When My Face Dropped Off

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The Buddha

One traveler on the path explains the moment, on a ridge in the Himalayas, within sight of Mount Everest, when he found that he had no head. He stopped thinking and a “peculiar quiet” came over him.

There is the Buddhist parable of the woman who lost her head. She liked to look at herself in the morning after she woke up. One morning, she looked in the mirror and saw that she had no head. She became distraught and started running around, yelling, looking for her head. Friends tied her up to keep her from hurting herself, but she continued yelling for some time. Finally, someone hit her in the head with a stick, which caused her to realize that her head was always right where it had always been.

In the story of important, early Zen master Dogen’s enlightenment experience, he uses the phrase, “bodymind is cast off.”

One night, my face dropped off.

For most people in the United States, this will likely sound puzzling, if not absurd. We tend to think of the “body” and the “mind” as two distinct things, in our usual materialist way. But even our materialist brain scientists have shown that any person’s mental image of their body may not correspond very closely to their actual body.

This is consistent with the Buddha’s realization that light and sound enter our brains, which then interpret the sensory data according to existing knowledge and belief, such that we never perceive the world directly. Perception depends on mind as much as it does on sense organs, if not more. Remember that, for the Buddha, mind is our sixth sense. This is why having dysfunctional ideas in our heads can make it difficult to interact with the rest of the world.

This is also why we fail to recognize our inherent enlightenment, which the Buddha says we all already are.

One really basic dysfunctional idea we all have is that we develop a very basic, very deep seated commitment to the basic characteristics of our bodies and minds, or bodyminds, which are, as this suggests, intimately intertwined. Awakening completely involves a profound, thoroughgoing change in your perception of who you are and the world you live in, including changes in your bodymind.

Kind of like turning your computer off and turning it back on again, especially if you have just installed a new operating system. What you see on the screen may be entirely different after than before.

You may lose all perception of your bodymind, or parts of your body, during this process. You may perceive that your head, or your face, or your whole bodymind, disappear, or drop off. Apparently, you will still be able to function as/after this happens.

You will just be more fully awake.

Please help spread the word.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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