OLD NOTEBOOKS: When I came to the East in 1989, it took me a very long time to get used to the idea that the way Eastern people think is indirect, rather than direct. It seemed back-to-front; rather than saying ‘the Truth is this’, it’s expressed in the negative form: the Truth is not that. The Truth and the way leading to it are shown by discussing what they are not, rather than what they are [apophatic theology]. If I hadn’t had that early experience of the indirect way, like most people, I would have found it difficult to think of it in these terms – I don’t really like things that are negative, I prefer a belief based on affirmative statements: the act of creation and heaven. So I’m unwilling to accept the truth that the ‘heaven’ I’ve been taught to believe in is, of course, indescribable – absolutely beyond words, language doesn’t go that far, ineffable, therefore anything written or spoken about ‘my’ heaven is not real, it’s imagined.
Yet, even knowing this, I might still hold on to the way I’ve been taught. We come from a lineage of ‘believers’, if you can’t believe in it, you believe you believe in it and everything’s sort of ok. You believe in ’self’ and the ‘self’ of others. The separation of subject and object; in your own mind, there appears the self (the subject) as an observer and the other (the object) as thoughts and emotions. ‘God’ is out ‘there’ (object) and I am in ‘here’ (subject) – not for a moment thinking God could be in ‘here’ too and, of course that’s all-inclusive, so that there is no ‘out there’ out there. It’s all in here – it’s all ‘me’, the whole story.
I can’t even say it’s a ‘oneness’ because that suggests it’s an object out there somewhere. So I call it non-dualism rather than ‘oneness’ and that seems to place it somehow, but it’s not necessary to call it anything. Recently I’ve had to include the experience of pain in my life. Severe headaches. It’s not the first time, about 20 years ago I had colonic cancer and was rushed to a Bangkok hospital where they opened me up and removed a section of intestine, sewed me back up, having sewn up the exit too and attached a plastic bag to the outside of the abdomen over a hole about 1 inch in diameter, held open by a plastic sphincter. Excreta went in the bag and I had to learn how to change it every day. Three months later I went back to hospital and they undid the stitching of the normal exit, removed the plastic bag and sphincter, stitched that up and I was done.
During that time I had extreme bouts of pain in the centre of my body (the centre of my whole being) and didn’t fully understand that the way I was dealing with the pain was by taking it ‘in’ rather than rejecting it – there really was no choice other than to ‘step into’ the pain completely – everything turning inside out quite easily. And now twenty years later I contracted PHN in the nerves on the right side of the head and neck so there are these times of terrible pain in the head, I’ve had to ‘become’, to ‘allow’, to ‘be’ in the same way, rather than reject or try to push it ‘outside’. The outside is the inside, same as it was then. Of course I’m not in pain all the time because I have medication to deal with it now. I’m just considering the whole situation, going through these old notebooks trying to include and integrate everything, having this new understanding of how the whole thing works, and seeing it bit by bit.
“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins [wise men or priests in the Vedic tradition] express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.” [Erwin Schrödinger]