POSTCARD #219: Delhi: Everything comes to a stop when I see this photo, sent by Jiab in Gujarat, West India. All the pain and suffering I’ve experienced recently is suddenly nothing when I see the endeavor of this woman pulling what looks to be the trailer belonging to a truck. Even so, some would say, it’s easy for me to say, easy for me, comfortable in my male middle class security… and I search for words: admiration, respect, deference. None of these seem to describe the way that lady who looks like my Auntie is pulling that thing with the momentum of a short run at it, to get up and over the incline leading up to the bridge, then over the top and holding the weight as the trailer gathers speed on the downside.

When I first examined the photo it looked like there were two women pulling the trailer but the lady in the maroon colored sari just happens to be there, on the left of the one in the lemon colored sari. So Auntie is on her own, I imagine a person with the ability to bring up children, keep the house in order and do this physical work – “Ginger Rogers did it backwards and in high heels”.

It seemed to me, looking at all Jiab’s photos that everyone there in Ahmedabad was/is engaged in some form of labor: men, women and children. It’s worth saying that most people in the West have the idea that the population in India are passive subjects of poverty. This is not the case; everybody in the family is employed except the very young and the very old. Poverty exists because of exploitation by employers and those further up the hierarchy. Cultural aspects come into conflict with Western expectations and standards imposed by two hundred years of British rule.

It’s not easy to accept the truth that wealthy societies exploit ethnic minorities and migrants. In Scotland almost the entire berry picking for the fruit jam industry and preparitory work for the fish products industries is done by East Europeans. In Japan they have the ‘Three Ds’: Difficult, Dirty, Dangerous. All of this kind of work is done by migrant labor. I find it’s necessary to go into ‘reality check’ mode, to make sure the world I’m creating in my head does not exclude these truths.

Theirs is a level of suffering hard to endure. There’s just no getting away from it. Would it be meaningful if I were to address people like Auntie in the photo about choosing the Buddhist liberation, the Path to enlightenment? Aside from a very few cases, I don’t think so. For them, it’s about holding on, not letting go; as long as they have the strength to withstand hardship, it will go on like this. They’re putting their small earnings together as a family collective. They structure their lives around employment and can’t escape from that unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

But who am I to comment on their lives? I have one or two classic rednecks in my family and with them I’m stuck at the getting-a-word-in-edgeways stage, or never-had-a-proper-job-anyway statement, and it never ever goes beyond this. So, really how can anything be said that’s not hopelessly hypothetical? Best to have opinions unsaid and instead, have compassion, empathy, understanding.

‘An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.’ [Mahatma Gandhi]



IMG_0682POSTCARD #218: New Delhi: Jiab sent me this pic of the cow in Gujarat. There’s always something that ‘clicks’ inside me when I see the cow in the city traffic in India. The aloof separateness of the Gods. Something about the bovine ‘mother’, sacred cow that all Hindus are conscious of.

There’s also  a memory of something from my home on the farm in the North of Scotland when I was a kid. I remember long nights and short days, aunties and grannies wearing comfortable wooly cardigans, porridge in a cracked bowl, coal and wood fires, cows in the fields, a black-and-white collie dog – and it’s this that I notice about the rural/urban Indian cities, cows sitting on the pavement, goats nibbling and chickens pecking around, the sound of a cockerel in the distance. It’s the farmyard scene where I was brought up that followed me here!

There’s a familiarity about it, pictures in the gallery of the mind, and yes I’d like to have a home surrounded by arable lands and farmyard animals, but for a very long time now there’s been only a series of temporary homes – all good, I share my life with Jiab and we’ve gotten used to the way things are. Living like a pair of migratory birds. In each place I have my favourite chair, books, and all the things I need. It works okay except sometimes I might spend a long time searching the bookshelves for a book I’m sure is there then realise it’s not in these bookshelves, it’s the other bookshelves, about 2000 miles away. So I have to let that one go, although I can see it there in the mind’s eye.

