img_0042cPOSTCARD #228: New Delhi: I have developed prehensile palms and soles of feet to walk like a gekho upside down on the ceiling. Vertigo of spiral staircase (going up is easier than coming down), and up to the room at the top of the stairs where I’ve put into action a plan, carefully considered all through these months since February. This will be my quiet place, doorway open to the sunlit terrace, the roof is the sky, birds fly through, inhabit my world.

Climbing down again and up with more boxes and bags, an electric kettle, cups and teaspoons. Playing a sound track on speakers, it sounds so different here, in the new acoustics. Sit in the doorway to listen, intervals of birdsong, voices of neighbours below in their homes, windows open to the world we all are contained in. Wash floor, wipe windows, boxes of acryllic paint, Cadmium Red, Bleached Titanium.

I shall be an Easel Painter, energised by how much the weather has changed here, suddenly it’s cool like an English summer. Air con shut down, ceiling fans switched off, and windows open wide. The hearing mechanism dulled by the usual hum and click of background noise 24/7 we live with in order to have our artificial temperature. But the hot season is over, ears strain to receive the sound of these machines, and it’s not there… only this shocking and shocked silence.

Surprised how everything that’s outside the dwelling comes inside; in through the windows, the doors and apertures of the skull, into our rooms and down through our corridors, into our corners, arriving in these enclosed spaces where only the Hoover has recharged the air these months of heat. A cool breeze moves the curtains as if an unseen presence has just passed by.

Somebody’s ring tone somewhere; pause… voice says hello? Dialogue in a language I don’t know – the quietness of not having to be being pulled into it. Stillness of mind, ease of breath, calm and sitting on floor cushion with folded legs

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” [Virginia Woolf, The Waves]


images of mourning

POSTCARD #227: New Delhi: Seen from the air, mourners gather and take their positions to form the Thai numeral 9. The formal title of the Thai King, Rama IX. Found on our Thai social network page, dated 19 October.



Source of the Thai song:


passing away


POSTCARD #226: New Delhi:
October 13 2016, at the end of that day, I came downstairs and Jiab looked up from her Thai friends fb page and said: the king is dead. Jiab has this minimalist way of communicating. I checked on the internet and got the necessary information and for the rest of the evening there was no discussion, silence, clink of cutlery on dinner plate.

Next morning a Thai friend came to see us and she was wearing black. All through the weekend I could hear Jiab’s fb videos of the mourning, I looked from time to time and people were distressed, in tears, the entire population wearing black now for one year, newsreaders on TV wear black, any unnecessary colour is avoided. Many Thais change their fb profile image to black and white for the duration of breavement.

I’ve seen it before when Galyani Vadhana, Princess of Naradhiwas, the sister of the king passed away. Click on the link and have some idea of the scale of the funeral event. The same wearing of black for one year leading up to the funeral itself and in this case we can expect it to be a much larger event lasting for many hours.

After it all comes to an end, Thailand will be a different place, in a sense it’s the end of the monarchy, there will never be another king to take his place. Without the much-loved figurehead, who knows how Thai society will cope.

But before that there is this long period of mourning, the King has not yet passed away, he is passing away – held still in the hearts and minds of the Thai population who are unwilling to let him go. It’ll take all that time and more for everyone to adjust to the loss and be able to face what’s to come…

“It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ Kalamas, when you yourselves know: ‘These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.” [The Buddha’s words: Anguttara Nikaya, Tika Nipata, Mahavagga, Sutta No. 65]

today is every day

img_0072bPOSTCARD #225: New Delhi: All these highways, routes, directions connected end-to-end. My itinerary links up in a network that reaches all parts and locations in time and space, everywhere in the world – no end, no beginning. Here-and-now awareness, or wandering in fabricated thought, a game of hide-and-seek where the flip-side of concealment is revelation and returning to the familiarity of present time, it becomes ‘now’ again.

Or I’m thinking about the concept of ‘now’ seated here in the backseat of a taxi to the airport, looking out my window at a landscape of connecting routes flashing by, and engine noise, vibration, bumps and jolts of road surface. Or trying to get emails on my phone but there’s no Internet right now. Try again later… where are we now? Glance at the taxi’s GPS, our point of present location on the map moving in tiny increments across the screen.

