| watch this videoRichard Lang - Seeing Who You Really Are
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Richard has written Seeing Who You Really Are, subtitled A Modern Guide to Your True Identity. Why do you call this book ‘A Modern Guide’, Richard?
Richard: Because it uses techniques which we call ‘experiments’, so it’s in the spirit of modern science, which means you look into what you are – you’re not taking anyone else’s word for it, but looking for yourself at your own direct experience. So we call it a modern contemporary way, as opposed to a traditional spiritual way, I suppose.
Iain: It’s empowering, isn’t it, going by your own experience?
Richard: Absolutely. You’re the only one that is you, no one else is you, so in that sense no one else has authority to say what it’s like to be you. As we grow up we take on board what people tell us we are, which is fair enough – that’s our social, public identity. But when you awaken to who you really are, you’re not discovering more about your public identity - you’re discovering your private identity. It’s an inner secret, a wonderful, wonderful secret.
Iain: Your journey started when you were young. I was reading in your book that you started to investigate Christianity when you were a teenager, so there was an inner calling to find out more about yourself and life?
Richard: That’s right. I went to boarding school with my twin brother in Yorkshire when I was nine. There was a grandfatherly headmaster there who was a Christian, but a very open-minded Christian who loved telling stories. His sermons inspired me with a sense of mystery and wonder, and as a result at that young age I explored the mystery – as I look back on it – the mystery of being alive through the Christian way. Then I went to what we in the UK call ‘public school’ when I was thirteen. There the people who represented Christianity were very sincere but didn’t have the kind of mystical depth that I was used to, or was looking for, or was interested in. So by the time I was sixteen I had begun to move away from Christianity. I was deeply affected by Christianity. I wanted to be a priest.
Richard: Yes. I was reading Honest to God when I was fifteen. It was by Bishop Robinson and was a radical book in its time. I was reading it in the late sixties. It was about discovering the ground of being. Because I was receiving no inspiration, really, from the people who represented Christianity at public school, I started to read about other religions, including Buddhism. Then I found my way to the London Buddhist Society’s summer school; there was an address in one of the books.
So I went with my brother, when I was seventeen, all the way from Yorkshire to this summer school, where I met two people who really influenced me. One was Douglas Harding. The other was Dhiravamsa, who was a meditation teacher from Thailand. I was very shy at seventeen. I remember there was a meditation class and I didn’t dare go in. I got to the door and turned back! It seemed a completely other world to me. There was also a Tibetan teacher there who apparently could read your mind. I was so scared of being around him! I thought if he read my mind, the game is up!
One afternoon Douglas Harding was doing a workshop and someone said, “Well, why don’t you go?” Douglas must have been about sixty at the time - this was 1970. I don’t remember much of the workshop but I got ‘the point’. Douglas had developed the experiments I mentioned a moment ago and he did a few of them in this workshop, getting each of the participants to look for themselves at their own point of view. My brother and I did them and we got the point that we were not what we looked like. Douglas talked about having no head. On Having No Head was his famous book.
Iain: When you say that you got the point that you’re not what you look like, what did that mean to you?
Richard: Well, it’s the most simple thing. It’s noticing that, from your own point of view, you can’t see your own head, your own face. I can’t see Richard’s face now. I’m well aware you can see it from over there, but my point of view is I can’t see anything. My hands disappear into space [moving his hands past his head]. Instead of my head here or my face here, for me there’s just a wide-open, boundless, aware space, full of what’s going on now.
Iain: How did that affect your life at seventeen years old?
Richard: I remember getting back home and my mother sighing with relief to see her two sons safe. In other words, they hadn’t been whisked away into a cult! It was 1970 and Buddhism then was rather a strange idea.
But what happened next? I met Douglas in the autumn of 1970. I went back to school for one more term and talked about it to my friends. Then I, my brother and my mother went by train from Yorkshire at Christmas-time to visit Douglas in Suffolk. It had made a big impression on me and David my brother, and my mother wanted to meet this man who had affected her sons so much. During that weekend any doubts I had were sorted out. (There were other people visiting, as there usually were at Douglas’s house.)
Now I was still a pretty confused teenager and I had a lot to work out, but I had discovered something which just thrilled me. More than anything else at the time, it was just the thrill of being empty for the world.
Iain: Talk a little bit more about your early realisation, your awakening to your true identity. What did that actually mean for you at the time?
