Douglas Harding (1909 – 2007) described his ‘Headless Way’ as a “truly contemporary and Western way of ‘seeing into one’s Nature’ or ‘Enlightenment’” He went on to say that “though in essence the same as Zen, Sufism, and other spiritual disciplines, this way proceeds in an unusually down-to-earth fashion” which would save the Seeker/Seer “years of reading, lecture-attending, thinking, ritual observances, and passive meditation of the traditional sort”.
This is achieved by “a variety of simple, non-verbal, fact-finding tests, all of them asking: how do I look to myself? They direct my attention to my blind spot – to the space I occupy, to what’s given right here at the Centre of my universe, to what it’s like being 1st-person singular, present tense” (1). Elsewhere he describes “a Reality which is Indivisible …not a thing, nor even a mind, but pure Spirit or clear Consciousness; and we are That and nothing but That … and the only way to find It is to look steadily within, where are to be found utmost peace, unfading joy, and eternal life itself” (2).
Harding claims that this experience is natural, ordinary and easy to obtain – not at all something that demands extreme practices for spiritual heroes. The real question is about how to make the experience habitual and how, if at all, we might need to do life differently. He is careful to say that “by habitual I mean remaining in contact with one’s central clarity and not … clinging to it. Not demanding that it should remain in the forefront of one’s attention in all the changing circumstances of life. The alternative is a crippling obsession. ‘In darkness are they who only look outwards, but in thicker darkness are they who only look within” (1).
I am now working with the Headless Way, a path culturally grounded in the Sophia Perennis – see https://contemplativeinquiry.wordpress/2016/04/11/wisdom-of-Sophia/ – here based in Western modernity yet with a global and trans-historical frame of reference. I have known about it for some time, but discovered it in earnest only three weeks ago whilst checking information about something else. I do feel in some way nudged. I find the way of working very effective, partly because I have been warmed up to this kind of spirituality for many years without finding quite the right vehicle for it. This changes things for me.
The main change is that Headless Way exercises have largely replaced the Kabbalah based work I was planning and beginning as a complement to my Druidry. The new methods move me away from the direct heritage of the Occult revival and its use of Jewish tradition. Not completely – I still use the Middle Pillar, with vowel sounds instead of the names of God, as an energy/light body exercise. The Sophia icon described in my last post remains highly important to me as a visual and symbolic representation, with Sophia sensed as a psychic power of guidance. But that’s about it. Relative plainness is my direction now, with an emphasis on brief and tightly focused formal practices.
As it happens, my personal practice of Druidry – especially the contemplative work – has moved stylistically in the same direction: naturalism, minimalism, plainness, economy of form; making sure that the spirit isn’t lost in the cocktail. The integration, it seems to me at this early stage, is that for me the Headless Way primarily supports an inward arc, from the apparent world to the central clarity of the void. Druidry, as embodied earth spirituality, supports an outward arc, from the central clarity back to the apparent world. My life experience is made different by this two-way flow, now more fully known as contained within the Oneness. But from the standpoint of my life in the apparent world, this is a work of progress, and moving quickly. From this perspective I don’t yet know how the process is going to evolve.
(1) Douglas Harding The Headless Way Leaflet out of print. There is now a website of that name at www.headless.org
(2) Douglas Harding Religions of the World London: Shollond Trust, 2014. Revised edition.