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  • Writer's pictureAlex Planidin

Show me your original face

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

“Show me your original face,

The one you had before your grandparents were born”

Zen koan

We used to take the ferry from Harwich to Gothenburg for summer holidays with family in Sweden. The year I was sixteen I was going to study A level psychology and picked up one of the many incredible books on Eastern philosophy and mysticism on my parents’ bookshelves: “A Glimpse of Nothingness” by Janwillem Van de Wetering.

I still remember the exact moment I read the koan above.

Getting decent seats on this ferry wasn’t easy so it soon became our priority once we’d boarded. And that would be our base for the day.

The North Sea didn’t always make for smooth sailing, even in July, but what caused me to sway awkwardly as I got up off my seat that day wasn’t the water.

“Show me your original face…”

At the age of sixteen, to me, my face was just an overactive spot factory and the less we used the word “face” the better.

So what the hell did that mean? My face only came into existence when I was born, didn’t it?

I inherited features from my parents, but apart from a few photos of my mum’s grandma, I didn't even know what my great-grandparents looked like.

What is my original face?

I got up from my seat and looked around and the whole floor of that ferry suddenly seemed unreal, or at least a very different kind of real.

What was this plant’s original face? This carpet’s? What about these chairs and these windows? They weren’t always here and wouldn't always be here.

I wasn’t always here and won’t always be here.

I’m trying to put words to this experience of sensing a reality beyond what I normally see.

If this is not my real, original face, and that’s not your real face, am I who I say I am, who I think I am? Are you?

Who the hell am I then? What is my original face?

Something opened wider that day, a connection to a part of me that knew that everything happening within me and around me was just in passing. And that this part that could witness it was separate and didn’t have to believe in the things that came and went.

This really was a glimpse of nothingness.

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