POSTCARD ♯05: Harnham Monastery, Northumberland: The monastery is situated on top of a small hill; guest accommodation is down the road a bit. I walk up to the main building for the one meal of the day; sunshine, a cloudless sky, and I meet one of the monks at the door. How long has it been, more than two years? He looks different. Faded brown/tangerine robe, shaved head, exposed face, features looking at me. The whole presence of a person, eyes in the centre of a field of vision – it seems like an immense identity just living here quietly… my perception of how things are, looking back at me. Recognition is a selective thing, matching moments of experience with what’s in the files inside the folder marked: THE MEMORY OF OTHER THINGS SIMILAR TO THIS – select/match, the mind-body organism default. It’s not what it is, it’s only what it appears to be.
Chanting, food, wash dishes and walk back down to the guest accommodation again. Huge daisies on the edge of path, everything is swelling up in blossom on top of this solitary hill and the panorama of Northumberland landscape all around. Unknowingly, I’m manipulating my perception of things to see the world as I want to see it without any real understanding of why I’m attracted – a huge habit of indulgence that I think is simply normal. I don’t understand desire, I just respond to the experience of it. Now on top of this hill, looking at a lifetime of seeking after what I want and rejecting what I don’t want without really knowing why. There’s this experience of dissatisfaction at the base of it all… normally I’m pretending it’s not there. It’s a hunger – a hunger for what? Caused by what? Is there a way of ending this hunger? There’s a name for it. It can be identified. Dukkha, (suffering), the First Noble Truth. Knowledge enters and ignorance is pushed out. I couldn’t see it before; too much thinking about how much I dislike the idea of suffering, an obstacle is created by my aversion to it; the desire for it to not be there. Strategies of avoidance, and lost in experience, agreeable/disagreeable. Caught in the momentum of seeking gratification or holding on to unhappy states of mind believing that this is my reality. The deluded self, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. This is the obstacle – the only reason it’s there is that I linger with the idea of it….
Returning again and again to the same starting point means these unhappy states of mind are reinforced more and more. Recognition is not informed by ‘clear knowing’, it’s seen through the clouded prism of unawareness, avidyā not-knowing (ignorance). What’s required is mindfulness, applied recognition, Right View, and the undoing of all the little knots tied in memory, habitual reactions over many lifetimes. Bit by bit, letting it all go…
‘If we have faith in the Buddha’s teaching and are inspired by the great teachers, we can direct our interest into not just avoiding suffering, something we have spent a long time doing, but finding a skilful way of directing our attention towards recognising it, here and now. What is this ‘self’? How is this ‘me’ and ‘mine’ manifesting itself here and now?’ [Ajahn Munindo, Entering the Monastery, 22 July 2013]