Every so often, strangers come to mind out of nowhere. For instance, I still think of a janitor in my elementary school. He’s a skinny person with a prominent Adam’s apple. It was so big, you couldn’t see him without being distracted by the size of the outcrop. Back then I often wondered if it hurts, as it glides up and down when he swallows every erratic thought while mopping the long, dim school corridors.
On my way to middle school, sometimes I saw a man nearly 6.9 feet tall with spidery long limbs, riding a bicycle going somewhere. The seat was just too low, that his legs had to extend sideways into two enormous triangles, like cumbersome wings installed to both sides of the bike, reminding you of all the aspirations people carry around but never get to fully unfold and outstretch …
My home back then was overlooking a park, where people engaged in exercises of all sorts – Tai Chi, swordplay, Qi Gong, dances with fans or red silk … Every morning there’s a man performing a one-of-a-kind workout similar to power walk, except that he put the emphasis on clapping his hands with full strike while marching ahead, synching each power clap with every dignified stride.
If judged only by the sound of it, you’d think he’s striking two wooden slabs together, while in fact he did it barehanded. The sound was so jarring, piercing through the morning quiet. Just imagine how hardened the calluses on his hands must be. I failed to comprehend the purpose of his drill, but the strident sound of it has been reverberating in my memory ever since.
Meaningless remembrance like these, they come to mind every now and then, often evoked by something irrelevant. An ordinary life, if you look at it without any self-aggrandizing attempt, you will find it mostly just a collage of random encounters. I watch them from distance, in a detached manner, as if looking at a snow globe, with people and scenarios encased inside swirling.
Not only strangers, I myself have been adrift in that dream as well. While I stand aloof as a witness, watching myself performing me. And this is when some impertinent notion would pop up. As if I were in a concert hall among all sophisticated people, sitting upright in fashionable attire, watching the whole world as a philharmonic orchestra on stage, playing some grand symphony.
And I thought to myself – ahh, evolution seems to have worked out well, just not too long ago we’re primitives, swinging from tree limbs to tree limbs, munching bananas, entangling in somersault of all kinds, but now we are listening to grandiose music, getting all sorts of profound meaning from various ensembles of contrived notes.
And I noticed myself having a hard time deciding where to focus my gaze. You’ve got to find a focal point to look at during a concert, but it can be arduous to stare at one spot for the entire occurrence. So you end up developing a strategy to systematically rotate your gaze among all the instruments on stage.
You can get yourself too busy revolving your rivet around, thinking irrelevant thoughts in the meantime, and forget to hear the music.
I can’t look and think and still immerse in the music. To immerse in something wholeheartedly, you can’t multitask; you have to allow yourself be captivated and occupied, getting lost in it entirely.
“When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” Shunryu Suzuki said.
The problem is, wherever I go, I have threesome in tow – one of me is a member of the orchestra playing on the stage, another me is the audience watching the drama, while the third party is this outsider me overseeing the whole event performed by both the band and the audience. I may never know how to make a good bonfire.
In “Lantern Festival”, a Chinese poem written 1,000 years ago, there is a verse going like this –
“In the crowd once and again, I search in vain; everywhere there is no trace of the one I have in mind. All of a sudden I turn around, the one I look for stands right there, where the lantern light is dimly lit.” (衆裏尋他千百度。驀然回首，那人卻在，燈火闌珊處。)
When I first read it in high school, I thought it’s about finding your true love. Now I read it again, I realize it must be about connecting with my true self. If I learn to focus my gaze within, bonfire could be possible, I might even hear the good music.