A Sea of People

Bangkok: I arrived at Don Mueang aiport, Sunday 28 October, unusually busy; three or more flights arriving at the same time. Through the exit marked TAXIS, out to the street area and about five hundred people are waiting for taxis; wow! Everything in Bangkok is on such a huge scale. It was the last day of the school holidays so families were returning from the provinces to the city. It looked like it was going to be a long wait, but it wasn’t bad, very well handled, airport officials steering this great sea of people into lines, no problem. And lined up on the other side of the crowd barrier was a virtual convoy of waiting taxis, four lanes wide and stretching back as far as the eye could see.

But the initial reaction is frustration, of course. I’d just arrived from Ch’mai and that small town thing where there’s less of the kind of situation that invites you to get engaged, upset about it and thus vent your spleen. I’m saying this because a part of me wasn’t ready to have a frustrating situation like this, but that’s the thing about frustrating situations, they just come along when you least expect it and there you are, same old story. Interesting to see how fast the energy of aversion arises and you’re locked into an immediate response; struggling with ‘self’ among all the other ‘selves’ – ‘me’ first, ‘me’ first, all trying to get a taxi before there are no taxis left and I’m reminded of a Bob Dylan line: ‘… tryin’ to get to Heaven before they close the door…’ Seeing it in this way means thank goodness there’s mindfulness and an opportunity to bring what I know from the Thai othon (patient endurance) to conscious awareness and immediately there’s a small space in the mind and it’s a bit easier to take. These are the teachings I’ve absorbed from the Ajahns; there’s also uppekha (equanimity) in there somewhere and the fact that this is what life is about; the ups and downs of it and the Eight Worldly Dhammas

Deep breaths… and contemplating the value of standing meditation. I’m in one of three very long lines of people with trolleys and pulling wheeled luggage but no jostling, no push-and-shove; well-behaved, and the Thais are calm. So I get calm too. I realize that what the frustration is about is not being able to see what’s going on – the limitations of our human physicality? All I can see are the backs of people’s heads and I’m moving my head from side to side, trying to see past all the other heads down there to the taxi kiosk at the end of the line, very far away. What’s going on down there? But all the other heads are doing the same thing and my line of vision is obscured by somebody else’s head, moving from side to side because the head in front of him is in the way. Moving my head like this probably causes other heads behind me to have to do the same thing. And there’s a consciousness of this.

Curious and interesting, hundreds of wobbling heads; the face is on the front and there are no sensory receptors on the back, no rear-view mirror either but it’s a possibility? All sensory data is received in the front and ears on the sides. Seeing the back of someone’s head is like looking at a closed-door, so there is a natural tendency to want to get around to the other side see the face. No, can’t do that kind of thing in a line waiting for taxis; we just have to switch off the ‘search’ function and allow things to happen. There’s an Alan Watts observation about it being like the headlight of a car. ‘The headlight illumines the road in front but does not shine on the wiring that connects it with the battery, and the battery with the engine. And so, we are not ordinarily aware of how we are aware.’ [Zen and the Beat Way, Alan Watts]

I got a taxi okay, no problem, and it was a lady driver, Khun Siripon, which was nice because there’s never any hassle with a lady taxi driver, thank you Khun Siripon! When we got to the house, I paid the fare, gave her quite a large tip and she turned round to look at me, face-to-face and the wai she gave in response was so respectful, I was humbled. Amazing.

I was going to write something else about Douglas Harding, ‘On Having No Head’ but that’ll have to be done some other time.


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