submerged in air

POSTCARD#322: Chiang Mai: Sitting at my desk here on the third floor and there’s somebody drilling a hole in the wall somewhere, the sound of it seems to be everywhere. Renovations are going on and there’s been a lot of banging and drilling. It’s a hammer drill in hard concrete this time; the sound is vibrating through the structure of the room and if I lean my head in my hand and elbow on my desk, the vibration is conducted through the bone structure of my arm, and jaw held in hand, clenched teeth and the skull is vibrating. It’s like the hole is being drilled in my head and I’d really like that sound to go away, to not be here. Interesting that it only takes a moment for the mind to create backstory support for this thought, and suddenly I feel totally engaged in it.

Then a child starts crying in another apartment, it’s small voice going on in a seemingly inconsolable way. I can hear the muffled sound of the mother’s voice as well. Yes, I’d be upset too if I was woken up by this kind of noise… and there’s resentment about the noise building up inside me, a very large wave of justified outrage, beginning to take shape. In an instant it’s formed. Who is responsible for this? I’m looking for somebody to be at fault here. Who’s to blame for this? I come from a society conditioned by blaming, searching for the scapegoat. Blame it on somebody – blame it on myself…. then that whole emotional thing disappears as quickly as it arose, because there’s a plane approaching; it’ll fly over in a few seconds. We’re in the flight path here – departing flights from Chiang Mai airport, flying quite low and heavy with fuel. Some are very large passenger jets that go to Singapore and this must be one of them.

In a moment, the immense sound is present, takes over in every conceivable way; everything in the apartment, and outside too, subject to this colossal roaring vibration. The sound doesn’t just deafen, it’s as if we are submerged in air, an epic disaster movie. I can hear the hammer drill and the child crying, but the sounds are so faint. The thinking mind is quiet in the presence of this vast noise; a great chasm opening up in the fabric of reality, getting wider and wider and there’s only the receiving of the experience.

I’m drawn to these strange moments when there seems to be no thought at all. The mind just stops, and there’s awareness of ‘self’ but there’s no connection with it. Besides, the totality of aircraft noise is waning, as I knew it would, and hammer drill sensory impingement returns. Familiarity of crying child who remains unconsoled and, for a little while, I have to give way to the raging fire of emotion again. The mind is engaged in a kind of intensely gridlocked traffic of thoughts, driven into near collision with other thoughts and backing up, and trying to find a way out of this cramped condition.

Then I sidestep the whole thing. There’s a pause and in the small space that exists I remember the Ajahn saying, “Outside the thinking mind there is the uncreated”. I look around for the pause… it’s still there, a curious extended, stretched-out moment when there’s just no thought at all. It’s getting easier now, the child is not crying anymore. The drilling stops and the silence is overwhelming. Mango trees outside my window; sunlight on leaves, branches move slightly as tiny squirrels squeak and leap around in playfulness.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: Chiang Mai Red Bus, public transport that goes anywhere
Reflections on an earlier post, Uncreated

the look of eyes (1)

POSTCARD#318: Chiang Mai: Moving through the main road traffic in a tuktuk, going at an unforgivable speed, just amazed by the noise of it. Lying back on the seat in the slouched position, holding on to everything, and the body kind of adhered to the seat. We make a fast turn into a soi (narrow road), lurch to the right in this flimsy three wheeled vehicle, lightweight structure with a wide seat, shiny chrome poles support a canvas hood overhead and nothing to separate outside from inside.

We’re now in a residential area, careering down a narrow path; the engine noise is louder here. Pedestrians turn and look as the tuktuk approaches and step back out of the way. There’s just enough time to see the person’s head turning in my direction, I glance and have eye contact, wish them well in my mind, and I’m gone. Turn another corner and somebody else looks up from what they’re doing. It happens again and again, an old woman, a child, and a man just sitting on the wall. He hears the sound of the approaching tuktuk, head rises, shoulders turn and face comes round to where I am, looks at me sitting in the back seat, I smile and he does too. We’re in a moment, a shavingth of time and it’s gone. Again and again it all takes place in a couple of seconds – not unusual, quite ordinary… a fragment of a shared moment.

Heads move in my direction: who is that in the tuktuk? The human reaction eyes and ears; vision and hearing, and mouth is there to speak or call out if necessary. All these sensory receptors are positioned together in or about the face and the flat plane of it moves round like a small parabolic TV satellite dish reaching out for a signal, ready to respond. Sometimes it’s too fast and the thinking process doesn’t engage. I see the beginning of recognition, mind takes over and ‘self’ locks in, then released and the tuktuk is gone in that same instant. A brief glimpse; an excerpt from a sentence; a few words that don’t have a context.

Each person I see is ready to respond, smile, say hello when we have eye contact. It’s my responsibility to smile and wave because the place where I am at, is moving too fast and they see first I’m not anybody they know, white face, pale eyes, kind of invisible. Sorry, have to rush, bye! It’s a brief encounter then zoom round the corner and there’s somebody else. Face turns, eyes look and mind engages gear… she looks at me sees the prepared smile, smiles in recognition of my polite intrusion in her space and that is somehow hugely reassuring for me. The face turns away, and ‘I’ am not here, I never was here really, it just seemed like that for a moment; the look of eyes, and our shared world, the air takes the volume of a space where there’s always enough room for it, and the water in the lake is for fish to find somewhere to swim around in….


Photo: Chiang Mai Tuktuk