Transition

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The prow of a Royal Barge

I’ll just step right out on a limb here and say that poetry arises out of transition. Or at least that’s where mine seems to come from. It is that instant, or in a succession of instants in which the mind and body become free, in which I sense being without moorings, when my attention drifts into the larger picture, the larger questions and uncertainties of the moment.

There isn’t merely a single one of those instants that beckons for resolution, that nags like a thorn in the side, even in sleep. It’s an ongoing state,  a persistent sensation of (at least temporarily) being uncoupled from the world as it is unfolding today. Not as if there’s a simple short term resolution that settles the question of how to be in this world. If I looked closely, I could find a measure of transition in every day, in every encounter, in every waking moment. But that’s not exactly what I am sensing now. I am referring to something inside that realises the more essential uncertainty of life, that revels in and yearns for the vitality and unceasing generative nature of it and also for a more settled sense of having made my choices, arriving at some clarity about my intentions and mission even in that context of uncertainty.

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My time in Thailand is coming to an end. I’m heading back to Nepal in three days, after which I still have a couple of weeks in the southern Thai island culture to look forward to, but that will be a less settled, more mobile time. A last fling before diving back into the roiling soup of whatever America is right now. There is an illusory aspect of being here, that one can be separate from the larger dynamics driving the world. To a certain extent that is true. If one is basically past most of the survival concerns of life and content to spend one’s later years in a comfortable bubble of simplicity, beauty, mostly good weather, immersed in an appealing culture in which good will, tolerance, courtesy, kindness and generosity of spirit appear to be major features (at least outwardly), then this is a good place. Like a round of golf. Go ahead. Drop out. Why not? You deserve it.

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One could easily envelop oneself in that illusion of being separate, that there is someplace in the world that is different from everywhere else, an idyllic retreat in which life goes on,  never changing. But honestly, the longer one remains here, the more one becomes aware of the systemic issues, the same economic issues, the same political dynamics, the same susceptibility to climate change, the same health, human and sustainability questions that are on the tip of everyones tongue. Whatever location you happen to be considering, it’s the same everywhere to a greater or lesser degree–massive change is afoot. And that’s true, of course, not only because the world has become so commercially integrated, but because we can know about every other place in the world in an instant.

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One of the creations at Celedon Ceramics in San Kampaeng, a tea cup with cover.

The same issues make their public appearance here every now and then, perhaps only in small ways, but they cannot be ignored completely. Without getting too explicit with the details, I’ll just say that the issues on the surface in America are all beneath the surface here. And in some ways, they are worse. There’s not much conversation at all here. Not that one is likely to explode into view at any moment. The lid is kept on here by very effective pacification strategies exercised on a relatively passive population.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a great deal to like about Thailand. That’s why I’ve spent so much time here. And I may well come back for more. It’s just that the longer I’m here, the less I’m able to look away. Which makes one’s choice of location-if one is determined to stay awake-pretty much irrelevant.  Would I like to remain a short plane ride from an island paradise? Sure. Would I like to remain a day’s drive from total immersion in colourful ethnic mountain cultures? Or in close proximity to six or seven nations whose spiritual, temperamental, cultural, economic and material nature are incredibly diverse?

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OMG, I’m talking myself out of it.

No. The question in every case is the same. How are you going to live? In a world where every artificial boundary is dissolving, where the prevailing economic paradigms are unraveling, where chaos becomes a positive force of revelation and renewal, where uncertainty brings us ever closer to being fully in the present moment, in which labels and status and nationality and ethnicity and gender orientation are no longer relevant, in which creative responses are blowing the lid off of every convention, in which reductionist “knowledge” can no longer bulldoze traditional knowing, where the soul of humanity is arising from its earthy foundations below to a common Source above to crack open the heart of the planet, what is going to drive you? Where does your passion lie? What do you care about and what are you going to do about it? What is the perpetual thorn that never stops nagging you?

Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there.

                                                      –Gary Snyder

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My new friends at the night market

Maybe my time here has been an incubation. The book project and the partnership that created it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. More on that another time. Maybe. But using the term “transition” to qualify this moment implies moving from one state to another, from the conventional to something new, from subject to object, in conceptual and material terms. That is indeed one way of interpreting this moment.

The truth is that transition can only ever be a relative condition. In essence, there is never any such thing. The world is pretty much the same, everywhere and in every moment. Awareness shifts from appearance to essence, back and forth, endlessly, returning to the truth of impermanence, in which lies the eternal opportunity, even in a hypnotic context of illusory comfort, to remain in uncertainty, to remain in spontaneous presence. That’s the beauty of it and the terror of it. And therein lies the poetry.

3 thoughts on “Transition

  1. Also, I was astounded by the photo of what I realized a couple of moments after looking at it closely to be a garbage dump. At first glance, it looked like a carelessly flung, profligate showing of gemstones, for which Thailand is famous. And it reminded me of the ending of Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Happy Prince”– “‘Bring me the two most precious things in the city,'” said God to one of His Angels.” Both were in the garbage heap, and one was the enduring heart of the happy prince.

    Liked by 1 person

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