Listening with Attention

Leave thought and feeling, for just a moment, and just listen with your eyes. Look around. How amazing we are, to be aware. And thus the world becomes amazing once again too.

This simple awareness is love unfettered, pure bliss, and needs no product of thought or feeling to give it it’s meaning. We can tell if what we are, in the moment, is pure awareness, or a product of thought/feeling, by looking for the gap of time. Anything produced by the brain, of chemical or reactive make-up, is revealed for what it is by the ever so slight gap between our original perception and the near-immediate reaction, and consequent mind-projection. This projection is usually all of the process we are aware of, and what is usually called reality. All thoughts and feelings are separated from awareness by this slight gap, and thus being in time, are not our true eternal nature.

new morning
new morning

Thinking and feeling is an after-the-fact reaction in the mind realm that has the unfortunate side effect of either being good or bad. Plain awareness is blessedly free of such nonsense. Like an alert idiot, our awareness gratefully doesn’t know any better, doesn’t have a clue if we’ve been bad or good, if we are worthy or worthless, or anything else for that matter. It just is, and as such, so are we.

Bob Fergeson, photo by nostalgiawest

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Working Within

“How then can we change being? By applying the knowledge of the Work through self-observation to ourselves. And remember that you do not change by being told what to do. You only change through seeing what you have to do when you realize what your being is like.” —Maurice Nicoll

Sooner or later the task of changing our being, of becoming, moves from simple mental learning through advice and association to the inner task of developing the intuition. How well this works is ultimately about how well we can hold tension and work within. The practical thing to “do” then becomes the real time observation of our own attention. The work moves within, and is no longer about character building, a better personality, becoming charismatic or invisible. There are several ways to describe this simple trick of watching or chasing your attention: the experiments of Douglas Harding, which show how to look at what you are looking out of, learning to listen with the eyes, to listen with the attention, the two-way seeing or self-remembering of Gurdjieff and the double-pointed arrow of attention, one pointed within, one without, and the art of mindfulness. To be successful in these tricks, we must be able to relax for at least a second from constantly and unconsciously upholding our sense of self. This split second of seeing who or what we really are, is our slipping behind the mind or ego and seeing through it rather than as it. Now, if you have trouble practicing experiments of the type listed above, or are unable to catch the meaning behind them, why is this? What’s blocking you?

The ego1-ego2 game is a great enemy in direct seeing. When the exercises are practiced, the ego-mind is rendered quiescent, if only for a split second, but long enough for one to be free from the mind’s pressure to create, project and solve problems, drama, or conflicts, such as getting what you want, avoiding what you fear, etc. But in the next instant after the “seeing” has ended, the mind will rise up and become active once more and the ego-self, largely through memory, will then lay claim to the credit of seeing, dragging us out of eternity and taking away any incentive to actually “see” again. An insidious trick has just been played on us, for the ego, as ego1, has just laid claim to “seeing,” and places all blame for actions opposed to seeing on a fictitious character it creates and then uses as scapegoat: the hapless ego2. Thus, we are taken out of action and thrown back where we started: identified with the mind in time. Seeing is now relegated to memory only, for we are unconscious of the whole above trick. The ego has thus kept its throne, and we, as awareness, are back asleep.

If we get what’s taking place in the above experiments (by seeing it, rather than mentally understanding it), then our intuition will know what to do next, knowing now what the attention is and how it moves from one view to another. Here’s a test to see if we really do see this:

Look at a familiar object, say a tree out of your window, and watch the mind as it works. Observe how this mind associates the tree with names, memories, information, etc. Notice how it does this automatically, unquestioned. Now, practice two-way seeing, the listening attention, while looking at the tree. Allow yourself to look back at what you are looking out of, the aware silence, and look forward or out at the object as well. Can you now look at the tree without “knowing” what it is? Without knowing what you are, simply because you are? The mind is now silent and all is okay, for nothing is separate. No separation of things, no creating of things, is needed; no labeling or judging, qualifying or describing. You are not enlightened or ignorant, for you have no need to create yourself or “be” anything.