These days, reading is done mostly on devices and when I get on the plane I have my laptop like other passengers and when I reach ‘home B’ or ‘home C’ I get online automatically with the wifi there and plug my speakers into the socket on the laptop in its position there. And I hardly ever feel dispersed, or stretched, an okay sort of expansive feeling. In this context, it suits me well to follow the Buddha’s Teachings on going-forth, homelessness, non-attachment, no-self.

Whether there is a ‘self’, yes/no, is best not thought about too much because saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it is, in so many words, identifying ‘self’’. Words identify things, language has a default mechanism that allows me to select what ‘I’ want it to be (also what I don’t want it to be) and the resulting attachment to all that I love and hate. I stay with it, see it happening, stay mindful about where the nearest emergency exit is located but very rarely needed – and just open the heart/mind citta to the world as wide as possible.

The presence of the cow wandering through industrialised Indian cities triggers something. The smell of cow dung brings me down to earth, generates a sense of groundedness for the time it’s needed for, then I’m up and away again. It’s also a pretty attractive life; the ability to just wander anywhere in benign foreign lands, live in the fortunate state of being without the tugs and pulls of desire and worldliness.

“Feel nothing, know nothing, do nothing, have nothing, give up all to God, and say utterly, ‘Thy will be done.’ We only dream this bondage. Wake up and let it go.” [Swami Vivekananda]


Excerpts from an earlier post: ‘Connectedness’

green-leaf shadows

foliage1POSTCARD #217: New Delhi: As if it were a story about a wormhole in time that permits a returning to the past to change the way events took place then and how this has a fundamental effect on present time, I’m able to re-experience an event in the deep past I haven’t visited since the intensity of the headache diminished, and allow that event to change according to present circumstances, wholesome and bright.

These sudden moments of deep reflection not in the centre of thoughts, more at the edge of vision, we can easily fall into and the old story of it unfolds, but seen in less self-adhesive circumstances. Thus the forever ‘stuckness’ that has held one so tightly and for so long is suddenly melted into softness, dispersed in the awakening from the memory of it.

Then before I can seem to retrace the steps that took me there, I find that same deep swoon back to a space in time again, and affirmative extending of the arm to reach the ‘me’ then, caught in another remembered event that’s been a burden for decades, untangling the knots of it from the depths and a raising up into clearer water where it breaks the surface into the wet sunlit present moment. This how it’s been in the varying shades of darker and lighter green-leaf shadows in the rooms of the house, all its windows open to the park, where it’s been raining for so long I can’t remember when it began.

“Give up both righteousness and unrighteousness. Give up both truth and untruth. And then give up that by which you have given up those two.”


[source of the quote: http://www.yogananda.com.au/upa/Upanishads_by_Shankara02.html#liberation
Note: development of an earlier post titled: changing the past

Dipa Ma

DipaMaSomehow I’ve been thinking about Dipa Ma lately; the Bengali meditation teacher who had such a large influence on IMS teachers like Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and others who believe she was an enlightened being. Just looking at her face on the cover of the book, such a welcoming presence. There are accounts of people who never met Dipa Ma having seen/felt Dipa Ma’s grace, her loving kindness – not in a strange or exceptional way, quite ordinary. Whenever there’s a moment that requires special compassion, the presence of Dipa Ma is there.

That’s how it is for me now; it’s like she’s here by my side. It’s as if she is saying to me that this present moment is absolutely right as it is, no need for anything else. Gone are all stray and wandering thoughts that tend to cling; they just disappear. How can it be possible to have the feeling you are close to someone you’ve never met and all you know is what you’ve read about her? I think it’s because that’s just how she was; always approachable, she welcomed everyone. Dipa Ma was asked once about loving-kindness and mindfulness: ‘From my own experience, there is no difference between mindfulness and loving kindness.’ For her, love and awareness were one…. When you are fully loving, aren’t you also mindful? When you are mindful, is this not also the essence of love?’[Amy Schmidt]

These days I often think about her, whenever I’m in a difficult situation I find Dipa Ma is here too, deep breaths, and everything is ok.


