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A True Beginning

Colin Oliver

When I was 16 I came upon a book which thrilled me. It was about the Indian philosophy Advaita Vedanta. The book talked of a mystery. It said that my perception that I was a separate individual was an illusion. That there was a great spaciousness which was pure and unchanging. That this spaciousness was my own real nature. If I found it, the book assured me, my life would be utterly changed. I was hooked.

Three years later, in 1965, I attended the Buddhist Summer School in Hertfordshire and met Douglas Harding. His evening lecture, about regional appearances ringing our central reality, intrigued me. But what really left an impression was his morning chat with a small group. He didn't say much. It was before his workshops had been invented. Most of the time we just sat quietly. What stayed with me was the urgency of his plea that we should be radically honest about who we are.

I read Douglas' remarkable book, On Having No Head, and several months after the Summer School I wrote to him. He responded with an invitation to his home in Nacton. In January 1967 I visited him. We spent an afternoon together talking about Zen and seeing into one's true nature and then he had to leave for a while. At dusk I sat listening to sparrows chattering in the hedge and became very relaxed and quiet. Then idly I put my hand with spread fingers up to my face. I noticed that my fingers disappeared into the pool of my own nothingness. I was seeing into the great spaciousness, pure and unchanging and wide open to the world. My life, from that moment, was indeed utterly changed.

When Douglas returned he confirmed that I was seeing exactly what he was seeing. This was what he had devoted his life to exploring and celebrating. I was struck by the extraordinary simplicity of this experience. And how lighthearted I felt! Cutting a tomato on my plate and forking it into a chasm was both wonderful and hilarious.

Douglas and I started a lively correspondence. In a letter a few days after the Nacton visit he wrote, "Though in the most fundamental sense this seeing is the end of the spiritual life, in another sense it is the true beginning, and everything depends upon the maturing of this seeing, until it fills one's whole life... Not deliberate training so much as ever more enjoyment of this one here who is absolutely perfect now and forever".

When I met Carole, whom I later married, it was not long before we talked of Seeing. She desperately wanted to share it and one night questioned and questioned until, in the early hours, she suddenly let go and clearly saw the absence of her face. Carole had not been a spiritual seeker previously, her passion was for social change. But the next day when the world walked through her, including the trees, flowers and birds of Greenwich Park in London, all their colours notably fresh and vibrant, her life was transformed. Carole is keen to point out that her joyful feelings come and go but the bedrock experience, so obvious and plain, is always available.

Finally, we are both convinced of the practical nature of Seeing. How helpful it is, for instance, not to be in a face-to-face confrontational position with people but to be relaxed and capacious for them. When we turn to this deepest of all natural resources we find a spontaneous and effective response to the challenges of life.

The Poetry Of Colin Oliver

Three poetry books by Colin Olliver are available.

Stepping Into Brilliant Air is a selection of poems written between 1967 and 1999 and is available via the bookshop.

Readers have commented:

“These poems startle. They are lucid, compelling and beautiful.”
“I love the freshness in these poems and the simplicity which is extraordinary.”
“Each poem must be taken in slowly, savoured… This book is a treasure indeed!”

Ploughing At Nightfall, which may be obtained through contains poems with a haiku-like delicacy, evoking the East Anglian landscape.

“I was moved by this accurate vision.”
“These poems combine spareness and richness of images and sounds.”
“They astonish me, break me open.”

High River, is a celebration of at-oneness with the natural world. The book is sensitively illustrated by Malcolm Ryan.

“This is fine work, lovely and delicate, in the tradition of nature poetry at its best.”
Available via the bookshop.

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