POSTCARD #18: Bangkok/Chiang Mai flight: They paint a face on the nose of the aircraft, the ‘cute’ concept – a Thai version of Japanese kawaii かわいい . It looks like a bird because the shape of it is beak-like but it’s recognizably a human face wearing sunglasses. Personifications, masks, fictional characters with human attributes respond in a childlike way to a world full of fear and joy. Goldilocks and the three bears finding the Buddhist Middle Way by trial-and-error: the first try is too hot; the second try, too cold; the third try is just right. Why not? This is a non-serious, one-hour flight; no sooner have we departed than we arrive. Smiling doll-like stewardesses in yellow costumes have just enough time to come up the aisle with a light snack in a paper bag for everyone, back down again to clear everything away and we’re descending into Chiang Mai.
Slightly bumpy, due to weather conditions, the vibration causes the luggage compartments to shake and creak for a moment. Sounds like something nautical; the rattle of rope harness striking the mast of a sailing ship… searching for something it resembles – something to account for this phenomenon of flying above the clouds at an incredible speed. Maybe I’m seeing the journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as if we were driving over something solid, bumps caused by an uneven road surface; a highway in the sky, an imagined bridge that spans the distance, 373 miles from there to here – a huge curved span in the sky. Logical mind attempts to create an explanation for it, based on what’s known, a figure of speech, something to help me ease back from contracting around the uneasiness, the unknown… that edgy feeling. Without the metaphor, all I’m aware of is tremendous velocity and a sense of vulnerability. The immediacy of the moment sweeps away all thought-constructs like the ground is gone from beneath my feet. Mindfulness of breathing, deeply in and all the way out…
Further into the descent I become a little deaf, it feels like being underwater, and no amount of swallowing or blowing of air into sinus cavities seems to clear it. Near to landing there’s the sound of the hydraulics, out go the flaps, down go the wheels and the earth rises up to meet us; 300 people contained in a structure the size of a building colliding with the surface of the Earth at 200 mph. A great yawning abyss of existential anxiety; I need something to hold on to – but there isn’t anything that’ll prepare me for such a colossal event; the roller-coaster experience. Aircraft wheels take the weight, first one then the other and the deep lurch, sink-down/bounce-back – for a moment it feels like we’re going to go out of control and disaster… then it’s okay.
There’s something about it being in a public context, we’re all in this together, and the sense of a letting-go of something tightly held: woooooo! The small ‘self’ is seen and relinquished; there’s nobody there… just this unattached feeling that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance. The Buddhist cessation – no words for it, consciousness doesn’t normally reach that far. No person, no identity. Before the Greeks created the Buddha image we know and accept today, there were only symbols, a riderless horse, the empty seat… footprints left behind in the place where he was.
‘… that dimension where there is neither earth nor water, nor fire nor wind, nor dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, nor this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor stasis, nor passing away, nor arising: without stance, without foundation, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.’ [Ud 8.1]