back stairsOLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: Aunt Liz was an unusual person because she didn’t speak much, lived like a recluse and it’s only recently I realized she may have been Bipolar – it was so long ago, nobody knew about it then. I was often away and when I came back, she wouldn’t speak to me. The neighbours would tell me she was sometimes socially active, then after a few days she’d go back to her silence and not speak to anyone at all for months. Aunt Liz lived in that house for 23 years. She was alone, preferred to be alone and at the age of 85, she died alone. Bottles of milk left on her doorstep for two days, the police forced the back door and found her sitting on the sofa. It was 1989, I was in Japan, didn’t know it had happened until a relative called me on the phone (no emails in those days) and in a screeching, long-distance voice told me about it; said she’d inherited Aunt Liz’s house and was going to sell it – or did I want to buy it? Yes I did, so we got the paperwork done, I had the contractor go in and do renovations, but it was more than a year by the time I got back to the house.

Everything had changed of course, fresh paint, new plaster; the emptiness of a newly renovated house and nothing left to remind me of Aunt Liz. She was just not there any more – something about it strangely familiar; she was never ‘there’. So many times in the past I’d ring her bell, but no answer. Then I’d be in my house next door, listening for sounds, holding my breath and maybe I’d hear the clink of a cup or plate, and know she was there. Mostly she was simply a presence, so silent sometimes I’d forget about her completely.

That time I came back from Japan, the first thing I did was look for something to use as a floor cushion and sit for a few minutes of meditation in the place where her sofa used to be. This is where she would read her newspaper, do her knitting, watch the six o’clock news … this is where she died. Maybe it was on a day like this; the quietness, the sound of the birds in the trees all around, an ordinary day, and she paused in a quiet moment and listened to the birds; the same birds I’m listening to now, some of them their descendants. Maybe she contemplated this sound as I’m doing now, and had the same awareness of the hearing mechanism that carries the sound.

Get up and open all the windows, landscape reaching out to the horizon; hazy blue sky, the smell of the sea. The sound of birds enters the room, tiny fragments of a hundred melodies merged together in a flow of incidental harmony; no beginning, no middle, no end; blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and in the quiet intervals, the distant mewing of gulls flying in from the sea.

Whatever living beings there may be;
whether they are weak or strong,
omitting none,
the great or the mighty,
medium, short or small,
the seen and the unseen,
those living near and far away,
those born and to-be-born —
may all beings be at ease.

[Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness]


The second post on the house on a hill – click the link for the first post.
Photo shows the back staircase built during the renovation and a new window in the wall opposite so the light can enter the otherwise dark kitchen.

34 thoughts on “presence

    • Thanks for these really nice words. There’s been hurt for so many years and now the house has been sold, it’s necessary to bring both closure and healing. What better way than to reform it, share with the world of bloggers and see what the response is like…

    • Thank you Debra, I think I’d forgotten there comes a time when there’s nothing left but to bring ease into the situation. When it happens all difficulties fall away and everything is resolved…

    • Thanks for the reblog. There’s something about sharing the story with others that brings ease; the holding-on Aunt Liz must have experienced all through her life is lessened bit by bit…

      • Thank the universe T … Being Scottish is not necessarily conducive to letting go and going with the flow.
        Maybe thats why so many Scots have ventured and adventured overseas. To allow themselves the opportunity to explore, let go, and find their true selves (?)

