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)


POSTCARD#299: Bangkok: I’m standing on the escalator, ascending the Skytrain levels, up to what looks to me like 3 floors in height. There’s a small place here above the traffic, selling drinks and snacks. Open door, air-con, find a table. So I tell the waitress what I’d like, she writes it down, and just as she’s reading back my order, someone opens the door and a huge noise of traffic deafens everyone. So I have to lip-read in Thai, thinking is this just a wild guess? The ubiquitous misunderstanding, we’ll see what happens. Quick glance around these calm and easy surroundings, I reach for my phone, but it’s not there!

Wow, devastated, no phone, nothing to fiddle with, to tap, swipe, to scroll down, up – nothing to feed my short little span-of-attention. Someone else opens the door and enter again the huge roar, screaming horns of traffic. Shocks me out of my ‘there-and-then’ location in that space and time instance, there’s no ‘me’, let that go and events just generate their own time. Senses alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? Don’t ask me, I am the escapee… the one who disappeared (story of my life), and now I’m left with it, disasters I think I have to run away from, but on closer inspection, there’s only the learned mechanisms of escape, and I lose track of what it was I came in here to get away from.

So who are these nice people here in this place? Elegant males and females sit in twos and threes at small tables, rarely speak, each one looking at a screen, held fondly in the palm and fingers, the glow of colors reflected on their inclined faces, and the rest of the world is one vast blind spot. They’re not office-lunch-hour people, it’s too late, who are they, then? Conclusion, wow, they’re people like me, a mirror reflection of how I’d like it to be; stretching out the hours with a lunch plate, one cup of coffee, and the only difference between them and me now is they have their phones and I don’t.

Door opens again and high amplitude of decibel vastness slices through part of my head like a chain saw. Involuntary existential moment, looking out at the world and wondering if I can mount another escape attempt at such short notice? Even though it can be said that it is the searching for the way out that maintains the fear of being trapped. I need to make a note of that, in these circumstances, but no device to key it in on and tap save. I’ll have to write the old fashioned way, there’s a pen in my bag but no spiral notebook to write on – forgot that too. So I rummage around in my wallet for receipts that I can write on the back of, all kinds of blank bus tickets and paper I’ve had in my wallet for years.

There’s an immediate familiarity with holding the pen, pressed point seems to etch the characters in new ink into the surface of old wallet pressed paper. Encouraged to write only the gist of it because of limited space on these small scraps of paper, and I have to number them in order. Try that and see… everything seems possible now I have a system. Encouraging to see that, even though we suffer the ugly Trump regime, we can still have the Buddhist sense of what’s right, and wholesome action, Right View, Right Intention.

Shortly after that, the waitress comes with my lunch and it’s not what I ordered, kwiteao moo sen yai naam. Eat with chopsticks in right hand and spoon in left hand. No complaints, it’ll do, notwithstanding splatters of it on my shirtfront and not recommended if you’re fiddling with a phone screen at the time. But I’m not and soon I start to get down to it.








not anything

POSTCARD#298: Bangkok: 3:30 am: Almost awake in the darkness of a warm insect-click, whispering night; dreamscape/ language interface and a question arises… floats in air motionless, then ascends, as light as a feather. Which way will these air currents take it? Something about the usual way I perceive my surroundings is different. The pronoun ‘I’ becomes ‘him’ over there, engaging in active thinking… looking for words to make sense of it all. Curiosity shifts, rolls over and retrieves the word ‘pain’.

By this time, the session with the Pain Clinic yesterday has returned to memory and now I’m nearly awake – so the big question is… has the headache gone or not? Focus attention again on the location of that pain, as a particular point on the headache ‘map’… is it there? Push myself up in bed, swing legs over the side, soles of feet on cool flooring. No, the pain I feel is where the needle went in, and all around that, is a totally pain-free zone. It worked!

