POSTCARD#79: Aberdeen Scotland: Wandering through these streets and lanes looking for my childhood; searching for something that’ll tell me what it was like more than 50 years ago as I walked along the route to school in all kinds of weather. The present time as it was in the past, brought forward into the ‘now’. All the shops have gone, been demolished, rebuilt and everything has become something else. Only civic amenities and urban architecture remain, paving stones, cast iron lampposts, doorways and gates. An iron gate hinge embedded in stone but no gate – is it something I passed on my way to school? Do things like this survive at below-zero temperatures for 50 freezing winters? Not impossible, everything is made of granite here, indestructible. Following my footsteps as a child, along these same streets that were old even then. There’s an unusual shaped crack in a paving stone that looks like a tree, strange familiarity, a passing recognition – the kind of thing a child would notice, head down and leaning against the wind.
Is it the same wind now, after all these years, flowing like a river from its source to the sea estuary and every single part of it moving always in present time everywhere along its length? The scale of it is so immense, a whole lifetime can seem like a day, an hour, a moment – and did I glance down at this tree-like crack in the paving stone when I was a child and react in the same way I’m doing now, thinking… how strange, it looks like a tree! What is it that makes one thing seem to be something else? Is this the recollection of a physical feature, or a memory of the perception of it? Remembrance of things past, former lives… it feels like yesterday, the nearness of it. It feels like now – or somewhere on the journey to get there.
There’s also a feeling of far-awayness, the day before yesterday I was on a flight from Delhi, transit in London to Inverness. Jet lag and bewilderment, scanned by X-ray machines, identified, processed, held in aircraft cabin pressure for 10½ hours and transported 4000 miles to the Northern hemisphere. Then placed on the ground and having to quickly reassemble the parts of who I am in this new context. A visit to the tribal elders, then into Aberdeen to revisit these childhood days. Coastal winds, cloudy skies – and when the sun comes through, the heat is intense. Raincoat on, raincoat off again, I don’t really feel I’m connected with the pattern of things here after so long in the East, sun shines all the time and years go by but it’s just like one very long day. Thought processes are without substance, fade away, and if I don’t reach out for the next thought, there’s nothing there. There’s a memory of how it was when I was a child here in the North of Scotland, I’m holding that in mind but when I let go… it’s gone. The wind blows and a feeling comes back again that triggers a memory, then it’s carried away with the sound of seagulls and the smell of the sea…
‘… a sense of existing right now, a sense of life looking out your eyes, and life feeling through your senses into this experience, this space of the room, this place. It’s like we are a sense apparatus for raw life, raw consciousness, which feels through us as instruments with five or more senses. What is sensed registers in awareness — this knowingness of existence, this knowingness that is existence itself…’ [Mukti, adyashanti.org]
Nice photo of street of Aberdeen. Hope you have a good time there.
Thank you, yes there’s this clear fresh Northern air I remember as a child. Good to be here again.
Unmistakeable those streets…
In the sunshine the granite sparkles like diamonds, in the rain it’s a greyness profoundly devoid of colour…
Yorkshire millstone grit is the same…
You must know the feeling, something that seems to reflect your mood all the time…
I think there is a lot in the relationship we have with the stone of home… a resonance that goes beyond the obvious surfaces
Interesting, in fact I’m going to see an ancient stone circle near here at the weekend and I know you have investigated these, so I’ll maybe write about that later.
Oh now that would be good…. I have friends up that way I keep trying to visit, and I know there are some really good sites around there ….
What I love about the photo is that it’s nearly completely empty, like you stepped into a dream where the whole town was abandoned, and just you came back. There’s one guy down the street, but one alone kind of adds to the sensation I think, like there’s one or two people scurrying around in the alleys and between buildings. The whole experience must be kind of exciting and eerie. I remember once a trip I took to a place I lived as a child at about four years old, (at which time our family moved on), and at the time of the journey I was only in my early twenties, and there was just no way to translate the shape and scale of my past into my “calibrated” adult assessment of my surroundings. It wouldn’t fit right. It’s like trying to watch a film through an old television but the picture tube is all screwed up, and the image is scrolling slowly through the field of view. I can’t imagine after fifty years. I wonder if seeing family, people you know you know despite whatever comes, if that fills in the gap…?
