have metta for the fear

POSTCARD#312: Bangkok: Getting into town from the airport is okay to start with, gliding along the elevated highway in a huge open landscape, and all the good-looking 21st Century buildings pointing up into the evening sky like some futuristic sci-fi heaven realm. Then, as we get near the exit, the traffic slowly starts to fuse together in a mass of end-to-end steel/chrome-plated metal units, creaking along like the glacier I visited a long time ago in Switzerland moving so slowly, the end of its 133 kilometer length is four hundred years older than its beginning.

Struggling with the thought that the reason I’m here is that I have to have eye surgery on both eyes for cataracts. I don’t want it to be like this, causes and conditions, waiting for the traffic is like the changes in nature, the ocean, the weather.

Reminded of the Ajahn Chah image of leaves in the trees blowing in the wind in a rising and falling motion for as long as the winds last. It’s just the mind blowing like the wind that can cause the restless, uneasy feeling. In its original state, the mind is still and calm.

‘To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear — meaning that you don’t build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimize the fear by recognizing that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It’s not my fear, it’s not a person’s, it’s an impersonal fear.’ [“Mindfulness: The Path to Deathlessness: The Meditation Teaching of  Venerable Ajahn Sumedho.”]


Reflections on an earlier post titled: “necessity of mindfulness”

 

blessings fill the room

POSTCARD#311: Chiang Mai: 07.00 hours: The alarm rings…. and it takes a moment to recognize I’m in Chiang Mai, arrived last night. Heavy curtains over the window; a darkness I’m not used to. It’s quiet here, the sound of monks chanting anumodana on the edge of hearing. A motorbike whizzes by in the distance, nothing else. Senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching for a way to ‘become’ something that will establish ‘me’ in this place and time but I can’t, I’m distracted by these new surroundings and keep returning to the narrative associated with interesting objects.

Too many, too much, I go to the window, feet on cool tiles, flip flop, flip flop, a sense of empty rooms, as yet uninhabited; space/time occupied with the moving of its integral parts – chapters from a book about furniture being moved into a new apartment, the ending hasn’t been written yet and the beginning is a continuation of what happened before that.

Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and ‘now’ becomes yesterday – here we are in the awareness of this moment, the means by which we arrive at this point in time remains a mystery.

Slide open the curtains of all the windows. A blaze of colour, monks in varying shades of orange, faded tangerine robes and a group of kneeling Thai tourists from the hotel opposite. (Note: the original post refers to Christmas Day 2012, and here in a Buddhist country it is just an ordinary day).

Jesus and all the other great teachers in history were really saying the same thing. In the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving ‘urge’ and from this place in awareness, it’s possible to see that I am continually re-born in tiny slices of time, minutes, seconds, into this self-perpetuating loop due to the habituality of trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want. Thinking that yes, so life is about trying to get it right, but caught in attachment upadana; even this, the desired state, belongs to ‘me,’ the act of possessing it requires that there has to be a ‘me.’

Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even that which I consider to be ‘my’ enemy, is also ‘mine.’ Thus creating a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth in all this and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Layers of associated narrative obscure the issue. People say they are so busy with ordinary tasks; earning enough money to support the family and no time to think of anything else.

In the same way, belief in an external creator creates attachment and unthinking devotion to this returns me to the same point of entry, again and again. It’s not so much about taking refuge in the Jesus or Buddha of the mind. It’s about here-and-now behaviors: sila, samadhi, pannya (virtue/ mindfulness of present time/ and the applied intelligence that goes with it). The blessings of the monks fills the room; slowly waking up to an awareness of this reality….

‘If those who lead you say to you, “See, the kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ [Selected Sayings of Jesus from Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi manuscripts]


Reflections on an earlier post titled habituality of former lives

 

limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

its as-it-is-ness

POSTCARD#309: A village near Hat Yai: Exotic red Hibiscus flowers and butterflies as big as birds. A zizzle of insects in the night and numerous coconut palm trees just standing around contemplating the situation – if a tree falls in the forest… does the world continue to exist when I close my eyes? Was this world here before I was born? Hard to believe it was, everything just going on as it is now, probably, farmyard animals, birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, experienced from here on the top floor of the house where the treetops are level with the roof terrace and higher.

There was a time when I wasn’t here – not born yet. I can understand that, so it means I can understand what the world is without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating, and undeniably, the present moment is all around the place, taking the form of objects, I see (as soon as they are ‘seen’), becoming the surfaces of things I touch (as soon as they are ‘held’). I keep bumping into it, the present moment is all there is, and it is as it is, whether I am aware of it in its as-it-is-ness or not.