I want to fling open the bedroom door and go running up and down the stairs, but I can’t do that because we have a 5 weeks old baby in the house… it’s a long story. Compassion for those having no understanding of the Buddha’s teaching on the Noble Truth of Suffering – Suffering? Not for me, no thanks, it sounds awful. I want to be happy. There they go hungering after that happiness, and trying to keep it all in balance, the tipping point, verging on total disaster.

Systems developed from the recognition of the kind of suffering that’s caused by resistance. Seeing myself fighting against it, as it’s appearing in present time, sometimes hating it, and holding on in some way to a temporary pain-free state, short-lived because unknowingly I’m pulled away by a yearning for something else and the round-and-round of wanting things to be different than the way they are.

I’ve learned that the best way to keep your balance in these investigations into the way things are, is to not want anything, and not seek anything, because there’s ‘not anything’ there – not ‘nothing’, not ‘anything. If I can see it like that, the holding-on thing is not getting in the way. What I’m left with is a contemplation of the question rather than looking for the nearest-match answer. We can’t know what it is in the conditioned realm; beyond the point of no return, and there are no words for it. In the end maybe, all that remains is the word ‘it’ – there’s a metallic click-sound to it as that too is cut off, extinguished, the cessation of the conditioned world. This is as far as it goes in Theravada Buddhism – other Eastern teachings may have more to say about ‘it’.

‘The real is not something, it’s not anything. It’s not a phenomenon. You can’t think about it, you can’t create an image of it. So we say unconditioned, unborn, uncreated, unformed. Anatta (not-self), nirodha (cessation), nibbana (liberation). If you try to think about these words you don’t get anywhere. Your mind stops, it’s like nothing. … if we’re expecting something from the meditation practice, some kind of Enlightenment, bright lights and world-trembling experiences, then we’re disappointed because expecting is another kind of desire, isn’t it?’ [The End of the World is Here, Ajahn Sumedho]


a window opening

POSTCARD#297: Bangkok: 6pm: A coffee shop near to Banglampoo, plugged into an iTunes track, when another sound breaks through; someone calling my name – there’s a man coming towards my table. I stand up too quickly and the headache stabs me, one earbud yanked out, and the phone spins away on the other one still attached, falls off the surface and hits the table leg; crash, bash.

Reaching for phone suspended on-cord-pulled-tight, thus thrust into real time, all-around sound… a face without a name appears. Mind-rush-through-memory-files, searching for nearest match. A hand extends into my space: ‘I saw you in the window!” he says, by way of explanation. It’s Jim! Remember me? How’re ya doin’ pal? – How long has it been? I shake his hand held out for handshake, warm firm grip.

Yes, it’s Jim, same face, older, threads of hair combed carefully over a bronzed skull with brown age spots on smooth old skin held at the corners like curtain folds beneath which, enquiring eyes look out… an unfinished sentence. Recognition starts to kick in, laughter – good-looking teeth, I see a row of white back molars, and for an instant, the smile seems to go all the way round 360 degrees, so that the upper half of his head becomes separated from the lower.

This is too weird; I manage to swallow a headache pill with a swig of water. How is it possible, running into each other like this after a decade or more in old Bangkok? He tears a piece off my paper coaster and writes his phone number on the back in large emphatic numerals. Sorry but he is on his way to somewhere else right now but I have to remember and give him a call. We shake hands again and he’s gone in the crowd.

Running into someone I know from decades ago; small world, I suppose – now I’m resident here until who knows when. My coffee cup balanced unevenly on a torn coaster, and in the centre of my vision, the other part with his phone number written on it. Should I call him tomorrow? It’s been so long, so much water gone under the bridge. What to say? Tell him about my headaches? Nope, that’s a whole discussion in itself. I pay the bill; get up and out into the huge sound of evening traffic.

All kinds of changes since I’ve been away, a proper place for pedestrians to walk, these streets seem to have moved into gentrification. Either that or I’m becoming part of recent history. My old buddy Jim would remember how it used to be, streetlights with bare wires twisted together in junction boxes, broken paving stones and the infrastructure of the city poking through into ordinary reality.