Richard: I don’t really know now, looking back, what it meant to me. After Christmas I went to school in America and then, when I came back to England, I went to Cambridge University, which was near Douglas’s house. My three years at Cambridge were really spent exploring this. I spent all my time thinking about it, reading about it, practising it. I started to run workshops myself in my room at college.
Richard: Yes. And I used to visit Douglas almost every other weekend. When I was twenty-one, before I left Cambridge, I travelled round the States doing workshops with Douglas. I had hair down to here [points to waist] and Douglas was a very proper-looking English gentleman – he was very open-minded to take me with him! He recognised that it was important to me and he was giving me the experience of giving workshops. I’d discovered something I realised was going to be with me for the rest of my life, and I also realised that I wanted my life to be about sharing this.
I also began to make many friends who saw this as well. By the time I left Cambridge, through Douglas I had dozens and dozens of friends. Douglas was a very good host – there were always people at his house who were interested in being aware of their true nature. It was a non-hierarchical thing, not a guru thing. Once you ‘got it’ you had no doubt about it and it was then, as it is still now, a question of living from that and exploring it, and discovering new things everyday, really, about it.
Iain: You say in your book that you still had a lot of the problems that teenagers have, emotional issues and things, but presumably they didn’t have so much impact on you as they would have done if you hadn’t had this realisation?
Richard: I suppose so. I definitely had a key for dealing with the normal problems. I did have all the normal problems, and still do [laughs], but I have a key for dealing with them – a point of view. Paying attention. Just as it’s face to no face, so it’s problem to no problem. So I’m viewing the problem from a place that’s free of problems. Everyone is free of problems right where they are. If you become conscious of that, it’s a great tool, a great help. I think one thing is seeing who you really are, and then following that comes exploring living from it, and in a way trusting it.
Iain: Richard, just tell us briefly about Douglas himself, a potted history of him in two or three minutes. How he came to develop this technique and what he was like.
Richard: Yes. Douglas was born in 1909 in Suffolk. His father was a member of the Exclusive Plymouth Brethren who were a very strict Christian group who thought they had ‘the way’. Surprise, surprise, isn’t that unusual! [laughs] “We’ve got the way and everyone else is going to hell”. They really believed that. So they were deep – they really were sincere - but narrow. When Douglas was twenty-one he left. However, he didn’t leave quietly by the back door but wrote an essay saying why he thought they couldn’t be right, and why it was time for him to move on and explore other things. They said he was the worst case they’d ever had. He was not popular!
By this time he was training to be an architect in London – he’d moved from the country to London. He wasn’t going to take on trust what the Plymouth Brethren told him to believe. But when he was in London he said to himself, “How do I know that what society is telling me is right? I mean, let me go right back to basics here”.
Douglas had a strong sense of curiosity and a determination to find the truth, and independence, and probably ambition as well. Actually, I think he wanted to be a great philosopher. Really! [laughs] He was in his twenties when he started asking the question “Who am I? What am I?” So this would be in the early thirties in London when the Depression was happening.
Iain: It’s a very deep question, “Who am I?”
Richard: Yes. But Douglas didn’t want simply to join another group who told him their answer - he wanted to work it out for himself.
What was significant was that into philosophy at this time were coming the ideas of relativity. It’s a very simple idea: what something looks like depends partly on how far away you are from it. So Douglas applied this idea to himself. You see me from there as a person, but if you came up to me then I would change – I would just be half a person, then a face, then an eye. If you could come even closer then you would find a layer of cells. And if you could come even closer, with the right instruments, you would find a layer of molecules, then particles.
Douglas took this seriously. He said, “What I am really is different at different ranges - I have layers, like an onion”. On the other hand you could go further away and then, looking at ‘me’, you’d see London, then the planet, the star, the galaxy. You need every one of these layers to sit here and breathe.
By the time that Douglas was working out this onion-like pattern to his own being – that he had many layers – he’d arrived in India. He’d gone there with his family but not on a spiritual quest. He’d got a job there as an architect. Then the Second World War broke out. He was aware of the risk to his life and wanted to find out who was at ‘the centre of the onion’ before he died. He wanted to find out ‘who’ was alive whilst he still had time.
But he’d got stuck. If you go up to anything you can almost peel away the last layer but not quite. I mean, what is underneath the particles? In one sense this is what science is trying to find out: what is everything made of?
