POSTCARD#47: Bangkok: So profoundly stuck in this traffic jam it feels like time has stopped. It’s not today; it’s yesterday – same taxi, same traffic jam. I raise my head from the book I’m reading and look out at the world. No sense of having moved further on, the back ends of vehicles and bits of buildings. This is a continuation of the same day and the interval that happened in between, dinner, 8 hours sleep; it was a daydream. Look at my watch, same time, same place I was in yesterday. The same people (probably) all headed in the direction they go in every day. Look down at my book again, eyes scan the text… where was I? Remembering my place by association with events taking place around me. The sounds of the gear stick shifting through its worn engagings and the accelerator pedal, the brake, then the gear stick again… parts of the story seem related to parts of the journey. The words I’m reading are flickering around the interior of this cab. Parts of sentences and interesting phrases get wrapped around the objects in this small space.
It feels good in here, inside this metal shell that’s holding me cushioned in a womb-like environment, bent over the book in my lap and looking outside from time to time. The experience of the ‘now’ moment is the same ‘now’ moment everybody else is experiencing… a hesitant, preoccupied ‘now’, maybe, for many of us; teetering on the brink of wanting things to be different from what they are. The traffic is hard to believe. Skillful avoidance of the tendency to hold on to the thought it ‘shouldn’t be like this.’ Look around the interior of the taxi, devotional flowers hanging up front in the windscreen and up above I see the painted marks of a holy person’s blessing on the underside of the roof. Grey/blue seating, a public space, registration numbers for the driver and the vehicle. A photo of the driver with his name in English.
We don’t have a conversation. I say: rod tid… (bad traffic eh?). And he says: yeu! (too much). We’re comfortable with the silence after that. For him, it’s a pointless journey to nowhere in particular – no problem; it’s often like this. Pause for a moment and watch the in-breath, the out-breath; mindfulness. A moment’s reflection and meditative contemplation in a Bangkok taxi… this is how it is for him. After I get out, somebody else will get in and off to the next place. When he gets there it’s the same as the place he just left. Where are we now? There’s a huge map in his head. City traffic is like a river, it gets into all the corners and any place where there’s space for it, finding its own level and passing through the hundreds of miles of its landscapes as it makes its way to the sea.
Like a boat on the river going with the current, the ‘now’ feels like it’s not moving. Only when the trees on the riverbank are seen is there a sense of movement, of moving through time. The ‘now’ is experienced in this present time as it has been for millions of years. I can imagine a time in what I would call the ancient past, but a moment experienced then happened in present time; it was ‘now’. A prehistoric being may have been sitting on a rock or a branch, exactly where I’m sitting, inside this cab… looking around – just as I’m doing now – and the ‘now’ experienced then would have been no different from the ‘now’ experienced at this moment.
‘The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth…in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future… Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.’ [Hermann Hesse: ‘Siddhartha’, Chapter 9]
Thanks for a beautiful description of the river of now, and it’s humming presence at all points along it’s length. These types of forays into the nature of now, and the bubbling sea of transforming images that fill it’s “static” expanse, often lead me to think about the “importance” of the now we occupy. Is it just an anonymous point in a vast continuum? Virtually unknown? Or is it stunningly alive and filled with presence, as at times it so deliciously seems to be? Is it the only point truly alive for us, this one living present we occupy, this, the only node in which healing can truly occur? What of the past moments in which I didn’t seemingly heal or shift my thoughts to a quieter realm? Were they equally bristling with aliveness, only I missed it? One has the freedom to think such thoughts, when drifting along this beautiful river…
You’re right, it’s not just an anonymous point in a vast continuum, but for many of us it’s a ‘now’ preoccupied with thinking about something. Compassion also for those who fall into an anxiety that’s caused by a strange kind of resistance to it – the ‘now’ can be overwhelming. Most of us are fortunate in being able to open to it, to be alive to it and are ‘filled with presence’. The river is all of these things. Thank you Michael for the inspiration…