There’s always been a particular care in Thai behaviour, but these days there’s a civic responsibility that wasn’t there before. Streetlights show the patina of small slippered-feet-shuffle over smooth sidewalks. The handrails on pedestrian over-bridge, polished and worn smooth with Thai palms, fingertips, sliding along – I feel I’m part of them, holding on.

Should I call old Jim? Would it be relevant to him, me saying that I just moved back to Bangkok after a great number of journeys between here and Delhi, North India? Nope, that’d only confuse things; he would assume I’d been here all this time. Why go anywhere else, he’d ask. We are refugees from the West embedded in Thai society, gratitude to the population who just move over and make space for us.

What is it then? Under what circumstances do our paths cross here in this part of town after nearly 3 decades? Maybe it’s nothing, no reason… a window opening onto karmic flows, and for a moment we can see the functions of our relationships with each other – always a ‘birth’ of some sort in the creative unfolding, and then it moves on.

I should tell him, a child was born downstairs from us, 22nd December 2017, like something biblical. The baby son of Jiab’s nephew, I held the tiny being in my arms, a haze of soft black hair. We never had a child of our own; maybe we can borrow this one for a while. Recognition of body heat, breathing, moisture of mouth, the small weight. Eyes slide open at the sound of my voice, a blue glaze of filminess. Could be an ancient artifact – the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself: anicca dukkha anatta.


a trumped up story

POSTCARD#296: Bangkok: Passivity is killing the endgame (thanks Kismet) this is it exactly. Watching CNN reporting on POTUS’s latest scandalous remarks ignites a fire within and I can’t seem to break free of how ‘bad’ that is; thinking for a moment there’s safety in apathy: Ah well, here we go again. Sticking with it, falling for the overwhelm, rolling thunderous clouds of imponderable thinking. Thus the history of my own rumble and tumble… starting up all that again? A flash of  justified outrage illuminates the room – fans the flames. This is a bizarre form of entertainment, we’ve seen the Punch & Judy show before of course, we know how to sidestep the action/reaction.

And suddenly we’re among the crowds in a market place, 17th Century England. Hungry for performance, anything’ll do, follow the noise: it’s over there, over there! Outrageous, disgraceful behaviour gets everyone’s attention… the trick is to have them all hate you, and in the push-and-shove, jeer, boo, a sleight-of-hand in that unseen instant, and suddenly things appear to be other than what they are. Derisive laughter at disbelievers, Mr. Punch in the spotlight, brazenly facing the uproar and law and order doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal. Then, as all this is taking place, the same kind of concealed actions change the scenery, Kuroko on stage, switch it all around and bit by bit, we start to get hooked on the drama, as we do in a Netflix series binge-out.

The world becomes a big hungry, greedy, grabber of things – a devourer, a multi-mouthed feeder of objects presented by way of the five (six) senses – isn’t that what they’re there for? But seeing the need to tread carefully here, I let go of all things hateful, burning hot thoughts scald the tongue, lip, and fingertip. For everyone else, let go and run for your life. I’m looking for the way to stay alert, camouflaged from fearful imagery, allowing only sleep to find me.

The glow of the city at night turns the sky orange, up here on the 7th floor of my hotel, looking out the window and down there at the trucks reversing back up the hill, round the corner at the top. It takes a moment to see it’s because they missed the sign that says the road’s closed… here comes another one. There’s something about this noise of high accelerated reverse gear… a nightmarish absurdity. Yet fascinating how the drivers are able to do this at speed. Well, everything is as it should be, the seemingly obvious really has no other meaning. It’s all a trumped up story… yes, but beware, thievery abounds – mindfulness is a necessity.

