third person singular

2013-04-27 16.55.11cPOSTCARD #87: Delhi/Chiang Mai (Skype call): The whisper of a felt-tip pen on paper: shashee shashee shoo shoo shoo… otherwise, silence in the room. M is drawing a picture, colouring in, and this is a Skype call to Thailand – the picture and sound quality so good, it’s almost real. Sadly, though, it’s not real and you’d expect more animated conversations from a 10-year-old girl, but that’s not how it is right now. She stops what she’s doing for a moment and asks me: When you come here Toong Ting? I tell her in about one month from now, mid-September, not long. But it has no meaning, social media is not real, the Skype call only proves I’m not there. M calls me Toong-Ting, she’s my Thai niece and English is a 2nd language for her so, understandably, conversation runs out sometimes. It’s hard to look for words all the time. Skype calls are a fun thing to do but there’s a limit to the novelty of it… looking at a talking head, a portrait of a person with lips moving – it’s not the same as actually being there.

So she’s drawing a picture. No talking now, she’ll show it to me later, just the sound of the artwork taking place, and all I can see is the parting in her hair, the top of her head moving slightly with the movement of the pen. I have nothing to contribute here, just be the recipient of this drawing, be the voice coming through the speakers. I am he who isn’t here now… third person singular (‘he/she/it’); I am ‘it’, the face in the video screen. I am ‘him’, the object pronoun – him over there in India somewhere, 2000 miles away from here, and not able to help with her English homework.

I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with this… what do uncles do? I don’t have much experience, no children of my own. What do I have to offer, a West/East migrant, living in somebody else’s world? Why am I here? M often asks me that, ‘WHY?’ It’s her favourite question. Toong-Ting, why you go away from Inkland (England)? Why you come to Thailand? I usually say something about travelling for a long, long time in different countries, then getting married to Jiab. She’s always interested in the bit about getting married and all kinds of very carefully structured questions follow on from there. Now it’s ended, everything has been asked already. ‘I’ have been placed forever in the third person singular; I am ‘he’ who married her Auntie.

I want to see the picture she’s making. Wait Toong-Ting, she says and takes the iPad off its stand, walks around the room with it. I’m disorientated and getting a kind of vertigo with all the blurred movement, and just about to say something about it, when she puts the iPad down somewhere and goes away. I see a bit of upholstery and a corner of the ceiling… this must be the sofa. I can hear a clatter/clunk sound and then scissors cutting paper. I call out, hoping she can hear me: what are you doing now? But she doesn’t answer… focused on the cutting – long, extended scissors work. What can it be? M comes back, looks in my screen, smiling a bit, secretive face, eyes wandering off-centre to the tiny window in the corner, watching herself, her posture, her hair – is this how it is to be… ‘seen’?

You want to look Toong Ting? Some more hesitation, then she holds up a heart shaped paper with the words: ‘Love You’, done in colours. There’s no ‘I’ pronoun, and a reversed ‘y’ – its tail going the wrong way. So much more than I’d thought, so much greater than how I feel about myself. The generosity of it takes my breath away. Later Jiab helps her to stick it on the bookshelf with scotch tape; they take a photo and send it to me in an email.

“The self has no form. You cannot grasp it, you cannot see it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “Ah, there it is”, (because) you are the consciousness, the perceiving. You are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object, external to yourself. It’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing.” [Eckhart Tolle – source: My Inner Medium]



Upper image: photo of M in the park last year. Lower image: M’s drawing, stuck in the bookshelf. Thank you to My Inner Medium for the Eckhart Tolle quote  – G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E –

Birds on the Balcony 4

Switzerland, September: It’s a really windy day up here on the 7th floor. The birds on the balcony [Link to: Birds on the Balcony 3], huddled and sheltering on perches made from bamboo canes bound with string and held with duct tape. These pigeons are getting tugged at by the wind, pushed from side to side but claws are anchored firmly to the perch. This strange high wind comes at you from any direction, very gusty, buffets the birds around because of feathers designed to catch the slightest up-draught of air and a weightless skeletal structure. It’s a problem sitting on the perch on a day like this, but they do have these extremely long toenails to hold on with. The wind can’t snatch them away.

This is how it is. If you’re a pigeon, a life form evolved from the causes and conditions of air and wind currents, there’s the danger of getting whisked away in the wind at any moment. Necessary to quickly find shelter and, for young birds, sometimes it does go wrong. Yesterday I was downtown waiting at the bus stop; it was windy like this and suddenly a bird drops straight down from above and soft-lands on the street, feathers sticking out at all angles showing white undersides. People waiting at the bus stop go: wooooo! in unison. It was a young pigeon. The bird corrects itself and walks around in circles, dazed, a car swerves to avoid it. The young bird walks in a zigzag fashion across the road jumps up on the pavement; wide-eyed with its sense of danger and takes refuge in a doorway behind the bus stop.

The dukkha of a windy day. It’s the mistral coming from the Mediterranean and North Africa; sudden gusts of wind come at you in a kind of anarchy of directions, very intense for a day or two then it’s gone. The pigeons are so actively engaged with the mechanism of flight, it’s as if the movements of their wings and the movement of the air are one and the same thing. I see them caught in hectic flight movement; a stationary moment in the air, suspended in time and space, then the audible flap of wingtip and fluttering away – adjusting wing positions in response to complex changes in wind direction.

Each air current has a quality that results in the corresponding wing tilt and flip, extend and hold. If you’re a bird, ground level is not the reference point; ‘up’ is not necessarily up and neither is down. Bird flight is an expression of the air movement itself, sudden and unpredictable; birds in flight and the sky – the space where the flying takes place; it’s about non-duality: ‘self and other, subject and object, organism and environment are the poles of a single process1‘ The flying and the air are not different, there’s no separation, no division between them.

‘… an ever-present no-boundary awareness wherein the subject and the object, the seer and the seen, the experiencer and the experienced form a single continuum.2

A wind like this is energy to the birds; it’s a dance. All their skills and everything they are is in readiness, alert. They have the ability to do all of it. Flying and the wind are in unison. But they need to find a place to shelter and these birds come into the balcony space here, grab on to a perch, clamp down on the landing gear, and claws lock into place. Held like this until the wind has gone. Eyes glaze over; they’re in a state of partial sleep, head sunk into the body, feathers fluffed out. They’re just not concerned at all about the wind buffeting them around – or me, looking at them through the glass, or what goes on inside this terrestrial place, 7 floors up from ground level. It could be anywhere, just a place, like the branch of a tree, elevated as it is, to be a convenient stopover for birds of the air.


‘I am infinite like space, and the natural world is like a jar/ I am like the ocean, and the multiplicity of objects is comparable to a wave/ I am like the mother of pearl, and the imagined world is like the silver/ Alternatively, I am in all beings, and all beings are in me. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, or cessation of it.’ [Ashtavakra Gita 6.1 – 6.4]

[Image source: detail from: pigeon_flock_large_0410094946. I am grateful for the use of this image]

1Alan Watts, The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are  

2The Essential Ken Wilbur, page 21: The Real Self