Time divided, subdivided and sliced into multi-channel TV programs, compartmentalized, locked down tight – the totality of it impossible to define. The impossibility of finding a way out of constructs framed in words: who, what, where, when, and why. Language gives everything names, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… different ways of describing present time. It’s always today, no matter if I call it yesterday, tomorrow or next week – today is every day. And even if I’m living in a make-believe world where it’s always ‘somewhere else’, all of that is included in present time too, ‘today’ occurring forever and always in rotations of the planet Earth. More than 1000 miles per hour of yesterdays, todays and tomorrows experienced in countless generations of endless time.

The illusion of solidity and grounded-ness created in awareness, the conscious state experienced in a soft body-mind organism that can process data. The feeling of I, me, and my, is the ‘I’ of everything that has ever been. A connectedness with all that is outside and all that is inside. A ‘world’ shared with all living beings as if it were a meal for a great number of guests at a huge table. Talking about all that we all love and all that we hate. All they create, all they destroy and all the words of politicians vanish into thin air, all conflicts are resolved eventually and it’s our mutuality, the fundamental sense of the feel of the air. Just holding in mind the scale of how vast this kind of love might possibly be… is enough to begin to know it.

Looking back again at my screen, still no Internet – a spinning cursor in a frozen background space, the unstated presence, the ‘is-ness’. An easefulness spreading through the face, the scalp, the head, the neck, shoulders and arms. A whole-body experience contained in this small space; metal, plastic, electric-spark-gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engine on rubber wheels, and blur of unseen things in window light passing through the interior of the taxi, small red light showing the fare so far. Time to pause, take a deep breath in, filling the chest cavity from top to bottom, then the long breath out, unfolding like a long ribbon of road in a landscape, reaching out there to a vanishing point on the horizon.

“Time is the longest distance between two places.” [Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie]

Note: excerpts from Eclipse by Pink Floyd

the world disappears

img_0019POSTCARD #224: New Delhi: Learning how to sleep without the pain meds and all those chemicals that used to help me so much before, but I’m just left there thinking about things in the darkness. Stories come and go, pondering over this and that, and the awareness of being caught up in the thinking thing gets included in the wandering. Searching for a way out, but if I think about how to stop thinking, the mind gets busy looking for a solution; finding something and comparing it with other reasons why I can’t stop thinking. Thinking has its own momentum, takes time for it to slow down, there’s the opportunity to allow it all to fizzle out. Everything evaporates for a moment.

In that instant there’s a no-thinking state, a great space opens up – an awareness of being aware. Silence and emptiness, held on pause. Then, somewhere on a different screen, the mind is alerted, there’s the desire to be actively thinking again, and an invitation to be engaged with it, but that fizzles out too. “Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”*

The outbreath from the nostrils, so faint and light, stirs only the tiniest thing; the movement of a single strand of hair could wake me. No other sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with, no sense object activates the chain of events and all that remains is the mind’s cognitive function. A curiosity about this stirs; ‘self’ is a sensory experience. The experiencer is an experience – there is only experiencing.

Another wave of thoughts comes rushing in, stays for a moment and goes out again. I see it as if there’s an watcher seeing it from some hidden place, aware of it. Then the watcher disappears and it seems like only the awareness itself is left there. Then the awareness disappears and in its place, a sequence of half-seen obscure mental events, each one linking with the next. Some time later sleep comes and the whole world disappears.

‘The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.’ [R. D. Laing]

Photo: Dhammakaya monk collecting alms by boat.
*Excerpt from Four Quartets T. S. Eliot
This post was rewritten from earlier posts


first light

img_3224bPOSTCARD #223: New Delhi: Awake at 3.30 am here in our place next to the park, soft warm air oxygenated by trees, and the silence of birds asleep among the branches. Then breakfast with Jiab who is leaving on an early flight to Odisha, ceiling fans, coffee and bagels in the electric light of night, darkness filling the wide-open windows facing the park. Mosquito mesh screens are all there is to prevent the outside world from entering the inside world where we are engaged in the normal breakfasting activity. It’s as if it were a dream, ‘clink’ of knife on plate, coffee spoon in cup… ‘ting’.

In a huge noise of arrival, the taxi is suddenly here; a great blaze of color and light. Back door unhinges, bags inside, bye-bye, door slam, sound of engine and Jiab is gone into the blackness… sound receding and I’m left alone to contemplate the silence.

