; the second utilises hearing.
Experiment 1: Real Seeing
Raise one hand and make a fist, as though preparing for one-handed boxing. Position the fist out in front of the face as though to protect it from a blow. Throughout this experiment you can most easily hold your fist up if your elbow is supported. for example, fold one arm over your stomach and use the back of that hand to support the elbow of the arm that's making the fist. Make the fist tightly enough that it produces a feeling of concentrated pressure, but not so tightly that it is painful or difficult to maintain.
Hold that fist up there and direct your full attention upon it, taking in that sensation of bunched-up pressure as intently as you can. Continue this for a moment or two, until that sense of pressure out there is sharp, clear, and all-absorbing.
Now suddenly reverse the arrow of your attention so that it points not outward to the fist, but inward. That's right - just turn your perception around 180 degrees and realise what's doing the perceiving. see what's right here inside.
Yes. What's here is awareness, pure and simple. What's on show is consciousness itself, blaringly obvious and immediate. See it as the unobstructed clearness that accommodates those fist-feelings. See it as the pool of awareness in which those fist sensations float. See that this pool has a definite, almost tingling presence. It is Presence itself, intense living water.
Now see what has happened to the distinction between inside and outside. It is not that the fist is out there, and the perceiving consciousness in here. There is only one place, this clear pool of awareness, and it contains that fist.
Unclench the fist, slowly, and attend to where this action is taking place - within awareness. Now extend that arm, seeing the sensations unfold within that same awareness.
This is real seeing. It is not seeing with the eyes, which usually look out in search of all the things we are not. It is instead the direct seeing of what we really are. We are aware capacity, this intensely present know-thing that accommodates all things whatsoever. We are the empty consciousness in which things appear, replaced by other things in regular succession.
That hand you call your own, and all the other body parts you call yours, are among those things that come and go. What's taking them all in, this unobstructed consciousness, is the real you. It does not come and go: it always is.
Experiment 2: Real Hearing
Once again, raise one hand in front of your face, its palm facing inward toward you. This time, instead of making a fist extend the fingers downwards so that your fingertips rest comfortably on your palm.
Hold your hand there, concentrating upon it. Feel the warmth of your palm under those snuggly-tucked fingers. Feel the tiny touch sensations where your fingers nudge and slightly overlap each other, and where your thumb rests lightly against your forefinger. Be aware of any vagrant throbbings or ticklings in that hand. Be aware of the whole hand as a little nest of warmth, pressure, and touch.
Now, once again, turn the arrow of your attention right around so that it points inward. Be aware of the clear consciousness that's taking in that hand. See how its emptiness is completely open and available for the snug fullness of the hand. And see once again that the hand floats in awareness, like a warmly-buzzing fish in cool limpid water.
Now use that hand to make sound. Scoop your fingertips briskly across your palm from the base of the palm upwards. This makes a small rubbing or whishing sound. Repeat this sound as a regular beat or pulse, listening all the while.
Listen to where this sound is. See that the sound is taking place within awareness, just as those warm buzzing sensations floated in this same awareness. Continue to make the sound, and see that the sound is bordered on every side by a receptive silence. This is the empty but aware silence that allows that sound to be heard.
Now stop the sound. hear the silence right where the sound was. Listen to that silence, for a long moment. See that the silence is not just in this awareness, it is this awareness. Awareness and silence are one. Listen to it.
Now hear how any small, distant sound - a bird song, a voice in another room, a car engine in the street - arises out of that silence and falls back into it. And hear how any small continuing sound, such as the rumble of your furnace or the hum of your refrigerator, is heard against the silence. It is this silent awareness that allows that sound to be.
How could it be otherwise? You, as consciousness itself, must be no-thing in order that things consciously register. so too you must be essentially silence at the core, in order that sounds appear.
Hearing this silence is real hearing. It is the hearing of what we really are, a quiet stillness that is peace itself.
Continue with another experiment
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