‘Saintly beings, whether they are the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Dipa Ma, or one thousand unknown saintly beings living amongst us, share the same fundamental characteristic of selflessness, great compassion, and peace. Each one of us can carry Dipa Ma’s legacy in terms of having that much peace and love. It takes its own time, yet it’s possible for anyone. In the end the point is not to be like Dipa Ma or some other great yogi or saint you might read about. The point is something much more difficult: to be yourself and to discover that all you seek is to be found, here and now, in your own heart.’ [Jack Kornfield]

This post reblogged from 2012

remainderless fading

SunrisePOSTCARD #216: New Delhi: The mind forgets. All the months of headache gone overnight. These days I wake up in the morning feeling normal again and I have to consciously remember what it was like before this, the billiard ball crashing around inside the skull whenever I moved. I understand how it works of course; an injection of anesthetizing agent into the root of the nerve and there’s no pain. It’s almost like it was never there, but the reprieve is for a limited time only. Two or three months then it’ll not be effective anymore and I have to go for the next injection.

This is the interval, the interim, a breathing space, and a time to reflect on how, for the most part, the body/mind organism has the capacity to heal itself. That built-in elasticity comes as a surprise, a kind of awakening. The true meaning of recovery. The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in this unsatisfactory state. Suffering (dukkha) can be overcome when we let go the craving (tanha) that feeds it.

It is an easing of the suffering of mind caused by holding on to things that seemingly reinforces the belief in a small self inside ‘here’ directed by how the ego interprets sensory data received from the world out ‘there’ through the eye, ear, nose, tastes, feelings: nice or not nice, and how I feel about all of the above. Thus ‘I’ am this, or ‘I’ am that, according to what I like and what I don’t like. Neutrality is an option but it usually swings one way or the other in this state of duality.

Wanting things to be different, other than what they are, is the cause of endless dissatisfaction and profiteers’ goods and services have created an opening; phones, tablets and adult toys that hold the mind in this unhappy state. After the newness wears off there’s the seeking for this or that, not included in the current model. Clever advertising creates the perception of ‘me’ in a world of other beings preoccupied with devices that can render the ‘self’ as an actor ‘I’ choose to project to others; mind reflects upon itself in its own sense of being, is aware of its perception of itself as subject in its own blissful states. Other times seeking an escape from that world when things that were blissful turn bad with the same intensity, and the truth arises that all this is not real. How to get out?

It’s here that people wake up to the recognition it’s a dependency, but there is a way out of the sickness, no matter how much the marketeers pull us towards it. There is the natural elasticity in the knowledge it doesn’t have to be like this, true happiness and contentment are possible. Let go of that craving for more, allow for the far reaching concept of renunciation, relinquishment and release, the remainderless fading & cessation of suffering. Let it go and it all comes to an end, the way out of suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path.

“The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.” [Thich Nhat Hanh]

Header image: the library of Ajahn Vajiro
source of the quote above: Lou @ Zen Flash, “We don’t know how to suffer”
~ G R A T I T U D E ~

lemon-yellow chiaroscuro

palm1POSTCARD #215: New Delhi: Light falling almost directly overhead at 12 noon here, also something reflected it seems. Really there are so many surfaces in this densely populated place in the city, half open windows high up and on the same level, all of which contribute to this curious quality of light. And there’s a moment around noon when I leaned out of the back window and clicked these potted palms under a tall tree for shelter in the fierce heat softened slightly by the rain they’ve been having. Don’t ask me how the weather has been, I only got here the other night, and feel like a visitor in my own place, but that’s just how it is for me most of the time; getting used to the feeling I’m not really ‘here’, so often in Thailand taking care of my Thai niece M who is 12. And she didn’t want to let me go away from her on the day I went to the airport because today is a special day, the Facebook mechanism reminds us all saying it’s tiramit’s birthday, wish him happy birthday.

M has a thing about birthdays, I should have rescheduled and stayed, but not possible. A bit sad and slightly affected by the thought of it, but yep folks it’s true, today is my Birthday. All this letting-go we hear about if you’re a Buddhist or whatever but “My” birthday is something I feel I can hold on to. It’s “mine”. The body reminds me, gravity holds me, this is where I was born – not here in North India but here on the planet Earth spinning in its orbit around the sun. It’s the same for all of us this is our home. Also reminding me of my presence here, is the lack of headache, still, fingers-crossed. And that’s a good enough reason to celebrate – wiser from the experience. Next time it comes, I know there’s a way out.

Really, it’s a good place to have a birthday in. This is India, and you can never really feel alone in India. Other people’s lives are intertwined with your own, full body contact with a stranger sometimes in a big crowd. No big surprise, in and out of shopping malls means a full body search by an officer entering completely into your space as if he were a brother.

Another example of this is the return journey to Delhi, economy class, every seat taken and the passengers mostly tall, large men bearded and turbans and women well endowed with folds of clothing, cloth so soft and expensive. But the air is somehow felt to be too near, atmosphere claustrophic, seats too narrow, tight space when the fold-down tables fold down there’s not enough knee space and that pushes them up slightly. The food tray when placed there has to be prevented from sliding off.

grasspic1Then we somehow get into short-sleeve-shirt skin sharing contact on a narrow arm rest, some friendly shoulder slapping as complete strangers squeeze past me and stewardesses squeeze through with their tessellated silk costumes: so soree sir, ex-scu-me me, pleese… and it’s a homogeneous group, even in its diversity; we share our own personal space with everyone. I soon got to like it, “make me one with everything.”  A little humour here and there, including this light Thai cuteness, that is loving and lovable, something that helps us get through  our difficult days.


plane hides behind a building

planebuildingPOSTCARD #214: Chiang Mai: Mine is the get-out-of-jail-free card… nothing I’d heard about or read about indicated that an injection in the head, the Right Occipital Nerve (don’t ask me how), would give me this wonderful pain-free life again; the absence of headache 24/7 for the last 10 months, the lack of things to think about or things I think I should be thinking about. I don’t have the burden of it. Weightlessness, a state of suspended disbelief, there are no words, emptiness empties itself, gone, no nothing, inability to articulate, indescribable. I’ve heard from others who’ve had this kind of a sudden easing, an opening, and after the fact they’ve said that it’s this or it’s that, but really there are no words for it. If it could be described, it would be no-self, rather than ‘Self’, it would be non-duality… but that state is indescribable.

Then one day I looked out the window and realized they’d changed the flight path, the planes are now arriving rather than departing. Every 5 minutes one flies over. I’m fascinated by the sudden presence of this low-flying high-speed double-decker tourist bus with wings coming in to land; another planeload of passengers from Southern China. Strange, the engine sound comes after it, demanding attention, and there is the plane, flying silently ahead of the sound wave; seen first in one window then in the other. It enters the space I’m in – appears and disappears as if it were flying through the room.

The repetition of it, one plane after another. Seen in slow motion, in time-lapse it appears as if the plane is rushing through between the buildings in a great catastrophe of joy. Out there and in here, things merge together so much it’s difficult to distinguish, no need. Even having to click the Pause button on the Netflix movie I’m watching, until the plane sound flies through the room (because I can’t hear the soundtrack), even that isn’t an inconvenience, the ease is such, these things don’t matter.

