Chiang Mai: Somebody gives me a lift downtown and she’s upset about the traffic, shouting at the other drivers, voice echoing around in the acoustics of our small vehicle, really letting it all go. She’s a local person and this kind of pressure-valve release is weird, like a bad dream; road rage is the same everywhere, I suppose. We’re accelerating down these narrow sois (small streets) lined with parked cars, pedestrians everywhere, sudden braking and lurching around corners, then reversing all the way out of there because there’s an obstruction. I’m sitting in the back seat, she’s twisted around peering through the rear window, as she negotiates reverse gear, so I get to look at this tense face, complaining about how these drivers all come from the hills; they don’t know anything about road courtesy; the whole nine yards …
Maybe she’s just having a bad day – correction, she is having a bad day. What to do? I can get upset about how upset the driver is, or I can just watch the road on her behalf – two options. I opt for watching the road; the mindfulness thing, and immediately I’m into this kind of alert awareness of everything that’s happening. I’m discovering this (or maybe I always knew) instinctive preparedness that just seems to engage: life is fragile and tenuous. At the same time struggling a bit with the other option: Hey! what’s all the fuss about? Smile and pretend it’s not happening. But there’s just no getting away from it, and this fully switched-on-headlight of fierce alertness is locked in and focused.
Part of me is asking what is going on here? There’s awareness, conscious awareness and then consciousness itself – so this is it, the big question… what is consciousness? Turn the mirror around like that, and consciousness sees itself; there’s a duality and we return to the default reality of ‘me’ in here and ‘that’ out there. It’s this thing about mirrors again; ‘I’ become the subject of what is being mirrored: you can see for yourself, it’s saying, this is proof of how it is… right? But I choose to take refuge in awareness of the danger, rather than do the ostrich-head-in-the-sand thing. I can take sati-sampajañña, awakened awareness, as my refuge. The inclination is to be awake, to be watchful, all sensory receptors are switched on full blast; any little sense of ‘me’ as a person is a distraction. So this is the way to go, I stay with that and there’s a clear knowledge that it’s not a ‘created’ mind state. It’s something Ajahn Sumedho would call the Unconditioned [see link below].
We get to the destination and I’m very glad to get out of the car, ‘thanks for the lift!’ Wow, life, as we know it, returns – it puts on its appearance of comfortable familiarity. Amazing, how does it do that? It really is such a fine balance, we are just on the edge of all this disappearing, all the time! And with conscious awareness the system is more inclined to go directly with what is really happening than run for safety in some kind of ‘pretend’ world. I wonder, though, what happens to people who’ve never bothered to look beyond the reality of the fictional ‘self’. It would require a lot of last minute revisions; could it all be done in time? Maybe it’s possible.
The driver… well I dunno, but she was pretty good. Somebody told me later she did a training course in driving emergency vehicles, so maybe that’s it – life for her is just one continuing emergency. That’s OK too….
‘… We take that which is aware of the conditioned realm, sati-sampajañña, awakened awareness, as our refuge, rather than trying to find or create a condition that will give us a false sense of security. We are not trying to fool ourselves, to create a sense of security through positive thinking. Our refuge is awakening to reality, because the unconditioned is reality. Awareness, awakeness, is the gate to the unconditioned…. You can’t take refuge in your thoughts or your perceptions. That’s just the way the conditioned mind functions. It can’t help it. It can’t do anything other than that. You can only take refuge in awareness. All the problems are resolved right there. Of course, the conditioned mind thinks that awareness is nothing; it not worth anything – but it’s everything….Whatever assumptions you have about yourself, no matter how reasonable they might be, they are still a creation in the present. By believing in them, by thinking and holding to them, you’re continually creating yourself as a personality.’ [Ajahn Sumedho, ‘The Problem of Personality’]