fishing netsPOSTCARD #133: Scotland: Overnight flight from Delhi to Heathrow, train from Euston station and I’m in Glasgow. Can’t recognize anything, it’s been years. I feel like a foreigner… then later having breakfast at the hotel, 7am and sitting by the front window, watching everybody on the street going to work. Hats and coats and it’s cold out there; the happiness of the people in Thailand, sunny and bright… just not here. Reminds me of the following post, written when I had a part time job teaching English in Geneva, Switzerland – migrant workers employed in the factories and light industry going to work by bus in the early morning:

(originally dated August 22, 2012) I’m on the bus, going to an early morning class in the industrial zone. As we get near, the bus is stopping at every stop to pick up people employed in the factories. Migrant workers from East Europe; men and women speaking a language unknown to me. Thin, sad, serious faces; reminds me of Van Gogh’s drawings of the miners in 19th Century.

Van Gogh 'Miners' 1880 (detail)Bus is getting crowded, I have a book to read: ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ by Bhikkhu Bodhi: ‘The search for a spiritual path is born of suffering. It does not start with lights and ecstasy but with the hard tacks of pain, disappointment and confusion… for suffering to give birth to a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something passively received…’ 

More stops, more migrant workers get on the bus. It feels like I’ve got to have my head down reading my book because there’s nowhere else in this bus to look without encountering another pair of eyes looking straight back at me; my shirt and tie, polished shoes. What they don’t realise is that I’m a foreign worker too: UK citizen resident in Switzerland. I know how it feels to live in someone else’s country. Okay, guys! I’m a teacher of English, and I’m on my way to teach your bosses, yes – but, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all the same here. And that’s how it is now, squashed up against the window glass; thin shoulders and arms pressing against me. Continue reading:

‘It has to trigger an inner realization, a perception which pierces through the facile complacency of our usual encounter with the world to glimpse the insecurity perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns, even if only momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.’

Urgent circumstances; this is about a level of suffering hard to endure and there’s just no getting away from it. A long time ago, I had an operation for colonic cancer and there were a number of confrontations with pain… unbearable, I had to give in to it. As soon as that happened, something unseen tipped the balance… for a moment there was the easing –  I discover it’s the resistance to it that causes most of the discomfort.

What would it take for Bhikkhu Bodhi’s insight described here to be meaningful for these migrant workers? For them, it’s about holding on, not letting go; as long as they can withstand hardship, it will go on like this. They’re putting their small amounts of money together to send back home to support the family. They structure their lives around employment and the innate ability to be happy becomes a fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism, built-in to the system. People can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

The bus gets to the terminus, stops, air suspension lets out in one long last gasp, and the bus lowers itself on to its structure. I get out with everyone else in this strangely remote place with factory smells and set off walking along the path to the industrial buildings in the distance. Behind me the bus starts up, a worrying moment, no wish to be stranded in this particular reality. I look back at it as it rumbles off on its little round wheels.


Image: Vincent van Gogh 
Drawing, “Miners”, Pencil on Paper,
 Cuesmes: September, 1880, Kröller-Müller Museum.
Note excerpts here from an earlier post: ‘Choosing Liberation

24 thoughts on “pain/resistance

    • Thanks David, funny how it seemed to be the same sentiment epressed in the older post and convenient too because I don’t have so much time to write, being on the road like this…

  1. Your excellent piece reminded me – I went to live in Cyprus (also to teach). At the end of just two years I came back to the UK. The re-entry culture shock was massive whereas getting used to life in Cyprus was smooth and easy!

    On the triggering of inner realization we are spending quite a few sessions in our ‘One Garden’ group on the joy of duality as well as nonduality – particularly inspired by Rupert Spira. Our line is that duality is an indispensable prerequisite for the eventual realization of the Oneness of things – two wings by which we fly spiritually.

    Roger at ‘One Garden: interfaith as inter-spiritual living’.

    Thanks for all your encouragement – much appreciated.

    • Thank you Roger, there’s something you’re saying here that’s quite meaningful to me right now… simple really: ‘the joy of duality as well as nonduality’ and duality is an indispensable prerequisite for the eventual realization. It’s possible I have things subtly wrong sometimes – thinking that duality is not it and somehow ‘wrong’. So I’m grateful for that.
      And yes it is a bit of a reverse culture shock, coming back to the starting point and trying to fit in – particularly since I’m only here for a short time then away again. I feel like a tourist really and that’s probably the best way to cope… just visiting, everything changes. Also Rupert Spira has been a great help to me, I’ve seen nearly all the video clips I think. So, thanks again for these observations

      • For me it’s like the Zen master’s “No self: no problem.”

        In this case it’s “No duality; no consciousness; no consciousness no nondual realization.”

        The reason I work hard for restoring duality (LoL) is that some teachers of nonduality seem to imply that duality is somehow wrong, a sin even. I think Spira is probably an exception.

        The gift of duality starting e.g. with ‘mother and I are two’ is the great enabler on the journey to nondual realization.

