Chiang Mai: 05.30 hrs., ‘… down the long and silent street, the dawn, with silver-sandalled feet…’ daylight creeps into the rooms and it’s my birthday today! I suppose one’s birthday is something to be possessive about: ‘my’ birthday. I was born on this day quite a long time ago in the North of Scotland and now I’m here in the silence of a Chiang Mai morning in the North of Thailand. Open all the windows and a breeze blows through in all directions, curtains and fabrics that haven’t moved for a month in the stillness of this interior, ﬂutter and ﬂap against the walls – a sheet of paper flies off my desk, lands on the smooth floor tiles and slides away. It feels like the world outside is inside; all of a one-ness and this mind/body awareness (that is ‘me’) spreads out from here, through the trees, up and into the dome of the sky as far as the eye can see.
Skype call from Jiab in Delhi, happy birthday, and in the video window I can see our room, the place I usually inhabit. Jiab is at the desk where I normally sit. It’s still dark there, daylight here. Two people talking with each other but often occupied with the tiny image of themselves that appears in the Skype window, lower right. Eyes are sometimes directed away, how does my hair look? Jiab tells me the story about how she was born on the night of the full moon and so her actual birthday is not always on the same day. The family lived in an old forest area in the South of Thailand. Jiab remembers her father saying it was the light of the full moon that guided him through the trees to bring the midwife to their house. And a phone-call from M, happy birthday Toong Ting! She calls me that because she’s my 9 year-old niece. Toong Ting, when you go to Inkland? She asks me this, meaning ‘England’ but I like ‘Inkland’ (the place that makes ink?), so I tell her I’m going to Inkland on Saturday 13th, but it’ll be Sunday 14th by the time I get there. We have a discussion about the time difference thing and M knows about this, having visited Japan earlier this year. Only 9 years old, but she has an understanding of the world and systems that’s so much in the present moment it takes my breath away.
Children teach us about birth and the great mystery. About 10 years ago, there was an episode from a BBC series on the human body that showed a woman giving birth – so vivid, I suddenly felt this immediacy of it happening to me: the blinding light, echoing sounds; the coldness, the impact of air entering the nasal passages? Revisiting the birth experience. Emerging into the world, the first total sensory consciousness sweeps through and the body/mind organism is turned inside-out. That TV film left me quite transformed… Now it’s later, many years later, and there’s ‘me’ and this old body, getting settled on the cushion for a 30 minute meditation sit on ‘my’ birthday. These are the same body parts, regenerated, expanded in a lifetime, worn a bit smooth, puckered up at the edges. Skin, muscle, flesh; soft rubberoid plasticity, and these mysterious organs held by ligaments bonded into solid bone. The whole thing maintaned by the tremendous heat and energy processed from food, the fuel for the engine. And there’s the fluidity enclosed in bubble-like spaces, gurgling away all the time. The breath enters the body as a kind of wind, gusting in and out. It comes back and blows everything all over the place, withdraws in a moment and it’s gone again. Mind mesmerized by the form and function of the body, seemingly trapped in this limited temporality; cause/effect – then for an instant, seeing the truth of the Five Khandas. Thin skin of eyelid slides over surface of smooth eyeball and the dimly seen light entering my darkness; just this…
‘Each and every mental and physical process (namarupa) must be observed as it really occurs so that we can rightly understand it in its true nature. That right understanding will lead us to remove ignorance (avijja). When ignorance has been removed, then we do not take these mind-body processes to be a person, a being, a soul or a self. If we take these mind-body processes to be just natural processes, then there will not arise any attachment. When attachment has been destroyed, we are free from all kinds of suffering and have attained the cessation of suffering.’ [Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw]