endless horizons

IMG_2054POSTCARD #113: New Delhi:  Carrying stuff upstairs, laptop under arm with notepad, phone in pocket, pen held in teeth, water bottle neck clasped between first and third fingers. Pause at the top of the stairs to turn the door handle (how much better it would be if we had three hands), it opens by practiced handle-lever push with thumb, and timed shoulder-shove. Out into the bright daylight of the roof terrace, carrying everything to the table, and unload piece by piece.

Bring the chair over and sit… now maybe I can relax for a bit in this warm spring-like weather. But the voices start up again as if they’ve been waiting off-stage for their big entry: What’s with all this control-freakery? Why try to do everything at once? Leaving on Saturday 28th night, red-eye flight to Bangkok, change for the Chiang Mai flight and arrive there early Sunday morning on 1st March. I know it’ll be hot in Chiang Mai and as we get nearer to April, hotter still. Then 1st May to UK because I have to get a new passport (no pages left), and two weeks later, back to Thailand on a tourist visa. One week later, the return to Delhi before my India visa runs out… and I need to have that renewed too. Then, to crown it all, it’ll be impossibly hot by the time I get back here, temperatures reaching their peak, 46°C.

Intrusive thinking about ticketing, schedules, filling in forms; uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, insist on getting attention and shouting out: What’ll happen if the flight from Delhi doesn’t arrive in Bangkok on time, and I miss the flight to Ch’Mai? Noisy internal dialogues about the whole itinerary – I need to ease out from this clamour of conjured-up scenarios, imponderables and enigmas – searching for something creates the idea that it is lost. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they belong to everyone – the generosity of letting go. None of it is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me. Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears the way it does. I don’t see the world; the brain selects what is seen. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. The ear is a musical instrument. The body is a sensory-acoustic device that plays an immense chord of vibrating harmonics at 432 Hz, the natural frequency of the universe.

Mind contemplating the experience of ‘me’ seated on the chair; aware of the pressure points where legs touch the seat, bearing the weight, arms on armrests, and everything else is empty space, just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below on floor surface: left, right, left, right. The roof-terrace enters my vision, floor, wall, the plants – objects seem to pass through the body. Meanwhile, far away over endless horizons, another place begins to stir with aliveness; this time on Sunday I’ll be ‘there’ in Ch’Mai – or Ch’Mai will be here in ‘me’….


“And men go abroad to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.”
[St. Augustine]


The photo of the sea at St Andrews comes from Sue Vincent’s post: The Elasticity of Time
–   G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E   –

the seen

IMG_2020POSTCARD #112: New Delhi: Birds fly low between the buildings, suddenly see me sitting in the sunshine on the roof terrace and swoop straight up into the sky… not expecting me to be there – usually there’s nobody around on these rooftops, the human domain should be down below. I’m in their flight path and feeling a bit uneasy about that, move my chair out of the way… avoiding collision with bird flying at 30 mph.

But they seem to have communicated with each other about it somehow – is it possible? No birds pass through after that. I’m looking out from the roof terrace level with the treetops, birds flit, zoom, dart, leave no tracks in the sky. Perch on a branch for a moment, flick their head in my direction – aware of my presence, and away without warning in unexpected directions; ‘up’ is not necessarily up and neither is down – ground level is not the reference point.

And these ominous birds of prey circling high above… I’m thinking I want to take a photo if one comes near. Take out phone camera and stand in the middle of the roof, point it at the birds. They’re too far away… no, wait, there’s one coming towards me. Take a few photos as it comes closer. It seems curious, coming over for a look – nearer and nearer; our eyes meet in a strange encounter, it knows it’s being looked at and I’m on the edge of being hypnotised by it watching me here in the centre of this pool of intense vision, like a spotlight moving over the landscape.

