On Having No Head by Douglas E. Harding


I recently subscribed to the website Waking Up to aid me in my mindfulness meditation practice—let me emphasize the word ‘practice.’ This book is mentioned several times as a classic work published in 1961 by the mystic-philosopher Douglas Harding. The book is a primer (a short 123 pages) on how to realize one’s true nature through the practice of the “headless way.” Harding relates his firsthand experience and insights with a light touch—simple but not simplistic. For me, a person who is always in her head and lost in thought, the book’s message is difficult to grasp—especially when both grasping and aversion are always named as barriers to discovering the “no-self.” Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about the author’s first experience of headlessness and the significance that the experience held for him. I sensed his desire to want to pass the possibility of headlessness on to others. While the context of the book is very Zen, the author draws on parallel mystical traditions which all point toward the same paradoxes inherent in Zen Buddhism. Here’s Harding’s description of his first experience of headlessness.

‘Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down… I forgot my name, my humanness, my thingness, all that could be called me or mine. Past and future dropped away… Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.’ 

2 comments on “On Having No Head by Douglas E. Harding”

  1. I dig it, B — reminds me a bit of Thich Nhat Hanh, also Taoism in general — Western civilization is so caught up in the “I” that we often have trouble imagining ourselves as headless — I think this is a good practice. Lately Angel says “mine” all the time (as an anarchist I don’t buy into ownership & am trying to curb this appetite in her…) — maybe there’s a kid’s version of this book she can study 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My doctor told me she is teaching her little one the basics of mindfulness. I think starting young is a great idea. Look how well it worked out for the Dalai Lama😊. He’s certainly full of joy!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s