notes on a route well-travelled

POSTCARD#494: Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok:  Lining up at the Gate with passport and boarding pass…  down the walkway and into the aircraft. I find my seat, bag up there in luggage compartment and squeeze into the allotted space below, chair moulded to fit the human body. Fasten seat belt, aircraft take off… huge upthrust of massive engine power. The sun’s rays enter cabin windows on the other side, sweep around the interior in the steep ascent of the aircraft and the course setting for North West. There is the sky, clouds, and way down there… the surface of the planet. I am a microscopic cell in a universe of universes, so vast I cannot comprehend the totality of it and so I live in a world of what-it-looks-like, believing this to be reality.

A child is crying, front-left. I’m in the aisle seat, the sound piercing through insulation of the meds I take for the headache. Silent inhale, then “SCREAM!” It’s like a medical probe penetrating deep into internal organs. I try tilting my head in small increments to alter the directional frequency of received sound but it’s not working – I am in its state of inconsolable distress, bathed in the totality of its sound. I try telling myself it’ll stop eventually, hold on for a bit longer, and just as I’m about to get up and run away from the source of the awful sound, it stops… gets quieter, bit by bit. and silent.

Sensory impingement triggers the headache, sound or light mainly; frozen-ice drinks or pungent odors can do it. Such a lot depends on the medicine I take, how many and how often. Sometimes there is complete calm and the meds allow me to see the intrusive pain growing inside me like a tree, branches and twiglets with buds opening; it’s there but I can’t feel it – this is the gravity-free world of pharmaceutical weightlessness; the magic capsules that make it all go away for a while. Then the intrusive pain is growing inside me again and I’m swallowing more capsules all to no avail… and thus, “the entanglement,” I have to extend out of the body/mind quickly and into “what’s going on around me?” Chat with a neighbour maybe… but masked passengers spaced out in the aircraft, an empty seat between each person; the familiarity of Covid Estrangement… the truth of separation helps the mind to ease away from the pain, and the urgency of it settles.

 Jiab and M fall asleep, and I’m left looking out through the windows on all sides, at the clouds in the sky. The illusion of the plane being motionless while travelling at 600 mph. I’ve seen it like this, sometimes, in the car going to the airport; a plane is taking off and if you’re coming towards the ascending aircraft, it looks like the plane is just hanging in the air (due to the difference between air speed and ground speed). It’s this same feeling now, only I’m in it, a strange illusion; same cloud shapes outside for an hour or so; no indication we have moved. The impression is that everything has stopped… I feel like I should hold my breath.

Everything is so quiet and still, clouds seem to enter into the interior. A masked stewardess appears through the wispiness and mists of high-altitude spaces, conspicuous eye makeup above the face mask, gestures with her head; do I need anything from the drinks cart? Thanks, no, I’m really quite spaced-out, as it is, and she pushes the drinks cart down the aisle, glasses and little bottles clinking and tinkling together, a strangely familiar chord or tune I used to sing to.

Fasten seat belts, the aircraft is descending. Exit the plane and out into the high-ceilinged airport halls. Pick up the bags and head for the Airport Taxi desk. Arriving is the departure point for the next journey, and another opens up after that. I live in an illusion, riding around like a passenger in the vehicle of my body, input from data received through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch – and a mind that creates meaning based on memory files of similar events, other thoughts, problems/solutions, reviewing/seeking, and memories of past times.

“There is no ‘thing’ there. There is no real substance, no solidity, and no self-existent reality. All there is, is the quality of experience itself. No more, no less. There is just seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, cognizing. And the mind naming it all is also just another experience.” [Ajahn Amaro]

4 thoughts on “notes on a route well-travelled

    • Thanks Ka, am I right in thinking that you also suffer from long-term pain and discomfort? If so, you know the automatic investigation that locks into place when pain arrives; an awareness of the incremental steps towards relief. About the quote by Ajahn Amaro “fitting” is the word. Ajahn states that, “there is no ‘thing’ there,”this points to the essential difference between Theravada and Advaita; although there is ‘no self-existing reality,’ there must be a ‘knowing’ (of it all). So, if there is a ‘knowing’ there is a ‘knower,’ a Self…

    • Thanks for your comment, Ellen. It’s a moment-by-moment observing that we all recognise. For me, it’s the Theravada Buddhist perspective applied to every-day events that enter experience. I note that ‘things’ take place, over long or short periods of time – can be instants, and my interest in the cittas in the Abhidhamma – split-second changes in the here-and-now, temporal unfolding. All of this linked together in the cause/effect chain, Kamma (intention) and Vipāka (outcome), which is an autonomous process, no Self controlling it.

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