Douglas applied the same question that science applies to objects to himself. He said, “Well, I’m an object. What am I behind all my layers?” And he got stuck at the last layer. What is the so-called reality, if you like, behind all these appearances?
Then one day he was reading a book and found a picture in it by Ernst Mach, an Austrian philosopher and physicist – he was quite influential, I think, to Einstein. He was a sort of early relativatist and phenomenologist, I suppose. Anyway, this picture was a self-portrait. Now, most self-portraits you draw using a mirror, don’t you?
Iain: I’ve never done it but I guess you would.
Richard: You get the mirror and there’s your face. You get a piece of paper and you draw what you see in the mirror. So actually this is a picture of what you look like from several feet.
Richard: It’s a picture of you as an object, isn’t it? But this picture was what Ernst Mach looked like from his own point of view, not using a mirror. In the picture you’ve got the room and then you’ve got Mach’s legs, and you’ve got his torso, and then you’ve got his arm reaching out to the easel…
Iain: So you don’t see his face?
Richard: No. And down one side of the picture you’ve got a huge nose going from the ceiling to the floor. So if I close one eye now, I’ve got the biggest nose in the room! Mach also had a moustache, a ‘handlebar’ moustache - a big moustache. It was as wide as the room, going all the way along the bottom of the picture. Of course, you don’t see Ernst Mach’s face. It’s quite a well-known picture. I think he drew it in the 1890s or thereabouts. Mach wanted to put aside all his ideas and just draw what he actually experienced.
When Douglas saw this he thought, “Oh my God, I’m in the same condition! I’ve got a different body coming out of here, but it disappears; there’s no face here”. So Douglas’s whole thing really was point of view. From your point of view [points] I’ve got a head – that’s valid. But from my point of view I don’t find anything here. There are sensations, but no object here, just awareness. And I will take my view as being just as valid as your view. Both are true. So this was when the penny dropped, this was when Douglas discovered what was at the centre of ‘the onion’, at the centre of all the layers: nothing at all. And the nothing was full of a view out, a unique view out.
Iain: But he still had his mind running…
Richard: Yes. Part of the view out is your thoughts, your feelings, and your reactions. But my thoughts are coming and going in this empty space. It’s not something you can demonstrate outwardly. You can never prove you’re headless to someone else.
Iain: So the space for you is infinite space?
Richard: Well, let me have a look… Yes, it is [laughs]. That’s the experimental approach, you see. I’m not relying on what I experienced even just a minute ago. Let me have a look now. My hand disappears, I don’t find any boundary to this emptiness.
Iain: Look, you’ve brought some props, so why don’t we have a bit of a go?
Iain: I have to say that about twenty-five years ago, maybe longer, I did an afternoon with Douglas Harding. I can’t say I remember very much about it, I can’t say I got very much from it. So that was the last time I had one of these ‘cards’ in my hand. Do I do it, or do we both do it?
Richard: We both do it. [Iain hands Richard an A4-size card with a face-sized hole cut out from the middle, and a small mirror attached to the bottom right corner.] I’ll explain what it is. This is an experiment. It’s for noticing the difference between what you look like to others and what you are for yourself. So very simply, if you look in the mirror you’ll see your face.
Iain: Yes, I can see myself. [Iain holds the card in front of his face.] We should say there’s a little mirror down here.
Richard: And a hole in the card.
Richard: OK. Where is that appearance?
Iain: My face is now over there [points to mirror]. I see it from here [points to eyes].
Richard: I only see one picture of a face [looking in his own mirror]. I’m seeing it from here, but I only see one face and it’s there.
Richard: Your mirror shows you what you look like from arm’s length. If you bring the mirror towards you a little, it shows you what you look like at a closer distance, and you look different. If you were to bring it right up to you, you’d get a blur [holds card close to eye]. Now bring it away again. Your mirror is helping you, showing you how you appear at different distances.
Iain: I’m going to say to people watching this, if they want to stop the programme, all they have to do is find a piece of card and cut a hole in it, a hole which they can put their face in like this. You get a small mirror and paste it on in the corner of the card. People can do this, and then re-start the programme and join us in the experiment.