Now, while still observing the tree, allow the mind to work, as it rises up and again starts the process of creating objects with characteristics, separating “you” from the “tree,” and separating the tree from everything else, as the string of associated concepts stream forth. Can you see the difference between these two states? Can you see your attention move between these two views? Can you be honest about this? Does your heart have anything to say about value and meaning in relation to these two very different states?

If you can’t “do” the above experiment, or dismiss it as unimportant, what is blocking you? Why is your intuition being shut out, and thus not picking up on this? If you think the above is not important, or can’t relate to it, and still insist on someone or some system telling you something practical to do as a spiritual exercise, or if you are honest and admit you just can’t follow any of it, the reason lies within, in something blocking you. Perhaps an energy knot in the emotions, most likely hidden, unconscious, but active and alive. This knot blinds as well as binds you to it, keeping you unconscious, so as to maintain the status quo of the tension and energy system of knots known as “you.”

If seeing still makes no sense, and you are at a loss as to practical method and the next move on your path, this then is what you can do: become conscious of what is blocking your intuition. Perhaps going back through your life story with its accompanying emotions is in order, to free you of the energy knots that bind your attention. What needs to be done will be seen, if steps are taken to improve the intuition, clarify one’s values, and to hold and increase the tension of questioning, of looking. Taking advice and direction from outside as an easy way out of the tension of having to develop one’s own intuition ends in robbing one of the grace that comes from within.

– Bob Fergeson

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On Learning to Listen

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth
     Paracelsus was known to be able to look at anything, an herb, plant or mineral, and divine its essence, and thus its purpose and use. A direct knowing, given by the Universal Intelligence, to one who had ears to hear. How might we tap into this direct insight of the universe? Most of us are trapped with only a very limited ‘knowing’ which is basically the description of opinions derived from an arbitrary point of observation; a fixed pattern, based only on the recalled past. This ‘knowing’ or ego/mind, is hardly capable of knowing itself, much less the essence of an herb, plant, or our Source. This ego is derived from the experience of a character in a story, who is basically unconscious; a scripted unwitting idiot telling a tale, ultimately signifying nothing. To know directly, as Paracelsus, we would have to leave our story-drama and its trap, and become something wider, deeper. We are capable of hearing more than the mind’s obsessive chattering about our personal character’s recalled experiences. We may begin to wake up, and feel as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Did I do anything wrong today, or has the world always been like this and I’ve been too wrapped up in myself to notice?”
     Only something which has no vested interest in the drama can look outside of the character in its tale, and see the universal reality behind the dream of life. This is a very scary proposition, it threatens the very system of the drama, for we derive our identity from our character and story-line, each defining the other. The drama is seldom questioned, for this can only happen by stepping outside of it; a paradox. We refuse to listen to the voice of the silence within, because that would imply we don’t know it all already. How can we learn to turn to this inner listening, to hear the voice of intuition, of insight?
     Spending time alone is one way. We take a break from the distractions of our electronic age with its cell phones, computers, TV’s, etc., plus the well meaning but distracting voices of our friends and family. This can give us time to learn to appreciate silence, and to listen. Perhaps we’ll reacquainte ourselves with a long lost companion deep within: our own heart. Time spent alone removes the relentless pressure imposed on us by society to conform to its standards, and allows our mind to clear and become quiet. Another pressure is the ego’s defense against its main fear, the unknown. This also requires much time and energy, and blocks out anything that doesn’t fit the storyline. Nothing from the higher power within is allowed to get through.
     Another way is to spend time with those who value listening within, and have found their connection to the inner voice. These fellow seekers can save us time and energy, having been down the long road to their inner self and thus able to help us along our path as well. The higher energy fields of these companions will give the inner self a taste of its own potential. Their inner calm and quiet are a stark contrast to the tale of sound and fury we have been dreaming so hard, without question.
      The world of dreams is similar to this drama we call our life. When in a dream, we take it for real, and the experiences of the dream as telling us a true ‘knowing’ about the dream-world. But when interpreted upon awakening, we see it as only a story of our character’s mind, and this ‘knowing’ as being simply a description of this mind that made the dream-world. The individual pattern or view-point is what’s known. Nothing is objectively known about the so-called things, inhabitants, or possible reality of the dream.
     To find the reality behind the dream, and possibly behind the dream character, we must find something higher.  This universal intelligence is constantly speaking to us, always trying to get our attention. This voice of insight or intuition is drowned out by the voices of the characters in our drama. Look bravely at the plots of the dramas in life you’ve seen. They all end the same, and nothing is gained. Death conquers all, and the story with all its sound and fury, endlessly repeats. Question the character you’ve been lost in, and the drama of your own so-called life and its significance. Search fearlessly to find the nameless Something behind the play; the calm, clear reality beyond the dream, where nothing is done, nobody’s there to do it, and all is perfect in silence.


