the smell of rain


DELHI-SKY_11_6_2013POSTCARD#76: Delhi: Standing outside in the rain that’s just beginning, bare feet in rubber slippers. Can’t see clearly in this indistinct light, eyes still dazzled by the intense blue sky and sunshine of the hot season now coming to an end. I look up at the pearly grey rain clouds, water vapour becomes form in the vaulted dome of sky. A sprinkle of moisture on my glasses, hair damp, arms feel cool. Wet hands, finger moves to lips, the taste of it… and the smell of rain, a wonderful fragrance of earthy greenness. A mist of invisible particles in the air around the tall trees here, near to the park, where we are.

The smell of rain reminds me of something, triggers a memory and the mind scans through the files containing everything that’s known – looking for a reference, a precedent for this experience. Nothing found… a proximity search, closest value, nearest match? Traces of a familiarity created by this fragrance but connected with what? No associated recall, I have sensory input but no source memory… only the physiological function of the sense of smell itself, inherited from ancestors with a developed awareness of the approach of rain. Who’s to say? A prehistoric being may have been standing here, in this exact place where I am now, sniffing the air as I’m doing now, and conscious experience of the scent of rain would be no different for that human being then as it is for me now – except that this kind of thing is not in my vocabulary… only the nostalgia of smell.

Take shelter inside the house, doors open as wide as they’ll go. Listening to the rain falling on the tiles outside, it has the quality of a whisper. An immeasurable mass of individual raindrops merged together in waves of tiny collisions, thousand and thousands of small finger snapping sounds, high frequency applause. The generosity of rain – all these other rain drops still on the way down, elongated streaks of stretched-out water pulled by gravity, crashing into the earth – the miracle of it takes my breath away.

A crow flies in from the northside, craw… craw…. Flying in the rain. The sound gets louder and louder as the crow flies over the house, craw… craw…. At the patio doors I hear it pass above me and on through the rain in a southerly direction, over the park, craw… craw…. The calls are further away, echo off the walls of tall buildings on the far side of the park. Fainter and fainter until there’s no sound at all – only the act of listening. Awareness poised in a huge silence that feels like it’s about to become something else… a hesitation before the next thought arises. Tiny sounds of birdsong far away, and incidental thinking episodes float through. Awareness moves through thoughts like a bird flutters through the branches of a tree – the interval between thoughts, the space that happens before the next thought arises, and the space between moments.

Awareness of thought and the empty space surrounding it. Awareness of one object that includes awareness of another – and the awareness that knows this. Contemplate the state of the body and contemplate the mind contemplating that and everything that led to this….

‘Alert to the needs of the journey,
 those on the path of awareness, like swans, glide on, leaving behind their former resting places.’ [Dhammapada verse 91]

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Source for image here

19 thoughts on “the smell of rain

  1. “Awareness moves through thoughts like a bird flutters through the branches of a tree.” Loved that line. I love that the awareness is dynamic and active, as the bird, and thoughts are arrayed around like a given structure. We tend to place so much emphasis on the thoughts, as if it is the thoughts that are the thing. As if it is the thoughts that are us. But thoughts are given, unceasing, and the agent of this other dimension, Awareness, flits amongst them, taking some to build a nest, pollinating others, resting for a moment on a little swaying branch, before flying off the page entirely… 🙂

    Michael

    • I was visiting a friend here in Delhi who has an apartment facing a huge tree that’s grown over the building. From the balcony you can see how a bird may fly through the tree, alighting on a branch here, and there and out again. As you say, we place so much emphasis on thoughts, they become separate from us, seen as objects in the same way we usually see the tree as a separate ‘thing’, and not seeing its inside. Awareness is the bird, the metaphor, before flying off the page entirely… 🙂

  2. Rain is one of the circumstances that cocoons us, under a roof or umbrella, and encourages concentration of sense and thought, such as this. And your evocative phrase, “the nostalgia of smell,” brings another layer of cocooning. Rain where I live now always conjures up my earliest months here, riding around town in rain, breathing in the rain and air, and also the gardens and how they looked in the rain. I began thinking, then, that the town looked like someplace I would like to live, and catching up to the reality of having already moved here. It seemed my cells were trailing a little behind me, not quite yet where I had already gone. Now the rain calls up the nostalgia of that earlier time, but I recognize that my cells aren’t trailing behind any more; they are settled in the present moment. Declining to judge either period as better or worse. And your description here of experiencing the rain helps in finding the focus on simply being.

