the way things are


IMG_2231bPOSTCARD #166: New Delhi: In the office they’re saying, he’s been here all morning but he’s gone now – you just missed him, as if that helps, and there’s this gesture that seems to indicate the empty space where he was; the empty room, desk, chair. I’m held by that space, I want him to be here, but he’s not. Somebody is making a call in the background but can’t get through right now so he must be at that somewhere-else place but he’s on a motorbike so maybe he’s on his way back here. Nothing extraordinary, it’s just that this motorbike guy is the one who signs the rental documents and we can’t go any further until he comes.

There’s the Indian head movement; an affirmative shake of the head that indicates a yes-I’m-sure, but deep inside that affirmation there’s a no-I’m-not-sure. I’m captivated by the swaying head gesture and want him to do it again. So I repeat the question that requires his answer and there it is; a headshake that is a vertical nod and a horizontal shake from side to side. It seems it could go either way… Yes, so have a seat, relax, see how things go.

I can’t sit down, too many possibilities, step outside and stand in the doorway. Look out across the busy road and up and down the street, all these faces turn around, eyes looking directly at me. It’s a kind of flicker of awareness all along my field of vision. More faces turning towards me like windows opening. People, mostly men, standing in doorways like me, maybe also waiting for the outcome of a possible event, and not doing anything right now, leaning on walls, interested in the white guy just entered their surroundings…

For a while I get the look, investigated, then the faces begin to turn away and we all fall into this state of just being where we are. Heads all swivel around at the same time if there’s a loud noise… something that gets our attention for a moment. The ‘self’ always receiving data, taking in, responding, rejecting, avoiding things unpleasant. Looking for something pleasing, heads swivel back to where we were before, front facing, the default position; has anything changed since the last time I was here? Nope it’s pretty much the same as it was.

Watching the inbreath, the outbreath, there’s an alertness about the sensory function, the simple curiosity about sounds and things happening – an awake receptivity that stretches to include the next moment: the response to that seems to arrive before it happens and there’s a glimpse of the construct. Attention blows like the wind this way, and that way, filled with the activity of being.

I hear a text message on a phone somewhere near and somebody comes along to say he’s coming back from that somewhere-else place. But I’m concerned because sometimes the somewhere-else place slips away and becomes the ‘here’, the point of origin we come back to and go away from and the going-away becomes the coming-back and he has gone becomes he has been. But not wanting to get into that, things are stretched enough as they are; he’ll be here soon, In the meantime, staying with the way things are.

‘No writing on the solitary, meditative dimensions of life can say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.’ [Thomas Merton]

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10 thoughts on “the way things are

  1. So you haven’t picked up the Indian head shake?
    I first caught myself doing it on my second trip but later when I was traveling with my girlfriend the habit didn’t catch hold. Maybe reading her body language every day kept mine Australianised too.

    I’m not so sure about the physical ambiguity of the gesture but I learned pretty quickly that in India a direct question was more likely to get the answer the person thought you wanted to hear than one based strictly on the ‘facts’.

    • Yep, more than 30 years ago I found I was kinda doing it too, infectious. This is the first time I’ve tried to put it into words. It’s a very subtle gesture and I hold back from doing it because it always turns out different than what I’d intended. Life is uncertain, let’s face it 🙂 It’s a pretty good way of saying it – and if you want to be specific, as you say they’ll tell you what you want it to be rather than what it is..

      • Oh I don’t know if they don’t tell it how it is. That’s why I scare-quoted ‘facts’.

        I mean surely the fact that you want the bus you’re on to be going to Jog Falls and the fact the guy you’re asking wants it to be going to Jog Falls for your sake outvote the fact the bus is actually going to Mangalore.

      • Ha! Yes, surely… but there being the flip-side, uncertainty factor always there, isn’t the fact that you along with at least one other guy on the bus, ‘want’ it to be going to Jog Falls when it’s actually the Mangalore bus suggest that somebody juggled the schedules at the last minute because the Jog Falls bus (the same bus that’s always going and coming) broke down somewhere enroute… but when I think about it, this is not the uncertainty, it’s the unknown factor

    • Thanks for noticing that, there’s an extreme tension deeply bound up in it, maybe this medication I’m taking has led me to being somehow able to deal with these complexities…

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