Switzerland, December: Wind is gusting around this tall building. Sitting on the cushion at 4.00 am. All beings, for thousands and thousands of years, have been experiencing this same moment we’re in right now. It’s always been like this. No different. I’m jet-lagged, arrived from Thailand yesterday, feels like I just stepped through a door, the other side of which is an island of light and the Ajahn is just there, completely bright with colour, pale tangerine-brown robes and bright blue sky.
I’m situated somewhere in an accumulation of hours that have not arrived yet, awake half the night and eventually got out of bed and dressed at 3.30 am, brushed the teeth, sorted out all kinds of stuff in the kitchen but quietly due to the fact that it’s still night-time and I’m aware that people all around are sleeping. We’re on the 7th floor of an 8 floor block with 2 apartments each floor. That’s 16 residences of sleeping people, say at least 2 people per habitation. That’s 32 persons altogether under one roof and roof garden up there on level 9 with trees and an unknown number of birds sleeping on branches – or trying to sleep in the buffeting wind. I have this vision of all the apartments underneath me, transparent floors, the fabric of the building is see-through and these habitations telescoped below into the distance of 7 levels to the ground floor. I’m walking on atomic particles, I am atomic particles….
Now 4.30 am on this blustery January morning – only fools and horses are awake, maybe the birds. So very quietly going about my business in this soft cozy atmosphere of the middle of the night and carefully washed all the dishes with the detergent used for washing woollen clothes by hand. Forgot to buy proper dishwashing liquid and domestic affairs are going downhill since Jiab went to Cambodia.
The smell of the perfumed detergent triggers images from some place, somewhere I can’t identify. Somehow it seems to remind me of something – or is it that I’m searching through the memory to find a reference? A precedent? And in the process, all kinds of really deeply buried memories of smell are stirred, olfactory hallucinations? The nostalgia of smell, sometimes I get it when somebody sits next to me on the bus who’s used an unknown shampoo or some combination of hygienic smell compound that I have no olfactory cognition of and it seems to remind me of … memory goes off in search of that.
What is it? The mind flashing through memories and unknown images appear in the process. Sensory input but no source memory. I’m in limbo. This is the kind of thing that really jumps out at you in the heightened state of jet-lag awareness. Perfumed detergent has made it obvious the normal self is nothing but a construct – if there’s unfamiliar sensory input, the memory retrieves ‘close match’ files and goes on searching forever. It’s coming on so strong I have to lie down for a while. The mind is in a sea of memories: I don’t know what that smell is, operating system on standby.
Amazing wind actually rattles the patio window pane with a ‘bang’. Up here on the 7th floor level, you get to fully appreciate the word: “velocity.” Looking out through the glass into the dark cold night. The balcony gets gusted, blasted by winds, cleans out all the corners. I think of the birds on level 9 swaying on their, perches, claws firmly attached – that’s why they have these very long toenails…. (at the time I didn’t know about the pigeon nesting there, see next post)
Scraps of paper, a pen, drinking straw, and the bottom lid for a flower-pot fly around in balcony space, over the side and are just gone in 7th floor space, no gravity. Necessary to rescue the watering can before it takes off like Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz: “… I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” And stepping out there on the balcony at 4am, bare feet, ‘Somewhere, over the rainbow…’ wearing thin night-clothes has a transforming effect. ‘Cold’ is not the word. This is not Thailand at 38 degrees centigrade.
Things only appear to exist? There is this natural tendency to investigate and an all-out purposeful search into the phenomenon of ‘no self’ to find out exactly who or what sees there is no ‘self’ will yield not much at all, of course, because there’s nobody there to see it. I asked Ajahn about it in Thailand: if everything without exception is “non self” including the “I” that carries out the investigation, how do we know it’s there – or not there. Where does it all lead to? And without hesitation he just said, “enlightenment,” held my gaze with these penetrating blue-grey eyes. That kind of stopped the conversation for a moment.
Then he went on to say something that started me thinking it’s like being too focussed on the ‘search’; you discover you’re not getting very far with this because what’s holding you back is the intensity of focus on seeking (not finding). The whole thing, being an illusion, is likely to change, and will fade away as soon as the conditions that support it cease. You can be sure this will happen because the conditions that support those conditions are just the same, they’re subject to change and will cease. A house of cards. It’s like, from this place in time and space, I can’t see it clearly but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing there at all, just the appearance of things.
I find a book on the shelf that says something about this and shortly after that fall asleep on the sofa for a number of hours.
“We may say that when a chair is removed from its place, there is the state of chair-being-absent at the very spot from which the chair has been removed from its place. Indeed, the state of chair-being-absent is always there whether the chair is there or is removed from its place. We look at the chair but fail to see the state of its being absent, which is nowhere but the same location. In a like manner we should understand the reality beyond the sensory world… we must look at the world of objects itself but see through interior perception.” (Tan Ajahn Buddadasa link)