not alone

IMG_2346POSTCARD #157: Hat Yai: The 15th day of the 10th lunar month, October 12th, was the annual Respect for the Dead day in Thailand. Facebook busy with the exchange of photos showing the preparation of food offerings to the Dead and the large social events that took place in the temple grounds afterwards. Communities sharing the food they made in their own homes and ‘offered’ to the boowa in the temple’s cemetery area where the ashes and remains of the ancestors are kept. The people of the old world built a narrative around the enigma of death, life and the whole question of why we are here. It explains the mystery in a way everyone in the community can understand, something consciously shared. It also explains it to me, a westerner, 30 years in Asia, having one foot in both worlds – maybe I’m more asianized these days. With this awareness of death, I find I’m not alone anymore, all of a sudden… wow! In the West we somehow forgot there was anything we were supposed to know about life and death so we stopped looking. Forgot about the subjective world and spent most of the time browsing internet pages about quantum mechanics instead.

It’s not that we just don’t talk about death, we pretend it’s not there. Death is what happens to other people… something obscure, like spirituality; words cloned from an ancient artefact wrapped in the strangeness of another age. Jesus, Mohammed, Shiva, Buddha discovered the truth was inside, a seed germinating from ancient beginnings. They and all the revered persons in the history of the world were teaching people to find it for themselves (comes with the software). It’s not about having somebody else do it on our behalf.

But conjurors, alchemists, science developed and the Object elbowed its way into our lives, shoved Subjectivity out of the way, and we started to focus on what’s inside, thinking it’s out ‘there’. Instead of the actual experience, I’m listening to a story about what’s happening, watching a movie in my head; inventing a self that’s satisfied sometimes, or dissatisfied other times, a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth and what’s real, and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Thinking I am the only one that’s me, or is that just a thought thinking it’s me? And when, in the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment, there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving urge to have, to possess, to be… it’s possible to see that this world of suffering can be brought to an end.

“… death is as near to him as drying up is to rivulets in the summer heat, as falling is to the fruits of the trees when the sap reaches their attachments in the morning, as breaking is to clay pots tapped by a mallet, as vanishing is to dewdrops touched by the sun’s rays …” [Visuddhimagga, Mindfullness of Death]


Photo: Jiab’s community in the shared meal after the ceremony

20 thoughts on “not alone

  1. Here in the land of make believe where they feel
    Sorry for the old and look at death as something to feel bad for someone for having to endure. So they can push it away and hide from it for another day.
    Talking about it here in the land of make believe and telling people to meditate on death is looked at as morbid and weird. What a distorted mind set to have. Wanting to think the illusion is real..

    • I remember pushing my old step mum around in a wheel chair with her catheter tubes hanging down, and pedestrians on the walkway were visibly shocked, gave us a wide berth… This was in Queensland Australia, the land of the forever young

  2. I think it was you who put me onto The Taboo of Subjectivity.

    In it Wallace argues that it’s not science (or proto-science) but Western theology that first equated reality with objectivity.

    • You’re right on both counts, I suppose I don’t emphasize that, in consideration of those who believe in the Object. I glad you commented on this because there’s an opportunity to clarify that important point

  3. When i was about seventeen years old by some time I became obsessed with death; every night before sleep I used to think: one day less for living, one day more near of death. Even I asked myself: every night my consciousness disappears, so I myself disappear, death must be similar, but forever. At last I decided to do some research: I looked carefully the very moment when I felt asleep, losing consciousness; my aim was to know what happened with ourselves, how we “dissapear” every night. It took me some weeks, but one night it happened: just in the moment when I began to “disconnect” I realized it, and and alertness returned … too late, because the body just had fallen asleep! So I remained with full awareness without body … in the middle of nothing … only dark and silence. That day I learned consciousness can exist independently of the body, so consciousness can be beyond of death of the body. Many years later the readings about spiritual world confirmed me such experience. So: work hard for developing higher consciousness while we are in this life bring us life beyond death. By the way, I occasionally told this story to some doctors, asking for their opinion: but they don’t understand it, because they think is impossible, and keep silent. We still have to learn so many things …

    • Thanks Inaedelea, that’s pretty amazing, I can believe something like this may be possible. I have experienced consciousness in a body that’s asleep, but it was a different feeling. I now have this PHN condition on the right side of my head and neck. If the pain occurs during the night and I’ve taken a sleeping pill earlier, the pain wakes me up but the body is still asleep – I feel trapped in the body and there’s a struggle to deal with this panic. Then I wake up sufficiently to sit up in bed, try to ease the pain but the body is still mostly asleep. It’s encouraging to hear about your experience, next time it happens I can try to ‘disconnect’ as you have described it…

      • Sounds like sleep paralysis. I’ve had that maybe a dozen times I can remember, though not for a long time. Even when I know it’s an illusion that will soon pass I’ve never found a way to get rid of the feeling of terror it induces. The worst is when I think I’ve finally woken up from the experience when really I’ve just ‘woken’ to another level of it.

      • I remember a discussion we had before about the Thai version of sleep paralysis – some supernatural being sits on your chest. This is the kind of thing that’s happening to me as a result of PHN and sleeping tablet, there’s an awareness about the pain ‘waking’ me up, though. because it has happened many times and anyway I must be in a less deep level of sleep. I think we’d both be interested to hear more about Inaedelea consciousness-in-sleep experience…

  4. Sometimes I like to think that it is possible for the observer to find itself at the end of both ways. Looking in and looking out. Not disregarding either way, but recognising that at the root of either way, the one of the inner world and the one of quantum mechanics, we could find some echoes of the reality which walks with us. Having said that, it is definitely true that the West often pretends death not to be there. Particularly in medias and in its obsession with busyness.

    • It’s something like this that would be the way forward; subjectivity included in the objective way – looking in and looking out. It would require a different kind of understanding… no ‘self’ creating an obstruction. Difficult to find words for it.

      • I agree. Perhaps some might be objective, loving, open, understanding, curious. As you can see these are all adjectives and not “something” in itself. What do you think of the word critical (in the sense of having a critical look)?

      • The word critical would have a place, understanding that there is no obstructing ‘self’ construct. I imagine most of it would be discussion about defining parameters in this new context…

    • Thanks Ben, I’m sharing what I learned, as the only Westerner having to include ceremonies like this in the annual schedule and there’s an opportunity to ask questions sometimes so I can figure out how it fits with the way I see it and how it could /couldn’t be applied to the Western model

  5. I am entirely at peace with the natural process of birth and death. I see death clearly in its organic nature. I am no different than the ant or the tree, (“a child of the universe” according to the Desiderata), and will die in my time, in step with the cosmos.
    It’s nice for the living, when someone dies, to observe the occasion. A funeral, a wake, a burial.
    As for the dead, they’re still dead.
    To me, dying is just one more thing I’ll need to learn to do.

    Seek peace,


    • Thanks Paz, very comforting, I find. There’s a familiarity about this. I’ll need to learn how it’s done, get ready in advance. Plenty of examples all around…

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