IMG_1794POSTCARD #106: Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight: Waves of sunlight pass through the interior of the aircraft as it banks over in the ascent; wings tilt up towards the vertical plane at an alarmingly steep angle, and for a moment it looks like we’re going to tip right over and fly upside down… but it doesn’t do that. A rich dark landscape fills the window; reminds me of the Google Maps satellite image – click the little orange man on ‘street view’ and observe any house or street I choose. The world is a simulation, what I’m seeing is a physiological function of the brain, a projected image, back-lit like the computer screen … the place where (I thought) REALITY was, is occupied with ‘what-it-looks-like’.

A deep familiarity with the analogy – confirmed by others who smile, nod their head, yes, we believe in the resemblance of things… it’s easier that way. This is our agreed-upon certainty, the world as we know it, symbols and words, systems and processes; it’s a construct – the only possible answer the mind can come up with when asked the question: what is ‘it’ actually? Language identifies, can only provide a description of the thing – not the ‘thing’ itself. Everything depends on sensory perception, the (actual) ‘thing’ may be colourless and devoid of any recognisable quality, no odour, no taste, it doesn’t feel like anything; neither hot not cold. It has no sound. It has no weight, it has no form.

A fleeting insight into the vertigo of nothingness situated at the centre of everything. The ‘me’ I live with is not a substantial thing – so flimsy, it’s sometimes not there at all. Through the tiny window of the aircraft there’s this vast immeasurable space, extending above my head through the thin fabric of the aircraft. My Chiang Mai flight is a tiny speck appearing above a sea of clouds on the surface of the planet Earth; the characteristic ‘pale blue dot’, silver-white-sky-blue planet seen from outer space. That home-sweet-home feeling; a place shining with life in a region of seemingly dead planets… is this ‘my’ reality? Or is that an illusion too? The conditions that support life as we know it end here. Maybe we are surrounded by planets teeming with living beings who, like us, also believe they’re separate and alone in this void. And the reason there’s no evidence of it is that the software which operates our sensory mechanism is not compatible with theirs.

What I used to think was an amazing technological feat now becomes just the mechanistic nature of things; the great whine of engines and immense energy that catapaulted me up here, simply another aspect of the construct. Assembled pieces form the aircraft, wing structure is under the seating aisles so that passengers are sitting on top of a sort of swept-back flying crucifix.

Then there’s the ‘ping’ sound, as the seat-belt sign is switched off. Flight time to Chiang Mai is about 1 hour, stewardesses in pretty yellow costumes serve a small meal, it’s like going upstairs to have lunch in the sky; just enough time to have it and come down again.


“That which operates with conceptual ideas is the ordinary mind, whose characteristics include perceiver and perceived. All that is conceived in this way is false and will never touch upon the actual nature of reality. Any idea of existent, inexistent, both or neither—any such concept, however it’s conceived—is still only a concept, and whatever ideas we hold in mind, they are still within the domain of illusion.” [Ju Mipham]


Lower image source


15 thoughts on “vertigo

    • Thanks Evelyne, I hear stories about cabin pressure affecting the volume/capacity of the eyeballs and that’s a bit alarming. Also the cramped space in the cheaper economy class seats. But so far, so good. It’s been more than 30 years and all seems to be well…

  1. I have had moments where I have wondered a lot about the same things you reflect on here. Although I have never thought about the ‘me’ I live with being flimsy. If you are meaning the ego…I wish I too could see it more like a flimsy veil and the me I just live with. Sometimes it is all too solid for me. 🙂

    • It’s the sense of emptiness – not the ego so much, more like the idea that thoughts and actions take place as a result of automatic sensory responses. There’s no ‘me’… sometimes when I look for it, it’s not there. Knowing it’s like this means it’s possible to let go of all kinds of things

      • Thank you for your reply. It’s this lightness of being that comes with the understanding there is no ‘self’, other than sensory/cognitive functions. The opportunity then arises to contemplate the conscious awareness underlying it all… interpreted in different religions in various ways.

  2. The world is a simulation, what I’m seeing is a physiological function of the brain, a projected image, back-lit like the computer screen … the place where (I thought) REALITY was, is occupied with ‘what-it-looks-like’.

    Don’t know about you, but I’ve got quite a few hostile reactions from people when I’ve tried to explain that to them. I’m not sure what’s so threatening about it.

    • Nobody has commented on that here, other times I notice a curiosity… maybe unwilling to take it on. I can understand the fear, it might seem pretty scary to discover the emptiness at the centre of my being if I’d spent a lifetime maintaining the illusion that the self was real. It’s easier for some people to accept if it’s seen as being both; sometimes there’s a self and sometimes it’s gone.

      • It’s not so much the idea of anatta that’s upset people I’ve spoken to. Most of the ones who don’t take it on board just dismiss it rather than react badly to it. It’s the notion that reality isn’t simply the sum total of our perceptions plus a lot of stuff in the same vein we haven’t perceived (yet). The Kantian concept of the essentially unknowable and non-phenomenological nature of the Ding an sich.

        I’ve struck a fair amount of hostility to epistemological inquiry in general but the suggestion that what we perceive isn’t the same as what is seems particularly challenging to many people.

        I don’t know what the problem is. After all, just watching light flickering on a silver screen and perceiving it as an action hero killing lots of bad guys seems a pretty compelling argument to me.

      • Thanks for the point about Kant and the ‘Thing in Itself’.
        For many people, the difficulty is the all-inclusive idea that it’s ‘me’ who’s running the show. I’ve not had this kind of reaction from readers – so far, so good… compassion for those suffering from the all-pervasive conditioned way of identifying with everything. A lifetime of attachment to this way of seeing the world means also not being able to release from ‘my’ hostility – I usually step back and discontinue the discussion… just watching the screenshow with some interest right now, seeing how it works.

  3. I loved the image of all of us nodding our heads in serious, rational agreement about something that isn’t. As if we can make it so by our sheer numbers. Maybe that’s why we’re however many billions now. Nearly ten billion yes men trying to make what can never be so, so.

    I also loved your description of the thing. The formless, weightless, temperatureless thing of all things. We’re not selves. We’re little windows cut in the side of it. Stained glass faces revealing the incredible emptiness. Throw a coin through my mouth, then listen carefully. It will never hit the bottom… 🙂


    PS – Hope you got the computer fixed before the trip…?

    • Thanks for this wonderful comment Michael. The story about the computer may be worth another post, I’m thinking about it. It was a false alarm and everything righted itself before the trip… which trip? It all seems to be merging into one vast journey, but then that’s not it either. We’re all little windows, as you say, apertures that allow the light to pass through – a myriad of colours. It just keeps on doing that, maybe because the Oneness is also the many; everything is everything – words cannot reach…

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