“Having lived through the transition from totalitarianism, I am acutely mindful of the need to never take for granted the basic freedoms of thought, expression and belief that democracy brings.” [Daisaku Ikeda]

Image above linked to the story of the Buddha,  reinterpreted by 12th Century Christianity, having arrived there by way of Hebrew, Persian and Arabic legends.

in the end there is no ending

POSTCARD#292: New Delhi: Packing has started here, the rental agreement comes to an end 18th December, and we stay with our Japanese friends until 22nd December, then it’s goodbye everyone, we’re on a flight to Chiang Mai via Bangkok. Gone from India with all our possessions, after nearly seven years here. Gone too from this sweet little apartment – I want to have something to remember it by… steal some cutlery or a bath towel? Can’t do that, relinquishment… accept that that part of my mind where it once was, is now claimed by new tenants who walk around these rooms, saying; well, this is nice, thinking for a moment, who lived here before we came? Territorial self kicks in and it’s gone, bearing a new identity.

Gone is gone, but the PHN headache is with me again… a buzzing old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed but never gotten around to doing. Under the influence of powerful pain meds then, you could say, I’m writing to my future self about living here, in order to open a window on this thin slice of time, and revisit these rooms, the conversations and all that was said here, received, held, seen, nurtured… noticing the tendency for a particular memory to be displaced by the next moment of remembering… and on and on until sadly, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder.

But that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. On 26th December I go to the Pain Clinic in Bangkok to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the right occipital nerve in the scalp. Until then, a malaise of discontent rules; flashes and flares in spurts and sparks nearly all through the day and waiting for me to wake up in the morning for the start of another day of jostling push and shove, tug and pull. Not writing much, only the wild lightning flickering of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, keyed in just before the crash and burn, and assimilated into the whole as it forms.

The present moment seems as if it is forever waiting in the transit lounge on the brink of becoming future time while engaged in contemplative pondering over the past. The present moment is always underway, and even if it feels like I have to hold it, tether it and adhere to it in single-mindedness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too. I’m the one falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway from frightful things unforeseen – disaster movie showing it crashing through the restraints of planning; too much for the flimsy structure built to keep it in place… and I’m suddenly back in the present moment again.

We’re always only part the way through anything, anyhow and anyway at any time; here, there, or anywhere it’s always somehow incomplete, never reaching the end, letters I’ve written, never meaning to send – how could we reach that final completion and know what happens after that? Nobody ever came back from What Happens After That to say what it was like. All we can say is that the world, as we know it will come to an end eventually, collapsing like a dead star, matter reduced to an atom and gone in a flicker, a spark, pftt…

Or maybe it’ll be slower; bits start to fall off, clink, clatter, crash – you hardly notice it, and there’ll come a day when the Final Ending and all who sail in her begins to fall in on itself, as do great empires that have spanned the centuries, like castles made of sand, tumble to the sea eventually… but surprise-surprise, in another kind of temporality, the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and we can continue where we left off. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, anicca and in the end there is no ending.

“We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. 
This is true for the entire universe.” [Aitareya Upanishad (Inland Empire)]

Picture shows sun setting on the lotus temple, Delhi, a Bahá’í House of Worship

the sense of coming home

POSTCARD#289: Bangkok – New Delhi: The early evening flight, leaving Bangkok at 7pm, arrives at Delhi 9.30pm local time; a four-hour journey swiftly moving into the darkness of an evening already turned to night. How many times have I been on this flight? Must be at least thirty times; travelling back the 1½ hours to India Standard Time as if it were an unseen future event just arrived in the space where it hasn’t happened yet. Now it’s almost the end of all the there-and-back-again years, we pull up our roots and return to Thailand in six weeks, after nearly 7 years away. Looking forward to getting back… yes, when we get there, it’ll all just seem like yesterday…

Now it’s later, the descent into Delhi and attention focused on this last arrival. Directionality of Plane-Rush to hit Runway where it is expected to be, where wheels touch earth, first the left side then the right… deep sink-down lurch, take the weight, waiting for the bounce-back tipping point – contemplation of death, and disaster averted, we have arrived. The last Delhi flight I’ll be on, last chance to feel the sense of coming home, taxiing over bumpy ground towards the lights of Indira Gandhi Airport in the distance.