Sometimes it gets stuck, like a failed Internet connection. The internet room at Hat Yai Airport was closed when I was there, all the computers covered with their old covers and a sign written in English: “could not make a connection” – okay, everybody can go home now. Is this what Death is like? It could happen any time – it does that sometimes, the ‘fatal error’ – quit all programs and try restart. If that doesn’t work, ah well, it’s just the ‘as-it-is-ness’, probably, yes, whatever.

Happy enough with the present mind state that’s free of all the tugs and pulls. Maybe it’s the meds, the all-inclusiveness of my condition; continued awareness applied to everything in the environment and engaged in the various happenings of the day. It’s really interesting to be in this pleasant rural remoteness, and So What if I’ve been trying to get a connection all day? I’m just hoping for the best, without clinging to the idea there’s a problem about that. Meanwhile, the world and everything is going along, death arrives one day…  that letting-go thing again. Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, the forgetfulness of holding on to things; an easing away somewhere…

“… How much more harmoniously the days are passing compared with those when we gave in to the slightest stimulus for interfering in the world by deed, word, emotion or thought. As if protected by invisible armour against the banalities and importunities of the outer world, one will walk through (the) days serenely and content, with an exhilarating feeling of ease and freedom. It is as if, from the unpleasant closeness of a hustling and noisy crowd, one has escaped to the silence and seclusion of a hilltop, and with a sigh of relief, is looking down on the noise and bustle below. It is the peace and happiness of detachment which will be thus experienced.” [“The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” Nyanaponika Thera]


Adapted from an older post, July 21 2012, If A Tree Falls

sure-footedness

POSTCARD#308: Chiang Mai: Headache stabs me in the Right Occipital Nerve, on the walk back from the market with backpack full of vegetables, and living things I wash and slice and eat, whispering to myself forgiveness, in the discomfort and heat of the day. Yes, I could stop, fumble in pockets and squeeze out two capsules from their crinkly enclosures, bring to the mouth and swallow with a practised swig from my bottle of water I keep in an outer pocket of the backpack. But not yet, balancing backpack, stumbling slightly on these unfinished side-walks, lumps of concrete roughly rendered, landscapes of pavements we encounter everywhere in the ‘Developing World’ – tell me, is there ever a time when a country becomes ‘developed’, or is it an on-going state of development? Just look at Trump and American politics – okay, enough already… forgiveness.

If only… if only we had the sure-footedness of youth… I almost slip on the wet shiny tiles some fashionable shop has proudly cemented in place in the threshold of its brand new frontage… forgiveness. I shall not, today, slip and fall into the road, and be run down by a heavy cement truck careering through the narrow streets, as they do, on the way to, and coming back from a construction site somewhere in the centre of the town. Not today shall I meet my end under the muddy wheels and tarmac thoroughfare, forgiveness, forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Then later in the day, comfortable in my room, and what is it? There’s always something about the question that’s gently pondered, not posed, poised, considered… the pause before the dancer consciously walks across the stage; left foot point toe, place on floor, right foot point toe, and so on – complete the action swiftly. It has to be exactly the right question, but always not quite decided upon; what is it? Could it be that the contemplation of what this question is, is enough to begin to know it, without actually knowing it, for all intents and purposes? It just begins to be known, somehow… a kind of indirect situation that just falls into place, as we recognize it and see it thus, induced then deduced, who can say?

Words don’t hold meaning for very long, the question gets forgotten about, or possibly it’s still there in the detached state, just not functioning as a specific inquiry now, more like a wide-openness that’s waiting for an answer. In the same way as there are answers, lying in their own wide-openness waiting to be discovered. A non-verbal alertness, a strange familiarity, a passing recognition that seems to go on opening and opening and opening.


Photo taken from the aircraft window of the Bangkok flight yesterday. Excerpts from an earlier post: Somewhere in a former life

 

the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T

 

contained spaces

POSTCARD#305: Bangkok: There’s a dream I had once and, as soon as I woke up, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper I found in my wallet. That paper was with me for years, and when I found it again, it was indistinct and the writing, a hard-to-read scribble. So I keyed it in before it was reduced to a fragment of paper and disappeared. Then a few years after that, I found the document and created a post with it, titled: before after’, published on April 12, 2016. There were a few comments including one from Michael who suggested an alternate ending. So, nearly 2 years later, I decided to rewrite the dream and have Michael’s idea stitched in near the end. It goes like this:

I’m standing at a bus stop, waiting for a bus. The bus arrives, stops at the stop, and I get on. Instead of ordinary bus seats, there’s furniture, sofas, armchairs, a small coffee table, TV, curtains on the windows, and it’s laid out like a room interior. I find a place and sit down. Other passengers on the bus are sitting in unmatched furniture, everybody looking around for the person who comes to get orders for snacks and drinks. Nobody comes, there’s a long interval of nothing happening at all and after a while I start to think maybe it’s because the bus hasn’t left the stop yet.

