the holding-on habit

2012-06-01 17.46.31A village near Hat Yai: Sitting in the house with M, it’s been raining and the farmyard is a plethora of muddy things. M is inclined to stay indoors and that’s how it is today, a day of uncertainty, the catastrophe of failed projects, unfinished paper structures, and fooling around with the camera phone. M is tired with the stories in her 9 year-old world. Some excitement and interest when: clacka-clacka, the sound of the cow with the bamboo bell around its neck, energetically chomping the grass that grows around the house – all this thick lush grass in the wetness. The other cows, four altogether, have been brought home because it’s the end of the day and soon they’ll be herded into the cowshed and closed in for the night. I ask M if she’d like to go out? We can get the big umbrella and go look at the cows? But this is not a good question to ask right now.

Complex emotions, M is suffering a disappointment. We took her to the bookshop in town. There was a book about science with a ‘SUPER SCIENCE KIT’ in a large box that went with it. The thing is, it was really too advanced for M but she became convinced she had to have it. So we got it, came back to the house and I started to look at the instructions. Opening the box and assembling the pieces of the kit, test tubes and small pieces of plastic equipment – all that goes okay, but following the instructions to carry out the experiments, has no meaning for her. She simply doesn’t know where to begin and I can’t explain because of our limited communication. She tries to enter a created story with a ‘pretend’ thing but science doesn’t work like that. Somebody thoughtfully removes the difficult SUPER SCIENCE KIT and all that can be done now is damage repair. M is quiet. I ask her if there’s anything I can do, and she says, ‘… no, is OK, Toong-Ting.’ (Toong-Ting is M’s pet name for me.) I suggest we read a book or play with the iPad… then I remember there’s no Internet and some of her apps don’t work. That’s part of the problem. ‘No, Toong-Ting, is OK,’ she says.

So I sit with her, everything is dull and meaningless – I can feel it too. M makes small, whimpering sounds like her digital kittens on the iPad. She’s holding my arm, cuddled up in a small ball next to me, eyes closed and face hidden away, struggling with the uncertainty of her world. Thai children are taught othon [khanti] patient endurance – or it could be an inherited character trait. I don’t have any children of my own, so no experience; having M in my world is an opportunity for me to learn. What I notice is, there are no tears or tantrums that I’d expect (from Western children). Here, it’s more like a locked-in holding. I’m available, ready to support, but I can’t do much to divert her attention. It’s the holding-on habit and what this is about is just allowing for these moments of not knowing that we’ve all got to get through, somehow, and the uncomfortable feelings that go with it. Just letting them go…

I’m affected by the mood, it’s really tense, but can sit quietly without making a ‘thing’ out of it. The self is a sensory experience. The experiencer is itself an experience. Consciousness is the sensory organ of the void. There can be nothing separate from this, except the ability to think about things. The question, then, is: what is thought? And thinking about thought, itself, leads only to the empty space where the question used to be…

Some time after that somebody finds a small bottle of food colouring in the kitchen and I show M what happens when you put a tiny drop of it into a test tube of clear water. The violet colour is like a tendril of descending smoke curling around the inside of the test tube and her whole attention is focused on this extraordinary event; the world is opening up again… wow! how to develop this? The uncertainty of the moment has vanished and suddenly everything seems full of wonderful choices….



‘What effort should I make? Should I do something about this situation or simply watch my mind?’ Such moments of not-knowing are precious. Uncertainty does not have to be seen as failing. In fact we might lose something important if we are in a hurry to push past it. The actuality is I don’t know what to do and there is not necessarily any fault in that. If, however, I’m completely caught in the momentum of wanting to escape suffering, I may miss the truth of the situation, as it is, and learn from it. With the confidence that comes from our commitment to precepts we can afford to trust in being patient and aware of ‘not-knowing’, and the uncomfortable feelings that come with it. Feel the force of the momentum of wanting to get away from it, to ‘solve it’; stubbornly refuse to be drawn along. We can experiment with waiting until the feeling of being driven subsides and quietly listen to what intuition suggests we could do.’ [Ajahn Munindo, Dhammapada v. 276]

 [Note: There are references here to, ‘the experiencer is itself an experience’, taken from an Internet source I can no longer find. If anyone knows the origin of it, please let me know, thank you!]
Upper Photo: My pic of M taking a photo of me. Lower photo: The cows coming home

2 thoughts on “the holding-on habit

  1. I’ve had this post in my inbox for a while but hadn’t read it. Been going through a difficult time and haven’t been blogging or communicating. Today, (which was particularly bad), I opened your post and was helped so much by your words. Thank you for this post and the wisdom in it.

    • Thanks Jude, you’re welcome. There is this kind of thing; circumstances lead to the various stories in the head chattering away and you’re led deeper into realms. Then the action of a child, for a moment, brings you out of it completely…

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