strange familiarity


tuktuk05April14POSTCARD#60: Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours and there’s a problem with the internet. I have the about:blank page, a blinding white screen illuminating everything in this dark room. Things unexpectedly quit, don’t reload and I’m stuck because I can’t connect, the flip-side of that happily engaged state. The created ‘self’ has it’s own momentum… help!-help! – how to undo this bewilderment? Step back, get the bigger picture, zoom in, zoom out. How’s it working? Not good. But there’s a small obstruction-free space in this scenario, thank goodness, I remember a sense of pleasant abiding that supports it all. A long time ago I was keeping house for a Buddhist monk who had health problems. It was a cottage in a field in the middle of the English countryside. Theravadin monks are not allowed to touch food unless it is offered, so I’d go into town, do the shopping, prepare and offer the food before noon. The monk would chant the Anumodana blessing, birds singing in the trees outside, and we’d eat. It was a nice time, we’d talk about the Dhamma, go for walks sometimes and a lot of time was spent reading… yes, reading happened often – partly because his computer was really old and the internet connection extremely slow.

Once a day he’d start up this big, heavy, old Dell laptop and check his emails. It could take an hour… slow is not the word – death-like in its slowness. He told me with some eagerness that it was possible to read a page and a half of his book in the time it took the computer to load an image. For me it was about letting go of ‘self’ and what’s left after that? Only the strange familiarity of objects, sequences of events, karma of reoccurrences, and expecting things to happen when they’re nowhere near ready. Maybe it was easier to go along with that in those days. We had no idea about speed, bandwidth or anything.

In the really early days of the World Wide Web, I remember staring into the blank screen, waiting for the page to load and this wasn’t a frustrating thing at all. It was understood that things took a long time, the duration was really part of the experience – it was miraculous when the page finally opened. It was like, wow! I am now in a library in Wisconsin or New Zealand or South Africa or wherever, I see I’m in some room on the top floor maybe with the sun coming in the window and a view of a landscape outside. I’d feel like I was actually there… and isn’t that amazing! So it seemed to me at that time, then in Bangkok, Thailand nearly 30 years ago.

And the familiarity of the old dial-up connection; that strange piercing sound like the noise of an old iron gate swinging open and closed. Somewhere in mid-swing the tone would change, there’d be this alternating two-tone sound – and this is how it was for us, in the cottage in the field, when the monk’s computer would stir into life, he’d place the book he was reading gently aside, look into the screen, like the whole thing unfolding in slow motion. Select an icon, click that and wait for another 2 minutes for the next page to load. No problem, he’d reach for his book, find the place… continue reading.

‘When we come to practice we don’t know what we don’t know. After a while, the ego mask starts to crack and we begin to know what we don’t know. With some diligent practice, we might have a break through and for a moment or so know what we know. And if we continue with this wondrous work, we might stumble back to not knowing what we don’t know.’ [Wild Fox Zen]

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15 thoughts on “strange familiarity

  1. If only those precious moments of insight weren’t so fleeting. I guess life is like a pulsation, on and off, on and off, I feel I’m continuously chasing the moment in between on and off, but I’m realizing that when I chase something, anything, it’s instinct is to run away, making it harder to catch 🙂 Peace brother

    • This is it, try to find the answer and you’re caught forever in that ‘seeking’ frame of mind. Words don’t hold meaning for very long and conscious experience can’t be retained without language. Where does it go? There must be a kind of non-verbal accumulation, wisdom, knowledge or whatever. I like the idea that there are these on/off pulsations… like waves or something.

      • Yeah, it’s living within us and we’re within it, and the whole thing is working together to sort of co-create an experience, but when I seek after what it is, it seems to hide. lol Language is not a good enough tool to express it either, your right about that. As soon as it is labeled it’s limited, which it cannot be.

      • Consciousness is both in ‘here’ and out ‘there’. Reminded now of something from a video on your site: hipmonkey ‘There is no ‘out-there’ out ‘there’ independent of what’s in ‘here’’ (What the bleep do we know – 3rd video down). Unfathomable and vast, what to do? It has to be about asking the right question – the process of contemplating what that might be. Better than directly looking for an answer and finding I’m caught in the seeking default again…

      • Remember the student that asked the Buddhist Master who he was in a previous life, and the Master answered, “Who’s asking that question?” Who indeed. If we could strip away all illusion, what would be left? That which we seek? idk

      • There’s something about the question/answer relationship that’s always gently considered, without directing it too much. I find that trying to understand what this sort of thing might possibly be is enough to begin to know it (begins to be known – passive voice). More to do with indirect action. And in the end it may get forgotten about, ah well… language doesn’t stretch that far. Somehow the illusion seems to be part of this. It fits with this idea of ‘strange familiarity’, a passing recognition. Former lives could be seen in this way…

  2. I remember those days when the World Wide Web was new and then a bit later when we had a computer and got dial up which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t and, like you say, took forever. But now a few seconds delay seems like forever. We have become so impatient– so used to instant gratification, things being done yesterday… Loved the post.

    • Thanks for this, hard to believe, isn’t it – how it was then… so tentative and special and now it’s commonplace. The more we have, the more we want. Necessary to step back from all that. See the value of it.

  3. I recall the shock when a Dharma teacher explained that the antidote to anger is patience. A life changing moment, although I am still working on it. Patience, patience.

    • I was told by another teacher it’s about allowing the anger/frustration to pass through without attachment, not making it into anything and it goes on its way, unheld. A more engaged kind of patience maybe… it can be difficult and it takes a while, or it can be less difficult and it goes through easily. Depends on how bad it is and the level of patience I have in staying with it. A learning process…

  4. Pingback: now here & nowhere | dhamma footsteps

    • This is it, the idea that it’s worth waiting for – it was only that that held us from abandoning the whole thing. A kind of madness… these days are gone. Thanks for reminding me of how it used to be…

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