nothing in itself

A village near Hat Yai: Silence all around in the heat of the afternoon, save for the sudden ‘crack’ of roof tiles expanding in the high temperature. Birds and insects for the most part quiet, an isolated single syllable: ‘chirp’ sound, then quiet again. I look up, anorexic chicken is standing in my open doorway because it sees me sitting inside. It’s thinking maybe some food will get flung out of the door because this is what usually happens. The cranium darts forward in an inquiring sort of a way and it watches me with one eye then maneuvering around in stages to watch me with the other eye and I used to think this was funny and cute but now I realise, sadly, that no matter how much loving-kindness I could extend to that creature transfixed in its observation of me, it is motivated by food, only; there’s just the process driving itself and not much further on in evolutionary terms than its dinosaur ancestor. So I make the single sound: ‘SH!’ that I learned from Jiab’s mum and it’s gone.

I’ve got the fan positioned just right in the room, seated on the cushion, body getting grounded – all internal processes and organs settled, gravity helps. It takes about five minutes. Thought movements start to get slower and it’s possible to monitor the situation and bring attention to the breath. Then it drifts off and I have to bring it back again to the breathing pattern and focus on that for a while.

And there are times when it seems like there is only this continuing present moment, kind of surging through from the past and into the future in one constant movement – like standing at the bow of a small ship plunging through the waves, rising and falling; moving forwards but no landmarks in the sea to say you are going anywhere.

When I look around for the landmarks to gauge my progress, and try to picture it in my mind, that sensation of standing at the bow of a small ship fades away and that’s how I learn not to push aside the experience and put in a constructed ‘self’ in its place, with the thought that ‘I’ am doing this. ‘… impossible to be aware of an experiencer because it is always the experience itself that momentarily occupies that space.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’] So the sensation of being on the ship returns and around it there is periodically the experience of moments of nothing – and that’s not ‘nothing’ as in ‘not much happening’, but ‘nothing’ in itself. It seems like a worthwhile thing to focus on this for the time being.

‘Nothing is after all just nothing. It cannot be a place that resembles an idea of nothingness. A place involves area, or extension. It is defined by coordinates and boundaries. It is not nothing. It is room. Nothing has no room, nor can anything be located within nothing. Nothing cannot have an inside or an outside. It cannot destroy, swallow, or terminate. As nothing, it can have no energy or effect. As nothing, it cannot be a thing, a realm, a state, or anything. It is absolutely nothing to fear. It is nothing to hope for.’ [Robert Thurman]

The focus finds a comfortable place and I just let it sit there for a while then, as the afternoon dwindles away, squirrels get argumentative, great hosts of squabbles and a periodic shrill chattering fills the air.