From the Back cover of 'Head Off Stress -- Beyond the Bottom Line'.
When we come up against stressful situations in our everyday life our automatic reaction is to turn away and escape. If, on the other hand, we can accept stress, allow it to become part of us, the conflict disappears. The secret lies in seeing that either we are the No-thing that overcomes stress by excluding it or the Every-thing that overcomes stress by including it.
This method of coping with stress applies to its many manifestations in our lives. It can turn boredom into joy and despondency into deep contentment. Learning to head off stress takes no time at all and is impossible to forget. All it requires is that we dare to take a fresh look at ourselves. Revolutionary in its ease and directness, its simplicity and penetration, this approach is guaranteed to turn our preconceptions upside down.
Extract from 'Head Off Stress, Beyond the bottom line'.
Your Role and My Role
Long ago, the secret of transport turned out to be the simplest of all inventions - the wheel. Later on, the secret of mathematics turned out to be the simplest of all ideas - zero. In much the same way, the secret of the stress-free life turns out to be the simplest of all experiences - simple to point out, simple to get, simple to share, simple to renew. As, in the course of the next few pages, you will find out for yourself.
Your job will be to observe three rules:
The first is that you carry out the tests, the easy experiments I'm going to ask you to do. If you just read about them nothing will happen and you will be wasting your time.
The second is that you go by what you find, that you take seriously the results of the experiments. This means ignoring, at least for the duration of each test, things you have been brought up to believe, and looking for yourself. It means starting from scratch and trusting your own findings. It means being prepared for the discovery that you are more fortunate than you had ever dreamed of. I shall tell you exactly how to carry out the experiments. But they are all about you, and the ultimate authority on you is - YOU. Just do what I ask, take heart and be open to yourself, and you can't go wrong.
The third rule is that you realize your gains, and make use of them. This means drawing on the anti-stress capital that is yours from the start. If you just let it lie there in the bank and refuse to write cheques on it, so to speak, you will go on living the life of a pauper - and one who is all the more stressful because, deep down, he knows that his poverty is self-inflicted. In plain language, take advantage of your discoveries, and be kind to yourself.
Please do your best to observe these three rules. For my part, I will show you how to get rid of stress, by a method that has five features:
It takes no time to learn. At once you see what to do, and how to do it. You can't do it wrong. The switch-over to no stress is instant. Afterwards, if you think you have lost the knack, you are wrong. It has lost you: your attention has been diverted.
To dump stress - what a prospect! But even before we start on the job this raises the question: 'If a life without stress means a life without problems, a perfectly peaceful existence - is this what I really want? Won't I be bored stiff (or bored flabby?) with nothing left to stretch me? In fact, won't I just be exchanging the stress of the troubled life I live now for the worse stress of unrelieved dullness and ennui?'
This book takes care of and resolves the contradiction between our desire on the one hand for a peaceful life and our desire on the other hand for excitement and adventure. In addition to its main guarantee of instant access to the Land of No Stress, is the assurance that you will miss none of the challenges, the thrills and the spills of the Land of Stress.
Does it all sound incredible, much too good to be true, and as yet mere vague generalities? I agree. So let's get down to business right away, and you'll see what I mean.
[Harding then briefly explores the nature of stress, noting that everything in the universe is under some kind of stress or pressure. There are only two ways of being free of such stress: "The first is to become so small, so empty, so exclusive that there's nothing to you, nothing to be got at, nothing to act upon or react. The second is the opposite of this. It is to become so big, so full, so inclusive that there remains nothing outside you to get at you, nothing to pressurise you or to influence you at all, nothing left for you to react to.]
Let's put it differently. Particular things are stressed. If you were no thing you would be stress-free. Conversely, if you were all things you would, again, be stress-free. And if, by great good luck, you were both - if you were at once no thing and all things - why then you would be doubly stress-free, free beyond all doubt.
[Harding then explores, under the title "Distance Is The Making Of You", how what you are depends on where you are viewed from. At several feet you are human, but closer to you are cells, molecules, atoms etc, down to practically nothing. Further away you become absorbed into the landscape, the planet, the solar system, the galaxyŠ The question is, what are you right at centre? Only you are there, so you must look for yourself. Then comes the first experiment.]