Are these smaller birds aware of the predator – is this why they move so quickly? All this and more; an extraordinary alertness, joyful, immediate. They’re in a different kind of temporality. Their world is forever the same moment here-and-now taking place in all other locations and everywhere at the same time. I’m in slow motion, don’t see it, burdened with human mechanisms of sensory perception and lost in thought. I have to consciously look for the way to get back to ‘here’… telescopic sights of mindfulness on crosshairs of past/future that focus on the ‘now’, the point of reference – discovering I don’t have to try to create it because the present moment is already here, always present… it’s the mind that goes away.

Traces of these last thoughts vanish. If I don’t reach out for the next thing to think about, there’s just the stillness of the event itself; a transparent curtain through which there’s a transparent stage in a transparent theatre and all the actors with the illuminated background shining through from behind.

“…sound does not exist, separate from our hearing; sights do not exist, separate from our seeing; tastes do not exist, separate from our tasting; smells do not exist separate from our smelling [….] our projection of an “external world” — of objects “out there” which we then interact with via the sense-organs of a seemingly individual bodymind — is a claim that can never be experientially verified.” [Elizabeth Reninger, “If A Tree Falls In A Forest …” – Bishop Berkeley Meets Laozi]


Another  post about birds of prey: seeing with alertness.  Note: Our young friend Ng arrived back from New York on the night of 17 Feb, there were storms when she was there and the dance performance at Brooklyn Bridge was cancelled


photo-8bPOSTCARD #111: New Delhi: Half asleep in the shade on the roof terrace, palm fronds swaying in the warm wind. Resting after the endeavour to get Ng on her flight to New York. She was staying with us for a couple of days because her mum was away in Calcutta on business. Ng is 15, her mum is Thai and her dad is American. Ng has a white, almost ivory skin coloured complexion; Caucasian type with oriental eyes – child of the distant future. You could say she’s unique; the feeling there’s only one Ng in the world. That quality of individuation, disentangled from the social archetype – self is a figment of the imagination; I am a unique individual not separate from an infinite number of other unique individuals in the world. The magnitude of it is beyond ordinary comprehension… takes my breath away. Ng is quietly being herself, getting on with it, planning to leave at 8pm to meet with her school dance group for a 16 hour flight to perform at Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC. But the flight has been postponed, departure time changed to 5.00am and the group will have to meet at the school at 3.30am. Oh… should we go to sleep for a few hours, or stay awake all night? We decide to go to our rooms at 7pm and mindfully lie down for the hours remaining. It goes quickly, we’re up at 2am, bags in car and away across town.

The curious urgency of driving at night through empty streets, headlights shine the way through the tunnel that our direction takes. The city is dark and indistinct like an old sepia tint photograph, its colour enters into the interior of the car; I see Ng’s profile, intense eyes lit up in her phone’s screen display, reflected colours on her face – checking her messages… no need to have conversation, everything’s been said. Stop for a moment to turn into traffic at a T junction and on my side there are two men wrapped in shawls crouched around a small fire they’ve lit on the sidewalk. One ghostly head swivels around on its axis, looking out from the glow of the flames, mediaeval eyes connect with mine; a patriarch from the remote past. Hold that gaze for a moment and the car moves on. We get to the meeting point, other kids are there, I offer to carry her bag over but Ng says it’s okay – so it’s time for me to go now, bye-bye, take care of yourself. I get in the car. U-turn in the empty street and just before accelarating away, I see a pale white hand waving in the darkness… small windscreen-wiper motion… I wave back, bye!

Home, sleep and somewhere in an accumulation of hours of nearly a day later, I’m here on the roof terrace in the shade because now it’s too hot to sit in the sunshine, and I’d forgotten about it all when the text message comes in from Ng’s mum in Calcutta, saying she had an email from Ng. She just arrived, plane was late. Total journey almost 24 hours. They had to change clothes quickly at the hotel and were going now to do their dance performance in the Park. I google the time difference and distance from Delhi to New York, trying to focus on the fact that Ng is probably dancing in Brooklyn Bridge Park round about now, 7300 miles away….