Suchness, thusness, Thatāgata. The answer to a question I haven’t even thought of yet. And I wake up from it for a moment. These easy days of lounging around on the sofa, watching the planes go by, are coming to an end. Wasting away the last afternoon instead of getting ready to go… okay, time I wasn’t here. Drag myself into the upright position and go pack my bag, the flight to Bangkok leaves at 14.30. A few hours in transit, then another flight into the darkness and early rains of North India. Placed on the ground, monsoon, pleasantly cool, a man without a headache. Put on the clothes of who I am there, become the person who lives in that location. Pick up the thread, the sequence of time unfolds by itself, events occur in the forward momentum I create by facing the direction I’m in. The identity I have is where I hang my hat…

‘All conditioned Dharmas are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows. Like dew drops, a lightning flash. Contemplate them thus.’ [Diamond Sutra]

this post is composed as a result of a correspondence with ESW, gratitude

the sky is falling

ChMaiSkyM2POSTCARD #213: Chiang Mai: The sound of the alarm tone is in the dream I’m having… which came first, the event or my comprehension of it? Time-sequence resolves itself when I reach around to switch it off and life as it’s lived in ‘me’ returns to a familiarity I recognize as reasonably normal.

Five thirty in the morning, another Chiang Mai day in the rainy season, caution, check, the headache is still gone… yep it’s still gone. The only disabling thing now is the result of the body’s reaction to the headache – backache in the wake of hurricane-headache. I can lie here for a moment and get ready for the pain as I haul myself into the upright position… not too bad; the osteopath said it would get better. Okay hobble off to the shower looking for handholds on the way.

Remembering now how the osteopath looked at me standing there, and after a moment said it’s the body’s response to the last 10 months of 24/7 headache. Mind has pulled the body into a walking crouch – a kind of protective posture; shrinking into itself, slightly bended knees, bent-over back, and head sticking out like a turtle looking at the sky… the sky is falling, oh no the sky is falling, and that’s what Henny Penny said. (US: Chicken Little)

I couldn’t feel the pain of it then because of the super-pain meds I was taking. Now I don’t need the meds, the pain in the body is felt. It’ll take time for the vertebrae to ease back into where they are supposed to be. Square pegs do not fit in round holes, exactly, and I’m truly amazed by the elasticity of everything.

So much has happened in the last few days all that can be accurately said is that nothing is fixed, permanent, unchanging. This knowledge I simply stumbled upon, how the body reacts, responds, and the mind or is it circumstances (?) reveal there’s a deeper awareness in here, dormant until something like the correct password is entered then it’s activated.

Now there’s the sense of just waiting to see, no urgency, no problem about how long it takes. Something I can return to time after time and it’s not hard to understand that this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not important at all.

There are no words to say properly what it is. Language is inadequate. My 12 year-old Thai niece, M, has temporarily lost the ability to speak, transfixed as she is in the digital screen. I leaned over and asked what she was doing and she just sent the picture of the sky above (the header image) to my email… ting!

“Thus there is, in a certain sense, nothing that is directly experienced except the mind itself. Everything is mediated through the mind, translated, filtered, allegorized, twisted, even falsified by it. We are . . . enveloped in a cloud of changing and endlessly shifting images.” [C.G. Jung]

Header image: M’s pic of the evening sun seen from the apartment window yesterday

beyond words

625921POSTCARD #212: Bangkok: The next day, after arriving here from the airport by way of taxi driven at startling speeds [link to as the crow flies], the recovery from that and… wake up in the morning. Time to go see the neurologist/ neurosurgeon to have the dreaded needle in the head, for the second time (by some means of bone conduction, you can hear the needle point scraping over the surface of the skull: kritch-krrrritchchch). The needle poised at X marks the spot inscribed in biro pen on my scalp (he tells me), the exact position on the occipital nerve (the nerve tree which has been causing the permanent headache since September last year). Now you will feel a little pressure here, doc says quietly, close to my ear, as if it were a secret. Needle goes in, pain-pain-pain, doc voids the syringe, withdraws needle. Thank you very much (I just want to get out of there), go home, sleep, wake up and the headache is gone!

The relief is beyond words

The headache is gone… hard to believe – really. Wow! it worked. How long will it last? (remembering “Awakenings’ by Oliver Sachs, made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams). Well… even if it’s for a short time, I can enjoy life in this headache-free interval; just so good to be able to get around and do things without the billiard ball crashing around inside the skull – only these curious sparkling sharp feelings at the sides of the head. In the centre there’s a kind of blank space where the headache used to be, a soft comfy pillow-like feeling… the first headache-free time for eight months.

