Appearance and Reality
One of the hallmarks of Douglas Harding’s work – one of the hallmarks of the Headless Way – is that it makes sense in terms of modern science. When I went to my first workshop in 1970 – I was seventeen - Douglas introduced the subject of who we really are
by pointing out something that is verifiably true: what we are depends partly on the distance from which we are seen.
Put in more technical language: appearance is relative to the range of the observer.
From a range of say six feet you appear to others as a person, but at closer ranges you are cells, molecules, atoms, particles… and from further away you are a country, a planet, a star, a galaxy… Like an onion you have layers.
What I found effective and powerful in that workshop was that Harding didn’t ask us to believe this statement, obvious though it was - he got us to check it out, as much as we could in that room, by doing an experiment. This is where seeing who you really are
dovetails perfectly with science – it doesn’t ask you to believe theories but invites you to test them. And, of course, this is what convinces, isn’t it? When you see something for yourself, you no longer need to believe. It was also good for me because, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous Reflections
, as a teenager I was a daydreamer, and having to get up and do something kept me awake!
How did Harding get us to test this idea? He put us in pairs, A and B, and got A to walk towards B whilst looking through a viewfinder – A made a round hole with thumb and forefinger and looked through it. What you found, if you were A, was that from the other side of the room you saw the whole of the other person, B, in your viewfinder; from half way across the room you saw half their body; and at closer ranges you saw just their head, their eye, and finally a blur. If you were B, this experiment demonstrated that your appearance, as reported back to you by A, changed dramatically with range, and that on contact you were no longer recognizably human. (Admittedly, this information is not your own direct experience of yourself but is how someone else sees you. Seeing yourself from your own point of view comes when you do the other experiments.) In fact, I think we even had to draw rough pictures of what we saw at various distances as we approached our partner, and then place the pictures on the floor at those distances. The person being observed could then see how their appearance changed with the approach of the observer. It was very clear then that your appearance was out there
. Or rather, your appearances
(in the plural) were out there.
But then the next question was – and this is the heart of the matter: What are you at no distance, at the centre of all your layers? Who are you really?
My partner in the experiment had drawn me at various distances from say twenty feet to where I was just a blur, but couldn’t draw a picture of what I was at no distance for the obvious reason that she couldn’t get here.
How did I and the others in the workshop find out what we were at no distance? How did we find out what and who we really were?
In the other experiments Harding got us to direct our attention at ourselves – at our own centres. Revolutionary as his request was, he asked us to look for ourselves
rather than ask others what we were! I looked… and I saw!
If you point
at where others see your face, and look for yourself, you will see who you really are…
If you want to explore further the various layers of your appearance, visit the Hierarchy