        I think the Genesis story of creation Adam and Eve etc can be read as ‘whole:parts:journey to restoring whole’ – as in John Greer’s book –

        or indeed Joseph Campbell.

        I love this;
        The great Master Dogen said,
        “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self,
        to study the self is to forget the self, and
        to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.”
        To be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to recognize the unity of the self and the ten thousand things.

        Enjoy your break – your being a tourist is a good way to cope – but I guess we are all tourists!

      • I like your idea of ‘restoring duality’, like just, well… you know, this is how it is! My starting point was (Thai) Theravadin Buddhism, and at the outset discovered vestiges of misunderstood Christian conditioning which may account for the idea that duality is somehow ‘wrong’. So I’m still working with that and just starting to see why the Buddha was non-commital about any of this… it’s easy to make assumptions, and has taken me some time to get it sorted out – maybe that’s as far as it’ll go, not enough lifetime left 🙂 just being a tourist, as you say.
        There are times when I get the scale of the actual ‘the ten thousand things’… literally beyond comprehension – so large it becomes all-inclusive. I had a quick read on the amazon link about Greer’s book. I have Joseph Campbell on my bookshelf, haven’t studied it for years, shall give it another look. Thanks for your reply…

  2. Thanks for this great post.
    I love how you mix the quotations from the books with observation.
    And thanks for sharing the piece about pain and surrender and how surrender brings ease. I had a similar experience last week. It was like a lesson: this is what surrender is about. It is like this cartoon of the guy who hangs on the cliff shouting, God, can you help me?
    And God says, Yes, you just need to let go.
    And then the guy says, Is there anyone else out there who can help me?

    • Great cartoon! A situation that has the quality of a koan. I’m reminded of the one about two Buddhist paratroopers on a plane and they jump out. One says to the other, ‘oh-oh, no parachute (he forgot it). Ah well, no parachute, no ground.’ Giving way to things is really challenging, we need reminders to help us to relax the resistance.
      I usually travel around with a book in my pocket and mark sections and build them into actual experiences, quite often travelling in some sort of vehicle going somewhere. On that occasion it was in fact the Noble Eightfold Path I was reading and I did have this insight about the migrant workers. Wondering also if Buddhism is maybe something that works better if you are economically stable enough to be able to make the decision to give it all away…

    • Thanks Ben, I like the analogy of the ‘slice’, suggests to me there’s a whole ‘cake’ somewhere 🙂
      And that’s what makes it what it is – I recognized it from the old post in 2012, now here again in Scotland. Being on the outside looking in.
      B. Bodhi’s words sum up the experience: ‘It overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.’ It’s hard, but we get through to the other side and this is what B. Bodhi describes as, it triggers an inner realization in some form.

  3. I love this post Tiramit. The different realities that we live in as human beings. So fascinating.
    When I go back to Scotland visiting family, a lot of the people remind me of your story of migrant workers … and the same feelings arise. I play the tourist and it works for me.
    Living in a different culture opens us up to new perceptions and ways of being. Its a great preparation and source of inspiration for personal and spiritual growth.
    Whether we are looking for it or even wanting it…
    On a different note – I’m surprised you still understand Glaswegians! 🙂

    • The stoic Scots, you could say… just getting on with it. Since I arrived I’ve been in Aberdeen and a short visit to the Moray Firth. Glaswegians are unforgettable, the thing is though I spent most of my time there with international people and also an Indian friend who has lived in Glasgow for many years. I feel like a migrant myself, after so many years in Asia and even England is a different culture, in a way. But do feel this, what you’re saying here, the sense of being open to ‘new perceptions and ways of being… a great preparation and source of inspiration for personal and spiritual growth.’ And it just happens by itself. So I’m kinda surprised sometimes what people say here and how it’s expressed… remembering I used to be the same, so long ago…

    • Thanks Ellen, yes, a kind of holding-on thing and the habituality of it maybe over the years leads to an even tighter holding on. But it’s all part of it, I think, when the easing-off comes, sometimes it’s noticed and that’s exactly due to the developed ‘tenacity’ of holding. What I’m saying is, relaxing the reistance wouldn’t have been noticed othewise. So you benefit in the end. I wrote another post ‘relaxed resistance‘ that attempts to express this kind of thing. A difficult situation
      Hope you are keeping well

  4. We are all the same and not. Perhaps that is at the core of the human struggle, how to connect with the oneness. For within each one of us is a spark of uniqueness–perhaps that is the resistance–it is what separates and joins us. We find comfort in the connection and freedom in the uniqueness. How to find the balance…? Lovely piece, Tiramit. Thank you.

    • Thanks Karen, how to find the balance – just focusing on the question is enough. And, holding on to this ‘spark of uniqueness’ to a greater or lesser extent depending on the individual; this is what causes the resistance. We are all the same and not – maybe combined in the oneness, it could be seen as the tiny world of micro organisms and even smaller individual items, specks of life.

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