Richard: Yes, sure. This is very simple. I’m seeing where my face is - it’s there in the mirror. But not only do I want to be aware of what I look like, I also want to know what I am. That’s the question, “What am I really?” The mirror can’t tell me. It can tell me what I look like, all the way up to here where I make contact with it, but it can’t reveal what I am at centre because I can’t get it here. But I want to find out; I want to take a fresh look at what I am at centre. So now I look at the hole in the card [holding it at arm’s length again] and I notice it’s round, and it’s empty. And because it’s empty I can fit things in it. I can fit your face in it, or your hand. Yes? But it’s a small hole. Now, paying attention to the card, I bring it towards me – if you try this – I bring it towards me. The hole gets bigger, yes?
Iain: That’s true.
Richard: And it gets even bigger. Finally, when I put it right on [putting it on like a mask], I find no boundary to the hole, visually speaking. [For the viewer, Richard’s face is framed by the card.] I’ve now drawn my attention from arm’s length all the way to zero distance. Here at zero distance the card disappears, and I find this boundless, awake space, full of my view out. So it’s a little experiment for drawing your attention from arm’s length all the way home to what you are privately. That’s it, you see, very simple. [Both laugh.] Now if you don’t feel ‘wow’, then so be it. No one can see their own face, but everyone responds differently to noticing this.
Iain: We have an image of our own face. I can look at the mirror, of course, but I have an image of my face. I’m not a very good artist so I’d find it difficult to draw my own face. It would be unrecognisable because I don’t have that talent. But somehow if I see pictures of a thousand faces I can pick my face out.
Richard: Yes. You can remember the image of your face now, if you don’t look in the mirror. But where have you got that image from?
Iain: Well, it’s not only from looking here in the mirror - I’ve seen it thousands and thousands of times.
Richard: Yes, so you’ve learned it.
Iain: Absolutely, it’s a memory.
Richard: As a baby and an infant we’re not yet identified with that face. I have a friend whose daughter was four, and my friend asked her to go and wash her face in the bathroom. When she looked in to see what her daughter was doing, she was washing the face in the mirror.
Iain: She was washing the mirror?
Richard: Yes. That’s where she found her face. She was innocent and hadn’t yet moved it in imagination to her centre. The same little girl came home from school one day with a picture of her class. Her mum was going through every face with her and, when her daughter got to one little girl, she said, “Oh, I’ve never seen that little girl in my class!” Well, who was it? It was herself, of course. Until we’re a certain age we are faceless and headless. We haven’t learned yet to identify with our appearance. By the time we’re a child we are aware of our appearance, but are not yet fully identified with it.
Iain: Yes, you see it can change. I remember a film made years ago about a plane crash in the Andes. It was a rugby team, I forget where they were going, from Chile to Brazil I think, when the plane crashed. It was an incredible story because half of them were killed when the plane crashed. Some survived and were there five or six weeks, and in the end were eating the dead bodies. The main guy who survived, who wrote the book, an incredibly moving book – I’ll stick to my point, which was that he didn’t see himself in the mirror for about five or six weeks. Then he saw himself in the mirror and he got such a shock because he had changed so much in that time. So obviously his image of himself had remained the same, yet his physical appearance had changed quite dramatically. I guess that happens sometimes - your memory is out of date, it’s the past, it’s memory.
Richard: I think it’s probably always out of date unless you’re actually looking in the mirror at the time. I’ve had that experience going camping, and after a day or two I’ve looked in the mirror and been surprised. I think the process of growing up is becoming aware of your individual identity, which is bound up with your appearance, of course, and your nationality and your family and what you want to do in your life. Growing up is finding out who you are on the human level, and this is fantastic. Language and technology and culture all come out of this.
But I would say it’s not the end of the story. Your true nature, which is inexpressible really but which we could say is this boundless clarity which is always here… As you grow up you lose touch with it, or you lose awareness of it, or you might overlook it, and you become hypnotised by your individual identity, which is absolutely necessary and a wonderful thing.
But if you live and then die convinced you’re the one you see in the mirror, I think you’ve missed out on what is your birthright, the next stage really, which is awakening to who you really are and discovering your private identity. You continue being aware and developing your public identity – for me Richard and for you Iain - and everything we want to do. But awakening to your true nature is discovering who is at the heart of your human life. Awakening to who is at the heart of your human life is awakening to an infinite resource which empowers you to be yourself even more. It’s not a denial of your individuality - it’s an empowerment of it.
Iain: Richard, you also explored Buddhism for a time.
Iain: Is Buddhism still part of your life now?
