Oh God, it’s raining. I’m late, my back hurts, Eric’s left me AND it’s raining. These people are getting in my way with their bloody bags. The tube is full of idiots. Why can’t I get a proper TV job? This interview tomorrow better go well. Will you please get out of the way…
CUT: press pause and in swings a huge Hollywood floodlight, freezing and illuminating that moment in time – just as you step out of the crowded tube onto the platform.
The moment’s frozen in time. There’s a still, ethereal quiet. No one’s getting off the tube, the tube is not moving. Everything is halted. The incessant onward flow of stuff has stopped. Your body is hanging there in mid step.
And yet your awareness can move around. A first you’re a bit tentative worried in case the stillness bursts like a dam and the rush and noise and pressure of Thursday rush hour on the Piccadilly line smashes back onwards. But it doesn’t: everything is stasis, hanging still in time.
Your awareness is quite agile .. it can swing around the frozen reality from all sides and take it in from every angle.
First, the form of the moment.
There’s your body. Dressed in jeans and a jumper, a thick winter coat. Under than a human form – 2 arms, 2 legs, a penis, body hair. Inside that blood and muscle, fat deposits, slippery slimy lengths of gut and inside that urine and excrement.
And then there are all the other forms around you. Other naked human bodies wrapped in clothes and filled with blood and gristle. Different faces, different hair but similar in outline.
Then there’s the form of the train. The metal doors with their rubber buffers. The ceramic curve of the tunnel roof above you. The dull matt black floor of the platform.
Things in space.
Second, there’s the feel of the moment.
You realise that your body is full of feeling – most of it muted. There’s the persistant pain radiating from the pinched nerve in your back. But as your awareness hovers in space, looking at your back from behind, you see that the pain is not persistant. It glows in a pulsing rhythm. And then you see that a lot of the stiffness, the tension is because you’re clenching the rest of your body to avoid that glowing pain.
You scan your body up and down and feel all sorts of different subtle distinctions: your feet ache in their leather shoes. One feels wet. Your back feels clammy where it’s stuck with sweat to your jumper and coat. Your neck is tense. Your teeth are actually quite tight together. As a whole your human shape is feeling a bit shitty.
Third, there’s the sensation of the moment. Sensations really unfold over time… but you can still feel the last thing that happened, lingering on the senses.
You can hear the hiss of the doors, the last word of the overamplified tannoy, the clop-clop of peoples feet already on the platform.
You can see the floor in front of you and the poster on the platform wall. But, despite everything in the Tube being in full view, you realise that you were actually seeing just a tiny patch. Your mind was blinkering you.
Now, floating stressless around the moment, you notice that there’s lots to see. Hairs on the neck of the black girl infront. The pleasing curve of the tube ceiling. The deep blue of the ceramics on the wall.
Similarly, you weren’t at all aware of smell. There’s that stale re-circulated airsmell on the platform, and a strong smell of perfume from the girl infront. You’ve been breathing very shallowly out of habit, fearful of breathing in toxic stink.
You mouth hasn’t been tasting anything and your sense of touch is also curled in on itself. Your wet foot is already pressed down on the platform – the other is half lifted. You can feel the pressure of the man in the grey overcoat about to push into you from behind.
Gliding up high above your unmoving form, hanging from the ceiling looking down, you realise how little your body was taking in at that moment. Before time was frozen you didn’t feel your body and your senses were working at 15% capacity – if that. So what was happening?
It was the fourth thing: the mental moment.
What was happening in your mind was in the forefront of that moment of reality. The concrete things of your body and your surroundings were background to the dominant business of thought.
In this frozen moment you can see what you were thinking. These mental forms are like huge opaque signs plastered over the moment.
With magical clarity you can see that at the moment when time froze your mind was completely filled with job anxiety. You were midway through a huge wave of imagining how that interview on Friday should go. How you should be calm and confident and they’ll give you the job and your money worries will be over and you can turn round to Eric and laugh in his face as you jet off to New York on business and buy a beautiful appartment in Shoreditch and pointedly not invite him to it…
And you can see that previous to that you’d been engaged in the opposite scenario. That your anxiety and lack of self-confidence will cripple you again on Friday, that the interviewers at the BBC will just see through you and consign you to a future of unemployment and occasional chocolate commercials for Germany.
And you can now see – as if lit up on an anatomical model at the Science Museum – how each of these mental images – the interview room, Eric, the luxury home, failure – sparks off tension or a thrill in the body. How each one feels different. And how added up they all add up to a blanketing mood, to that opaque mass of thought that was blocking out the sights and the smells of the tube when time stopped.
And as you swing in awareness around your self immobile in the door of the train, you smile and grow immensely fond of the patchwork of things, feelings and thoughts that constituted you at that moment. And you also can’t help realizing that your patchwork is patched into the people around you’s patchwork. The black girl can feel your pressure from behind. The main in the overcoat can probably smell your sweaty back. You feel very smiley to everything that’s happening at that moment.
And then your floating awareness sees a fifth element: the energy of the moment. The reason that you were so wrapped up in thoughts of the BBC interview was because those thoughts were attracting all the energy at that point. Moments earlier the pain in your back was foregrounded as the energy or focus rushed there momentarily. And minutes before that, in the entrance to the tube, the energy had been pouring into angry thoughts towards that family of Indians trying to carry in 10 big bags and blocking the entrance while it was raining.
Now you realise the energy is all smiley and floaty. It’s no longer in fantasies of humiliating Eric. And you wonder why you let that stream of almost random things – back twinges, Chanel no.5, images of a BBC boardroom, sexual desire for Eric – all pile up in such an overwhelming way.
Surely this calm, floating moment of observation can free you from being swept away into a bad tempered stomp up the escalator and a grumpier walk through the rain in Central London. Surely it’s blissfully refreshing to step back and sift through all the contigent bits and pieces that make up the experience of being you. To smile at them and see that they’re all innocent little things that occur but don’t add up.
Form, feeling, sense, thought and energy. All little quanta of existence. Flowing in parallel along the wire of time. Hold on to them too tightly and you don’t enjoy that spacious, smiley feeling you get swept along into a cramped confined tunnel-vision. A claustrophobia of self.
So, get ready and…
PLAY. Your foor hits the platform and the man in the overcoats pulls to your right. The re-conditioned smell of air hits your nostrils. The hiss and clunk of the closings doors is heard clearly behind you. The azure wall tiles seem luminously important. You look quite delight at the way that girls hair curls down her nape. And you marvel at your feet and your legs walking – propelling you forward down the platform. The noise and texture of the people around you pleases you. You smile from all over your skin. Eric floats into your mind. You hold him there for a moment, taking him in. Feeling the tension in your stomach as you do so. The lights up the escalator are spaciously bright, you can feel fresher air coming down from the street. You watch the black handrail roll by. The anxiety about jobs seems distant and misplaced. Everything feels more spacious. Your space isn’t just yours anymore so you don’t care if people jostle you at the ticket barrier. You tune in effortlessly to the sound of the two Turkish girls next to you talking quite earnestly about something in their language. Your legs are carrying you up the stairs, your back aches on each step.
Even the rain outside seems necessary but not worrying.