Feeling more at ease these days, due to improved pain meds, able to move with some comfort but getting up and sitting down again is a problem so I stay in the same position pretty much, and think about what I’m going to do before doing it.

I return to the breakfast table, fall into a kind of passive reflective awareness of the body and its fractured structure. The default is to equate blackness with negativity, pain with guilt – but watching the breath entering and leaving, I find I can be focused quite easily on the alarming ‘clunk’ sound of bone halfway through the in-breath as the broken ribs adjust with the swelling of lungs… slowly coming to terms with the small panic that arises sometimes.

The X-ray clearly showed two ribs broken and dislocated, frightening enough and yet a comfort to know the reason for the disquiet – the things-not-being-quite-right feeling. Human beings are such enduringly fragile creatures, held together with sinews joining muscle to bone that just calcifies and mends itself. The contemplation of it fits with everything I’ve come to accept here, resident in Asia more than thirty years – innovative ideas held together with bamboo, string and rubber bands. Nothing is permanent, exists for as long as needed then relinquished and gone…

The ghosts that rise out of the night are always the crows, unseen and heard before first light – they must have night vision – fearsome unloved creatures present in the last vestiges of night. For this short time, the crows own the world, and then light breaks through. A few twitters and it comes into consciousness like a wave floods everything. A birdsong extravaganza, surfing on the edge of dawn – the totality of it may be a sound-realm on a frequency only birds are aware of.

A few hours later, ‘ping’ a text message from Jiab in Odisha, nearly a thousand miles away. Daylight is established and it is undeniably day. Everything that went before is forgotten.

“Temporality temporalizes as a future which makes present in the process of having been.” [Martin Heidegger]


gone, gone, and gone

img_4482POSTCARD #222: Bangkok/New Delhi flight: An awareness of things as they are. The main event was the injection in the head and the constant (PHN) headache gone instantly. Wake up next day and it was still gone, gone as I write this, and it remains gone. So reassuring to know the transformation to ordinary things is possible, the car is back from the garage and out on the road again.

The release from head pain is still held back due to the pain of broken rib but so much easier to cope with now the headache has gone. Walking the miles in airports was thought to be a problem though, so Jiab convinced me to request a wheelchair. Wheelchair from check-in to the lounge then wheelchair to the plane, straight in and the first seat in C class section of the plane. Stewardess puts my bag away in overhead luggage space. Wonderful, I’d never been a wheelchair passenger on an aircraft before, my first time. Plenty of space in this expensive seat, a meal with endless courses, and I slept the rest of the way; so comfortable since these recent days of sudden pain, tossing and turning at night and discovering the only way to try to sleep is sitting up on an inclined wall of pillows.

The odd thing about being in a wheelchair is you approach silently, moving along very smooth floor surface feeling the vibration of small jolts of joints between tiles below, crowds part immediately. If anybody is still standing in the way friends will pull him away or the wheelchair guy says excuse me please? and they move straightaway. A few sideways glances and I resist the temptation to say Hi, how’re you doing? And sometimes feel I should try to look really sick, to provide a reason for being like this, problem is having a broken rib is not a noticable thing. But I keep looking ahead exercising the right to be in a wheelchair and humbled by the generosity of everyone giving way. Astonished by the experience of sitting on wheels in a public place, the great perspective of long airport walkways ahead and seeing the surroundings move towards and go through me. Also the thing about travelling long distances while seeing the world from a lower eye level – a familiarity, déjà vu, the memory of being a child again.

The wheelchair experience means an understanding of what helplessness is, understanding vulnerability, aging… it’s all coming unglued, bits dropping off, but the revelation comes along too there’s no point in feeling bad about yourself because you are simply incapable and that’s all there is to it. At the same time, being (temporarily) disabled gives some insight into the existential plight; the realization that most of us are held prisoner in a trance-like state, incultured into the ‘self’ fiction through the mirror of society’s fear of the unknown, living with a sense of purposelessness and not able to see it.

Not able to cope with pain, tragedy, loss; unable to see the awareness that accompanies our ordinary joys and sorrows – there’s more than one kind of awareness, this provides some relief from pain, ease and understanding; I can step back from the trauma and see it as coming from somewhere else. I can be engaged in clinging and at the same time be in a position to see that this is what’s happening. Letting go, it’s not ‘mine’ anymore.

