Switzerland: I’m on the DOWN escalator at Gare Cornavin leading to the underground shopping area, and up to where the bus stop is. Phone rings in my pocket. Hello? It’s Jiab calling from the house in Delhi. Reception is not good so when I reach the bottom, I change to the UP escalator and come back to street level. How’s things? In the background I can hear the neighbour’s dog barking: woof-woof, woof-woof, woof-woof, woof! [Link to: Mindfulness of Irritation] The familiarity of it … for a moment I’m there; the sense of ‘me’ from that time starts to become the ‘me’ here 5,737 miles away (as the crow flies). Interaction with the feeling only serves to energise it. The ‘I’ wants to experience it again but that’s gone now. ‘Did you see the end of the Olympics?’ Jiab asks me. And I did but have to say that watching the Olympics hasn’t been a priority these last couple of weeks. So, if you asked me about who won which medal, I couldn’t tell you. ‘Hello?’ no signal… I go down the escalator to the bus stop, pulling my small case on wheels behind.
There is this sports enthusiast friend of mine who was coming round to watch the tennis on TV and I’d be sitting there reading a book in the TV room with him, not really involved in the game, then he’d suddenly BELLOW without warning. I’d jump out of my chair, and he’d apologise for giving me a fright; thrust into the euphoric awareness of the tennis court ‘moment’. It isn’t very ‘sporting’ of me but when I see the athletic events on TV, it’s more like an opportunity to practice non engagement; being ‘with’ it and not ‘in’ it than something I ‘enjoy’ watching. The fierce competiveness is a bit unnerving; winner gloats triumphantly and loser totally devastated – gladiators slaughtering their opponents in the arena, spectators wild with joy. And if we are cheering in excitement about our athlete winning the gold medal, the opposing side will be groaning in despair about their athlete losing; making a big thing out of our success encourages their failure. It works both ways, of course, we may be on the losing side as often as we’re on the winning side.
The number 3 bus arrives and I put my bag in the luggage section; no seat, hold on to the hand supports as the bus swings off. Holding on to what I like means that some things I dislike come along as well; two for the price of one. The feeling that I ‘like’ something will stay around for as long as I hold on to it. If it’s something I ‘dislike’, the aversion I feel towards it is an attachment I struggle to disengage from. It’s a form of holding and that means the ‘dislike’ tends to stay around as much as the ‘like’ does. In terms of the Buddhist experience, like-dislike are the same thing; I’m driven endlessly to seek what I like because I dread having only what I dislike – thus end up holding on tightly to both.
These are the Eight Worldly Dhammas: ’… four pairs of opposites – four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don’t like and try to avoid [pleasure/pain, praise/criticism and blame, fame/disgrace, gain and getting what we want/losing what we have]. We might feel that somehow we should try to eradicate these feelings of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, fame and disgrace. A more practical approach would be to get to know them, see how they hook us, see how they color our perception of reality, see how they aren’t all that solid. Then the eight worldly dharmas become the means for growing wiser as well as kinder and more content.’ [Pema Chodron]
The dilemma of the ‘I’ experience caught in the Eight Worldly Dhammas is serious and traumatic in the context of violence, war and natural disasters. The Pakistan earthquake in 2005 where 3.3 million people became homeless and so many lives were lost is one example [Link to: Power Failure/ Comments/ Saadya]. Many people there were convinced about a sort of Sodom and Gomorrah type of retributional justice; it’s all our fault, etc. We are being blamed for ‘our’ actions in the past. An extreme reaction in an extraordinary situation. Samsara of distress, pain, fear and the sense that something is ‘wrong’. The human tendency is to contract into ‘self’ and the assumption arises that ‘I’ caused it to be ‘wrong’ – I am to ‘blame’. It troubles me to think that this may be quite a common reaction when people are faced with death. When there’s no knowledge or experience of how to be mindful and aware, the mind follows this route.
This guilt syndrome that happened during the Pakistan earthquake was/is another example of the habitual ‘self’ response, no more than that, when everything came back to normal, the intense urgency of thought simply evaporated. ‘Everything that arises passes away.’ At the time it’s happening, it’s difficult to see that. What can I do to abide in equanimity….
Bus arriving, get off at the stop, cross the road and well-behaved Swiss traffic actually stops at the pedestrian crossing to allow me to cross. I hesitate, Bangkok traffic has the right of way, then I remember it’s ok to cross. How nice! Up the hill to the apartment building, pulling my small case on wheels behind. Good to be back in the fresh air and chilly mountain winds.
‘External conditions don’t make you suffer, suffering arises from wrong understanding. Feelings of pleasure and pain, like and dislike, arise from sense-contact – you must catch them as they arise, not follow them, not giving rise to craving and attachment – which is in turn causing mental birth and becoming. If you hear people talking, it may stir you up, you think it destroys your calm, your meditation, but you hear a bird chirping and you don’t think anything of it, you just let it go as sound, not giving it any meaning or value.’ [Ajahn Chah]