” The exercise of clairvoyance requires a passive state. ” – Franz Hartmann
Bob Fergeson


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A Formula for Self-Discovery

I’m often asked how a seeker can increase their progress along the path. Sometimes the person may feel stuck, or simply wants to know the most expedient way to increase their vector. Looking back over my own life, I’ve found that one factor stands out. When I became a conduit for realization, passing it along to others, things took off. It’s as if we agree to become a link in a chain, and pass on down the line that which was handed to us from above. This is not only a theory, but something we can, and must, actively do in our day-to-day lives. One may argue that if all is one, then this is just another illusion, but the rationalizations of the ego come easy and keep us stuck in our own mud, while active work may put tension on us in a way the ego can’t handle.


I can best relate how this works along the lines of my hobby with photography. I’ve spent a lot of my time in the great outdoors, and for years refused to share this experience with others due to a certain ego. I felt that if I took pictures of my trips, it would somehow cheapen the experience, take something away from the purity of the pristine settings. Somehow this changed, thank goodness, and I became willing and inspired to do the work to bring a bit of what I was seeing back with me to share with others. I broke down and bought a digital camera, and the magic began. Some inner part of me that had been denied came back to life, and with it a better relationship to everything involved. The entire experience of hiking was somehow changed for the better.

At about this same time, I also bought my first computer and entered the world of email and the Internet. I was able to stay in touch with fellow seekers from around the country, and to share my experiences in the search for definition, as with the photography. Somehow this changed the belief that spiritual work was a solitary affair only, and opened doors of opportunity I had never dreamed of. I started a web site, and became involved with an online confrontation group. I began to move within, the connection was made.

  William Samuel talks about much the same thing. He describes getting answers from within as Glimpses, and stresses the importance of sharing these. It’s a double-sided coin, much like the chicken and the egg dilemma, in that we must get answers in order to share them, in order to get answers. But the process is not that complicated, if we just make a move. We become a conduit, a transmitter of realization, and the more we give, the more we get.

One trap worth mentioning here is that of keeping this all in one’s head. We may think that by getting a few answers in the beginning of our search, we are on the path and need not put out more effort. Being comfortable in our life, we may not wish to rock the boat of our habits, and thus keep whatever intuitions we receive to ourselves, thus miring our spirit in a dream world. Our intuitions bear fruit when they are put into action and tested in life, and when found sound, passed along to our fellows.

All of the above is what might be called a law of manifestation, an equation as Samuel calls it, and it will work for whatever desire applies it, spiritual or otherwise. If one wants money, success or security, this formula will work as well. This leads to a dilemma for some us in that we may not consciously know what we really want, until we test ourselves by putting the formula into practice. This can be a paradox. If we believe we want enlightenment, and put it to the test through actions in our day-to-day life, we may find that what we really want is freedom from fear or a desire for power. While we have temporarily fooled ourselves, we have at least come to know ourselves better, and have thus made a move along the path of self-discovery. We may eventually uncover an  intense longing for home, for something stable and real, which was only allowed to manifest as the mundane patterns of fear and worldly desire. This was long buried, and is what will provide the necessary pull to carry us farther within. To get real answers, we must come to have real and pressing questions.