Then we’re in New Delhi, into the Indian wheelchair and out onto the miles of ochre coloured carpet. At the end of a long time of sitting, I’m looking up at the immigration official; passport thump and wheeled in, permitted to enter the country.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” [Rainer Maria Rilke]

Photo: Jiab’s collection from Ladakh

patterns in a cloudscape

IMG_4196POSTCARD #221: Bangkok: Looking through these amazing photos from Jiab, now in Bhutan; mountain peaks disappear among the clouds. In the process of editing, I discover a curious arrow shape in the clouds, just to the right of the place where the sun is breaking through. Also to the left of the arrow point there’s the same form of another arrow shape breaking up into formlessness. It reminds me of the great wheeling patterns, above and over your head, seen in the cloudscapes of the North of Scotland where they have so much rain. It’s a small example of this kind of clockwork of interconnecting wheels created by vast and compex air currents that is seen here.

Something revealed when you crop the original, and attention is focused on the smaller elements contained in the image. Like discovering a window within a window and things are revealed that weren’t obvious at first glance. A small perceptual jump, the process of (eye + the object seen) is not a fixed thing, it’s flexible. I can say, yes I’ve seen it and yes I know what that’s about but that’s just the memory deciding what it’s going remember, what it’s going to recreate in the mind – there is no memory, just the act of remembering [Nyanaponika Thera]. What’s needed is the investigation, the motivated enquiry that just falls into shape when things are examined in more detail.

IMG_4145Also seen in Jiab’s next picture here; a group of people sitting on the steps of a public building. Photo taken because of the colourful costumes and painted building features. Zoom into a curiously emphatic conversation between two men; the man on the right seems to be interrupting the man on the left and somehow dismissing what he is is saying. There was something about this that seemed meaningful… then I suddenly saw it: they are deaf. What we are seeing is the language of the deaf, a visual system of facial expressions accompanying ‘signing’. How do I know this? I was a teacher of the deaf in a former life; seven years in London schools and adult evening classes. I used to know all this and how to fix hearing aids – a closer look at the photo reveals a man in profile in the background wearing a hearing aid. So this must be a group of signing deaf people waiting for the building to open and chatting among themselves.

These days I seem to pause in between things and fall into a contemplation of images like these with their connected meanings (yoniso manasikara). Pictures appear in the mind that have no words, just fall into a sequence. A story unfolds…

Right attitude allows you to accept, acknowledge, and observe whatever is happening – whether pleasant or unpleasant – in a relaxed and alert way. […] You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is. [Sayadaw U Tejaniya]

tipping point

IMG_3184POSTCARD #220: Chiang Mai: A long story short is that I fell, gravity got me, it gets us all in the end – flactured lib, the X-Ray man said, with poor pronunciation, in a Chiang Mai hospital. They took me home, but later that night I was having such an awful time sleeping, family members took me back, I had an injection and spent the night there. The ‘self’ is a sensory experience; everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think; cognition is a sense that responds to stimulii received through the senses. I inhabit a simulation.

Not possible to see it any other way – well, it is possible, you could see it another way but it’d just be ‘another way’. A dream-state set in the context of my being awake… There’s something about this that’s obvious, so clear and evident yet, again and again, when I look for it, it’s not there – the answer I seek is difficult to find because by seeking for it I create the state of seeking, and this makes it difficult. What happened? I’d had in fact, two falls; the first was straight back-over past the tipping point and down, crash. My PHN headache meds have something to do with that.

The second fall was some hours later when, getting up too quickly from the lying down position, then in slow motion; forgetting about the pain in the lower back, attempting to allow for that in mid-air, and the whole thing came down, collided with some hard-edged furniture on the way  … and that’s what did it for the rib.

So now I’ve two problems, one is the headache that returned, the returnee from some time ago carrying with it the strong pain meds; two is the fractured rib and mysterious, discovered bruises and scrapes. The disorientating pain meds for that too. I tread carefully, the world is a dangerous place… mindfulness is necessary. If the ‘I’ construct isn’t what this is, what is it, then? I can change the pronoun from ‘me’ to ‘it’ but it’s the same thing only there’s an ‘it’ that recognizes ‘itself’ everywhere.

“The apparent reality of the mind, body and world is imagined with the thought that thinks it. In other words, the constructs of thought, that is, the beliefs we have about the mind, body and world – are only real for thought itself.” [Rupert Spira]




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]