“The apparent reality of the mind, body and world is imagined with the thought that thinks it. In other words, the constructs of thought, that is, the beliefs we have about the mind, body and world – are only real for thought itself.” [Rupert Spira]


flowers from far away

IMG_2001POSTCARD #110: New Delhi: The computer feels cold to touch, hands stretch out over the keyboard and the soft spaces between the fingers are exposed to the chill. Make them into fists; stay warm, too cold to type… melancholia of late winter. Sit there for a while. It takes quite a long time to realize I could just stop what I’m doing and go up to the roof terrace in the sunshine. Around this time, the shadow cast by the tall building next-door moves away and there’s a patch of sunlight where I can place my chair and sit in the warmth.

Get up from the desk, out to the hall by the back door and up the cold steps to the top; habitual handle-grab, shoulder-push on an old door that’s always stiff, squeak, it opens… bright daylight enters, birds fly across my vision in a blur of random directions. Blue sky, and clothes hanging on the line, the smells of outside, vent pipes, clay-tiled rooftops of other people’s houses, other people’s laundry.

There’s new warmth in the air – I notice it immediately, walking around our small urban garden and checking out all the plants that live here in flowerpots and containers. Everything has that dry wintery look, but there are some signs of life, shoots appearing in the crumbling earth… an innate sentience. Take a photo with my camera phone, seeing the flowers as stars and planets. Tiny white blossoms form in clusters. So small, there’s a feeling they’re arriving from far away; distant galaxies seen moving towards us in slow motion.

I didn’t know. It was here all the time, and everything that happened prior to this, everything going on unseen, below the surface of the earth… before the flower, the seed and before the seed, the flower that created the seed; a sequence of patterns that started before I arrived in this place, flowing from the past into the future, always seen from ‘here’.

I place my chair in the patch of sunlight and sit down; a fundamental response to the first signs of that easing-away from the coldness, the unique warmth of Springtime, a softening around the hardness, a release from the upset, the injured and the slow spinning wheel of seasons takes it all away. Listening to the green parakeets chattering in the Eucalyptus trees opposite, there’s only the moment in which everything appears…

“… appearances are so intimately one with Consciousness that there are in fact no appearances as such, that is, existing in their own right. Rather Consciousness is the sole substance of all experience.” [Rupert Spira] 


Related post: A patch of sunlight


photo-6POSTCARD #109: New Delhi: The early morning flight from Bangkok to Delhi leaves in darkness and the sun rises along the way. It takes only three and a half hours; have breakfast, fall asleep, wake up and pretty soon we’re descending. Up go the flaps down go the wheels; we’re on the ground and rumbling along a bumpy runway. Get ready to go, reassemble the parts of who I am and out of the aircraft into the vast arrivals hall. A long walk to immigration, miles of pale tangerine carpeting, entry stamp on my passport thump. I’m through. Find a place at the luggage belt to stand and wait and watch the bags move past the centre of my vision. Feel dizzy… all journeys merge into one; can’t remember what my bag looks like, panic for a moment then remember. I see it, grab the handle, get it on its wheels and leave through the green Nothing-To-Declare exit. Driver is waiting, into the car and we’re away in the traffic.

Adjust my watch back 1½ hours and step into an earlier time, a continuation of events that started before I got here. The flight from Bangkok disappears; a memory replaced by present-time experience – there’s no feeling of ‘me’ having arrived in Delhi, it’s like Delhi has arrived in ‘me’… outside in & inside out. Delhi fills my vision; all the sensations, noise and commotion of morning rush-hour traffic on the airport highway. Car horns honking all around: pap-pap, pee-pee, pah-paah, PEEE….

There’s a hold-up, maybe there’s been an accident. What’s happening? The sound of car horns increases in volume, and slowly we get nearer and begin to see the cause of the obstruction. There’s a vehicle positioned right across the road, but it seems to be moving… wait and see. It looks like the driver is trying to turn round. Yes, he’s doing a three-point turn into the oncoming traffic. What? At this point, the noise of horns stops for a moment; uneasy silence, everybody thinking wow, we don’t know what’s going on here, but this guy must think he has a very good reason for deciding to do this, and they edge past him cautiously. The driver completes the turn, after many stops and starts as the flow of traffic continues to swerve past him whenever there’s a space to get through. Then he’s coming towards us, driving carefully against the traffic flow and assertively looking everybody in the eye.

