Alert


Switzerland: Sun rising, water reflects the light and a black crow flies in from the lakeside with louder and louder calls until it passes below the balcony and the sound gets fainter as it disappears behind the next building, then into the distance … CRAWCRAW.  I’m sitting here, alert, and listening to that sound until nothing can be heard at all. No object to activate ear consciousness. It’s the Sunday morning sleep-late feeling; only the zzz zzz zzz ZZZs coming from all the apartment buildings around. Look out the window, nobody about, streets are empty. Am I the only one awake? I listen for some sound and there isn’t anything happening here; only the act of listening. Awareness poised, waiting for some object to come into range of the receptors. Without an object, awareness goes on forever. I can hear some sounds that are very far away, therefore I have an idea of  ‘faraway-ness’. Beyond the range of receptors there is the great empty dome of sky, the void, suññatā1, spreading out around all things and present in all things

Attention drifts away and a series of incidental thought episodes appear; an anthology of short stories, then it’s all gone again in a moment. The empty space returns, the interval; why this pause? What is this still point where there’s no thought?

‘… (the) still point is not in the mind, it’s not in the body; this is where it’s incapable of being expressed in words, ineffable. The still point isn’t a point within the brain. Yet you’re realising that universal silence, stillness, oneness where all the rest is a reflection and seen in perspective…. personality, kamma, the differences, the varieties … are no longer deluding us because we’re no longer grasping at them.’ [‘The Way It Is’, Ajahn Sumedho, page 123]

The period of pause is just the space that happens before the next intensely demanding thought arises and the tendency to create an identity for it, but before that happens there is this state of nothing. A non-event is taking place; everything gradually stops shifting around, settles down; time begins to stretch out and it all moves incredibly slowly. I forget and attention wanders again.

A pigeon flutters in, comes to rest on the balcony rail, folds away it’s wings, and there’s this small sigh. Quite a deep bird-sized sigh, filling its lungs with air, releasing it and a little ‘bob’ of the fat round body: ah, that’s nice…. It looks at me with extended neck curiously then gets involved in preening feathers in strangely revealing postures.

I hear Jiab in the back room, doing things. She arrived from Phnom Penh via Bangkok yesterday. Not jet-lagged, she says, but we do have to do the laundry at this unusually early time in the morning. The laundry room is in the mezzanine of the building, so off we go, very quietly, one step at a time, downstairs, 6:00AM, past all the sleeping doorways of other people’s apartments, carrying the laundry in bags and trying to be really silent because the whole thing is a bit like being in a graveyard.

Then Jiab wants to sneeze… Oh no! It’s held for a moment then escapes. A surprisingly loud short sound like the bark of a small dog played backwards. The noise of it echoes around the tiled corridor and staircase, the glass panels vibrate for a moment; metal rails hum in resonance and there’s the echo of it all through the stairwell. Dynamic. The silence is shocked by it! We spend some time after that trying to control the intense laughter as we go quietly down with our heavy bags.

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1suññatā: (Śūnyatā) the absence of inherent existence in all phenomena.

Alert to the needs of the journey,
 those on the path of awareness, like swans, glide on, leaving behind their former resting places. [Dhammapada verse 91]

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