One thing is for certain, if we do not make a move, a commitment to action, we will not leave the head-in-the-sand false safety of our dreams. A man asleep in his bed in a burning house may dream of oneness and ease as well as anxiety and need. On the other hand, waking up may take effort, be difficult and even unpleasant, but is most necessary, too.

Bob Fergeson

For more essays from the author, get a copy of his book:

The Listening Attention


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St. Nicholas and Jehoshua

This holiday season the Missal takes a look at two figures, Saint Nicholas and Jesus, who each represent many vastly different sets of ideals in the current celebration of Christmas. We’ll take a look at only their purer form, the ideals they represent, without the historical, commercial, and political faces put upon them down through the centuries.

     Saint Nicholas was born during the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. There is little in the factual accounts of his life, and he left no writings of his own.
     One story tells of his love for others and of his humility. A father in the town where Nicholas lived had no money for the dowries for his three daughters, meaning they would not find good husbands, thus, in those times, faced a life of poverty and despair. Nicholas came to their house late at night and left a bag of gold, either by throwing it down the chimney or through a window, where it landed in the stockings before the fire. Returning for two more nights in a row, he secured the girl’s dowries and their futures. When the father found out who had performed these deeds, Nicholas insisted that the thanks be directed to God, not himself. Thus, we have the stories of Santa Claus coming down the chimney, and the gifts he leaves in the stockings.
The Apolytikion (Hymn) of St. Nicholas
An example of the Faith and a life of humility, as a teacher of abstinence you did inspire and lead your flock, and through the truthfulness of your deeds were exalted by greatness, through your humility uplifting all and by poverty gaining wealth. Father and hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.
 Many such stories are told of Nicholas, all showing how he cared for the poor and innocent, and had no desire to take credit or reward for himself.
Little is also known of Jesus, or ‘Jehoshua of Nazareth’. While He may have existed in the sense read in the Gospels, as well as an historical figure, and may have actually spoken some of the many teachings attributed to Him, His real value lies in the ideal He represents, and how this can lead us to the inner Christ.  As an inner guide who leads us to the true temple within our heart, where we become one in Holy  Marriage to our Soul, and as the sword of discriminating wisdom, which leads us to retreat from the false, thus coming to Truth, He serves as a link between the outer man and the Inner Source.  Much as the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanghat, Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the formula for living and becoming. We become the Path, and thus come to the Father.  Though Jesus preached the religious law of the time, including the commandments, he acted in pure spontaneity from His own wisdom, even if it meant breaking the law.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me.” – John 14:16
    Rather than a figure of sentimental puppy-love, a harsh judge doling out unforgiving punishment, or a lost figure of historical vagueness, the ideal represented by Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, that saves us by leading us away from identification with the world and ego, lighting the Path back to the Divine.
“As long as man does not know his own divine self, he will continue to seek in externals that which can only be found inside oneself. When he awakens to the realization of the divine power within himself, he will cease to look for salvation in external persons and things, and instead of seeking for a Christ in history, he will find the true Jesus within himself.”
– Franz Hartmann
 Both of these figures are in basis an archetype, an ideal, and though perhaps based on an historical figure, molded by history, passion and greed into their commercial counterparts, this ideal is the energy or power that drives the images even today. To be caught in the spell of any of the various forms is to be identified with an image, trapped in the archetype, and thus lose the meaning and practical use of the underlying truth. Both of these men, and the force behind them, was not one of pride, greed or pious fundamentalism, but one of truth and humble action, though that action be difficult, and the truth lost in the details. The path within does not end in the messenger, i.e. the archetype, but continues into the nameless stillness and silence beyond all images and their activities.


