expecting the unexpected


IMG_3972Gorakhpur station: 21.00 hours, just got off the bus and we’re waiting for everyone to assemble and walk together to the train. There are security guards here with short lathi sticks as if expecting a small riot. Darkness, shadowy figures flitting around and trying to see what’s going on, I’m confused by something that seems to be heaped on the road beside some parked cars. It’s a shapeless mass I cannot identify; looks like a pile of brownish-grey sacks filled with something – no, wait, it’s alive. I saw it move! What is it? And for a moment there’s uncertainty… something I cannot recognize, no matter how hard the brain fathoms it. Eventually I see it’s a cow sleeping on the road. I forgot, of course, that they have to lie down and sleep at night. I’ve seen plenty cows standing about, but somehow I assumed they’d be rounded up at night and put in cow sheds. Of course not; they just sleep on the streets; as if the whole environment were fields and meadows. Surprising really, a cow sleeping in a car park is the last thing I’d have expected, but you can expect events and occurrences to be unexpected here. It’s that thing again, difficult to understand, a consciousness of a sense object that’s unknown and the subsequent search for something that’s not in the data bank inevitably causes the mind to invent an explanation that will fill the empty space.

Tour guide blows his whistle, raises his little flag. We have to follow him. So we set off walking through the station in a long line, headed for the train. It attracts attention; we are the Buddhist pilgrims, dressed in white and black costumes and flanked by uniformed guards who raise their sticks and shout at the local people to get out of the way. Seems to me people here are used to the idea of privilege, hierarchy and the sons and daughters of the Buddhist feudal lords in some distant country are passing through, so get out of the way. It’s not a good feeling but that’s how it is here. On to the train and into our little carriage – just Jiab and me in this cosy place, quite nice. Preparing now for an overnight journey to Gonda then Sravasti.

IMG_3901After some time the train sets off, speed increases and the track is rough and bumpy, we have to get used to being thrown around. Along to the little bathroom to brush my teeth and holding on to every handhold available along the corridor; mindfulness of rock-and-roll. Inside, there’s a tiny sink in the corner with a shelf above it and I have to bend down, lower the head under the shelf and brush my teeth quite close to the sink. The movement of brushing teeth: updownup downupdown updownup is in sync with the rhythm of the train for a while then there’s a sudden lurch of the carriage, down and up. I hit my head upwards on the underside of the shelf and whack my elbow sideways on the wall, simultaneously.

Getting shoved around and bullied by the train causes irritation to flare up, it shouldn’t be like this, then it falls away – easier to see that letting-go thing when you’re in an unstable situation like this on a moving train and all the rough and tumble. There’s an underlying awareness that I’m rattling along at about 70 mph, everything is moving past me, sorry can’t stay, got to go, bye!… and I’m in a long tube, penetrating stable realty. Back along the corridor jiggidy-jig jiggidy-jig, nursing slightly painful elbow and into the carriage. Jiab is in the top bunk, and I’m down below. It’s all very different from normal environmental conditions, where there’s stability and a tendency to sink deeper and deeper in the slow mud of thinking-about-things.

I’m asleep straight away then four hours later something wakes me; back in the world of bump, rattle, bang – rattle, bang, bump. How to get back to sleep? I try watching the inbreath, the outbreath, lying flat on my back and the extremely bumpy track becomes the object of attention. It helps to see the bumps on the line not as bumps but as downward movements; small steps going steadily downwards, some steps are lower than others and it’s all going down bit by bit; sometimes there’s a little upwards return but mostly it’s small incremental steps getting lower and lower. Then it seems to land on a much lower step and down into a place where consciousness seems to remain steady, smooth and restful. It stays like that. A space stretches out from here that seems to encompass all the small steps that have occurred so far and all the steps yet to come. It’s in this space I’m able to settle. Sleep returns and the train goes on through the night in a straight line across the moonlit landscape, jiggidy-jig jiggidy-jig jiggidy-jig….

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Photos from the Witit Rachatatanun Collection

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