The first thing that comes to mind is: this is just so… wrong, and I’d like to dwell on how wrong it is, but it’s too weird – searching for something to blame, but can’t find anything with sufficient blameworthiness. One thing is certain; it must be pretty scary to be doing what he’s doing. I see him in silhouette as we pass, gripping the steering wheel, alert, tense, determined. I watch him through the rear window; an enigma, a complete reversal of everything we think of as logical. The rush of traffic engulfs him like water moves around a stone in a fast moving river, then he’s gone.

Up front, in the normal directionality of things, we appear to be getting through the congestion. Traffic picks up speed, acceleration; honks, squeaks and toots all around as if the cars were jamming with each other in an improvisation by Miles Davis on trumpet.

“Most people believe the mind to be a mirror, more or less accurately reflecting the world outside of them, not realizing on the contrary that the mind is itself the principal element of creation.” [Rabindranath Tagore]


a world of things

sycamore 1“Those who float away their lives on ships or who grow old leading horses are forever journeying, and their homes are wherever their travels take them.” [Matsuo Bashō 1644 –1694]

OLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: It’s the last day, I’m leaving, this is it… the end – no more departures and arrivals I’m leaving now for the very last time. The house is to be sold, the rooms are empty, all remaining things ready to be put into boxes for the recycling people to collect after I’m gone. Right now it’s all arranged in two groups: a) stuff to be given away and, b) ‘stuff that I can’t let go of YET’… still some reluctance, lingering over things I want to keep. Gazing fondly at a pile of books, a framed picture, pondering, hesitation, attachment… but how will I get all this into checked-in luggage for the flight to Thailand? Some time spent considering this but, impossible, let’s face it. In the end it’s a decision pushed along by the momentum of leaving; there’s a car coming for me in the afternoon. Out of time, ok, pack up and leave… and I move everything into a), the stuff-I’m-giving-away group. That settles it.

But I’m tugged back… did I just do that? Hands reach out to take the stuff back again. Pause for a moment to think about it and everything stops, emptiness, there’s nothing there… thought is an elaborated construct built in a landscape of no-thingness. An awareness event turns up out of nowhere, the kind of thing that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance: let someone else have these things. It’s the letting-go thing, the generosity of easing, the release of all that tight energy – giving it all away, giving it all back to the world, returning to the context of how it all arose in the first place. I stop for a moment to think about how that feels, but there’s no thought, everything is still wonderfully clear and completely empty. There’s a world of things, then there’s not.

Suddenly it feels like everything I’ve been holding on to doesn’t matter anymore, and that’s okay. The loss is only there if I ‘think’ it into being. Sit down, close my eyes and everything  becomes invisible. Feel the pressure points, lower back, seat in chair, feet on floor, elbows on the arm rests – but no body, no head – it occurs to me that sometimes the universe doesn’t exist… takes my breath away. Only a curious intensity in the place where the thought used to be contained; something that really never happened… years and years of nurturing a dream about something that wasn’t there.

Last thing to do is bless the rooms, hands held in anjali in that small dwelling: Wishing in gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease… There’s a clear sense of closure. Going through the door… I’ve been in this house 36 years and it’s gone in a flash. Standing outside, blinking in the bright daylight, surprised to discover it’s a just a day like any other day. A last look inside, sunlight extends in from the doorway… goodbye little house! Pull the door closed, lock. Get in taxi, door slam. We’re off across the landscape…

‘When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.’ Samyutta Nikaya 12.6