This is how it must be, wandering from one life to another with no direction or purpose other than Jiab’s office, and to go on doing it – but I came around to seeing how it works; how fleetingly one life passes and another arises in circumstances that suit the event as it’s looking for some reason to “be”, seeking name and form in waves of samsaric yearning. That’s how long the thought of it lasts before the letting-go-of-it intention comes to mind, and the whole thing is let-go-of in a shavingth of a slice of time.

Everything else remains to be seen. Passengers de-plane; step into the great halls of Arrivals and Moving Walkways for nearly a mile, then stand in line, passport stamp, thump! Get bags and out into the Delhi night – into ‘severe-level’ air pollution, visibility 200 meters, over 20 flights delayed. It smells of dung fires, red diesel and something like fried eggs? Why do I need to be here? That tenuous awareness is all that’s attached to a wholesome direction in this pattern of peaks and troughs. Every now then mindfulness cuts in and I remember again, to let it all go. Hold on and let go – hold on to the intention to let go.

Thus everywhere I look there’s a sense of ‘self’ searching for the opportunity to ‘become’… anything’ll do, whatever. I see it’s what holds beings in the cycle of rebirth – finding that reference in so many words, again and again these days. Breaking out of the cycle is by non-becoming. Allowing it to ‘become’ without becoming it.

Bags in car and we’re off in a tunnel of light surrounded by darkness and other’s tunnels of light. Nothing can change it – only the mind, of course… but that would mean starting up the engines again… seeing it from one moment to the next. And moments do not lead to other moments as I used to think, it’s only one moment, one long, extended moment, beginningless and without end.

‘You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this.’ [Ashtavakra Gita 1.7, translated by John Richards]

This text dedicated to Kimberly Wilhelmina Floria
Photo by Berti Buffy, on the Buddhist Pilgrimage and a visit to Sravasti (Jetta’s Grove)

sadness of passing things

POSTCARD#288: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.

Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.

This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.

Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.

As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]

Photo, Buddha Rupa Ayutthaya: http://13966960783_a630225cb8_b.jpg

background brought forward

POSTCARD#284: Delhi: Jiab was coughing and coughing, day and night. She went to the doctor, got medicine. After a couple of days, I started coughing too. Appointment for the doctor; we went together, doc looks down my throat, holding my tongue in place, and shining a spot of light to see what the problem could be; say ahh please. “Ahhh”. Okay, it’s a virus (Flu), but we don’t know what kind of virus it is. She asks me for my age and says she’d like me to come into the hospital for a few hours for more tests and observation. Wow! I wasn’t expecting this, a nurse appears and I’m whisked away, abducted by aliens … a few hours turned into two nights and three days trapped in a hospital room with a TV, restricted diet, throat feels like I’d swallowed a mouthful of broken glass. Headache too, but not the same as the PHN headache. Nothing better to do than figure out how the TV remote works.

Things moving so fast it’s all getting to be history too soon. Earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in the Caribbean, and pending volcanic explosion in Bali. The impact on people’s lives; the tragedy of how the hurricanes entered people’s personal space, and swept away everything. Dismayed, the 100 yard stare, where’s my home? Chunks of the environment gone missing, stuff we just take for granted, pieces of it like parts of a huge jigsaw puzzle, disappeared, lost. Reality can be this too. The mind must be fundamentally changed, after an experience like that.

At all hours of the day and night, thus held by TV, fixed high up on the wall. This is CNN bringing you Breaking News, volume fills the room: the President threatening us with his inept diplomacy, possibly bringing on a nuclear war. Hoping for the best, we are hovering on the edge of imminent disaster. He returns to his home base frequently to appear with his fans, in a created reality, televised in networks and shown all around the world; that jolt of paid-for breathless waves of applause. And does it matter if it’s not genuine spontaneous applause? Seems not, the appearance of things is good enough.

