William Blake (1757-1827)
  by Richard Lang
The Headless Way


How do you know but every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?

Seest thou the little winged fly, smaller than a grain of sand?
It has a heart like thee, a brain open to heaven and hell,
Withinside wondrous and expansive; its gates are not closed;
I hope thine are not.

William Blake


William Blake (1757-1827), the English poet, painter, engraver, and printer - a man of many trades - was also a mystic who had insight into his true nature. The essence of mysticism is the awakening to, and letting go into, who one really is - the Godhead in Meister Eckhart's language, the Beloved in Jalaladin Rumi's, the Self in Ramana Maharshi's, the Unborn in Bankei's. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet.

The nature of our true Self, our innermost identity, is boundlessness, stillness, timelessness, capacity for the world. This is also the innermost identity of every being in the cosmos - including the birds in the air, and the 'little winged fly'.

Animals, birds, fish, insects - all are unselfconsciously open to the living cosmos. Humans on the other hand have become self-conscious. We can see ourselves as others see us, and to a large extent identify with this image. This self-consciousness is a profoundly significant step away from animal 'unselfconsciousness'. From this developed sense of our place in the world flows language, culture, civilisation, science, technology, art, literature.

In the process of becoming self-conscious, however, we forget something essential - our greater identity as the Whole. Narrowing ourselves down to our individual appearance, we overlook what we share with every bird and fly - edgeless Being containing all.

Blake must have looked at a bird, perhaps a swallow wheeling and turning in the sky on a summer's day, and imagined its experience. It would not be thinking of itself as a little bird swooping and gliding through the 'airy way'. It would simply be space for the sky, for the English countryside below, for the sensation of wind and sun. It would be capacity for the world, without even thinking about it.

And a little fly making its way over meadows and brooks on a warm summer's day? Neither would it be thinking of itself as a tiny thing in an immense world. It would simply be wide open to the grass and flowers, the buzzing of other flies, the sigh of the wind in the trees, the sparkle of sunlight on water.

This is our condition too - we are wide open to the world.

When we were born we did not think of ourselves as 'babies' - we were space for mother's face, father's face, the sound of birdsong, the feelings of hunger, a daffodil dancing in the breeze in the garden.

But gradually we grew aware of our appearance - through feedback from those around us, from looking in the mirror. (See the experiment 'Putting on your mirror face': http://www.headless.org/experiments.html) We took this appearance on, learning to wear it like clothes. Thus we came to identify with our face, our body, our mind, overlooking and blotting out awareness of our original, edgeless, transparent awareness - our Original Face as Zen Buddhism calls it. (See 'The Face Game' by Douglas Harding: http://www.headless.org/articles.html)

Blake remained in touch with his 'Original Face'. Only because he was awake to his own immensity could he appreciate the immensity of bird and fly - the immensity of Being in which every being is rooted.

Looked at from outside, each of us is 'closed by your senses five' - we are finite things in a world of things. But on the "withinside" each and every one of us is "wondrous and expansive".

Re-discovering our immensity is re-discovering our identity with the world. This awakening, this second leap forwards in consciousness, has implications for human culture as profound and wide-ranging as our earlier leap from 'animal unconsciousness' into human self-consciousness.

One of these implications is a re-assessment of our relationship to our environment, to the animals and birds and insects and plants with whom we live and on whom we depend. At root, human and animal, bird and reptile and insect are indivisibly one. Recognition of this also means respect and care for these 'other' life forms - life forms that all flow from the one Source that is 'our' Source.

For more information about William Blake, see http://venus.nmhu.edu/~english/mart.htm

For experiments/awareness exercises for awakening to one's true identity as the Whole, see http://www.headless.org/experiments.html

Richard Lang
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