Many thanks to Jeff for: ‘stuff that I can’t let go of YET’ – source: Leaving Lexington. Photo: a stand-alone Sycamore tree at the top of the hill

the light of memory

12052011016eOLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: [post written in New Delhi] The old house is sold. A printout of the email from the lawyer signed, enveloped, stamped and sent by DHL to England, 4000 miles away. A small packet of A4 paper folded once, bearing all the correct documentation, tucked away in a bundle, squeezed into an aircraft for a night and a day. At the other end, registered, signed-for and unlocked, unpacked, seals broken, it’s confirmed by officials, checked, stamped and placed in a folder and delivered by a guy on a motorbike to an office in East Anglia. Smoothened out in the bright white electric light of a cold January morning (by a mature female hand probably, cosmetics, manicured nails and a silver ring), and there’s my signature, exposed for all to see; idiosyncratic squiggle recognised by law as being ‘me’ saying ‘yes’ I agree to the foregoing; I relinquish, renounce, I have read and understood the above-mentioned; box ticked, it’s all yours… sayonara, goodbye little house that sheltered me for 36 years, my small cave, hollow, burrow in the side of a hill. Everything there that was ‘me’ is fading away, even as we speak, already feels like I was never there. It’s like a death… all that remains is a memory of so many comings and goings, arrivals/departures, and in the 36 years I was there I never stayed longer than 3 months. There are only the journals left; words written in old notebooks, hard-to-read writing in ball-point pen etched into the surface of old yellowed paper:

OCTOBER 10, 2012: Today is the last day. Getting ready for the flight to Thailand… that familiar feeling of departures is in the air. This time tomorrow I will not be here. I’ll not be in a room that has split floor boards stacked in a cupboard next to the fireplace in the sharp coldness before the fire is lit. Yes, at least I’ll be away from this stunningly cold house where I have to wear a coat indoors, going around with kindling, paper and matches first thing in the morning, rushing to get the fire lit, the flames going and some heat started up. I notice a certain… vigour in everything that seems to be necessary to keep warm. Words come out in steamy puffs of breath, and a kind of gasping breathlessness: haaaaah! It’s cold.

There’s a fragrance of cleaning products around the house. Yesterday was a day of hoover and broom and the place is clean now, pity I’ll not be here to appreciate it. Everything gets a major clean-up a couple of days before I go. It’s always like this; then, on the last morning, I have breakfast, wash out my coffee cup, place it on the edge of the sink; wash my breakfast plate and leave it to dry in the dish-rack – it’ll have plenty time to dry…. The house is locked up, sealed like a time capsule until I return; into the taxi and I’m gone. The house remains as I left it, exactly like this, for countless days and nights and afternoons and early mornings, sun peeps in the window, nobody at home; all through winter, all through Spring and then one day I come back, open the door, break through the spider webs, trip over the mountain of junk mail and enter into this same moment enclosed here now. Same cup sitting on the edge of the sink, same plate in the dish-rack. And the whole house says: Hello, how’ve you been?

And now I know I’ll never be back there again. Stirring the ashes of a fire gone out, a life I think I wanted but never had – maybe I should have tried harder… maybe it was meant to be the way it is. Maybe I’ll go there one day with my Thai niece M – we’ll drive down that road and I’ll show her the house where Toong-Ting used to live. Slow down and stop, look at the old place for a moment and drive on. It’ll all be ancient history by then …

“The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all…. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.” [Eugène Ionesco]


nostalgia for winter

back of shedOLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: Writing this in New Delhi, the winter chill has a familiarity; the cold-nose-sniffing days of UK winters long ago at the old house in East Anglia, before I had proper heating installed. A massive quantity of firewood; they cut down some Elms that had fallen over and all I had to do was chop it up with a long-handled axe. Thus, entire days were spent swinging axe, volumes of breathy vapour air then sitting by the fire. Everything that had to be done indoors was done there, next to the fire. A cup of Oolong tea placed for convenience on the edge of the hearth… cold fingers on warm porcelain.

