by Ben Berry
"How big are you? What shape are you? How can you tell?" I'm seated in a lower conference room at the 2014 Science And Nonduality conference in San Jose, CA. My eyes are closed. Richard Lang is the speaker. His gentle voice, with his charming English accent, is leading the audience through a series of exercises that are childishly subversive.
"Like this, with my eyes closed, I can't tell how big I am, or how small I am. I can't find anything to compare myself to." And he's right - guided by Lang, I can't seem to find any point of reference for my own existence. There is simply space, filled with sensation.
Lang is the main disseminator for the teachings of Douglas Harding and the "Headless Way" he pioneered. The Headless Way is a direct, almost absurdly simple means of seeing our true nature. Going through the exercises (which you can do yourself here), I almost felt as though my world had gone upside-down and inside-out. And yet, there's something so familiar, so hospitable, to this approach, that I can't help but enjoy the ride.
Lang leads us through a number of different experiments involving our own awareness. Using simple observation, he points out to us that the face in the mirror is by no means our actual face. The face in the mirror changes depending on where you hold the mirror. But does our true face ever change? Even our body is defined by our vantage point. If we tried to look at our body from deep space, we would see the whole galaxy. Likewise, if we zoomed into our body and took a picture, we would see cells, not the familiar contours of our appearance-as-we-know-it. And this, Lang suggests, is because we are all of our cells, and the whole galaxy, and more - we are the infinite capacity for being, we are the edgeless container that allows all experience.
"Look at your hands, in front of your face," Lang says. "Now move them slowly towards the back of your head." I do. "Where do they go?" It's obvious that my hands have gone exactly where I expect them to - behind my head. But Lang isn't asking about that. He's drawing awareness to what happens right at the edge of our field of vision. "They have disappeared into nothing!" Lang says with a smile. While the hands have indeed gone behind my head - it isn't as though my hands vaporize when I stop looking at them - the point he's making is that our field of vision is actually a shapeless void. How big is your scope of seeing? Is there any limit to how much you can see, or how large you can see? There isn't another field of vision next to it to compare it to. There's only one, and it's edgeless, and it's everything. No matter where you look, or what you're looking at, the shapeless-ness is the same. The void is the same. This void is the capacity for seeing.
Vision is just one of the senses subverted in the Headless Way. Listening: "Where do you hear noise from? From silence, of course. How quiet is this silence? I can't find another to compare it to." Feeling: "Are you feeling the tip of your finger, and also an object? No, there is just the sensation. In fact, it's as though the tip of your finger becomes the object it is touching!" Time: "Whatever has happened in the past, aren't you empty and clear now? Do memories make you into a solid being?" And of course, thoughts and feelings: "Where are they? What are they contained in? Do they leave any trace?"
There's surprisingly little spiritual hair-splitting in Lang's presentation; it's more about direct experience, easily accessible to all. And that's what's so refreshing about Lang and the Headless Way - how simple it is. Too simple for some, in fact. After the presentation, a man approached Lang. "It's a cute trick, but it doesn't pass the Litmus test," he says. "If a man was holding a gun to my head, this whole thing would fall apart." Lang, packing his bag, just smiles and says cheerfully, "Oh, I see. Good luck to you!"
I'm not making claims one way or the other. Lang's method may not provide the philosophical rigor needed by some; it may be the perfect introduction to non-duality for others; it may be the lightning bolt of realization for somebody else. I will say that the experiments are worth trying for yourself. Don't let Lang tell you that you're headless, find out for yourself.
I got the chance to follow up with Lang while we were in San Jose. In thevideo interview, we talk more about the Headless Way, what exactly happens to things when we're not looking at them, and the big question - is this enlightenment?
I still smile when I think of Lang's answer. "I don't know much about enlightenment. But if this isn't it, then it should be."
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