Kinda eerie, yes… a bit like an invisible ray has affected normal reality in some way and everyone has fallen into benign paralysis. Only a few remain, we are immune and that’s me and the guy coming towards me, I think… Your description says it all; coming back to a place you lived in as a child and there are no connections with it any more, nothing you ‘create’ in your mind activates any kind of satisfactory memory of being there. After 50 years I have to come to terms with the fact that I am just another stranger, a member of the public – and was it ever any different? Some familiar faces seen on the street, can’t think who they are, then realise they’re the same bystanders, passers-by who glanced at me for a moment all those years ago and walked on.
The wind is the same, yet the granite buildings are different than those you left behind so long ago… don’t know why this phrase entered my head upon seeing your photo and reading your blog. When I returned to my neat New England town after just a short stay in India, I was struck by how impossibly clean the buildings and streets of the town center looked. How could a native of Varanasi respond to being plucked from the ghats and deposited on the streets of Aberdeen?
Thank you, yes, this is it exactly, a bit like landing on another planet, or stepping into a different reality. The urban situation in India is so active and alive, everything takes place out there in the public zone. The same in Thailand, it’s what I’m used to, and here there’s the feeling that the doors are closed. No defining features to these streets. I could be lost, this could be anywhere…
Beautiful photograph with a touch of the surreal. Looks lovely. And… ” The wind blows and a feeling comes back again that triggers a memory, then it’s carried away with the sound of seagulls and the smell of the sea…” is pure poetry. My head swoons with that thought. As to why something we see reminds us of something else– of course, the past lives explanation but also in terms of design. Designs in nature repeat themselves. Designs in the microcosm appear in different incarnations in the macrocosm. Patterns are repeated. There are stylistic forms all throughout nature that echo each other. If you look for the abstract in nature it becomes very clear that Nature likes certain designs and repeats herself.
Thank you Ellen, interesting to think of these designs in microcosm that appear in the macrocosm. Repeat patterns, there’s a familiarity about these designs, a recognition. But I can’t ever really say what it is exactly, or maybe sometimes I feel convinced and say I know what the overall design of the pattern is, then it seems to slip away. What’s left is an awareness that the patterns, the designs are just there. We are all a part of the design, and so is everything all around. Now I have something new to contemplate, thanks for this…
Thank YOU for all you give to contemplate!
I once attempted something similar. Everywhere, I found, was so much smaller, so much fuller of promise, of mystery. “My story” had somehow overlaid that raw and naked moment to moment, face to face immediacy. These days, having – perhaps – come (some kind of) full circle I take time to try and rest raw, naked and face the incoming moment. In one way I have come a million miles, yet in a blink I am none other than that boy in the chalk pit discovering his first tiny fossil shell. Today I should need to be wearing my glasses to see it at all.
Thanks for this insight. One day you just see how ‘the story’ is superimposed on received reality and start to let go of all these constructs… just to see what’ll happen? Like learning to be a child again, open to all sensory data; listening, watching – what does it feel like, taste like, smell like, and what is it?
I am sure you will find this short presentation/lecture quite insightful too. The most useful part, for me, starts around halfway through (although the lead up provides a good context). The notion of “frameworks” is so well described and is one that has stayed with me. Apart from the tie-in with mindfulness, it got me reflecting on the mechanisms underlying cognitive dissonance, conflict and its resolution, as well as how we change – or fail to change – our beliefs, assumptions and opinions.
The notion of ‘frameworks’ has meaning for me too. Everything is perceived, the cognitive process classifies the input in certain ways that resemble how it’s presented here. I was waiting for him to say the body/mind organism is also a machine, but I don’t think he did…
I have been to Aberdeen once…on my way to a small town called Huntley. We drove from England and enjoyed seeing how the landscape changed from farms to gorse-covered moors to hills to snow-capped mountains. It felt very alien to me even with all its beauty. I have the same sense of strange detachment when I visit my childhood home town of Jackson Heights, New York. I feel more connected with my English home of twelve years. Visitng the US is now a bit of a culture shock. Everything looks so grey and dismal in NYC compared to the evergreen landscape here. I suspect you are Asian now and I am European.
Thank you, yes I feel more connected with my home in Asia now, it’s been more than 30 years. Returning to the old country is like revisiting a memory of it. I used to have relatives in Huntly, been there many times. It’s a very Northern feeling up there, a remoteness. Sorry for the delay in reply, I’ve been offline for a few days. Thanks for your visit.