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From 'An Unconventional Portrait Of Yourself'

by Douglas Harding


In this book I am going to take it for granted that you are interested in yourself, in what you really are. I shall assume that you do not imagine the subject to be dull, dangerous, or wicked.

Of all things this subject of yourself is surely the most exciting and important – exciting, because you are like an unexplored country full of surprises at every turn, with half-glimpsed forbidden territories and hints of impenetrable mysteries just ahead of you; important, because your life is short and to take it for granted is to put aside your greatest possession without glancing at it. When someone sends you a present you lose no time in undoing the parcel and looking at the contents. You (body and mind and whatever else you may be) are more intriguing and valuable than any mere chattel. How could you fail to be interested?

What are you? That is the question which this book asks. The answers are surprising, but it must be admitted that they are also vague. In fact, one of the main conclusions we shall come to is that you don’t know what you are, and you never can know. You are a gigantic question-mark. Common-sense of course, disagrees, and says you have a pretty good idea of what you amount to; it is aware of no special mystery; it is quite content with the superficial you. But common-sense is hopelessly inadequate, and in some respects its view is positively wrong. It ignores all but the surface, which it mistakes for the substance. Its world is largely unreal. You owe it to yourself to face up to the facts however disturbing they may prove, and, though the truth about yourself may be for the most part unknown and unknowable, an honest question-mark is better than an illusion. In any case, to search for the reality behind appearances is an absorbing occupation, carrying its own reward.

In the following pages, accuracy will often have to give way to simplicity of expression. Whenever I have to choose between the technical word and the ordinary word, I shall choose the ordinary one, and wherever I have an excuse for drawing something (whether it is really picturable or not) I shall draw it. If I can help by these means to make an idea live for you, to make it your own even though it becomes a little distorted in the process, then I shall achieve my object. I do not want to put you on distant nodding terms with a host of technicalities – in the world of ideas, as well as in life, a slightly disreputable friend is worth a dozen correct acquaintances.

(This book, written in 1941, was first published in 2016.)

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