Richard: Not in the same way as it was. About eight years after I’d met Douglas, I met Dhiravamsa again, who was there at the same London Buddhist Society summer school where I first met Douglas. I’d come across Dhiravamsa several times, over the years. In 1978 I heard him give a talk and I thought I’d like to go on a retreat with him, which I did, and it impressed me. A Buddhist vipassana retreat. Later that year I went to live at his meditation centre which was in Cambridgeshire. After a little while I was asked to train to lead retreats. I trained for a year and then led ten-day vipassana retreats for three years, a very intense experience, a wonderful experience. It was vipassana meditation mixed with a lot of body-work. That’s where I first learned Tai Chi.
I needed the time there, where I could be quiet and still with the experience and realisation of who one really is. I needed to digest it, I think, looking back. And I needed to explore my own way because I’d obviously been very influenced by Douglas at a young age, and I suppose I needed to plough my own furrow. Walk my own path, really. Which I did.
I don’t practise regular sitting meditation like I used to then, but I love it when I do. And I am so happy to have explored another approach in depth. I was so influenced by Douglas and ‘The Headless Way’ and the experiments, which seemed to me to work just like that, not only with me but with others. But I did wonder what other people were doing. Now I had found value in this other way, but then I had to work out where I stood vis-à-vis ‘The Headless Way’ and meditation and other things. I came to a deeper understanding that all these are ‘ways’ and one’s true nature doesn’t belong to anyone. So though it was a confusing time for a while, trying to work out where I stood vis-à-vis these different approaches, it led me to a deeper sense of my own freedom and independence.
Iain: You mentioned in your book that you were at one point in difficulty, and you said you “trusted the void to help me”. What does that mean to you, “trusting the void to help you”?
Richard: Well, it means, for example, if I’ve got a situation where I don’t know what to do, or I’m powerless to do what I want to do, so I’ve run out of resources – what do you do? If you’re awake to who you really are, you recognise that this silence here, this headless nothingness, is a very clever headless nothingness. I take the view that it’s the source, that out of this awake nothing comes this moment, so it’s a very clever, very creative, fertile emptiness. In that moment when I don’t know what to do next, seeing who I am, and paying attention to not only the view out, but also to the view in to the nothing, I hand over, or surrender, or wait for something to come up out of the nothing. The thing about this is there’s no guarantee that it will come up with what you want it to come up with!
Iain: Or in the timeframe you’re hoping.
Richard: That’s right. There’s no guarantee, it’s an experiment. This is why it’s trust, I suppose. But as you go on you find it does come up with amazing and much better results than you could have thought up. But sometimes you can’t understand its reasons, sometimes for a long time, and sometimes never.
Iain: Yes, and it takes courage to stay with it, doesn’t it?
Richard: Courage, and desperation [laughs]. I don’t know what else to do sometimes. But you can experiment trusting it not just in problematic situations, but also in ordinary situations. It’s more fun to see what the void wants to do rather than what you want to do. It is very creative. Very creative.
Iain: It comes back to something that comes up many times on Conscious TV, this thing of free-will. People think, at least to some extent, that we have free-will and we can do what we want. But there’s a wider picture there somewhere, which is saying, “Well, maybe you don’t have as much free-will as you think you do. In fact, maybe you don’t have any free-will!” [laughs]
Richard: I know. I wouldn’t pretend to have the answer to this age-old question, but my view would probably be something like this: that I recognise I have a public self and a private self, and as far as the public self goes (in my case Richard), you take responsibility for yourself and for the actions you take. The policeman will soon put you right if you don’t take responsibility for that! On that level everything applies as it does normally in society. But there’s a private self, your true self, which is the same in everyone but has a different expression – this one is a mystery, so I don’t know whether I could define it in these terms, free or not free. Well, it is completely free and wild and spontaneous, and loving and intelligent. I think seeing who you really are involves giving up and surrendering to the will of that one, to put it in traditional language. But once you surrender and give up to the will of that one, you are also paradoxically recognising that that one is yourself. So I think we have the experience, but our ways of describing it are somewhat inadequate.
Iain: In your book Seeing Who You Really Are you have nine different stages. Originally you wrote the book as lessons on the internet, is that right?
Iain: You got a great response to that, didn’t you?
Iain: You did it in nine different lessons. Could you take us briefly through each lesson, not in great detail but to give people a feel of what’s in the book?
Richard: Yes. I can’t remember really what they are, but the idea is to look at one’s identity using the experiments, which approach one’s identity from different angles. One is a visual one: can you see your head? What are you looking out of?