At the same moment I remember I left my shoes outside the door at the bus stop. This is because in all houses in Asia you have to leave your shoes outside when you enter. In the dream, there’s something I’m not sure about here, how to resolve the issue of leaving the shoes and never seeing them again? Okay, so I can just leave the shoes there and when I get off at the next bus stop, I’ll take someone else’s shoes (it happens in Buddhist monasteries).

Yes, but this still doesn’t feel like a satisfactory resolution, and I’m walking towards the door of the bus to bring my shoes in, even though I know they can’t be there because the bus has left the stop. There’s the feeling of motion, chairs and sofas all-sliding around slightly in the movement, and the sound of the bus as it is going along.

But when I look out the back door, there are my shoes lying on the pavement where I left them, and the bus hasn’t moved an inch! How could it be that the inside and the outside of the bus seem to have their own rules of logic? It’s like, I get on the bus, the door closes, and the inside of the bus is moving along – I can tell because there’s the feeling we are moving, the furniture is sliding around. But when I look outside, we are still in the same place.

Is it because stepping into a world contained inside the dream, means you are an observer in another dream – a whole other situation, with its own characteristics and its own context… a dream inside a dream? Shortly after that I wake up, and there’s the enigma of it, there’s the world as I perceive it, but outside of that, there’s another completely different world, just going along as things do? The example of the chicken hatching out of the egg, pecking it’s way out of the world of the egg and into another contained space, another world…

Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story instead of the actor in it. [Ram Dass]


 

the karma of getting there

POSTCARD#304: Chiang Mai : 7am: The sound of a text message wakes me; Jiab arrived in Bangkok. Overnight flight from Delhi – and… what’s this? “Have you ordered a taxi yet?” Hmm? Taxi? What day is it? Oh no! I’m leaving today, not tomorrow… a flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag… quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow a headache pill, into taxi and it’s a struggle to stop the rushing and bumping into things in my head, breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport.

Okay for time, as long as nothing untoward takes place, like what happened on the way to the airport once, in a taxi stuck in a long line of cars. A very strong smell of something like an omelet… what’s going on? We get to the obstruction, a collision of some sort involving a pickup truck filled to the maximum with trays of eggs… broken eggs everywhere, egg shells floating in puddles of egg all over the road surface. The egg-man in the middle of the sea of raw eggs sitting on the edge of his truck, head in hands.

Reminds me I have my headache to think about, and how best to manage that having swallowed a pill before breakfast – slightly dizzy, just to make things worse. We are at the airport, and embark on the karma of this route; the directional momentum through escalators, corridors, doorways – catch a glimpse of other people in their karmic paths. I enter and exit enclosed airport spaces that contain me in their capacity for a moment then I’m gone. Passing through other portals, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my small seat area, looking out through the window, under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we are now descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit.

I feel stretched, part of me is 367 miles away, back at the condo in Chiang Mai having breakfast and listening to the birds interrupt the silence. Another part of me is gone with M, to New Zealand. M is my Thai niece now aged 14. She looks like a miniature adult. It was the day before yesterday, I went with her to the airport, we all had lunch, me and M and her mum and after that, I’m in the back seat with M, bags everywhere, a leisurely drive to the airport, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly mummy says something in Thai about a passport, M replies, saying she doesn’t have it! Car swerves across the highway, U-turn at the next opening and we are headed back the way we came. Mummy driving like a mad person, steering with one hand on the wheel, and with the other, calling the teacher who is going with the kids to New Zealand to say sorry M might be a little late.

So we got there, Mummy runs into the house to get the passport and while she’s away, M says to me quietly that they had to leave their house that morning exactly at the auspicious time given them by a ‘holy’ person, and mummy forgot the passport then, because she was too busy with getting the exact time precisely  right.

Enough said about that, another wild race back to the airport. Meeting the others and it all ended well, M waved to me at departures, went to New Zealand and took a part of me with her.

It’s the karma of getting there, I’m just mindfully aware of the direction and being propelled through the portals and gateways: this and then that, and the next thing. Some people, burdened with their superstitions for better, for worse need to be blessed by the holy person – and I suppose some would regard the egg-man as an example of someone who should have gone to receive the blessing but he didn’t and there you are.