And one day in particular, here in this low ceilinged house, staring at the flames, thinking I’ll have to go to the woodshed with the wheelbarrow again to get more logs. Walk through to the back door, not focused on anything but the task ahead, then for some reason there’s a joyful little skip at the wrong moment and I whack my head on the oak crossbeam protruding dangerously from the kitchen ceiling – the karma of wood fighting back… more like a sound than a feeling; an audible BONK! Fall to the floor, wow! Hands rise up and hold the head. It’s not an immediate pain; it’s an investigatory, how bad is it this time?

Stay there for a moment, inward searching directionalised towards the perceived centre where ‘self’ resides; awareness of the vulnerability of ‘head’ situated at the top of the body; eyes looking out, a world seen as if through a window at the front of the skull. Pause for a moment and consider the phenomenon of ‘me’ and the body I inhabit as a curious plurality; it’s not an ‘I’, it’s a ‘we’. I’m issuing commands and body just does what I tell it; addressing oneself as if ‘I’ were someone else: hmmm, the blunt-force trauma and brutality of the present moment… let it pass – get busy with something. Go upstairs and see if there’s a pair of gloves I can wear. The body obediently goes there because I’ve just told it do that.

Stumbles along, gets to the staircase then up, step by step, plod, plod, plod. Get the gloves and stand there for a moment, looking through this ‘window’ as if from a position inside the skull, seeing things at eye-level, then down the length of the body to my feet standing on the step, and the steps below that, leading down, and down to the ground floor… plod, plod, plod, downstairs again; it seems like a long way.

shed with logsOut along the garden to the wood shed and, instead of just gathering a few logs and going back, I decide to cut up some more. WHACK, axe cuts through wood in a pleasing way. WHACK… so what’s to be done about this low headroom situation? WHACK… again and again I’m caught by it, even though I know it’s there. WHACK… return to ‘the plan’: excavate the floor and lower the level by one step to create more headroom. WHACK… isn’t it satisfying how the wood splits and falls to either side of the axe blade, forming two piles of equal number. WHACK… everything comes in twos, and there’s this feeling of companionship; that good friend, the body. It has a familiar feel to it; the aches, pains, grumbles and squeaks. The wheelbarrow filled, I push it back to the fireside and the rest of the afternoon is spent planning how to dig up the floor…

“I am and the ‘I’ that I am, is aware that I am. This knowing of our own being – its knowing of itself – is the most familiar, intimate and obvious fact of experience and is shared by all.” [Rupert Spira]


Third post in the series about the house in East Anglia I had for 36 years. Click on the links to follow the thread: house on a hill, and presence.


back stairsOLD NOTEBOOKS: East Anglia: Aunt Liz was an unusual person because she didn’t speak much, lived like a recluse and it’s only recently I realized she may have been Bipolar – it was so long ago, nobody knew about it then. I was often away and when I came back, she wouldn’t speak to me. The neighbours would tell me she was sometimes socially active, then after a few days she’d go back to her silence and not speak to anyone at all for months. Aunt Liz lived in that house for 23 years. She was alone, preferred to be alone and at the age of 85, she died alone. Bottles of milk left on her doorstep for two days, the police forced the back door and found her sitting on the sofa. It was 1989, I was in Japan, didn’t know it had happened until a relative called me on the phone (no emails in those days) and in a screeching, long-distance voice told me about it; said she’d inherited Aunt Liz’s house and was going to sell it – or did I want to buy it? Yes I did, so we got the paperwork done, I had the contractor go in and do renovations, but it was more than a year by the time I got back to the house.

Everything had changed of course, fresh paint, new plaster; the emptiness of a newly renovated house and nothing left to remind me of Aunt Liz. She was just not there any more – something about it strangely familiar; she was never ‘there’. So many times in the past I’d ring her bell, but no answer. Then I’d be in my house next door, listening for sounds, holding my breath and maybe I’d hear the clink of a cup or plate, and know she was there. Mostly she was simply a presence, so silent sometimes I’d forget about her completely.

