back from where we came

POSTCARD # 490: Newcastle Airport: I get a lift to the airport, not far, check in for the flight back to Bangkok, and it’s done… boarding pass and passport in shirt pocket, and they tell me to sit down for a while. Soon after that the wheelchair guy arrives. Jiab convinced me to go on a wheelchair, my problem is balance, if I turn too quickly, I can fall over. There have been a few falls. Hands go out, reflex reaction, in the midst of a fall, and bracing for impact. I broke the little finger of my left hand in a fall, and it never got set properly, it doesn’t go flat, it’s curved. Now I’m walking with a stick that folds away into a plastic case. Don’t need it now, I’m wheeled through the airport security portals and glitzy duty-free sections, straight ahead, the shortest possible route to Departures.

There is something about being in a wheelchair, upright dignity is just gone. I am in a truly passive state, humbled by the generosity of everyone giving way. Exhilarated by zooming into the great perspective of long airport walkways, huge architectural structures move towards me and pass through. Seeing the world from a lower eye level – déjà vu memory of being a child again. It comes with the acceptance of aging, an understanding of what helplessness is, the existential plight; insight into the realization that most of us are held in a trance-like state, pulled into the ‘self’ fiction by the mirror of Western society’s misconstrued fear of the unknown void, emptiness śūnyatā, therefore stuck with the belief in gratification of sensory desires, suffering and the fear of death. Wheelchairs are allowed to go straight through the lines of waiting people and up to the entry to the plane. I’m helped into my seat and the stewardess puts my bag away in overhead luggage space.

The transition takes place from terra firma to blue sky, and fluffy clouds of the heaven realms. Some hours later, we’ve had food and drinks and the lights are turned down so people can sleep. I’m just sitting here with the sound of the plane engines going on and on, a penetrating noise/vibration and the hissing of air. I have to get on good terms with this noise, get used to it, otherwise it could trigger a monstrous headache (but it didn’t).

For a while, I’m able to forget the noise and fall into a partial sleep. A dissatisfactory world of thinking about this and that, pondering over who did what, where and when – a ‘self’ is acting the part of characters portrayed in thoughts, being her and him and us and them and entangled in bits and pieces of related thoughts. The only constant in all this is the hypnotic one-note song I’m singing. So, I have to wake up to see what’s going on… immediately there’s the noise of the engines again. Why do we have it upfront like this? And I try to understand it better.

At first it seems as if there’s a noticeable regular beat in it, like the pacing of a runner, the hissing, whooshing noise suggests speed. But it just goes on and on, there is no ending, no runner arriving at the finish line, no congratulatory roar of cheering and applause… the sound doesn’t ever let up or change. It remains stretched out like that – a prolonged state of going but not arriving. The tedium of it is exhausting. I stand up to flex my knees and visit the toilet. I get inside that small space and close the door, but the noise is in here too! The sound and the hiss are in the centre of my consciousness. I remember now from other flights, everywhere you go inside the aircraft, the noise is the same. Where does it come from?

Anyway, it doesn’t sound like a mechanistic sound, no faults, irregularities, no rising or falling intonation.  How could there be engines that run so totally perfect for twelve hours in a flat continuum of engine noise? This seems strange to me, and a more reasonable explanation comes to mind; the sound and the hiss are being played on a sound track, the intention being to mask the actuality of engine sound and lessen the panic passengers would feel, over the various small changes in the engines’ sound that might happen.

Thus, I find myself situated in the illusion; the engine noise is not real, besides, the plane itself is held on its flight path by automatic pilot… things are done but there is no do-er; ‘no-self,’ (anatta). The aircraft is 6 miles up in thin air, going at 600 mph, like a streak of light across the curvature of the planet. Yet, inside here, passengers are lounging around, looking at videos, playing cards, chatting, having drinks. Impossible to get my head around this, I settle into a meditative state, watching the breath and the sound is now like a warm embrace. The ongoing thinking about things doesn’t bother me… no-self, they’re not ‘my’ thoughts, just random phenomena that arise and fall away.

Otherwise having a silent mind, silent awareness of the present moment, no preferences, simply aware of things as they appear right now. Nothing to say, no opinions about visitors who come in, and stay, or go… let them. No reactions, no responses at all – quietly observing and practicing silent awareness in the present moment with the background of sound masking out all irrelevant things. 

It didn’t take long to start the descent and I forgot to listen for any change in the ‘engine’ sound. Then the ear-popping fall into the lower realms, and bing, bang, bop the plane landed in Bangkok. I had to wait for the passengers to deplane then the Thai wheelchair man was there, a small person with big shoulders. He looked like he was capable of heaving my heavy weight up the inclines and along these long corridors. I needn’t have worried he was pushing me along faster than I‘ve ever done it on foot! In no time at all we had the passport stamped, got the luggage from the belt, out of the exit into the waiting car. I gave the man a good tip. There and back again in 10 days! Like a video on fast-rewind stops at the beginning not the end, the memory of the hassle and stress I suffered when leaving Bangkok was erased.

7 thoughts on “back from where we came

  1. Love this… “watching the breath and the sound is now like a warm embrace.” You got yourself to that point. Wonderful that you have such control. I am sure it took years or maybe you took to it naturally. Enjoyed the post a lot!!

    • Hi Ellen
      Thanks for your focus on this, looking at it now, the immense sound was so intrusive to me… noticing other passengers were unconcerned, induced a kind of panic with the ominous signs of a headache I know so well. So, I took the meds, let go of that fearful unpleasantness and it became ‘like a warm embrace’ on the rebound.

  2. You describe what is, really, the commonality of our experience in such a full and graceful way. How much we are connected and alike and how much we flail around thinking we are …well, Self. amazing. XOXOXOXO

    • Hi K
      This is how it is. I was fortunate in receiving the insight: Sila, Samadhi, Punya, (integrity, focus, wisdom) from the monks in Thailand, Switzerland, and the UK nearly three decades ago. That said, I still find myself flailing around thinking I’m Self… but I learned to let it go as soon as it arises, so things get kinda back to how they were.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.