nothing cannot be anything

hand image3Delhi: There’s a needle in my arm. Strange how the body accepts this intrusive object and the antibiotic fluid coming through it that enters the blood stream. Veins have a plasticity like something synthetic we recognize from the world of manufactured polymer substances. But human tissue is better; you can make a hole in it and it repairs itself. You can cut it, stitch it up, remove parts of it and replace these with other parts that fit. The human body is a miracle. The pain of this needle, though, has a directness, increasing, then easing off, over and over, dukkha, there’s no getting away from it.

I don’t want it to be there, vibhava-tanha, I want to disconnect it from the plastic tube leading to the upside-down bottle suspended from the hook above my head. It feels unnatural; it shouldn’t be like this…. Lying here on the bed looking up and counting the drips that fall into the receptor that fills the tube; one drop every 4 seconds and that’s the rate of the fluid flowing down the tube into my pierced blood vessel. It’s a full bottle, and there are others I have to take after this one… treatment for an intestinal infection – nothing really extraordinary in a country like India, in the hot season, when all kinds of bacteria thrive. Caused by drinking water from a filtered system that didn’t filter. Organisms survive the filtering system; bugs everywhere in this intensity of 43°C.

I need to find a way of getting through this period of invalid status and prolonged boredom of a plain room with hospital fittings, plugs and sockets in the walls, hospital furniture and a TV screen I’m not interested in. Dissatisfaction with things; clicking the buttons that control the position of the hospital bed; down/up and up/down. Lying here with eyes closed, listening to the metal trash bin; it makes a satisfying percussive sound when the cleaner presses the pedal with his foot, lid springs open and strikes the wall next to it Clang! He releases the pedal and the lid closes: Flumpf an airtight trash bin with plastic bag liner. Crash! Flumpf! again and it’s joyful and funny.

I need some joy here, there are men in dark navy uniforms in the room; cleaners with large grey floor mops that look like they’re soaked in muddy water swabbing the tiles; smell of Dettol stings the eyes. Muddy grey mops and dark navy uniforms seem out of place in an environment of lemon yellow, soft pink walls; pastel shades and shiny chromium fittings. The muddy grey mops are a bit scary also, because I’m sensitive to things that appear dirty, having fallen into this sickness as a result of drinking water from a filter machine installed at home that allows dirty water to come through.

‘We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto…’ The doctor said always drink boiled water in the hot season, organisms are present in the water, filter or no filter. I feel some frustration with the company that sold me the water filter: ‘it shouldn’t be like this’but we don’t live in a world of ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t – western theory applied in an Indian context. We expect it to work, and it doesn’t. Western systems are deductive and life is inductive. Organic growth has no beginning no end. How to understand that, what to do? Don’t make it into a structure. Let it be nothing.

So I can lie here on the bed with my eyes closed and the cleaners expect me to be like this because I’m a hospital patient. And in this curious public place, enter meditative contemplation, watching the breath, the rising and falling of the chest. Allow the thoughts that arise to fall away and be replaced by others that I allow to fall away and allow everything to fall away and cease, as far as possible – just the effort of trying to do this leads to a quietness in the mind; spaces of no thought. There’s some peace to be found in this activity. And from here consider nothingness, just nothing, no thought. It’s not an idea of nothingness, that’s a concept. Nothing cannot be  anything. Nothing cannot be located anywhere in time or space; no before, no after. If it is truly nothing, it can have no cause or effect. I can’t work towards some mind state in future time when I’ll see what ‘nothing’ really is, it has to be now, it’s always ‘now’. Nothing cuts through, penetrates, and dissolves everything. It’s just nothing.


‘One must have a mind of winter… (to behold) the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.’ [ Wallace Stevens, The Snow Man]

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14 thoughts on “nothing cannot be anything

  1. Reminds me of my little adventure with a pickled onion in Mumbai… 😦
    At least my “miraculous body” (been a long time since anyone mentioned it… :/ ), in an intense couple of days of … erm… cleansing (?) eliminated the little blighters, without recourse to hospital beds. Amazing how something so tiny (that’ll be bacteria, not my body… 😉 ) can cause so much havoc. Miraculous, self repairing, and flexible; yet, simultaneously, incredibly vulnerable…

    • ‘…incredibly vulnerable…’ Thanks for that, I didn’t give sufficient attention to the vulnerability. And if you’ve had the experience you’ll appreciate the catastrophic nature of this physical event…

      • Okay, painful wrist and arm where the needle was; dehydration causes the veins in the body to shrink, so getting the needle in was something! But systems are back to normal, thanks. Can’t imagine how you’d recover without hospital treatment. Did you do it on your own?

      • I think I was lucky, as it kind of looked after itself in the elimination stakes, and I just kept rehydrating from the kettle. Sore and wobbly for a couple of days.
        Mumbai, I was LATER to learn is notorious due to the continued use of Dakhma (quite a significant Parsi population, apparently).
        Great for the buzzards, but not so wonderful for the water supply… :/

      • Hmmm… I’ve heard stories about Dakhma. All kinds of possibilities, we had monkeys in the watertank recently – cooling off in the hot weather. Maybe it was that. Constitution of a bear, you must have some kinda resistance to be able to get over it without antibiotics…

  2. I’m so sorry for your illness! That’s something that worries me about traveling to India, or even South America, for that matter… I can completely relate to boredom and disinterest in a television in a hospital room… I’m still looking for nothing, too… And “The Snow Man” sounds like a book I must read. Feel better soon!

    • Thanks for your good wishes, I’m OK, recovering from the antibiotics 🙂 It’s about taking precautions, but even so sometimes you get it anyway; what can you do? The hot conditions allow for bacteria. If you travel in these countries, do it in the cool season. And I’m thinking again about your comment: ‘I’m still looking for nothing’ – not looking for anything? It has two meanings really. Not looking for anything maybe reduces the constant searching for it, so you can discover it was there all the time…

  3. Catching up with your posts, and realizing you are already up and running again for almost three weeks now. Too late to say “hope you’ll be feeling better soon’ And smiling because these words might be needed on a later occasion too. In any direction. Have a great month of July!

    • Thanks Bert, haven’t heard from you for a while. Yes, back to ‘normal’ here although still got the back pain, and managing it. A few journeys ahead, a visit to UK, and then an eye operation (cataracts) in Bangkok, at the beginning of August. So you’re right about holding these words wishing me well. Thanks for thinking of me…

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