I have always had weird and funny thoughts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had strange ideas and notions running in my head, had so many questions bursting out of me and was never satisfied with the answers given, vexing and taxing even the most patient of souls around me at that time. I learnt later to keep most of my wondering and questioning to myself…it’s just easier that way.
A little mind game I used to play involves some kinesthetic as well as mental exertion for tricking (or is it focusing?) both the body and the mind (it probably grew out of too many lazy mornings of sleeping in and refusing to get out of bed):
Lie flopped out on your back on the bed with your head hanging off the edge and with your legs and feet propped up against the wall, so that blood flows down and engorges your brain. Then, start thinking of a word or a name (like the name of a dreaded teacher or of that pretty girl with pigtails from the other class), and just focus on that word, picturing it in your mind, having it loom larger and larger until it fully encompasses YOU…
If done ‘right’, something strange and perhaps a little magical will happen. There will be this weird sense of Dissociation with the word you were focusing on: that word, which had seemed so familiar and ordinary just moments ago, now feels strange and unfamiliar, a little too ‘bulky’ and ‘clunky’, like a new word or concept you are just learning about for the first time and still rolling around at the tip of your tongue, feeling your way around it…
And most strangely, whatever associated feelings and anxieties you had attached to that word (like the intense dread and foreboding of attending a certain teacher’s class, or the even stranger feelings and curious heart-thumping when thinking of that pig-tailed girl from the next class, especially when she’s wearing little furry mongolian hats) will have disappeared, replaced by a cool and mildly perturbing sense of peace and oneness…
and so as a kid, I had discovered a much faster and cleaner way to get to that desired state of centred-ness (and buzz!), and all without the use of LSD, psychedelics, hours and hours of shikantaza sitting in zazen, or holding contorted yogic postures and chanting OM…
Many times I would play my little mind-game and focus on my own name and self, and soon reach that strange slightly disoriented state of dissociation, perhaps a little high and buzzed, but also wonderfully mellow and ’rounded’.
[I can’t really describe the feelings in that state; basically everything feels right, nothing is out of place, there are no ‘sharp edges’. Only an encompassing sense of mild contentment, a feeling of being centered and at peace. Like looking at a yellow-brown sepia-toned old photograph from a better time and place.
Thus: yellow mellow and ’rounded’.
When I am in that state, that dissociated from Self state, it can be be quite liberating. I used to call it, the WHO AM I state, and I rather enjoyed entering that state, not least for the incredible focus and clarity of mind which it allowed me to have. Like a placid lake with nary a ripple on the surface, there were no distractions and wayward thoughts when I am in my WHO AM I state, and it allowed me tremendous focus towards solving problems, sorting through binomial-branching scenarios or just pushing new ideas to their limits.
But of course, when naturally I began focusing on myself, my name (or worse, names of my loved ones), it can lead to some pretty scary results. To have a kid self-hypnotize into feeling dissociated from himself, to wander around in a discombobulated daze, and to say the strangest things and ask the strangest questions…it can freak some people out.
Many times when I am in that state, I would question the perception of self, the perception of others, just Who am I?, do ‘I’ really exist, how do I know I or you truly exist and if we exist, are we really what we seem to ourselves, to each other? Might there not be an unseen veil or scales covering our eyes and causing us to see what we appear to be seeing, but not the actual reality?
[Of course, I later found out I was not alone in asking these questions. These are age-old questions which have occupied Man from the beginning, and which at various times have been mused upon and very eloquently asked by distinct individuals across the breadth of humankind: by the ancient Indians at the very beginning of their civilization, by Chuang Tzu when he was dreaming of butterflies, and of course by Descartes when trying to outwit the Evil Daemon in his Theory of Other Minds.
And among the few people unfortunate enough to be faced with my childhood questionings and rhetorical wonderings, Mum definitely bore the heaviest brunt. When I was young, I spent a lot time with Mum learning a host of different things: the intricacies of water-colour painting (how to mix and blend colours and avoid always ending up with dirty-brown!, and especially the importance of 留白/leaving white space in chinese water-colours); learning chinese and chinese literature, especially from some of her favourite literary works both classical and modern; or simply just listening to Mum’s rather extensive music collection together.
I remember many lazy yellow-brown afternoons, usually over tea-time, we would be having painting sessions, or reading dreamy passages from 紅樓夢/A Dream of Red Mansions, while playing songs from our then sleek and state-of-the-art Yamaha turntable and player.
And many times when concentrating on my painting and colours, or intently reading and gradually getting in-between-the-lines, a little schism will appear and I will simply slip through to enter into that still and dissociated state of mind.
Slowly, with all my latent musings and wonderings welling up and fomenting just beneath the surface, I will stop my painting and reading, look up and ask Mum: WHO AM I…
Many times rather then questioning, I would just launch into a stream of wonderings, musing aloud to Mum all the ideas and thoughts I have been developing in my head, not really expecting a response from her, but probably just feeling safe and secure enough in her presence to let it all out.
I remember she would just smile and calmly let me go on, and wait for me to finish. But sometimes I would be a little more ‘possessed’, and seem to carry on indefinitely, or even seem to be getting a little agitated and insistent with my self-questioning. At these moments, Mum always knew what to do to calm me down and bring me back. Rather than speak out, she would simply pick up her tea-spoon, and gently tap it against her tea-cup:
Deng-dengdeng-deng-deng-DENG in that familiar melody of 酒矸倘賣嘸 which we shared.
At once, I would stop my wondering and wandering, smile up at Mum and go back to my painting or reading, and continue eating my ‘little gem’ icing biscuits.
One of the scariest thing I did with my WHO AM I mind-game was to focus on Mum’s name, or rather my relationship with her. It was disconcerting to find that I was able to focus myself into ‘dissociating’ from the one most important person in my life; that somehow, I could focus/trick/meditate into uncleaving myself into the third person and look at my Self and its relationships dispassionately. I remember going up to Mum and asking her, why is she my mother and not someone else. I remember looking out of the window and pointing to a lady standing at the balcony of the house next door and asking, why isn’t she my mother instead? Why am I here in this body, looking out of this pair of eyes at that woman in the balcony, and not there in her body, looking out of her eyes from her balcony at me instead?
Mum laughed, tousled my hair and told me to quit eating so much biscuits or I’ll spoil my dinner. But years later, she revealed that actually she had been really worried for me when I was young and had even discussed with my father about taking me to see a child psychiatrist.
I guess I was really a strange kid…