img_0164POSTCARD #236: Bangkok: The impact of arriving deletes the memory of how I got here. Random thoughts hop from one thing to the next, no connection, doing it for its own sake – processed, passport stamped, thump, and through to arrivals. Welcome to the Kingdom. TV monitors show news readers wearing black, the backdrop is a curtain-fold with grey wreathes and shades of black in respect for the late King. Taxi drivers wear black jackets – well, yes this is the cold season, but everyone, everywhere wears black. Everything is extraordinarily formal and sad.

Traffic comes to a standstill. I’m in a yellow-green taxi looking out the window; a clash of pink, red, blue and white-like-peppermint taxis on all sides – I see them in rear-view mirror, on the left, the right, and all around. Bizarre vehicles like four-legged creatures standing in silence, looking at each other sideways, waiting to see who makes the first move. Green light is go, urgency of speed and slices of landscape pass through the car. Scraps of thinking and bits of another journey recalled, brought into present time.

A pause, window opens in the mind… a fascination with the remembered moment; an event or an accumulation of events … just makes sense, by itself. Yes, I remember now, thinking the Bali people look like characters from the Hobbit; beings who exist on a smaller scale than the rest of us, and live in a smaller world – small houses, small everything. There’s a hint of comedy and laughter in Indonesia… hmmm, but not here, not now that the Thai King is gone.

Impossible to not be affected by the scale of bereavement and absolute reality of death as far as the eye can see. Public mourning for one year… there’s a lesson to be learned here in this small country.

“…We are concerned with our daily life, not some exotic, fanciful religious concept but actual daily life of conflict, the confusion we live in, the uncertainty, the search for security. We have been through all that, it is part of our life. And also death is part of our life, though we may not acknowledge that fact. We may try to avoid it, slur over it, or only be concerned at the last minute, as most people are. So we should together enquire into the nature, into that extraordinary fact, as life is an extraordinary fact, we ought to consider that also.” [J. Krishnamurti, The Beauty of Death as Part of Life Fourth Public Talk at Brockwood Park September 1982]


lonesome highway

IMG_0063POSTCARD07: Bangkok: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the tollway to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a rented vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega/pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, just stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine conks out. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world. Goodbye Thailand, next stop Delhi…

BKKairport‘The universe I’s (using the word ‘I’ as a verb) in the same way that a tree ‘apples’ or a star shines, and the center of the ‘appling’ is the tree and the center of the shining is the star, and so the basic center of self of the I’ing is the eternal universe or eternal thing that has existed for ten thousand million years and will probably go on for at least that much more.’ [The Essence of Alan Watts, Vol. 4: “Death”]


Upper photo: approaching BKK tollway. Lower photo: BKK airport departure gate area

Paper Day

Switzerland: Woke up this morning and it was a paper day, according to Jiab – meaning the day the garbage truck comes to collect cardboard and paper for recycling: ‘jeter les papiers’. The garbage guys are fast so I have to go down to the basement immediately, get all the newspapers, then up one floor to ground level and put everything out by the entrance. Waiting for the elevator to arrive, check the phone is in my pocket because the basement is 8 floors down, below ground level and there’s only one key. The key fits in a keyhole inside the elevator that takes you down to this strangely claustrophobic space. I wouldn’t want to get stuck in the basement. Unless I meet any other tenant, it’s a solitary experience. I come down here and it feels like entering the death state.

“… death is as near to him as drying up is to rivulets in the summer heat, as falling is to the fruits of the trees when the sap reaches their attachments in the morning, as breaking is to clay pots tapped by a mallet, as vanishing is to dewdrops touched by the sun’s rays …” [Visuddhimagga, Mindfullness of Death]

Elevator drops all the way down and stops, solidly at the bottom. Door opens, I’m inside a large mysterious network of small rooms, white walls, grey doors. It’s a reinforced concrete nuclear fall-out shelter built for the occupants of the apartment building. This is the law in Switzerland. A lingering sense of paranoia all around here; strangely thick doors on huge hinges held open with large iron stays. Lighting system is permanently on, they just replace the bulbs. Years from now, it’ll be exactly like this; and maybe even generations into the future, a vast supply of continually replenished light bulb stock keeps this space illuminated.

I find our concrete room, number painted on the door, another key on the ring opens the lock and I step into this familiar place. Discarded old things, vestiges of a former life. Papers in stacks, carboard cartons flattened into sections and bundled up. What a curious space. I suppose this is where we’d sleep, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe up above. ‘All that is mine beloved and pleasing will become otherwise, will become separated from me.’ The simple fact of being alive seems to take on a whole different meaning when you’re aware of the nearness of death. There’s some old furniture here, a broken chair. I can squeeze around, back against the wall, and there’s just enough space to ease the body down on the old chair and sit. What does this feel like?

Rupa kandha, a distinct sense of ‘body’ just sitting there, patiently waiting for instructions, quite still and at ease, inert. I am ‘contained’; internal organs in a sack of skin. Meditation in a subterranean room; reinforced walls to create the space I’m in. The grave. This is how it’ll be when I’m dead? Focus on the breath, after a moment, it’s calm. Strange acoustics. The silence is exceptional. There’s the solidity of the body, the totality and weight of all the internal systems, the earth, fluids, heat and breathing; just being comfortable in the taking up of the space it’s occupying.

Mind flow drops down a notch, thought patterns and changing images, flitting around, have no identity; darting all over the place like little flashes of energy. Body acts as a conductor, through which the sparkling electric current flow of small thoughts can be earthed. It’s like a fireworks display. Strange how, in contemplating death, it ends up that you’re contemplating life.

Phone rings. An extremely loud ringtone. It’s Jiab: what are you doing down there? Breakfast is ready! Okay, coming now. Pick up the paper bundles, lock up the room. Into the elevator and up one floor. Out of the door into the daylight, drop the papers and there’s the fresh mountain air. Into the elevator and up again to the 7th floor. Large, spacious interior, picture windows, landscape below, white clouds above; clear open sky. It feels like nothing really matters. It’s a paper day.

‘As contemplation deepens, the contents of the mind become increasingly rarefied. Irrelevant flights of thought, imagination, and emotion subside, mindfulness becomes clearer, the mind remains intently aware, watching its own process of becoming. At times there might appear to be a persisting observer behind the process, but with continued practice even this apparent observer disappears. The mind itself — the seemingly solid, stable mind — dissolves into a stream of cittas flashing in and out of being moment by moment, coming from nowhere and going nowhere, yet continuing in sequence without pause.’ [The Noble Eightfold Path, Bhikkhu Bodhi, page 82 – 83, Contemplation of the State of Mind (cittanupassana)]