    • There’s something about rain that suggests the comfort of being inside a shelter, looking out at it – and a kind of recognition of the situation… I hadn’t thought of it so much in these terms, and now I see it has expanded the idea quite a bit. In a sense, you’ve come along and offered me an umbrella… thank you 🙂 Now looking out at the rain and knowing everything is okay in here, in this other kind of reality contained in the total reality – the unity of everything. Wonderful feeling that the rain will stop by itself, I don’t need to do anything, only contemplate the immense scale of it. See our small umbrella in the context of the curvature of the Earth…

  3. My own set of moments in the rain rested in my mind’s background as I reached for your smell of rain. You and I have been recently discussing, “that space between moments”–there are others who refer to it as the “gap between thoughts”–I was wondering if you considered that moment of unsupported consciousness as pure for it is not connected, attached or supported yet it is not quite separate, either. This idea of pure consciousness is not mine, of course.

    That said, your image– “awareness moves thoughts like a bird flutters through the branches of a tree–is so accessible, concrete, and completely free that I am quite taken with it as well as this entire post. Truly, your writing is beautiful, thoughtful and quite poetic. Thank you for this nuance, if you will, regarding consciousness and as you indicated in an earlier comment, its gentleness.
    Karen

    • Thanks Karen, for these kind words and interesting observations on consciousness that is not connected, not attached. Almost always there is consciousness of an object – an inner object perceived; what I smell is a flower, or it is a loaf of bread fresh from the bakery, etc. It’s a metaphor, but the range of interpretation is limited. The sense of smell does this to me and it can also happen with taste if I’m offered food here in North India and there’s no experience of this taste ever before. Mind is engaged in selecting from what perception has noted in the past, and it tries to superimpose a known object on something that is completely unknown. It resembles this, it’s like that, but nothing fits. The empty space that follows, after Mind has finished searching, is consciousness without an object, unsupported; consciousness of the space where the object perceived is normally situated. Attention is drawn towards this empty space, the enigma.

      I know what you mean by ‘pure’, but the empty space has no attributes, nothing can be associated with it… same kind of limited interpretation with language and selecting words that’ll fit approximately with what I’m trying to say. For me it’s the contemplation of a state that’s way beyond the kind of consciousness I have at this time; so different from received knowledge and none of the rules apply. There’s only the experience. I’m drawn towards it and in awe of it – I’m simply open to it… no words, no concepts.

  4. This may be in the form of prose but it is pure poetry. Such a beautiful post with so many exceptional lines. I just adore “Awareness moves through thoughts like a bird flutters through the branches of a tree…”. But there are so many fantastic thoughts so beautifully expressed. I will reread for yet another time. The rain must be so wonderful after all the heat. Sort of a miracle of sorts. I note its featured role in so many Indian films. Splendid post.

    • Thanks again for these nice words, blogging can be rather a solitary activity and it’s so good to have feedback. For me the posts are about the details of ordinary conscious experience. Sometimes they become larger than life; extraordinary things happen, like the bird flying through, inside the tree. It was something observed, as described in another comment here, and it amazed me… seeing into another world. Also inspiring to be here as the hot dry season comes to an end, although we’re not into the total downpour just yet. It’s a miracle as you say.

  5. It is frustrating to me the terminology used in so many of posts of yours and others who talk of consciousness and the I and no thought etc. I love these posts but feel my mind is incapable of knowing if I am comprehending terms and phrases that I so much want to relate to. I have a very poor mind for abstraction and deal in concretes. I wonder if you might not think me a total ignoramous to ask you to translate in my terms. Before I took psychiatric meds I was able to just “be” in nature or by contemplating nature. Just “be” like a tree is in nature, what I would imagine the subjective state is after death. Is that what you mean by no thought, no mind. Now, being on crucial meds, I have to work at just “being”. Thoughts intrude more now– less of what I used to call altered states of consciousness or higher consciousness but this enables me to function more readily in the world. My meditations are mostly full of intrusive thoughts and I find it hard to stay in the present. Some of this is due to mental illness and some due to the medications. Can you, with your Buddhist studies and background, clarify any of this simply if it can be simplified? I am studying under Yogananda and can feel some of what I used to feel in his writing. I know you studied long and hard to get where you are. Any advice/thoughts/whatever would be helpful. Perhaps I can only understand by studying Buddhism. Any advice would help.

    • It must be very hard for you having to take these different kinds of medicine. Difficult to introduce a steady stable calm in these intrusive thoughts – but not impossible. Have a closer look at these thought flows when you can. Step outside from time to time and just notice they’re there. This is the practice, use the gentle inbreath and outbreath as an anchor, find ease in that and return to noticing the flow of thought. Keep on doing that. I’ll write separately to your email address with other ideas.

      • Thank you so much for writing. I appreciate your input very much. Feeling remorse for having asked you so many questions. Don’t feel you have to address them. With much respect, Ellen

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