Iain: Which we did.
Richard: We’ve done that. I can’t see my head here. Another is this: that two holes become one. I’m looking out of one opening here. You see I have two eyes, but I’m looking out of my single eye. There’s another one which has to do with movement, where you turn round and from your own point of view you see the room moves and you’re still. Publicly you’re turning and the room is stable.
Iain: This is like the whirling dervishes, is it?
Richard: That’s right.
Iain: I’ve never actually done this but they can do it for hours, it seems, and they don’t get dizzy?
Richard: Yes. Well, there’s a little secret here, though it doesn’t work for everyone. (If you get dizzy you’ve got to stop!) One of the most basic experiments is pointing. I’m pointing and looking at what I’m pointing at [pointing at his face] and I see no face here, from my private point of view. Then, still pointing, you stand up and start to turn round and you see the room going past and nothing moving here – so you’re still. I would say, “I’m still and the room moves”. When you’re aware of that, you can do it for ages – well, I can do it for ages - without getting dizzy, because you’re still.
From this experiment you can draw many applications. For example when you’re travelling you see that from your own point of view you go nowhere. I didn’t come to the studio here - it arrived in me. That’s my own private experience. This makes a difference to travelling. When you’re driving you’re seeing that the scenery is moving and you’re still. Privately it’s like having a secret. This helps with stress. The world is a stressful place, but here [points at himself] there’s no movement and no stress. You’re awake to this place that’s free.
There’s another experiment with closed eyes: when I close my eyes you see me close my eyes, but for me the room disappears and then re-appears when I open them again.
Richard: There are others to do with thoughts and feelings. Those nine lessons are just a way of looking through the different experiments and at different aspects of one’s life, and seeing how this very simple realisation applies in different circumstances.
Iain: Is it still available on the internet?
Richard: Well, no. It was turned into that book. But since then we’ve completely re-done the website and on the website now we have a free course, so you can subscribe for free and you’ll get emails inviting you to remember your true nature and explore the different aspects of it. So there’s another course there that’s available.
Iain: Do you manage to stay in this flow most of the time in your life?
Richard: Yes, I think so. And so do many of my friends - I’m not saying this is special to me. It’s a wonderful thing: the more you go on with it the more you realise it’s always been there and it’s natural. If you’re not directly aware of the space you’re looking out of, you know that it’s there and, any time you like, you can become aware of it. So if it’s not on the front burner it’s on the back one and you can bring it forward whenever you like, so there’s really no worry about it. This is the experience of many of my friends, Douglas included, many friends, that it becomes a natural thing.
You know, I am now with you, Iain, and I am conscious that I am face to no face with you. I’m not particularly thinking it, but I am being it. I don’t see Richard’s face. I’m built open for you, I see I include you, and in that sense I am you, I am your appearance. Of course, I don’t know what you’re feeling and so on. So this is a very different way of being with others, potentially, if you go with this and take it seriously. You’re discovering that others are not only other but they’re also yourself.
Iain: There’s inclusiveness about the relationship.
Richard: Yes, inclusiveness about the relationship and about the world. It’s discovering literally that the world is within you. I see the wall in front of me and I see these two walls on each side, the ceiling, the floor and my body, but I don’t see the fourth wall. So privately, for me, I’m not surrounded by four walls - there’s only three. I’m not in prison, I’m not trapped in this room; in fact, this room is in me, privately. So I’m seeing I’m free as who I really am. As an adult I’m aware that as Richard I’m not free. So I have both sides. This is so healthy and delightful that one wants to be aware of it. It’s not really a difficult job - it’s something that is a very positive experience, and becomes as normal as being self-conscious. It’s normal.
Iain: Your reference points change somehow. You saw yourself as a separate self when you were much younger and then you had the experience with Douglas, and that has brought about an inclusiveness and that’s presumably still evolving all the time.
Richard: Yes, exactly. When you’re a baby you’re not aware of your separate self yet. The process of growing up is becoming aware of your separate self; you’ve always been your true self. But in order to profoundly believe in your separate self, you’ve got to forget about your true self, otherwise you’d have it always in the back of your mind and you wouldn’t really believe in your separate self. So the process of growing up is this profound identification with your separate self.