      • This is it exactly… gratitude. To know how to find your true self – whatever it takes, and that’s my story too. I left Scotland in the late 60s and have been on the move ever since – it’s taken all these years. Aunt Liz’s story also; she came from the North, was a nurse in London in WWII, and stayed on there until her retirement. Couldn’t go back to the North and bought the cottages in East Anglia instead. She still had this sing-song accent after all that time, still was a Scottish lady, unmarried, maybe isolated because of the difference between English society and her conditioned Northern endurance. Now it’s all gone, life is so short…

  1. It’s an interesting experience to occupy someone else’s personal space after they’ve passed on… the “presence” is strongly felt. Some of us appreciate the uniqueness of that experience more than others do. It affords us a deeper opportunity for reflection than visiting a gravesite ever can. Beautiful post… Jeff

    • Thanks Jeff, I recognise this. After my mother passed I was helping to go through her coats and things, pack them up to be sent off to charity shops to be recycled, and an unexpected smell of her makeup triggers this curious familiarity with her presence… a softness about it. That’s the essence of what we are, mind/body organism; a presence…

  2. I see a fellow traveler on the path here. I like your style, sifting for gems in the mundane, savoring, transmitting the view. And we seem to be in the same geographic as well. We even have common topics.

    • Hi there, and thanks, yes it looks like that. I’m going between Delhi and Thailand quite a lot, looking at this world from a Theravada point of view and engaged in the observation/ analysis of these tiny mind-moments in the causation chain; one thing leads to another, you know how it goes…

  3. In the letting go, we often find ease. That has been my experience. It is as if in losing the attachment we gain a sense of life as it is or was. Enjoyed the post. Thank you.

    • Thanks Karen, there’s something significant about this; a model for the whole human condition. Attachment to ‘self’ and the resulting separation between ‘me’ and the world. The release from that means we return to the oneness…

  4. I love this story Tiramit, albeit tinged with a kind of sadness for your Aunt Liz. Whenever you write you have the ability to make me feel that I’m actually there – in this case smelling the new paint, listening to the birdsong. You take us with you as you relive past memories. I will always remember your wonderful post about the lamb being born.

    • Hey Jude, thanks for this, since the sale of the old house, the writing has taken a turn towards remembering things past. Maybe it’s that, recreating the story in the mind, just the moment-by-moment essentials. There’s a kind of urgency about it, things that have the most impact are integrated into the story and minor details are edited out – like speaking with a friend, describing something that happened and not a lot of time to say it all…

  5. Pingback: nostalgia for winter | dhamma footsteps

  6. Yes, sadness over your aunt who does sound like possibly Bipolar. And, it is hard to part with things that have emotional meaning. I am trying to do a purge of our apartment, simplify things and reduce the amount of things. I imagine alone with a sense of loss and parting of another phase of your life, that you might feel relief as well, in simplifying your life. This urge to purge is driving me these days. We, like you, live in two places and that is complicated enough and perhaps needs changing. I don’t know. Attachments….

    • Thanks Ellen, also for your input on the Bipolar condition. I found your book in Amazon: Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things, and now have it on my Kindle. You’re right of course, simplify things by seeing the attachments for what they are – to a greater or lesser degree, just knowing it’s like that. One thing I discovered is that it’s a relief to actually let go of things. The difficulty is in being able to de-clutter at will. I like your idea of the ‘urge to purge’, developing the motivation to just get on and do it… definitely a good thing to practice.

      • Oh dear! Please be easy reading my book. It is all about attachment and mental illness. A stretch for your Scotts sensibility and Buddhist non- attachment. Not sure it will help you understand your aunt. I was seeking love, achieved my goal, found love. Now my goal to deal with that attachment, fear of loss of spouse. Anyhow many thanks for buying the book. Hope you will find it interesting.

      • No, please, the attachment etc is allright. I’m interested in the experiential aspect, how things appear to be. It makes good sense to me…

  7. Thank you. Trying to leave a little note on two of your posts which did not seem to come through. Re: your book Might it be possible to have consecutive postcards and then, at the end, postscripts with the odd, non-fitting posts?

    • Not sure why your comments are not coming through, I can’t find anything at this end…
      I like the idea of consecutive postcards as far as possible, then non-fitting posts at the end. I’d been thinking along the same lines. There is a time sequence in some parts, like a diary. I’ve got a plan, let’s see how it goes – seems so vast, can’t picture how it’ll be…

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