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.
We act the way we do because of our genes and our environment. These are our reasons. If someone treats me with cruelty, I don’t need to get angry at them, because they have many good reasons for acting the way they do. But if I get angry, that also is okay, because I have my own reasons.
Breathe. There is no Great Bookkeeper of sins. We are free.
Healing is about become free of our reasons. If you have reasons for living a life of resentment, then fine. Live like that and be resentful. But if you see a way out of that, snatch it with both hands. Find a way to get free, and find a way to live a life as though the reasons were never there.
In the second level of Reiki, students are given a way to send healing back to their childhood self. This seems ridiculous, but there is power in it. It is the reasons of the past that obstruct our full living in the present. You can understand the healing in a mystical or a psychological way (or both, if you’re like me), but what is important is that you are unlocking the chains.
You have every reason to stay unhappy, to stay in that abusive relationship, to keep eating crap food. You will not be held accountable for these things, because you have your reasons. But within you is the power to change; you are free to find a way, any way, to break free from your reasons and start a new way of life.
At sunset the Jialing River flows east
and thousands of pear petals chase the river wind.
What twists my stomach as I watch the river flowers?
Half have fallen in the river, half drift on the air.
Petals Falling in the River, Yuan Zhen (779-831 AD)