Now when you awaken, in my view you realise this identification is not a mistake; this is a beautiful development in awareness - that the One has become aware of being a little one, a public self as well as its true self. So I find that living my life as Richard is different now that I’ve awoken to who I really am. I am now aware of this fantastic resource at the heart of Richard. Of course, when you realise it’s at the heart of yourself you realize it’s at the heart of everyone. And everything.
Now the life you live when you’re headless, to put it in very simple terms – publicly it’s the same, but privately there’s a fantastic new dimension arisen. So, for example, publicly I’m aware that we’re separate [gestures between the two] but privately I’m now experiencing being capacity for you. This is a beautiful, deep, true kind of open secret. This affects the way you are with others. I also see I am capacity for my environment - I don’t stop here [gestures at leg]. The ‘space’ not only includes my body and my feelings but the table and the trees and the planet. One sees that one has no boundaries privately, whilst publicly you’re well aware of the boundaries.
Iain: You’re still aware of Richard?
Richard: Absolutely. Probably more so.
Iain: It’s very interesting. We’ve done a series on Conscious TV about non-duality. We’ve interviewed maybe six or seven people now. They are all pretty much saying that there’s no self, that there’s – I’m using my words rather than their words – there’s only Oneness. The individual ‘I’ has gone. But it seems you’re talking about a different state. You’re in touch with the void or the source, and yet Richard is still there.
Richard: I really don’t understand any other way of being. I mean, if you were not aware of your individual self, then why not walk in front of a bus? What would be the difference? I’m being a bit facetious, but I find I’m aware of both. And I think this is fantastic. There’s not a mistake here, or anything gone wrong. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing that the One now has many vehicles for expression. What a journey! In the beginning when you were a baby you were ‘one’; then you discovered you were ‘one amongst many’; now you discover you’re ‘one and many’. We are many and we are one. Now that is a far better condition than just being one. You’ve got the best of both worlds.
I think this is being honest and this is being true and I think this corresponds with what people have found down the centuries as well. But also in terms of the modern world: I mean, how far is the claim that you don’t exist going to go? It doesn’t look very practical in terms of dealing with the problems in the world. You might say, “Well, it’s not about that”, but to me the challenge is to communicate and show how this realisation is highly practical and does not fly in the face of science, or what we know about being here and who we are. It’s an inner realisation that supports one’s individuality and empowers one to really be oneself.
Iain: You become very lively and passionate!
Richard: Yes, yes, really! And it fits in with so much poetry and art and so on. I know I’m making a plea for this modern way, but it has profound implications.
For example, when you’re a baby, do you know yet where your mind is? No, because you don’t think of yourself as an object, so your mind is everywhere. The process of growing up is the discovery that your mind is located here in your head, apparently, and other people have also got minds, over there in their heads. It’s called the ‘theory of mind’. I’ve never experienced anyone else’s mind myself, but growing up is the taking-on-board of that idea, that there are ‘other people’ and there’s ‘a self’. This is a superb development and it means that one can own oneself and describe one’s own point of view and listen to other people’s points of view, so really deepening one’s experience of life.
Now when you awaken to who you really are you still accept all that, but you re-awaken to your private point of view. Having no head, where are my thoughts? They’re out in the world.
Iain: Where are they?
Richard: And where are my feelings? Privately I’m seeing my mind isn’t contained, isn’t trapped - it’s big. Now, is this good for your mind? It’s fantastic. One of the main psychological problems we have is feeling trapped and self-conscious and critical. That partly comes from this idea that we’re behind a face here.
Iain: It’s just all in there [gestures to head]. And if you see that there isn’t a ‘there’ for it to be in, it poses a big question – where is it?
Richard: I know.
Iain: Which is the start of quite a journey.
Richard: It is, it is. And the more you go on, the more you realise how much you swallowed, hook, line and sinker, about what it was to be you. It’s fully understandable, it’s the objective view, but the subjective, private view is so different and so freeing and so creative. And they don’t argue against each other - they complement one another; the outside view and the inside view. They’re not enemies, they’re friends, and this is the great work I think Douglas Harding did in his philosophy. He showed how this makes sense.
Iain: OK, we’re going to draw to a close now. Thank you very much for coming, Richard. And don’t forget Richard Lang’s book, Seeing Who You Really Are - A Modern Guide to Your True Identity.
To watch the original video interview click here. This transcript is included in the book: "Conversations on Non-Duality: 26 Awakenings" published by Cherry Red Books. The book is available from amazon.co.uk, amazon.com and as a kindle edition.
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