Experiencing Edgelessness in the Floating City of Kompong Khleang

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Being adrift or anchored voids any meaning in the absence of a reference point to judge movement or distance. Thoughts become focused and centered. The distractive static of worldly concerns disappear. Your entire world exists on an intersection between the vast plane of infinite sea and infinite sky.
– Champ McKiver

At first, we live in rhythm so ubiquitous we cannot separate ourselves from pulsing blood, from patient breaths and walking steps. And then we’re born into a sea of color, smell, and texture, and gradually, we learn to find the edges. Self emerges “side by side” with our ability to draw a mental line between two objects, to di-stinguish (or, “to prick apart,” deflating the balloon of oceanic wholeness into shreds we can’t put back together). Learning to manipulate the world around us comes at such extraordinary cost: the loss of that original immersion, timelessness before the insecurity. It all begins with edge detection – finding boundaries between this thing and that, between the growing sense of “I” and all the rest of it.

And likewise, only in reverse, the tried and true technique for “getting back” to that experience of edgelessness is to remove the sensory experience of boundaries. It’s awesome, actually, how quickly we return to embryonic peace when dunked for forty minutes in a “zero gravity” floatation tank, the lights out, saline water holding us like amniotic fluid, dark and still, no “there” to reinforce the notion of a “here.”

Like aging – which so many of us fear, precisely for the reason growing old confers its wisdom, because we lose our signal to the noise as we decay – and like the peace of dreamless sleep, when senses fade and mind retreats into a deeper quiet, stripping out the features helps us find our way upstream to that which we have never really left: the field within which “one” and “many” bloom together as hypotheses by automatic thinking that we only need a little while to do the work whatever’s animating us requires.

The next best thing, perhaps, is open ocean – just a single edge, the line between the sea and sky. Horizons draw us out to squint in curiosity at distances beyond the resolution of the eye. Where air and water blend, that one line blurs until it’s just implied. We lose ourselves in reverie, and lose the noise of mind.

Imagine building life upon this line, the way the denizens of Kompong Khleang do. These Cambodians, upon the massive lake of Tonlé Sap, construct their stilted houses when the water’s low and live the great majority of their days afloat with nothing solid underneath. “No ground to stand on,” we complain when we feel insecure – but do we really need the ground to tell us where we’re standing? Or is there potential in the human spirit, on display in Kompong Khleang, to find our way within a vast, mysterious expanse, to learn to orient ourselves in ever-shifting waters? Following their prowess past the one dividing line their world possesses – the ever-fluctuating far horizon of lake Tonlé Sap – and into edgelessness, what kind of life is there for us beyond the stories we’ve distinguished?

Michael Garfield is an evolutionary biologist and science writer, painter, guitarist, and the host of Future Fossils Podcast. Enjoy his extensive free archives at Patreon.

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