 “The major temptation to be overcome in this period is the temptation to fall for one of the subtle but powerful archetypes of the collective consciousness. In the state of oneness, both Christ and Buddha were tempted in this manner, but they held to the “ground” that they knew to be devoid of all such energies. This ground is a “stillpoint”, not a moving energy-point. Unmasking these energies, seeing them as ruses of the self, is the particular task to be accomplished or hurdle to be overcome in the state of oneness. We cannot come to the ending of self until we have finally seen through these archetypes and can no longer be moved by any of them.” – Bernadette Roberts

For the complete article with commentary, click below, and scroll down to the St. Nicholas and Jehoshua heading:

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The Mindful Trackers

Who are we, really?

“Track the most cunning animal of all… the self, and come face to face with who it really is.”

Photographer and writer Paul Rezendes has an unusual take on realization, formed in part from his years of experience in the outdoors as a wildlife tracker and teacher. Join him and fellow tracker George Leoniak as they take us on the journey of self-inquiry, into the wilds of our inner world to find the ‘self’.

“This is spot on and different enough in flavour, it should be shared”- TH

The complete video series on inner tracking, featuring Paul Rezendes and George Leoniak, is available for viewing here:

The preface from his book, The Wild Within, gives a brilliant examplePaul Rezendes of Paul’s realization: “realization is living, being energy that is aware or awake to what is, or to what is arriving in the moment. An awareness that is at rest and has no intention for anything to be other than what it is.”

View the complete preface here:

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Transcendence and Ego1-Ego2

Transcendence of thought is not transcendence of self. Shifting the focus of attention away from thought and onto breath or body is a useful prelude to a meditation of self-inquiry, but as an entire meditative technique it is an exercise in self-forgetfulness. It may lead to a wonderful experience but the mind is simply resting on the I-thought, and that I-self is having a very pleasant experience while remaining safely hidden behind the cloak of mental quietude and physical ease. The notion of “coming into the body” is a form of engaging in what Alfred Pulyan describes as Ego1-Ego2.* The experience generated from this meditative technique is not the absolute realization that Rose, Nisargadatta, Maharshi, and others speak about. There is always a desire and a need for experiences to be extended in duration and intensity in order to satisfy the ego’s need for affirmation, progress, and the nagging, deep sense of lacking a final answer to the question of ultimate self-definition.

*Pulyan wrote about the Ego dichotomizing itself in order to set up a dynamic of protecting and reinforcing a “boss” ego with the need created by having a subservient ego hard at supposed spiritual work of creating experiences and thoughts that affirmed ego-self.
~ Bob Cergol, 2014 Labor Day TAT presentation
* Alfred Pulyan, a mid-1900’s Zen Master who engaged with students through the mail, in one such letter wrote about the Ego dichotomizing itself in order to set up a dynamic of protecting and reinforcing a “boss” ego … by having a subservient ego hard at supposed spiritual work of creating experiences and thoughts that affirmed ego-self. ~ Bob Cergol

Alfred Pulyan, Ego1-Ego2 Incursus
(Devices to preserve Egocentricity)

We do not pull flowers up to see how they are growing, but Ego (Self!) cannot endure being out of the driver’s seat and so even in the “work” he tries to be both objective & subjective. To be specific, Ego1 wants to watch the progress of the work with an occasional criticism or pat on the back for the Master.

“How shall we handle Ego2?” is asked by Ego1. Or – “I don’t think I (who is “I”? – why Ego1) would have handled me (Ego2!!) quite that way.” Or: “Fine,” says Ego1, “that’s showing him (Ego2).”

This schizoidal device preserves Ego at the expense of a fictitious Ego2!! You have already started this process.

Sometimes Ego1 will say he is “seeking” & does not DESIRE TO FIND. What is this? A pleasure merely in the action of the reason? Apparently. In any case, Ego2 is not even necessary here. Ego is asserting the utmost “doubt even of doubt” & refusal to go even as far as the word “the” without definition. It is a sound & invulnerable position. So is advanced psychosis, but that seems more restful – at times! Such a position (like solipsism) is fine when one is healthy, happy, young & immortal. It gets an awful kick later.

