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Interview with Douglas Harding, March 1997

Participants in the online Headless Way discussion group (lookforyourself) gave Richard Lang several questions to ask Douglas Harding in an interview. The questions were about the place of individuality in the context of who we really are, the place of prayer, (and surrender of the will), and the place of feelings (and love.) Here is a transcript of the interview:

Question: "Does the exploration and discovery of who I am psychologically mean anything to you, and how does it fit in with Seeing, with who I really am? Is it important to develop as an individual as long as I don't forget who I really am?"

D. H.: It seems to me that there are two meanings to the expression 'Who am I?' One is who am I centrally, in my essence, and the other is who am I as a person - what am I like as a person, what is my temperament, what is my appropriate calling etc.? It seems to me that if I neglect who I really am and only go for what Douglas is I remain pretty well in the dark as to what Douglas is. I'm subject to all sorts of games, illusions and social conditioning which obscure Douglas from me. But when we see who we really are I do think that one of the spin-offs is that we become more authentic as people, more natural, more ourselves. I've noticed that among my friends who see very clearly and value this very strongly, they don't cease to be less humanly interesting individual selves but more so. My experience is that to be truly human, truly individual and authentic as a person in the world, the best thing you can do is to see who you really really are. If you neglect who you really are in favour of that human thing that human thing suffers.

R. L.: Would you agree that it is important on the human level to find out who you are and who you are not?

D. H.: Yes, but I'd say that you won't do it directly very easily. I would say it is important to find out who you are humanly but not as a separate exercise. It is a spin-off, a by-product of who you really are. Until I know who I really am I don't know who Douglas is as Douglas. I think I get much more valuable insights into myself, I become a much more authentic person in so far as my central interest is not that person.

R. L.: Why would that be?

D. H.: I think I'm a kind of simpleton! My secret is that I have only got one answer to all questions - see who is asking the question! So it is really a very easy thing to answer. I say that to do the best I can for Douglas as a person, to make him more authentic, more useful in the world, more a person, more individual - why, don't aim at that. If you aim at that you are playing a game. If you aim at seeing who you really really are it will take care of your humanness. And it not only applies to Douglas Harding. I've noticed it in my friends - friends who value who they really really are - they are so different. It hasn't made them into clones or replicas of some spiritual ideal. They remain very individual - in fact more so.

R. L.: Are you saying that your natural individuality will come out if you don't interfere in any way?

D. H.: Yes, I say that. And it is important that it does come out, but it's not for aiming at as a separate exercise. When you see who you really are you lose a certain amount of interest in how you are going across to people. You are relieved of that constant anxiety of whether you are impressing people or not, whether your personality is adequate or not. I really think the human personality is much better when you take the heat off and get interested in your true nature.
I do think it is important to find out who you are as a human being. The point is how do you do it? I think direct inspection in ignorance of who you really are is not going to be very fruitful.

R. L.: But, for example, you know you are a writer.

D. H.: But that's I think a very superficial thing isn't it?

R. L.: But that's the level of the question.

D. H.: Well, I see who I am and I find myself writing about it, yes. But the writing proceeds from the seeing.

Question: "I have often wondered why Douglas rarely addresses the subject of prayer. It's puzzling because the subject of prayer is common in religion, perhaps even universal. Why do you so rarely speak or write about prayer?"

D. H.: Well, we have to distinguish between two kinds of prayer. There is one kind of prayer which is petitionary - asking for my tummy-ache to get better or for the weather to improve, or someone to stop behaving nastily to me. That kind of petitionary prayer is not of interest to me, and I don't think it is effective. I suppose it may be for some people. It could act as a kind of magic if you put faith in some providence out there who will work this magic for you. But it's not for me.
The other kind of prayer, which is very different, is like this: Say I desire the health of someone I love very much, or my own health, or my own ability to do my job, that kind of thing - which are really very deserving requests - but adding always at the end 'Thy will be done'. I would like this, but not my will but Thy will be done. Then the question is who is praying to who? And of course in the last absolute resort it is who you really are having a conversation with who you really are. It's a kind of internal process within your true identity, and not only important, but indispensable. When I was in hospital in pain, and very nasty pain for me, I think I did quite a bit of praying of that sort.

