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]