the joy of having no head

January 7, 2011

spiritual practice

Over twenty years ago, I read the book ‘On having no head: Zen and the rediscovery of the obvious’ by D.E. Harding.

I have been trying to achieve no-headness ever since, and largely failing. Buddhists talk about the monkey mind. My mind is distinctly simian. Any attempts to quieten or tame it, results in howls of protest, and it reasserts its dominance.

When I awake, the temptation is to switch on the computer to feed it’s unrelenting need for information, to read whilst eating breakfast, to come up with a zillion thoughts whilst meditating. Most days I just give up and let it have its way. It is a brat. It hasn’t helped that I have been fuelling my monkey mind with university study for the past ten years.

Franz Bardon has helped. I have had his book ‘Initiation into Hermetics’ for over a year now, and his exercises to gain control of the mind are brilliant. Having said that I am stuck at the exercise where one is to have five minutes of no-thinking before one can move on to the next exercise.

When I was working in foster care, many of my colleagues who were trained in psychology suggested that I have ADHD. If ADHD is an overactive and unruly mind, that drives my body to exhaustion and beyond, then I have it. It took me a long while to understand the answer to the Zen koan “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”, because I was thinking active rather than quiet.

Steiner talks about the need to integrate the heart, hands, and head, for the development of the soul. Watching my boys play, either together or solitary, I see how their whole being goes into what they are doing. Totally absorbed.

I have recently found one way to achieve this balance for myself, through qi gong. Qi gong is bliss. Movement, mindfulness, and breathing. Integration of the whole self. Those rare moments where there are no thoughts, just complete and utter immersion in ‘being’ are pure joy.

This is a fairly deep topic if one thinks about it. Religions, philosophies, ideologies,  have been built upon this one simple concept. A lot of debate and conflict has arisen about the best method of achieving one’s true nature. Humanity’s best asset can be its worst enemy. As John Milton said, “the mind can make heaven of hell, and hell of heaven”. In psychiatry and psychology, there has been a surge of interest in quietening the mind. It is termed ‘mindfulness’ in Buddhism and in Western practice, but this can be misleading because it is really no-mindness. But, I’m not thinking about all of that right now.

This year, I am going to try to take Steiner’s advice and achieve balance through paying equal attention to the heart, hands, and head.

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