POSTCARD #172: Dhammapala Monastery, Switzerland: Breathe out this huge cloud of steamy vapour, such a quantity, it feels like there’s nothing left in my lungs, it’s used up – can’t breathe, quick do the inhale! The cold is a ‘thing’, it enters my nose with every breath, fills my mouth every time I speak, pours into all the tiny cranial cavities and spaces I didn’t even know were there, it becomes an ice-cream headache – mentholated turquoise and pale blue razor-sharp ice edges. Teeth are cold, lips are a rubbery fumbling. It reaches around my face and exposed places, freezes these delicate little hanging earlobes.
Breathe normally, haaa! the cold is a presence, it seems to me, coming from the benign climate of Delhi, here it’s a motionless cold. Even so, there’s this raging inferno inside my head, a blazing coal furnace – I can hear it roar. The meds for my condition only convince me the pain is not happening, but I know it’s there; the wall between ‘it’ and ‘me’ is thin, fragile… hope that wall holds out! I mentally dive into this snow; the frozen everything. But let me get indoors quickly… leave shoes at the door, the monastery is warm, everything is soft and colourful, autmnal faded tangerine/brown robes, the monks seems to float across the carpet. I’m shown to my room, comfortable square pillows, freshly laundered bedding. The shower works, everything is as you’d expect it to be. No internet connection, I’m momentarily devastated… I’ll have to write the old fashioned way, but forgot to take note paper – no notebook to write on. So I rummage around in my wallet for receipts that I can write on the back of, all kinds of blank bus tickets and scraps of paper.
There’s an immediate familiarity with holding the pen, pressed point seems to etch the characters into the surface of the paper, black figures on a white landscape covered in snow; a photographic negative. So, what to write? What I thought it was, wasn’t – so I had to rethink that one. What else can be said? Everything overwhelmed with whiteness, I have to wear dark glasses. The monks don’t seem to feel the cold, shaved heads and smiling faces. They show me pictures of the standing Buddha outside and I notice something strange about one of the pictures; there’s a reflection in the upturned palm of the buddha while the arm is held in shadow.
Some hours later when I manage to get a connection, I write up the notes created in scraps of paper and the picture image used as the header for this blog is the one with the strange reflected light in the palm. Sleep that night and in the morning it is 10 degrees below zero Celsius, but the internet connection is suddenly good enough for a moment so I hit publish… and it goes.
Lovely snowflakes! Each one falls in the appropriate place. [Zen saying]