Ego1, for all that, sometimes feels that his constant observation of Ego2 (“self-consciousness”) is unsatisfactory. He may feel that his division is a faked device. In love, he may for a time forget himself (which means – become spontaneous) & the experience is delightful, unaccustomed & turns out often to be most unwise. It occurs often when young & when judgment would be desirable (for a change!), especially if the girl is not so spontaneous! If they both are, it is wonderful, but again the claims of the everyday come in, & the magic fades away. Everything in Japan used to be a “way.” There was a “way” of sword-play, of wrestling, of flower arrangement, of drinking tea, of commerce even, of drawing & painting – and the characteristic of each was spontaneity. Even archery (incredible results even in semi-darkness, splitting one arrow with another) – & such spontaneity daunts us. We are system-minded. Zen may seem to be a “system” of mass-production, but the essence of the work is individual. I have no “system” whatever for the same reason – no two people are alike. Certainly egocentricity is always the devil to be conquered, but from that central point he (ego or self) diverges in innumerable ways & uses every imaginable device, some very snide, others really subtle. He may know it too – and still throw up a smoke-screen! He resists the means to release – to the point of murder even (fortunately, since he is free to withdraw at any time, he usually withdraws under a confusion of self-justification. But if he were trapped – as I was – oh boy!!! In the Reichian technique for example the room is often a shambles).

So we DO “protect” something. And how! What? Ego? Oh no – while we live we are of course “we” & always that remains – but the “boss conception,” the “ultimate decider,” the “second line of defense,” these he INSISTS on at all costs. So Jung & others know the truth but sit in the audience (behind their desk for example) and are never part of the play. It is ludicrous to think I could help Jung – he is heavily armed. I could get ONE letter from almost everybody by promising “a new technique” but to get involved in it. Oh dear no! Most certainly not! Utterly fantastic! – who knows what –    Thus Jesus was correct. It is the treasure of the humble & for this goodly pearl a merchant sold all he had – and bought it. I can persuade almost anybody to say “O.K. Go ahead! What do I have to lose?” It is a Pyrrhic victory, it is unreal. In that way one sells toothpaste. They must come to me and really want it. Since they can easily push God away, how can I succeed where God does not? This is not a mystery I can solve. But the truly accessible, as Jesus said, are FEW. Up to you –    And so many words!
~ Correspondence with Richard Rose

material taken from July 2016 TAT Forum, –Thanks to Art Ticknor, Editor

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Rebirthday by Douglas Harding

The best day of my life – my rebirthday, so to speak – was when I found I had no head. This is not a literary gambit, a witticism designed to arouse interest at any cost. I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.
It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily. However that may be, a very still clear day, and a view from the ridge where I stood, over misty blue valleys to the highest mountain range in the world, with Kangchenjunga and Everest unprominent among its snow-peaks, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.
What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in – absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.
It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything – room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.
It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of “me”, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.
Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

Douglas Harding

This is an extract from On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, first published in 1961, available now through the Sholland Trust.
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Double Head-Head


I once had a dream of having another head on top of the original, like an appendage emanating from the present noggin. In the dream I was told that I was using spiritual work to build this second head, the ‘double head-head’. Instead of using self-observation to see my present personality pattern, the pattern of experience built up through my present life forming what I called my ‘self’, I was engaging in a strange fantasy. I was manufacturing a second head, which I then ‘worked on’, rather than observing the original. This kept me safe. I didn’t have to actually face anything unpleasant about myself, for everything in this second head was created with the express purpose of keeping the ego intact and unassailed. This new head was all I really knew, it was ‘me’.

I could keep being ‘myself’ while thinking I was engaged in serious spiritual work. I could ‘see’ things about myself freely, for they would be recommended and okayed by the ego. The realization struck me that I had been doing this for decades, living in a false self-created ‘self’ that kept me a stranger to the relatively real me. I was a mystery to me, but not, apparently, to everyone.

