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Caught in the Net



Captured at -ramsay/intro.htm


Introduction by Richard Lang

This 'way' of Self-awareness has several names, including the Headless Way, Headlessness, and Seeing Who You Really Are ('Seeing'). It has been pioneered by the English philosopher and workshop leader Douglas E. Harding, born in 1909.

Harding was asking himself the question Who am I? He realised that what he appeared to be to others depended on their range from him. His observations and thinking included the following: at several feet he appeared human, but closer to he was just an eye, cells, molecules, atoms, electrons and so on, down to practically nothing. Moving away but still looking at him, the external observer lost sight of his individual form which became absorbed into humanity, life, the planet, the solar system, the galaxy. The map he drew of himself looked like an onion with many layers. The human layer was half-way out from the centre. The question Harding became particularly concerned with was: What or who is at the centre? Any other question became secondary to this one: Who am I really?

Harding finally discovered what and who was at centre not by thinking but simply by looking. This moment is described in his book 'On Having No Head' (Arkana). Basically, he realised he could see his legs, arms, trunk, but not his head. From where he was looking, he was headless. Instead of his head there was nothing--clear space, emptiness. And in this space was the world. He had 'lost a head and gained a world.'

The following are experiments which enable you to see for yourself what and who you are at centre. In effect they serve to contrast what you appear to be to others, your 'third-person' identity: a thing in the world, with your First Person identity, which is No-thing, or Capacity for the world. These two sides of yourself contrast with one another absolutely--and yet they come together too, and make sense one alongside the other.


For other people you have a head on your shoulders, and you are standing the right way up--your feet below the rest of your body. This is your Third Person identity--you as you appear at a distance. You are a person.

But consider another point of view--your own First Person view. Isn't your body headless, and upside down, with your feet above the rest of your body?

For others you are somebody in the world. For yourself you are space for the world. You are not in the world, the world is in you!

Both these perspectives, the outside and the inside, are true, depending on the point of view (your view of you is headless; others' views of you are headed).

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