So the first thing I discover is there’s all this physical energy… I can go around and do things without the great burden of headache. Rushing around the house in a great burst of enthusiasm, I decide to wash some clothes and like most houses in Asia, the washing machine is outside the house, under an open sheltered area with stretched lines for hanging things out to dry in the fresh air. So I put clothes in the machine, select ‘Quick Wash’ and start the cycle.

Go back inside, forget completely they’re there and start cooking a soup with all kinds of vegetables. It’s a bit late in the day when I remember and go out there again, (it’s the rainy season in Thailand) and the rain started to come on, then very quickly it’s a colossal downpour and I have to hang clothes any-which-way in dry corners; on hooks and the back of chairs in places sheltered from this incredible rain like what I suddenly remember as, both bath taps full on.

Back indoors from time to time to stir the soup, plip plop plip like a frog, barefoot on kitchen floor now wet with in-and-out traffic and scraps of vegetable peelings. The great smell of soup starts to come to me as I’m looking for more places to hang wet clothes. Deafening sound of rain on perspex rooftops, and gusts of rainy wind in through the open door nearly blows out the gas flame. But it doesn’t, and everything seems to be just right as-it-is in this wet, green place.

Photo: Bangkok Post [link] worshippers at the Erawan shrine despite the rain

as the crow flies

IMG_2982POSTCARD #211: Delhi/Bangkok flight: I arrived at the place and couldn’t remember how exactly I came to be there except for the journey returning to me in flashes; scanned by X-ray machines, identified, processed, held in aircraft cabin pressure for 4 hours… then look out the window and see small green rice fields with water everywhere; 1800 miles southeast on the Asia map as the crow flies.

Placed on the ground and I have to get my things quickly, put together the parts of who I think I am in this new context of a day I missed the beginning of, and things out there are just happening anyway. Extraordinary, even so – catching up on the rebound, the momentum of the journey, the sense of something recharged, action endowed with purpose because I’ve arrived in what remains of a day that belongs to other people, those who have been here since early morning… Sorry I’m late, dropped out of the sky unnoticed – the Fall of Icarus in a painting by Pieter Bruegel.

Look at the camera please, click, passport page, thump, you have entered the Kingdom… exotic creatures made of gold. The world seen in flashes from an airport taxi in the fast lane, everything designed to get us there with the urgency of speed. It feels like the whole outside is entering the inside in large jigsaw pieces of landscape partly remembered, connected familiarity, but no time to think where, when, or who with. Glimpses of other people’s traffic congestion at the paytolls, shadowy drivers and their tinted glass and steel glint, chromium shine of new cars in pastel shades sliding slowly along in the golden light of their early-evening lives.

In here everything is locked down tight, attention captivated by the directionality of the journey I see through the front windscreen how we’re hurtling into a wormhole in space/time, plunging towards a vanishing point that never arrives. The outer world becomes neutral, non-intrusive random thought mechanisms that function at the edge of a dream pull me into the gentle whirr and flicker of thinking-about-things, and it seems like what’s happening here just could not be any more ordinary.

I find relief in that… can unwind in the Thai sense of normality, thammada, ธรรมดา, mind still buzzing as it is with the energy, the immediacy of the experience. Just fall into focus on the neutrality of no-thinking, looking for the space that’s between things. Deep in-breath and extended outbreath; the long and forever road extending deep into the horizon with great dome of sky above. Everything looks like a picture of what it is, a composition, a story told by a storyteller long since disappeared and I can’t remember how I came to be here, only parts of the journey now coming back to me in flashes, shining in my darkness at the edge of sleep in a different time zone.

“You are not in the universe, you are the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately, you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself.” [Eckhart Tolle]

Photo: Departures walkway at Delhi.  New… pls chk out the latest art page post