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 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 inquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am l? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that area, 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, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.
What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: just for a moment, I stopped thinking. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. I forgot my name, my humanness, my thingness, all that could be called “me” or “mine.” Past and future dropped away. 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 were khaki trouser legs terminating downward in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upward in-absolutely nothing whatsoever! 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, snow peaks 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 the 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 that (since early childhood, at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever or too scared 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. ▼
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