R. L.: How come you rarely speak or write about it?

D. H.: I rarely write about it because I don't think it's something that really occurs to me. I wouldn't call it prayer in fact. Prayer has all these other connotations of asking for favours, and one isn't doing that. One isn't asking for favours really. I think one obviously would want to have less pain and have more joy and for one's dear ones to be better in health and spirit. That kind of wanting is a kind of prayer I suppose, but it has to be the kind of prayer which is the real kind of prayer - which I would go in for. Not write about but go in for, which is 'nevertheless Thy will be done'. In the Head Off Stress book I distinguish three depths of the will. One is the superficial thing which is what I want. The second one is what I really want, which may be quite different from what I think I want, and my behaviour may give the lie to what I think I want - you have the superficial will, you have the deeper psychological will which may be contrary to what you think you want. And you have your deepest will, which is the will of who you really are, and the slogan here is 'Thy will be done'.

Question: "You give more importance to feelings and the heart now than you used to do. Is there something which triggered this shift from seeing to seeing with feeling? Are there obvious exercises which would help others see and feel, like the traditional ones that have helped so many see? If not, how could these be developed?"

D. H.: I think we must distinguish carefully between seeing and feeling. I think the point about genuine seeing is that you can have it when you want it. You can always have a look at who you really really are, whatever your mood, however good or nasty you feel. This is not true of feeling. I cannot have feelings to order. I cannot say I am going to have this feeling. If you do, and you seem to succeed, the feeling is not genuine, it is self-deception. I think that feeling is spontaneous or nothing. If it doesn't come to you naturally, if it is artificial, it's not worth having. So exercises with a view to cultivating love and so forth - well, I know the Buddhists do them: they send out loving feelings in all directions, send out waves of love through the cosmos, I wouldn't criticise that. But it's not my way, and it seems to have an element of artificiality which weakens the whole thing. But good luck to them if they can do it. It's not my way.

Exercises about cultivating tenderness of heart. I think that what we can do is notice the fact that when we grow up from being children to becoming teenagers and adults our centre of gravity moves up from our heart and our guts to our head. We become headstrong, heady, and centred here in the intellect, in intelligence and knowledge and so forth, and we lose touch with our feelings and heart. When we see who we really are and lose our topknot the centre of gravity goes down. I think what we can do is observe the fact that this does happen, and allow it to happen, give attention to it going down. There is one experiment that is helpful here in the matter of feeling: Hold out your arms in front of you and attend to what you see between them. This is tunnel vision, particularly when you are looking at that guy in the mirror or looking at some problem of yours, in an extremely narrow and selfish way. We are only concerned with our own well-being here and the world is of no interest except as it impacts on the central object of concern which is one's human condition. Continuing to look straight ahead we widen the angle of our arms and our vision, until our arms almost disappear - we can wiggle our fingers to see how far they can go and still be visible. Look at other friends doing this and they are embracing only a tiny part of the room. But look at yourself as First Person and you have the whole world in your hands. On present evidence, looking straight ahead, it seems to me that my left hand and my right hand are as far apart as East is from West. I am embracing the world. This is an exercise we do in workshops and I think it helps in this field - it is the only exercise I can think of that is specifically aimed at feelings. But observing, allowing the centre of gravity to come down as a matter of fact, understanding it, getting used to the idea, is helpful. The other thing is this: go on seeing, never mind about feeling - I see that I disappear in your favour at this time. I see that this happens. But it has implications for feeling, because it means that I am busted wide open for you. So the seeing and the feeling are deeply interconnected. But specific exercises for feeling only I think are inadvisable - building up some ersatz thing, which is not really convincing.

You might think that it is possible to not only see who you are but to remain in that state (so that the seeing is sustained, and you really are at home and aware of your absence, your clarity, your openness) and yet have a closed heart against the world. I don't think it is. I do think that if you managed to stay at home here your heart would open. Those friends who perhaps are notable for their lack of tenderness - and I have been through that particular stage myself - are just content with flying visits. They haven't taken up residence at home. If they had, I think their hearts would open like flowers in the sun.

For videos of Douglas Harding that you can download for a small fee, visit our VOD channel.  

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