My life has got quieter since I put my phone permanently on vibrate only.
I always look for a neat answer; it’s just how my mind works. So when I think about who or what God might be, I want–when my thinking is done–to be able to say it all in just a sentence or two.
But God is not easy to pin-down and dissect. Our ideas of God are formed organically, marinated in attitudes and especially feelings from family and friends, from books and school and society. When we say "I believe in God" or "I don’t believe in God", we’re putting in a nutshell years of growth of understanding. We build intellectual arguments to justify the nutshell, but what lies inside is more raw, more basic.
When I read many theists I am confronted by their fear of unbelief (and what that might mean for the fate of their souls); when I read the new atheists (like Dawkins or Hitchens) I am bowled over by their anger at the theists. They paint their positions in the language of rationality, but their basic stuff is fear and a lack of peace.
I don’t want what I call God to be like that. That’s why, although I’m frustrated by not knowing who or what God might be, I’m also tentatively satisfied. Why? I want the question to be part of me. I want to infuse in the question. I want the question to change who I am, to slowly but persistently shift my emotions and grow me into someone more healthy, strong, and authentic.
If I’d found a simple answer, it would probably be a manufactured McGod, something I use to solidify the emotions and thoughts that I don’t ever want to face and resolve.
We are accustomed to looking for answers to our problems from outside sources. But Umair Haque says it so wisely: “Be what you search for.”
The problem with the Buddhist idea that the purpose of life is to become freed from the wheel of life and death, to escape the cycle of reincarnation after reincarnation , is this: that it makes life seem like a curse, something that we would escape if we could.
And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?
A linguist told me about a satire that changed his whole way of thinking about gender-neutral language. I just read it, and it made me laugh and think deeply in equal measure. It’s not a quick read, but it’s worthwhile: A person paper on purity in language.
I was wandering through the grounds of Wat Umong, an isolated forest temple in northern Thailand. Everything in the shade seemed to be covered with moss, everything in the sunlight scorched, baked and faded. As in a lot of Thai temples, many trees are considered sacred, and bear the orange robes of the order. Many more carry little plaques inscribed with pithy Dharma quotations.
It’s an ideal space to have fun with a camera.
I was caught by a strange inscription on the ground, and studied it. As I did so, a young Monk approached me, clutching a piece of paper. Pronunciation exercises. He pointed, and asked in very broken English how to say “cupboard”. He was not quick to take in the new sounds. But he was eager to chat, in any language.
He took me on a tour of out-of-the-way parts of the temple. The broken-down crematorium, the head monk’s quarters. Our English lesson deteriorated; we resorted to Thai and conversation started to flow. So I learned his story, of how he used to wait bars in the den of decadence in Bangkok that is Kao San road, then entered some backcountry monastery before arriving at Wat Umong only that week. He had taken his vows to make merit for his parents, and guessed he would not stay in the order for much longer than a few months. His spirit was wild and not ready for the confines of monastic life.
We parted. Seeing the rich, dark green foliage behind him, and feeling the soft diffuse light of an overcast late afternoon, I risked pulling out my camera.
Koh Tao is one of the best places to go in Thailand. I’ve been there several times, and although the trip from Bangkok is long and arduous, after I arrive I normally make the effort of crossing the island’s treacherous network of roads and tracks to the East coast, which has some isolated and beautiful beaches. This time, however, I was with my brother, and he hadn’t slept a wink on the overnight sleeper train, and so we crashed as soon as the catamaran had pulled up to the main beach. And that is where we stayed for five days.
I love this island. Even the most developed place still has a laid-back feel.
My brother and I have both transformed ourselves from pitifully weak swimmers into being able to swim a mile or two without any problem at all. I have to thank the TI technique for getting me to where I am now. The greatest thing about being here was being able to try-out this amazing skill away from the pool. (If you’ve never known the frustration of wanting to swim but being unable to, you may not understand how awesome it feels for me to finally do it well.)
On the second day we slapped on sunscreen, did a few stretches, and then donned our goggles. After admiring each other’s new strokes (he learned in England, I in Thailand, and we had not yet seen each other in action), then set out in earnest. Our destination: as far we needed to go to find some good fish.
I’ve never known freedom like this! We swam on and on, cutting through the water, not tiring. We saw a diving boat ahead and agreed to head for it. When we rolled-up, and then dove down, we saw why they had anchored-up here: we had found our tropical fish. Joy washed through me as I bobbed up and down with the small waves, soaking in the intensely blue water and pale sky.
Come evening, we feasted—as one likes to do in Thailand—and then found a cool beach bar. As we ordered our drinks, we got chatting to a couple of Australians. Settling down on comfy cushions spread on the sand, we enjoyed the fire show.
Of course, I couldn’t sit still for long. As the others continue the conversation, I tried out a new lighting technique. With the camera on a tripod, I triggered the shutter with a cheap infra-red remote control. The on-camera flash triggered a manual slave flash, gelled with +1 CTO orange, held by yours truly. I aimed this hard light directly onto the poi artist’s head.
You can see the difference between throwing some light onto the poi artist (the standout shot shown above) and no light (these silhouettes).
Poi has been one of those on-and-off hobbies that I’ve had since first getting into the festival scene in England in 2007. There are some really talented fire spinners in the south of Thailand, and they’ve inspired me.
These are shots from an intense session in my apartment recently. (Click to zoom in.)