POSTCARD#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]