Tuesday, 9 December 2008

On Having No Head

Since I'm having problems with my head this morning, I've been reminded of Douglas Harding, the philosopher who wrote 'On Having No Head'.

Harding may have been inspired by this drawing, by Ernst Mach, the physicist. It's Mach's representation of a subjective, first person point of view on the world.


"What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of "me", unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around."

I think threre's a lot to be said for not having a head.

Here is a video of Douglas Harding talking about having no head. He's a lovely, grandfatherly, very British man, talking about consciousness and identity.


4 comments:

Vicus Scurra said...

You'll never enjoy the world aright
Till the sea itself floweth
In your veins till you are clothed
With the heavens and crowned with the stars

Donn Coppens said...

What's all this business then about not getting a little head?

Who are we..that is THE mother of all questions innit? Everything else is just conversation.

Living in the moment and being cognizant of the fact that you're evaluating yourself monitoring your thoughts is what it's all about. Psychologists imply that most of us are either living on past glories or too worried about an unknown future to really appreciate the WHO we are in the NOW.

This mental fitness fellow I saw plugging his infomercial on PBS stated that all this awareness comes from our frontal cortex. He said that Dogs have a little bit 7% but that Cats were relatively unemcumbered of any such apparatus and therefore live in the now.

I thought that was very interesting because Cats sort of do things differently..they seem other worldly and perhaps that's why..they are stuck in the now.

I love this sort of inquiry and I have every intention of spending the rest of my life sorting it out.

fathorse said...

Ever noticed how weird thumbs are?

Yeah. Take a look. I think you'll be unpleasantly surprised...

Mel said...

"I had lost a head and gained a world."

Very much like that brief lapse when a manic moment ends and nothingness springs to light?

Frankly, I rather like living in the NOW.
However, I must admit I do not like being compared to a cat.