Clerestory

A Meditation on Absence

September 19, 2019

Lately, as I’ve experimented more with meditation, I’ve begun doing a meditation on self-absence.

This is not quite self-enquiry, which involves a mental search for the self, which leads to the conclusion that one can never quite locate it. It may not be entirely unrelated however. And maybe it’s not unlike what Marcus Aurelius meant by meditating on one’s own death (e.g.).

The practice is simple: I imagine places that I’ve been, which are meaningful to me, but where I am not now (i.e., everywhere but here). Then I imagine what they are like without me in them.

It’s not imagining that they are different because of my absence. I just try to visualise them as vividly as possible, as a reminder that they still stand.

It can be literally anywhere else in the world—old houses, old schools, or even places nearby I like, that I’ve been to recently. It could even be the adjacent room in my flat.

But for some reasons I’m drawn to thinking about places that were meaningful to me in childhood. Parks, beaches, playgrounds, and so on, outdoor places that I wanted to go as a childhood. Sometimes they are indoors, but these seem somehow less effective.

These places exist without me there, even if in a different form from how I remember or imagine them. The playground may be gone, but some kind of ground is still there.

Perhaps the place is an early morning beach, totally deserted. Or perhaps the place is bustling and full of people, but I am not among them. Or a spot on the Camino I recently walked, now passed by pilgrims other than myself.

What’s interesting is that this seems to give some insight into the nature of self. I’ll write more about that later.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.