POSTCARD#52: Delhi: There was a time when I wasn’t here – not born yet. The world just going on as it does without having anything to do with that person called ‘me’. I didn’t exist then. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating. Thinking about it here in the car, looking at the world going by, same world that was out there before I was born. I’m on the way to pick up my Thai visa for the Bangkok trip this weekend – heavy traffic and stuck behind a truck. I take a photo of it simply because of the way all the words and colours insist I look at it, shouting out at me, trying to get my attention. Is it this kind of attachment to ‘self’ that causes ego-rebirth? A whole truck is suddenly reborn in front of me, identity smeared over every part of it, saying: ‘I’ am here; this is ‘my’ place! It has to be allowed for; make space for it in all the honking, hooting/tooting and scenarios of outrage where everybody really wants to be somebody. Press your horn to announce your presence. Do it loudly, you think a lot of yourself.
Mindfulness of conflict, resentment and holding a grudge; loving-kindness, compassion, metta-karuna. I’m a long-term outsider, now more than 30 years of living in other people’s countries. It means there’s a distance between ‘me’ and how things are done. As far as possible, the ‘I’ is understated, indirect, a release of the tenacity of ‘grip’ on how I (personally) think things should be. Thus I discover these days, local people look at me and I become invisible. They can’t get me to fit into their social scale, eyes glaze over. I unexist for them. I understand it to be that easing off from holding on to identity, almost to the point of letting go completely – the Buddha’s teaching on anatta, no-self. Extraordinary in my case because the I-am-not-here thing happens twice, two cultural settings: India and Thailand. I’m invisible in both countries, just my name on the lists of foreign residents, photo attached; ‘me’ in dress shirt, formal expression, hair combed, ‘smile please!’ I take out the ID I carry with me here and look at the photo, stamped, authorized, signed, registered, watermarked. It’s my identity, but is it ‘me’?
I’m not convinced. Is it proof that I exist? …em, it’s a picture of a man who looks like me, having his picture taken. All I have by way of proof that I exist is the subjective experience of it and the present moment that is undeniably everywhere, in the unlikeliest of places. The ubiquitous presence of now, I keep bumping into it, oh… what’s this? The present moment seen in a cloud of unknowing. Or I’m thinking it’s something it isn’t. Or I accept the present moment is as it is, whether I am aware of it in its ‘as-it-is-ness’ or not.
Other times it’s seen as if standing at the bow of a small ship plunging through the waves, rising and falling, just on the point of leaving the past and surging into the future, but not there yet – never reaching that point. All the surrounding clutter and stuff of the mind is pushed away by the waves and the movement of the ship passing through. Long intervals between things… why this pause? How come there’s nothing to think about? What happens when the thinking thing stops – what happens after that? But the question just leads to more thinking. No answer, no question, stillness – a state of mind that’s free of all the tugs and pulls. Slow down, stop. Contemplate the body and mind; breathe in/breathe out, there is heartbeat, consciousness of the mystery: out there/in here…
‘…looking for the first time at homemade movies taken a few weeks before his birth. He saw a world that was practically unchanged—the same house, the same people—and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence… But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.’ [The autobiography of Vladimir Nabokov: “Speak, Memory”, page 1]
Loved ALL of this. Lots to ponder. And love the Nabakov quote ending it all! Great post. Being in India seems transformational.
Thanks you for these words. It interests me that Nabakov’s ‘young chronophobiac’ (not included in the quote) is himself, portrayed in 3rd person singular, and this experience of seeing the world before he was born is indirect and slightly fictional. Here in India it may be more of a reality…
Great blog entry! So strange that we create this seperate identity on our way into growing up and then end up getting sufficated by it. And yet it never really exists.. it still haunts me at times, what if i’d just let go of it all? Would there still be a me? And ofcourse i know that it’s the same trick all over, but you have to be mindful of it to see it through.
I like Alan Watts on this point. We’re constantly reinforcing what doesn’t need to be reinforced. Life is, it doesn’t depend on our approval or disapproval.
So i’m glad i’ve found the Dharma, cause it teaches me to think of others instead of thinking of myself. Many blessings for all these wonderful postcards!
Thanks for dropping by. Thinking of it like a piece of software with its registration number and description of characteristics helps me to be mindful and less attached. Like you, I’m glad I found the Dharma and have an understanding that the separate identity is a myth, built around the realization there is no self.
I loved this post, which got my attention, held it, and changed it, quite beautifully.
Thank you. It’s that ‘I-am-here’ thing again, seeking attention that’ll hopefully confirm an idea I have about who ‘I’ am – but I find words don’t stretch that far…
Very thoughtful post! Thinking out loud….I don’t believe that we are our egos or personality but I do believe we exist apart from that. There is our true selves within each and every one of us which is a unique identity. It is the part of us that is sometimes not revealed to others. It kind of made me sad to think that you see yourself as something like a faceless individual…sort of like an Amish doll. You are more than that. Everyone is. If we look at an individual that is spiteful or cruel, we may be inclined not to love them. However, that part which is on the surface (call it the ego) is not the real person. There is that which is real within him that can still be loved and that love can lead him into his true self. At least I hope this true for every individual. Namaste
Thanks for this interesting comment. I hadn’t thought of the Amish doll. Hmm… I don’t feel like that, although there might be some ordinary Delhi citizens who in the middle of a traffic jam emotionality might see me in that way 🙂 I like to think that there is a ‘true self’ and somehow we exist apart from our egos or personality, but it would have to be in a form of consciousness that’s impossible for me to understand right now (as a human being equipped with normal sensory functions) – otherwise I’d know what it is. That’s not to say I don’t agree with what you’re saying. Mostly I’m thinking of it in terms of the Buddhist no-self. Sometimes I see it in an Advaita way; like there’s a direct connection between the functionality of the sensory mechanism and the outer environment, the whole world, the universe – Brahman, in a Christian sense: God. It has always been there, I don’t notice unless I focus on it.
Great post. This line was wondrous, “All I have by way of proof that I exist is the subjective experience of it and the present moment that is undeniably everywhere, in the unlikeliest of places. The ubiquitous presence of now, I keep bumping into it, oh… what’s this?”
The only proof we have of our existence is that we keep bumping into ourself in the present! I loved that thought. I keep bumping into this self- in the aisle at the grocery store, in the line at the bank, careening down the highway, in conversations with others. Look! I even have this photo from the Authorities. That clinches it. I must be real! And always it’s right now! Someone is playing a trick, surely…
And you’re right… we find ourselves in the unlikeliest of places, the virgin soil between thoughts, in the aftertaste of an unexpected encounter, in the realization we don’t know why we did what we just did… Who does things just because… he/she can? Surely not me…
Reminds me of one of the Mullah Nasrudin stories: The Mullah went into a bank with a cheque to cash. ’Can you identify yourself?’ asked the clerk. Nasrudin took out a mirror and looked into it and replied, ’Yes, that’s me all right’. This kind of thing varies according to causes and conditions, I might bump into myself in exceptional circumstances and discover I am not there at all (oh sorry I’ll come back later), everything that normally makes it into something just totally absent. There would be a tendency, in this instance, to attach to something that fills the emptiness. Or to see it as it is, no customizing according to preferences… raison d’etre for action is doing things because I can 🙂
All these possessions
He threw them in the river
The generosity of relinquishment…