Point at the wall aheadŠ See how solid and opaque it isŠ
Now slowly bring your finger down till it is pointing a the floorŠ Still you are pointing at a something, a surfaceŠ Next, bring your hand round and point to your feetŠ your legsŠ your trunkŠ your chestŠ Also somethings, also surfacesŠ Finally, point to what is above your chestŠ to your neckŠ your faceŠ your eyesŠ Or rather, to the place where people told you those things are to be foundŠ
YOU ARE NOW POINTING AT NO SURFACE, AT NO THING AT ALL!
Check that it is featurelessŠ colourlessŠ transparentŠ boundlessŠ Keep on pointing, seeing into emptinessŠ seeing how wideŠ how deepŠ how highŠ is this no-thing that is your side of that in-pointing fingerŠ
And see how, just because it is so empty of everything, it is empty for everything. See how full it is of the whole colourful and changing scene - of the ceiling, the walls, the window and the view from it, the floor, those legs and that trunk and that pointing finger itself. See how the no thing that you are is all the things that are on show.
Have you ever been other than this NO-THING/ALL THINGS, this perfect union of stress-free exclusiveness and stress-free inclusiveness? Right now you can see that there is nothing inside you, that you have nothing of your own, on your side of that pointing finger, to be stressed, nothing to be got at. Equally you can see that this nothing, this emptiness of yours, has no limits upwards, or sideways, or downwards, no boundary beyond which an outsider could lurk, to bring pressure to bear on you. On both counts you are rid of stress forever because you - the real You that is no-thing/all things - were never capable of it.
[Harding then introduces more experiments, exploring the application of this Inseeing to stressful situations. Here is the next one.]
Experiment: Finger pressing
Hold out your hand and press your forefinger against your thumb as hard as you canŠ
Notice where the stress is, on present evidence - namely, in those things. And notice where the absence of stress is - namely, in yourself as the no-thing that is taking in those things, along with their shape and colour and opacity. Notice how you are no more stressed by the stress in that hand than you are shaped by the shape of that hand, or coloured by the colour of that hand, or clouded by that hand's opacity. As empty for all things and their qualities and their stresses, you just can't help being different from all that. It is your essential nature to remain unaffected, as unstained and uninjured and unstressed as your TV screen is by all the murders and shootings and burnings that rage on it. As unsoiled as your mirror is by what it mirrors so faithfully and so unselectively.
In the following chapters we are going to apply this basic discovery to the problems of life, finding out exactly how to put it to use in those areas that until now have been experienced as stressful and distressful. We shall explore how important it is and how practical it is consciously to be no-thing/all-things; and how unpractical (as well as untruthful) to be just one of the countless things that fall between these two stools. In the course of this exploration the doubts and objections which are already occurring to you will be met, not so much by discussion, as by further experimenting.
Meanwhile, whenever you doubt your essential freedom from all the ills that things are subject to, just attend to the one place in your universe where there is no occupant, which is thing-proof and therefore stress-proof. Cease overlooking this terribly neglected spot, this centre-point of your life, which on inspection instantly explodes into the universe, and all will come clear.
If there were only one book of Douglas's available, then this is the one I would want, by a mile. Having said this, I've needed all of the rest of his work to make more and more sense of what's in Head off Stress. Not that Head off Stress etc. has done away with my stress - far from it! As Douglas says in that book, the world runs on stress like cars run on petrol. My world is very often full of stress. But now, one knows what to do about it. My ongoing need is to realize that as Awareness I'm free of stress, and it's as as the world that's in Me that, much of the time, I have stress - sometimes quite excruciating. My ongoing need is to consciously live as the Unity of stress free Awareness and the stressed world within the stress free Whole; in other words, as to realize that ultimately I am Nothing and Everything. Together with a deep sense of the deep mystery of existence, and consciously being that Mystery, now flipping It-self from non being into being, this, in line with what Douglas teaches, is the definitive answer to stress. And my on-going testing, for over 8 years now, is steadily proving this. In this context, one does not begrudge stress, or overly try to avoid it. Stress is part of the go of things. From Harding's 'Head off Stress', I've learned to happily live with stress.' Thank you Douglas for, in your 80's, writing this great book! And thank you Shollond Trust for reprinting it. It has saved my bacon, I can assure you. It deserves to become better known in the wider community.