Am I going mad? It could easily be a scene from a Marvel Comix, or Manga comics’ series. Or gaming – something to do with the performance, the act – too much for me, in the end I shall just disappear in Thailand somewhere. Not here yet, but it’s getting there. Halfway through the second day of lying on a bed too small for me, sniffling and sneezing and I really want to get away from this TV. The cough is throaty, like the bark of a dog, and it feels like I’ve gone through a lifetime of watching TV, trapped in the illusion; seek, find – instant gratification, claim your prize, reward, congratulations. Have your cake and eat it too. But there’s no real satisfaction, TV stimulates a hunger that only leads to a sharper edge to appetite.

When I was discharged and away from that TV room, it felt like every bone in my body was bruised and painful. Vision blurry in the totality of natural light. Quite emotional, so much happening at the same time, things jumping in to get my attention. This is normality I guess. It’s hard to keep track of which is what, who said that, and how things came to be like this. The minimalism of events occurring in a few seconds, as fleeting as a moment in time, the arising and falling away of it, the unfolding of circumstances divided and subdivided in a multitude of miniature events…

“Don’t clap too loudly—it’s a very old world.”
[Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]

a future un-lived in

POSTCARD#280: Delhi: Sunday morning, early, everyone deeply asleep. A dog barks, forming a single sound isolated in the quietness like the frog haiku (the old pond, a frog jumps in: plop!). The echo reflected off the walls, window glass, and metal of parked cars, ting! For a moment I feel like I’m not here, invisible. This is how it’ll be after we move away from here and the house is to be demolished as soon as we leave, the house agent says. A new apartment building will take its place. How does this feel? Hovering at the edge of vision, large men with jack-hammers, iron picks and shovels, restless, waiting for us to go.

There are huge profits to be made renting out apartments in this area. Our old house is wasted real estate. For us, the tenants, of course we suffer the loss. The entire space we inhabit right now will disappear completely, only the Frangipani tree remaining; leaves covered in masonry dust until the monsoon winds blow, then the rains come and wash the leaves clean again. I try to picture it; we move out and the same day demolition begins; roof is off before lunchtime, walls come down in the afternoon, trucks drive away with all the rubble and there’s nothing but empty space… birds fly through.

Long after this, maybe we forget our old house has been deleted from memory files, and try to remember what it was like being here… unsupported imaginings, totally gone, no evidence here of the building we used to call home – nothing to back it up. Is death like this? This is the end; a future un-lived in, present time has no materiality. I see myself here in an almost invisible house, standing on the second floor with vestiges of walls, floor crumbling away, and I’m just floating up there.

The vanishing of it also somehow associated with darkness, I can’t see anything; for example, entering a darkened room, and have to search for the light switch at the edge of the door by practiced palm and fingertip reaching over the cool wall until it gets to the switch click! In the other rooms it’s more difficult to find the switch and I’m often stuck there groping in the darkness but no light switch to be found. I close my eyes as if that might help, trying again and again. How can this be? Am I comfortable with the thought I don’t know, and knowing I don’t know? Yes, it was there, but it’s not there now.

No resting place, all is movement, a composition of joined-up pieces which fit together like a jigsaw puzzle makes a picture, then broken up into pieces and back in the box, lid closed. Next time it’s opened and put together, a different picture appears and different players. Transition of moving parts everything has changed again. Not ‘here’ for long enough to say much, just passing through. Sorry, can’t stay, got to go now. But wait, not yet… we’re here until the end of September. This short time we’re in right now is only one moment in countless tiny instances, citta moments, and in larger chunks of time, a sequence of images form movement like the ‘stills’ creating continuity in the old 35 mm celluloid film shown in the cinema, the Moving Picture Show.

annicam: all of conditioned existence, without exception, is “transient, evanescent, inconstant”. All temporal things, whether material or mental, are compounded objects in a continuous change of condition, subject to decline and destruction.