seeing things backwards


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Bangkok/Chiang Mai flight: Stone cold in Departures, AC has me chilled to the bone. I walk around the shopping area, just to be doing something, and go to the magazine and newspaper shop. They have packs of Thai alphabet cards – just what I was looking for! I can find the vowel set, but not the consonant set and I ask the lady at the desk if she has it. Stress on her face as I’m asking the question; she thinks she will not be able to understand… then she realizes I’m speaking Thai – a small jump in the air, joyful surprise. Wow! Okay, so… but she’s forgotten the question. I ask again if she has the consonant cards. She starts looking but can’t find them: oh, no have, solee! (sorry) Disappointed. I get the vowel cards anyway and ask her how much it is. She says 47 baht but when she rings up my money at the cash desk, she says 74 baht – checking my change afterwards, she was right first time, 47 baht – just said it round the wrong way (47 or 74?) seeing things backwards is a problem for her sometimes. No worries, everything moves along; flight is called and we are boarded. Stewardesses in lemon yellow costume, it’s all doll-like, pretty and cute – the plane has a bird’s face painted on the nose. You can buy gifts from a trolley coming along the aisle; do I need a vinyl blow-up inflatable airplane? Nothing to get heavy about, overly serious about; no need to get stuck thinking about anything hopelessly imponderable.

eu-ahEven so, it’s noticeable how the mind will attach to an object and hold on to it with the intensity of a velcro fastener bonding with its surface; the desire for adherence. The thinking mind presents a range of options; I can choose to ‘be’ something, contained in an acted-out scene from a movie I’m watching about ‘my’ life. It’s birth in the Buddhist sense jati: the I-am-here thing. It’s sometimes an uncomfortable, driven, locked-in state that arises through examining an event, and returning to it again and again, simply because I’m so used to seeing the situation from this perspective of holding on to it, I expect it to be the same starting point of my meanderings every time.

Mindfulness of this unaware habituality. Knowing it’s like this means ignorance (not knowing) is gone, vanish’d into thin air. I enter the space knowingly, intervention in the probability sequence. Instead of the intensity of mind, there’s just the intensity… a tightness of posture – maybe that’s how it started – relax the neck, the forehead. No thought associated with it. No goals to which I’m compelled to strive for; what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve for. Undoing all the knots tied in memory, letting the mind untangle itself from the problem: good, bad, whatever. Letting it all go, giving it room.

Reminded of Ajahn Pasanno’s reflection on Ajahn Chah’s teaching: ‘A coconut tree draws nutriments from the planet; it draws elements good and bad, clean and dirty, up through the roots and into the top of the tree and then produces fruit that gives both sweet water and delicious coconut.’ And Ajahn Pasanno describes how we don’t need to be concerned about the different experiences that we have of the world, everything is drawn up through the ‘roots’ by way of the three-fold practice: sila (virtue), samadhi (concentration), paññā (wisdom). All experiences, good, bad, whatever, are transformed into insight, understanding, balance and sense of peace.

In-flight announcement: … we are now making our descent… please ensure your window shutters are up, arm rests down, seat backs forward and tables folded away – a small cluster of prepositions. Plane lands and luggage collected, out into the clean Chiang Mai mountain air. Shortly after that I’m in a tuk-tuk headed down to the supermarket to get supplies.

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Photo image upper: My plane to Chiang mai
Middle:  Thai vowel/dipthong ‘eu-ah’
Lower: Chiang mai tuk-tuk

12 thoughts on “seeing things backwards

    • It’s a good one isn’t it… I take a lot of confidence from this. The usual, kind of ‘small’ consciousness is just swept away in the greater seeing. Thanks for your observation.

  1. You are so great with description. I can just see what’s happening in this story. (It helps that I’ve been to these places.) But the look of surprised joy when she realized you spoke Thai? Priceless. And the way you connect day-to-day happenings with Buddhist teachings is really helpful. It is amazing what wisdom can be reaped when we are mindful of our unaware habituality, as was mentioned above. Lovely post.

    • Thank you so much for pointing this out. I’m just linking things/responses in daily experiences with the Buddhist teachings. And really not sure if it’s reading the Teachings that triggers it, or if there’s something in the ‘world’ out there that takes place and there’s a kind of déjà vu – somewhere in between the two? The process must be the same for any kind of writing taken from observed experience, don’t you think? I’ll usually scribble something down in my notebook when it happens and develop it later, emphasis on reducing, reducing and going towards minimalism. Thanks again for this interesting observation.

      • You’re very welcome, and I fully agree that minimalism is key! The same goes for any good writing. Any time you try to cram too many different points into an article, the meaning is lost. The same is true for details. You need just enough to give a reader a picture, but not so much as to overwhelm them.

        I think I kind of do the same. I write often about experiences that I’ve had and relate them to the values I hold. I guess it relates back to what you’ve demonstrated in this and other posts: mindfulness… It’s a good thing.

      • Interesting what you say about relating experiences to the values you hold. There is that and also I think you probably feel like an observer more than most people because of living in Taiwan – a culture so different from the West. This thing about being on the outside, being the ‘witness’, this is what interests me…

      • Yes, I see that! And that’s a very good observation about being an observer in Taiwan. So true. I’ve always been an observer, but I think that that experience made it even more so… I would definitely say that this phenomenon interests me, too.

      • Yes, and as you know, not easy; something about being separated from your own world to the extent that you’re developing the skill in ‘seeing’ what is really there…

  2. I loved this observation: “Stress on her face as I’m asking the question; she thinks she will not be able to understand… then she realizes I’m speaking Thai – a small jump in the air, joyful surprise.” Your empathy and observation of both how dukkha arose for her is quite marvelous.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, the kind of thing that arises in a culture and language so different from our own, we depend on the instance of discovery – the universality of natural responses…

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