Tuesday, January 29, 2013


The waning moon, still bright, fat, and full-looking, has made its way up past my line of sight as I look out my east-facing windows. The sky is clear now: gone the haze and high cloud of this morning and afternoon, swept away by a short torrential rainfall just after sunset this evening. I’ve never seen rain here in January before. It’s almost unheard of. And no complaints, for it has freshened and brightened the air and washed away the dust. I expect tomorrow will be crisp and clear.

What a wonderful prospect, especially since I’m heading north to the countryside not far from Fang, about three hours’ drive from here in Chiang Mai. I’ll be with the people who have joined me for this year’s immersethrough session. It’s a congenial and collegial group of people, so conversations are wide-ranging and interesting. Yes there are food questions and questions relating to what we come across in the markets (the huge wildly lively and crammed-full wholesale market – Muang Mai – this morning for example), but we also end up talking history and politics and travel, finding cross-connections between our interests.

And so the journey north past rice fields (where there’s irrigation) and plots of garlic and shallots (where there’s not), and towering green limestone hills, will have layers of idea and conversation and story too, the landscape of the group travelling through the landscape of northern Thailand. It’s a pleasing idea.

Tonight we walked back from a restaurant on the west side of the old city, after a supper of issaan food that included grilled fish, grilled chicken, greens, som tam, and a brilliant tom yum soup aromatic with fresh herbs. The air was humid and there was the smell of wet pavement. The old city was very quiet, with only a few people walking apart from the seven of us, very little traffic, and a mere scattering of people at various restaurants and cafes. Chiang Mai is so liveable…

I haven’t written here for a disgracefully long time. I’m not sure why that is. I mean, yes, I have been busy with various deadlines and with preparing for the immersethrough session. But that can’t be the whole answer. Somehow my head has been full of details in a way that hasn’t allowed for the thinkng, mostly unconscious, that seems to be what lies behind the posts I usually write, and that I enjoy writing.

This isn’t the first time this subject has come up here. But it is a reminder that we seem to need to catch up to ourselves. What I mean by that is that if we draw too heavily on our resources – not getting enough sleep or downtime or whatever – then eventually the debt, the arrears, will have to be made good. We’ll be forced, by illness or incompetence or whatever, to let our bodies or minds heal or rest or catch up, whatever the appropriate term might be in the circumstances.

And so it is that I think the busy-ness of last fall’s BURMA book tour, plus the lovely intensities of the holiday season, are still reverberating in my head and memory, taking up space if you will, and not allowing fresh and new thoughts to form and create themselves.

I hope this phase is over and that I can return to the easy assumption that there will be time in the coming days for reflection and for generating new thoughts. I sure hope so.

None of this should be read as a complaint, more as an acknowledgemnt of incapacity. It is strange to think that even with the airings-out and exercise that have come with several long energetic bicycle rides with friends recently, I still haven’t managed to find a clear productive head, at least until now.

One of the immersethrough people said to me tonight, “By the end of the day you must have a lot of narratives going round in your head.” Yes, he hit the nail on the head, though I had never thought of it in exactly that way. It’s other peoples stories which I find fascinating. They go on reverberating for me. And I guess when I’m in changing and peopled situations, as I was on book tour, I end up with a lot of stories that reverberate and take up space.

This is why people meditate, or isolate themselves, to get clarity. But I do love the society of others, their stories and ideas and emotional reactions.  And that’s why the idea of sitting and meditating for ten days at a Vipassana retreat, something that a number of friends have done and have urged me to do, just doesn’t appeal.

Does it mean that I am in flight from myself? Are other people’s stories just a way to hide from my own realities and weaknesses? Perhaps. But they’re also an endlessly interesting and warming reminder of the textures of human existence. Nothing beats that! 

1 comment:

Holly Bruns said...

I once had someone tell me that 'meditation' can mean different things to different people. What sitting in silence is to one person may be the act of chopping a carrot to another, or running down the road to another, and that made lots of sense to me. Maybe being present with others is a form of meditation for you?