After the shock of the dream, I began to look more closely at myself, hoping to catch glimpses of the double head-head, and how it worked. Listening to others when they offered advice or criticism began to hold value too. Group work suddenly held a new purpose. How did this work? Could I see it in others as well? How could one be so naïve?

Later, I came to understand what Alfred Pulyan had called the Ego1-Ego2 game, the ego splitting itself in two, and calling the separated part ‘ego’, thus keeping itself safe from scrutiny. And also Carl Jung’s work on the ‘shadow’, that hitherto mysterious dark side of which I was sure I was immune.

Working in an illusion serves the ego’s prime directive: survival. It feels threatened with annihilation when things such as self-observation and looking at one self directly are entertained. In order to survive, it creates an ‘ego2’, a second head, on top of itself.

This process has been going on all of our life. Many of our phobias, inferiorities, and grandiose imaginings about ourselves are only in this second head. Once we cut it off through self-inquiry, a form of productive thinking, we are free, free to begin the real work of facing the original head.

To give an example, we may feel we have something wrong with us, stemming from the negative criticism of a parent figure when we were too small to understand or protect ourselves. This may have given us a feeling of inferiority, for God as the parent has told us we are lacking. Later in life this feeling of something being wrong is what is answered to. We may be engaged in spiritual work to compensate for this: to fix our inferiority complex. In actuality, we are working on a fantasy, an incorrect idea of ourselves injected into us from outside. We may never have even begun to act on our innate positive potentials due to being sidetracked: trying to fix a false problem. Have we ever tried to find what we are, inside, without relying on what we have been told? Has this outside information kept us down, or inflated us with a grandiose expectation of things?

Living in our imagination will not set us free, for what we seek freedom from is our own false conception of ourselves. Take courage and patience, learn to look for the facts of your life, not the fantasy of the double head-head.

Bob Fergeson

Here’s the  Double Head-Head video:

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Breathing Underwater Part 2

A talk about the benefits of stilling the mind:

link to the original Breathing Underwater video:

Text of the talk:

Hi Folks, I’d like to talk with you today about a meditation exercise, that I’ve mentioned and made a little video about in the past, called breathing underwater. To me this exercise, which could be called stilling the mind, placing our attention into the quiet, the stillness, so that there’s no movement of the attention. This can feel at first like you’re breathing underwater because you’re so used to allowing the attention to run free. We’ve been taught to let this attention run out into the world for two reasons: One is the adventure of it. You could call this entertainment. The ego wants to go out into the adventure of the world to entertain itself, to look at all the strange things out here, and to identify with them, put our sense of “I” into them, so that we think we’re the ‘doer’. To get back past that sense of doership to the real reality that we’re just the observer, we keep this attention still, we can allow the will of God to come forth. This is like a trick of surrender. We can’t surrender on purpose, that’s just another ego move. What we can do is keep the attention still. Another thing we’ve learned is to try to escape. To let the attention run out into the things of the world in order to get away from the bad feelings inside of us, that may have been put there in our childhood, through school, through being told we’re inferior, bad. This is unconscious mostly, it’s not our fault, but if we can still this escape mechanism, not try to fix it, solve all the little details of it with analysis, but simply to be still and watch it and see that it’s not us. This little attention thing is like a cursor on your computer. If you hold it still and don’t click on it, then things stay still and there’s silence. This is like I said, a strange form of surrender, and that we can let our mind be still, but the world still flows through. Then God’s will is manifest rather than ours. This can be pretty scary at first to let go, it takes a long time for us to have Faith, so we don’t think the world will either fall apart, or go nuts on us, if we don’t have our little will in there trying to control it every minute. This practice, the more we do it, the more we try to hold our breath, our attention, our will, the easier it becomes until we find we can do it without effort, and that the world goes on. It can go from being brief seconds to being minutes, of allowing God to take over, and we can just relax and sit back and watch the show.

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