Power Failure

New Delhi: Power failure across 21 States of the North, East and North-East regions of India on Tuesday for about 10 hours. Trains came to a standstill, commuters squeezing onto overloaded buses (see photo). Newspapers say 300 million people were affected, half the country of India; it means something like the whole of Central Europe without electricity.

I didn’t know the full scale of this power failure until the next day. As far as I was concerned, I was the only one; it was just ‘me’ that was suffering; padding around in the house, barefoot, like a wet frog in T shirt and shorts, dripping little puddles of sweat on the floor. The AC went out straight away, that was at 2.30 am and there’s a back-up system in the house but it lasted only a few hours then the fans stopped, one by one. The last fan stopped spinning mid-morning and that was it, no alternative. Hot like this for an indefinite period.

So I open up to it and take stock of the situation: 30°C, not too bad, skin feels like the sticky side of scotch tape, could be worse. Struggling with the need to be mindful. When something like this happens, there’s a tendency to feel that it’s ‘wrong’, so wrong you can get caught up in a kind of imagined, collective guilt – that’s how seriously ‘wrong’ it feels. There’s a Pema Chodron quote about this: ‘People get into a heavy-duty sin and guilt trip, feeling that if things are going wrong, that means that they did something bad and they are being punished. That’s not the idea at all.’  The heat is bad enough but ‘mind’ makes it worse with all this, it’s ‘my’ fault, stuff.

‘Fault’ is a loaded word: it leads to ‘blame’ and this tenacity of the mind-lock around ‘my fault’ is so fierce it takes continuing mindfulness to keep mad thoughts from spiralling way out of control, problems proliferate and body discomfort equals ‘mind’ discomfort. Thinking, it shouldn’t be like this; ruminating over why the power outage occurred in the first place, and who’s to ‘blame’ and why and what’s really going on?

It’s not getting me anywhere, so there’s only one thing to do, open all doors and windows to maximum, get on to the cushion and try to settle the body/mind. Shirt sticking to back, takes some wriggling around to get it to unstick, then it’s better. There is the immediate advantage in that sitting absolutely still, even though you’re hot, doesn’t involve energy and doesn’t create body heat. The body just takes up the position; it’s getting the mind to settle that’s the problem.

Sweat dribbles down the face and at first it seems like there’s no air; the outside temperature feels like it’s the same as the temperature inside the body? Then there’s an awareness of tiny movements of air across the forehead and everything inclines towards this source of relief. The effect of deep breathing comes with the first conscious long inhalation, and it’s like there’s a great space opened up inside: all the distress is gone. For a moment, there’s awareness that the heat has dispersed. So, if it can just disappear like that, then I need to look at the conditions that caused it to happen. I’m naturally inclined to investigate this.

Ajahn Buddhadasa talks about learning from the experience of suffering: ‘If I see things in terms of suffering, I come to know the truth. It’s a natural process. The whole purpose of life is to find out what’s going on, to gain knowledge attained through clear insight….The simple fact that we exist means we are working with mind/body every day; what we learn about ‘self’ comes from the direct experience of being alive. To do this, there needs to be sufficient mindfulness to carry out a detailed investigation every time suffering arises in nama-rupa.’

There’s a distinct sense of ‘body’, just sitting there, patiently waiting for instructions, quite still and at ease. It’s an awareness of the mass of the physical body; the totality and volume/weight of all the internal systems – it feels kind of heavy or something like inert, comfortable just to be in that one position. Body acts as a measure, against which the hectic thought flow can be stabilized; the nama-rupa relationship.

After some time sitting, I realise it’s not a problem anymore. As soon as it becomes possible to ‘know’ ignorance, well-being follows and the knowledge that such a thing is possible motivates me to identify the cause of suffering. ‘Craving is completely destroyed because ignorance cannot be in that same moment when knowledge arises.’ [Link to: Ajahn Buddhadasa text]

The power came back on after about 10 hours and the house seemed like a different place, bathed in all the comfort of cool airflow from ACs.


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6 thoughts on “Power Failure

  1. I enjoy this piece, a very good reflection for me, thank you. The mind is the perpetuator once trapped in “like and dislike”, “praise and blame” … The body is swept aside, taken totally for granted and we get sucked into the moment. Suddenly in just a breath, the mind gets calm and reflective; there is space between things. Then moment by moment, everything is as it should be and even the most unbearable is just there, in all spaciousness and light.

    • Good to have these observations, I like what you’re saying about, ‘in just a breath, the mind gets calm and reflective; there is space between things….’ This is what shifts the balance, the tipping point.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this. I was reminded of the Pakistan earthquake in 2005 that took away so many lives and rendered some 3.3 million homeless. The notion of collective fault as you reflect on in your post was the overriding emotion that everybody articulated during that very difficult national tragedy. As a nation we talked about bringing the horror upon us due to our trespasses – a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah type of retributional justice – but what is interesting about this guilt syndrome is that it is very transient, it all simply evaporated the second normalcy was restored! I love your blog, there’s this wry humour in your writing.

    • Saadya, thanks for your comment. Grateful for an immediate insight into how extreme everything must have been at that time. I’m thinking how difficult it is, in a situation like that, to be able to return to the familiar nonjudgemental clarity of mind where things can be seen without these kinds of concerns weighing on the mind. Come visit again. Glad you like the blog. I’ll be posting twice a week,

  3. Pingback: Success-Failure | dhamma footsteps

  4. Pingback: sustaining factors | dhamma footsteps

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