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. [Kuan Yin]


 

what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]


Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

nine lives

POSTCARD#302: Chiang Mai: Long ago in the Swiss mountains, there was a cat who lived in the Buddhist monastery,  Dhammapala. It had no name, just arrived there one day, and stayed. It answered to the name: ‘Cat’, would walk definitively across the carpet; tail pointing in the direction it came from, pad, pad, pad, pad, and sit in the lap of his favourite monk, seated on the cushion there with crossed legs. Not however, during meditation times because the community agreed it was too distracting, other restrictions too but ‘Cat’ accepted all, dozing during the day and prowling in the woods at night.

On this day, I came across him on a small table in the sunshine. ‘Cat’ was often there, looking exactly like he appears in my old illustration of him. The same cat, the identity of Mr. Cat animated in the image – he ‘exists’ even though long gone in the decades since then. It’s as if one of the nine lives is used up being the likeness I see here and others who knew him see too.

It’s not impossible, by the way, that other people who have or used to have a black cat might see the identity of their cat in this image. What they see is ‘Tiddles’ or ‘Cutiepie’ – or as my blogging friend Sunny and her husband tell me, it’s their ‘Daisy’. Sadly, Daisy is elderly now and needs to be looked after, a lesson for all of us that there is an end to it all, and the clear comprehension of those final days are filled with immense peace. This is how it is, everyone, everywhere seems to know of a black cat like Mr. Cat, or the one image of Mr. Cat embodies all the others held in memory.

On this particular day, sitting on the garden table, the eyes look at me… ready to engage but ready to vanish back into the realm from whence he came. Hesitates to see what the next moment will bring, pause, click, screenshot… and I decide to back away, to step out of his space. I hadn’t intended to do that, it just started to happen and I followed through – maybe the deference arose with the thought that Mr. Cat was an extension of the monks’ awareness – those who might have extraordinary powers… all kinds of things.

I see his presence regarding me walking backwards and becoming a smaller and smaller object in his vision until the distance between us swallows up the encounter. His remoteness disturbed by an intrusion of everything seeming to happen at the same time. And for me, the nine-lives metaphor thus transits to include this other meaning; cats appear and disappear becoming cats in the lifetimes of all the other black cats I’ve known in say, more than a half century?

North of Scotland, Grandfather’s farm, a different place and time…. I was a boy and it must have been my first meeting with the cat species. Not the cute and cuddly kind, these were the cats whose presence kept the rats out of the old barn. Don’t go near them I was urged, not friendly creatures. There were eleven of them, my aunt said she knew there were, as we were walking along in the cleared snow path on a moonlit night – she would count them every night. Into the barn and my aunt would ask me to point the beam of the torch I was holding so she could see where to carefully place the large heavy dish of steaming food on a level place in the straw where it couldn’t be knocked over; oat meal cooked with sour milk filled to the brim, mixed with potato peelings, bits of all kinds of leftovers and horrific things, to my mind, being only seven.

The wild cats never came to eat the food while we were there (while I was there, I realize now), and my aunt would ask me if I could see them in the fearsome jagged shadows in the torchlight, long hanging cobwebs from roof beams. We’d stay still and look in all the corners – where are they?

There look!
Where?
Can ye no see them child… there!

And there they were, just out of reach, behind a volume of straw. I couldn’t actually see them, in fact I don’t remember ever seeing them anywhere on the farm in daylight. No, these were invisible cats; we could only see their eyes, white, reflected almond shapes in the torchlight. No body forms seen, crouched there in the blackness, waiting for that noisy child to leave. Fascination for me, held by my aunt, asking if I’d noticed that one of the cats had only one eye.

I saw it once, the one-eyed black cat, and I’m not sure if it was black – everything in the realm of the scary barnyard cats was darkness and black. But I saw it one night… my tireless aunt guiding my attention from one pair of luminous, broken-mica eyes, to the pair above that and above that, to the left a bit… now there, can ye see it? (Said in a whisper), and I saw it, one eye separated from its partner, alone in the blackness of no form.

How did it come to have only one eye? A volley of questions and speculations from me, for my aunt to consider… and she just said that if I stopped asking over and over, she’d tell me. A long time ago, that cat used to have two eyes like the others, and it went missing for days and weeks and months maybe, so long that she thought it must be dead. Then it came back one winter’s night for the plate of cooked leftovers, completely thin like a skeleton but otherwise looking as if it had always been there. My aunt noticed, as she watched it from a distance, that one eye had been torn out, so it must have been fighting with another cat. These animals have the determination to survive, no matter what.

All of that swallowed up in passage of the years and decades since then. Now after thirty years in Asia, where cats are never allowed inside the house, I sometimes see a cat-shape out there in the yard in the darkness, glimmer of streetlights. It turns its head and two eyes reflect the lights of the house – not the marginalized, one-eyed warrior cat. Must be one of these invisible cats of innumerable lives reborn in this instant, awareness includes that living being, then it’s gone almost as soon as it arrived.