The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head.

Thus begins the classic On Having No Head. As Douglas Harding sometimes writes, this is it. One doesn’t need to know or understand more than this simple statement. However, there are deeper and deeper implications to this simple seeing (of headlessness) that we can all access and which point, simultaneously, to both the void and the fullness “within.”

Let’s take a moment to look at our surroundings. There is a window, through which some trees and an apartment block are visible. There is a wall, and a half-open door. Here is my table, on which my teacup and the computer rest. Here are my hands, my torso–and, very manifestly, no head. For me, this sudden recognition triggers a sense of a void within which all is operating. There is a feeling of lightness, of not being trapped within my skull and my body, and an urge to laugh with a sense of freedom. Particular sensory imputs–colours, shapes, sounds–stand out in sharp focus.

This is a glimpse of freedom, according to me. However, the thinking process does something interesting with this glimpse. The thinking process wants this experience to be repeated and to live “continuously” in this glimpse. At that point, it is an interesting experiment to relax and see that these insistent thougts are themselves arising and subsiding in a perfect void that is essentially clear.

More on this great opening sentence soon!



I have recently become fascinated with Douglas Harding and the Headless Way. For those who are unfamiliar with this approach, it is a radical, stunning and simple approach to glimpsing the fundamentally empty nature of consciousness–empty of self, that is.

Douglas has many “experiments” that reveal this basic emptiness. The simplest is to point your finger at your head and try to direct your attention to what is present in the direction of your pointing. It may suddenly be glimpsed that nothing is present; there is only the clear space of awareness. Or, he may say, just notice that you don’t have a head (or a face, or a central ego) at this point.

Either way, there is a sense of laughter, lightness and, as Douglas puts it, “the dropping of an intolerable burden.”

I will, in succeeding posts, try to explore Douglas’s book On Having No Head, through short extracts and commentaries. Perhaps those who are excited by this would wish to open up a conversation together.

Boundaries: Mary Oliver

There is a place where the town ends,
and the fields begin.
It’s not marked but the feet know it,
also the heart that is longing for refreshment
and, equally, for repose.
Someday we’ll live in the sky.
Meanwhile, the house of our lives is this green world.
The fields, the ponds, the birds.
The thick black oaks—surely they are
the invention of something wonderful.
And the tiger lilies.
And the runaway honeysuckle that no one
will ever trim again.
Where is it? I ask, and then
my feet know it.
One jump, and I’m home.

There is a place beyond ambition: Mary Oliver

When the flute players
couldn’t think of what to say next

they laid down their pipes,
then they lay down themselves
beside the river

and just listened.
Some of them, after a while,
jumped up
and disappeared back inside the busy town.
But the rest—
so quiet, not even thoughtful—
are still there,

still listening.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver

Red bird came all winter
firing up the landscape
as nothing else could.
Of course I love the sparrows,
those dun-colored darlings,
so hungry and so many.
I am a God-fearing feeder of birds.
I know He has many children,
not all of them bold in spirit.
Still, for whatever reason—
perhaps because the winter is so long
and the sky so black-blue,
or perhaps because the heart narrows
as often as it opens—
I am grateful
that red bird comes all winter
firing up the landscape
as nothing else can do.

Loud Music

An unusual and beautiful poem about the everyday loss of ego

My stepdaughter and I circle round and round.
You see, I like the music loud, the speakers
throbbing, jam-packing the room with sound whether
Bach or rock and roll, the volume cranked up so
each bass note is like a hand smacking the gut.
But my stepdaughter disagrees. She is four
and likes the music decorous, pitched below
her own voice-that tenuous projection of self.
With music blasting, she feels she disappears,
is lost within the blare, which in fact I like.
But at four what she wants is self-location
and uses her voice as a porpoise uses
its sonar: to find herself in all this space.
If she had a sort of box with a peephole
and looked inside, what she’d like to see would be
herself standing there in her red pants, jacket,
yellow plastic lunch box: a proper subject
for serious study. But me, if I raised
the same box to my eye, I would wish to find
the ocean on one of those days when wind
and thick cloud make the water gray and restless
as if some creature brooded underneath,
a rocky coast with a road along the shore
where someone like me was walking and has gone.
Loud music does this, it wipes out the ego,
leaving turbulent water and winding road,
a landscape stripped of people and language-
how clear the air becomes, how sharp the colors.
—Stephen Dobyns

Divine puppets

The body-mind is simply an object. There’s no-one in there. It’s just a mechanism that works. It’s an organism that grows up and works and is conditioned and has feelings, thoughts, preferences and habits that go on, and there’s no-one in there doing that. That is simply oneness arising as a body-mind organism which is, in a way, a divine puppet in that it just responds and reacts to whatever’s going on without any self-volition. However, there is no puppeteer. There is no script, no plan, no destiny, no fate … it is all timeless being appearing as something seeming to happen.

Tony Parsons

The dream bus

“Award winning film makers Boris and Claire Jansch go on a journey to unravel what it means to be alive. What if the search for happiness was based on a huge misconception, a misconception that has been drummed into us since birth, that we are separate individuals.
This radical and challenging documentary ventures into the heart of the mystery of identity, flipping the idea of spiritual endeavour on its head, revealing a message so profound and yet so simple that it might just end the search.”