‘When the iron eagle flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over the earth, and the Dhamma will go to the land of the white man.’ [Prophecy by 8th Century Indian sage Padmasambhava]
Chiang Mai: The flight takes four and a half hours, Delhi/Bangkok, then the long walk through this celestial airport and into the domestic terminal. It’s a one hour flight Bangkok/Chiang Mai and you’re there. Arrive late evening, drop bags in the hall and crash out on the bed like how you park the car: reverse in, switch off, lock doors, shut down and lights flash in acknowledgement. Sleep for eight hours, wake up next day and it’s one and a half hours earlier. Dis-joint-ed-ness of a different time zone, a bit bewildering. Pondering over something Ajahn Sumedho says about what is real and what is not; the real is not something, it’s more like it’s not anything. If I can see it like this, there’s a sense of ease; the holding-on thing is not getting in the way.
The flight experience is easy, it’s getting on the plane and getting off again that takes the time and if you have to do it twice, there’s an opportunity to contemplate the experience. At Delhi airport, I had an hour in duty-free up in a place on the second floor, looking out at the planes standing down there on the hot airport tarmac like huge lizards in the desert. Wings displayed like curious extended reptilian protuberances, skin stretched over a lightweight structure of hollow bones and the heaviest thing is the engine. Unbelievable power, hundreds of thousands of horsepower, and I’m caught for a moment, thinking of all these horses an A-380 needs, something like half a million horsepower. I imagine them galloping along the runway faster and faster and when they reach the speed of about 150 mph they all take one mighty leap up into the air, above the mountains, through the blue sky heaven realms, leaving a long straight line of white vapour in a southeasterly direction, and land in Bangkok, 1800 miles in the distance.
Over the hills and far away over many horizons; this is the place of my origin. Northern Europe, distant in time and space like another planet. I’ve left the past so far behind now, it feels like this is it; I made it into the future – time traveller contained in a bubble of the present moment. Thirty years of living in other people’s countries – gratitude – always a visitor. And here in Chiang Mai there’s M, my niece aged 8 years, who comes close to my face and looks intensely at my left eye, then her gaze flickers over to my right eye. She looks at that for a while; shifts back to the left eye again, then asks her mum: ‘Tamai lung mi tah si fah?’ (why does uncle have blue eyes?). And mum says it’s because he comes from the West and, over there, lots of people have eyes that colour. While this is going on, I have the wonderful opportunity to see M’s small face and almond shaped eyes absorbing me into her consciousness.
There’s a familiarity with Thailand that I don’t have anywhere else. I’m the pale skinned cognitive hybrid, one of these giants who live here, situated in the population but in a separate place… not really part of anything. I’m somewhere between being ‘in’ this world and being ‘of’ this world. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution seems to take on a different meaning: survival of the fittest – done so by any means to achieve that end lobha, dosa, moha (Greed Hatred and Delusion). Thais just don’t see it that way, mai pen rai (nothing is serious), everything is light and easy, innovative ideas held together with bamboo, string and rubber bands. Easily relinquished, it exists only for the time it’s needed then it’s gone…
‘The real is not something, it’s not anything. It’s not a phenomenon. You can’t think about it, you can’t create an image of it. So we say unconditioned, unborn, uncreated, unformed. Anatta (not-self), nirodha (cessation), nibbana (liberation). If you try to think about these words you don’t get anywhere. Your mind stops, it’s like nothing. … if we’re expecting something from the meditation practice, some kind of Enlightenment, bright lights and world-trembling experiences, then we’re disappointed because expecting is another kind of desire, isn’t it?’ [The End of the World is Here, Ajahn Sumedho]
“The flight experience is easy, it’s getting on the plane and getting off again that takes the time and if you have to do it twice, there’s an opportunity to contemplate the experience.”
This is the best description of the challenge of air travel I have ever read.
I also love your observation of being in the Thai world but not of it, I hope you will expand upon it more. There is a certain ineffability to the Western expat experience in Asia that I find hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. It really goes to the heart of the title of your post.
Thanks for this interesting observation, I’ll have to give it some thought. We all find the solution to the expat separation thing in our own way. I’ll write later – v poor internet connection at the moment, struggling with the thing: ‘I don’t want it to be like this’…
Oh my goodness…the last line…”everything is light and easy, innovative ideas held together with bamboo, string and rubber bands. Easily relinquished, it exists only for the time it’s needed then it’s gone…” so spoke to me. YES — it’s all light and easy…and the image of being held together by bamboo and strings and rubber bands…fleeting, gone. A gentle reminder — life really is so short. We are ‘no -thing.’ Love, lisa
Thanks Lisa. Yes it’s that feeling of no-thingness, heaviness that doesn’t have a name; no serious attachment to anything – light and easy…
Lovely quote… and your writing has so much silence in it.
Thanks Aalif, there’s definitely a suitability about the ‘not anything’ way of seeing the World. Thanks too for a brilliant comment. I like it, one of the best I have received; there’s a minimalism that’s just right. I try not to use unnecessary words and reduce things as far as they will go.