Chiang Mai: I’m just getting used to being here in this new place on the 3rd floor; lying on the sofa propped up with cushions and the sliding balcony door is open. A plane flies over, a huge sound. This building is near the airport, in the flight path; I’ll resist the impulse this time to jump up and try look for it. I can never see the plane. Even when I lean dangerously over the balcony and look backwards and up, somehow it’s hidden up above the roof of the building. So now I’m just lying here, surrounded by the sound of it, and suddenly I see the upside-down reflection of the plane in the highly polished floor tiles. It’s there for a moment, flying away across the floor and out over the balcony and leaves my vision at the same time as the sound goes away.
I’m thinking it’s maybe worthwhile writing that down so, look in my wallet for something to write on, and this piece of paper falls out. It’s an old receipt with a word written on the back: extrinsic. I can’t remember anything about this. Must have found the word in a book and noted it down because I needed to check the meaning of it – then lost the piece of paper. Can’t remember doing that… and now here it is again: extrinsic. So, I look it up in the dictionary: not connected to the thing in question…
What was the context of this? I sit there for a moment looking at this old scrap of paper with ‘extrinsic’ written on it. I can connect with the word: ‘intrinsic’, but ‘extrinsic’, no, there’s not any ‘place’ it should be, there’s not any associated ‘thingness’ about this word; just out there on its own, unattached. It’s a descriptive term that’s not got any connection with the object it’s there to describe? What am I feeling about this? It’s like ‘clear comprehension’ sati-sampajañña, trying to understand what that means and thinking it’s about this absolute clarity of understanding all the time but, meanwhile, stumbling over all the indistinct, half-seen, misunderstood truths, and eventually I realize it doesn’t mean that at all. It means clear understanding of everything, including all the moments of confusion; the lack of clarity, all this is comprehended – it’s just like this; confusion, yes, I can see what that is.
‘… sati-sampajañña includes fogginess, includes confusion, includes uncertainty and insecurity. It’s a clear comprehension or the apperception of confusion—recognizing it’s like this. Uncertainty and insecurity are like this. So it’s a clear comprehension or apprehension of even the most vague, amorphous, or nebulous mental conditions.’
An intuitive understanding, not a conceptual understanding – Ajahn Sumedho uses this expression a lot: ‘Intuitive Awareness’. Not analytical thinking, it’s non-critical. It’s not that it doesn’t allow criticism, it’s an inclusive awareness; it sees the critical mind as an object. So I can work towards a clearer understanding of this through experience – step by step. And, sometimes, I may get a bit lost in attachment to active thinking – the thinking ‘thing’; solutions and problems, reviewing, seeking, and memories of past times, attended by fever, unease, bewilderment, and suffering but the thinking ‘thing’ is no big deal. Just say okay, enough, start again and it’s like the monopoly game where you pick a card and it says: ‘Return to Go’, except you return always to ‘let go’. Maybe somebody could invent a Buddhist version of Monopoly?
Ajahn Sumedho describes how, when he was a young monk, he first confronted the thinking ‘thing’: ‘How do you stop thinking? Just stop thinking. Well, how do you stop? Just stop. How do you just stop?” The mind would always come back with “how can you do it?” wanting to figure it out rather than trusting in the immanence of it.’ [Ajahn Sumedho, The Sound of Silence]
I found an interesting related observation in the undividedexperience site: ‘…not merely a conceptual conclusion, but something that can be directly recognized without any explanation. The flow of experience is permeated, as it were, by a subtle living quality, which becomes more apparent when there is less focus on the specific patterns of experience.’ Just a sense of getting the whole picture – knowing what’s going on.
‘… the dynamic source from which all natural phenomena arise; formless, invisible, soundless, immaterial, unhindered, imperturbable, the Tao is “the form of the formless, the image of the imageless,” empty (chung) and inexhaustible.’ [David Loy, ‘Loving The World As Our Own Body’]