That time I came back from Japan, the first thing I did was look for something to use as a floor cushion and sit for a few minutes of meditation in the place where her sofa used to be. This is where she would read her newspaper, do her knitting, watch the six o’clock news … this is where she died. Maybe it was on a day like this; the quietness, the sound of the birds in the trees all around, an ordinary day, and she paused in a quiet moment and listened to the birds; the same birds I’m listening to now, some of them their descendants. Maybe she contemplated this sound as I’m doing now, and had the same awareness of the hearing mechanism that carries the sound.

Get up and open all the windows, landscape reaching out to the horizon; hazy blue sky, the smell of the sea. The sound of birds enters the room, tiny fragments of a hundred melodies merged together in a flow of incidental harmony; no beginning, no middle, no end; blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and in the quiet intervals, the distant mewing of gulls flying in from the sea.

Whatever living beings there may be;
whether they are weak or strong,
omitting none,
the great or the mighty,
medium, short or small,
the seen and the unseen,
those living near and far away,
those born and to-be-born —
may all beings be at ease.

[Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness]


The second post on the house on a hill – click the link for the first post.
Photo shows the back staircase built during the renovation and a new window in the wall opposite so the light can enter the otherwise dark kitchen.

house on a hill

23-05-2010 09-13-22OLD NOTEBOOKS: Chiang Mai: I used to have a house on a hill in England, so far away from here – it’s just a memory now. I had it for 36 years and it was sold just a few days ago… feels like a part of me has become extinct. Another part of me says, what’s gone is gone, let it go because I never really lived in the house. I’d stay there for a while, go away to Asia for a year, then come back; very long grass in the garden and generations of spiders in the corners of the ceilings. Curiouser and curiouser it was part of a larger building owned by my Great Aunt Liz, a spinster and a recluse who gave me the house by Deed of Gift in 1978, then became a bit distant and elderly and quite stubborn about allowing me to help.

I’d send Aunt Liz postcards from the places I’d been and bring back gifts but she became more and more remote. Our communication dwindled and in the end she hardly spoke to me. When I knocked on her door, she would open it on the chain, smile and say: ah, so you’re back. You’re looking well… then close the door. I’d hear the lock go: click, and I was left outside.

This is how it was, a kind of companionship, no more than that. She was probably disappointed that I wasn’t going to just come and settle down in that place and be what she’d imagined I’d be. But what could I do? Her decision to create a situation for me to have a ‘home’ next door to her was just so kind. There I was in the centre of rural life and the simple rumbling-along of things, but… never for very long, always moving on to somewhere else.


She died in 1989… I was in Japan and it was impossible to return. I negotiated with a relative who inherited Aunt Liz’s part of the house and to cut a long story short, eventually I owned the whole building. Contractors were hired to renovate the place, but it was more than a year before I managed to get back. The house on the hill had long since become a dream… years and years spent thinking and planning how I could go live there in the end, and just get old sitting by the fireside. These last few days I have revisited that same place in the midst of these rememberings, knowing that sometime soon I have to disengage from it – it’s not my house anymore it’s somebody else’s. People I don’t know walk around in these rooms where I used to be, sit by the fireside stare into the flames.

02062011038How long do memories remain? One time I was sitting there burning some old floorboards removed during the renovation of Aunt Liz’s bedroom. The wood was dry and old and good for kindling. They were also painted along the ends – she had a carpet in the middle and painted floor boards all round the edge. It all came back to me when I found it… stuck in the paint on a piece of the floorboard, a human hair – a single strand of hair, quite long. It got stuck there as she was applying the paint. I kept it for a while; would hold it between thumb and forefinger for a moment and pull the tension of it gently… still attached to the painted wood. Then one day I placed the wood piece in the flames and watched it burn away.

Everything is always in the process of ceasing to be, turning into ash. There’s a reluctance to leave, drawn towards the extinguished fire; something peaceful about the absence of everything…

As fire, through loss of fuel grows still [extinguished] in its own source, so thought by loss of activeness grows still in its own source… For by tranquility of thought one destroys good & evil karma. With tranquil soul, stayed on the Soul, one enjoys unending ease. [Maitri Upanishad 6.34]