somewhere in the city

POSTCARD#306: Bangkok: Alarm goes off at 04.00, hand-reach and it’s silenced in a quiet darkness. My footsteps going downstairs seem to me to be too loud for the baby sleeping. Thankfully, I reach the ground floor without waking the boy. I make coffee and half a toasted bagel for Jiab who is going to a meditation centre near Pak Chong – a three hour journey. We speak quietly, the car comes, filling the gated entrance with headlights, a soft door-slam and she’s gone

Jiab’s elder sister Pi Sao comes downstairs, she is the smiling grandmother of the child, visiting here from down South, an overnight journey by train. Pi Sao gets up early to offer food to the three monks who come into our part of the city, just after daylight.

She goes into the kitchen for the three small bags of food she prepared last night. They are placed on a tray and she brings them into the room. I’m watching her from the computer table as she goes out and kneels at the entrance to the house with the tray raised to a point that’s level with her forehead. She stays in that position for a longish time, could be a minute. Suddenly I’m aware of an extraordinary easeful peace. The monks appear in a blaze of colour, pale tangerine robes, and accept the food placed into their metal bowls. They chant blessings anumodana, on receiving the food and they’re on their way.

I allow the blessings to fall over me and come inside me, and for a moment it becomes me. I’m overwhelmed with boundless bliss, then it’s gone. There’s so much I don’t know, I want to say to her, thank you and how much this small moment of samadhi means to me. Yes, but my baby-babble of the Thai language is not enough to express these uncommon things. Besides I’m pretty sure Pi Sao doesn’t want to talk about anything thought to be near to the mystical experience, for fear of stepping into the realm of ghosts, and supernatural beings.

All these years and all that I have are these tentative steps into learned processes of cultural behaviour, requiring an alert watchfulness I discovered long before hearing the word ‘mindfulness’. Remembering over and over again that the focus is on the intention to stay mindful always, and somehow this got deeply embedded. It has been more than two decades after all, and now this attention has become a built-in wake-up bell that rings every time mindfulness wanders: ting-ting-ting-aling-ting-aling

And these days, now the headache is with me, I’m watching the breath go in and go out much more than I used to. Depending on the wake-up bell, ting-aling-ting-aling. It’s the alertness of samadhi and great peace and bliss that goes with it, but more often than not, it’s the on-going narrative and I’m engaged in deconstructing familiar patterns of habit where I criticize myself for having the pain: pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this.

Strong angry emotions, and the wake-up bell rings, ting-aling-ting-aling…. return to watching the breath, in-breath, out-breath – heart beat – the utter functioning of being alive, and the alertness of choosing not to get locked into the ways and means of endurance, tolerating the suffering allows an attachment to it and an associated habitual response forms over the years.

The effort is in separating the pain into two parts; there’s the pain itself, and the pain of resisting the pain; I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there… desiring it to not-exist, vibhava-tanha – wanting it to go away. The alertness is directed towards the pain of resisting the pain and allowing that to withdraw.

It’s about finding the Middle Way, the truth of suffering and the path leading to the extinction of that suffering is the most pressing need, the only true and worthy purpose in life – for the sake of well-being, peace-of-mind and all things considered are considered….

“Peace is not a destination, but a starting point. Find that peace that rests behind anything and anybody and bring it into your world”. [Shakti Caterina Maggi]

Excerpts from an older post, also some notes I made and can’t remember the original source.

25 thoughts on “somewhere in the city

  1. Sawaddee krub, I’m so sorry to hear about your headache, I may not understand all of your messages due to my uncompleted English skill but I hope you will get well soon, maybe someday. : )

    Everything happened by reason, your pain as well, it’s okay that our mind naturally reacts to the pain by resisting it (which makes everything worse). But we can’t avoid this activity of mind, I think it’s very good that you already have a cognition about vibhava-tanha. It enlarges the pain so much.

    All we can do is to see everything as it is, the pain, the desire to get rid of it, the desire to remove ‘the desire to get rid of it’ and bla bla bla. (I believe that) seeing every activities of the mind (which require SA-TI&Samathi) will help you neutralize your mind (this is very important) and you’ll suffer less from the pain. Your body can be very painful but your mind isn’t. Please keep doing good things and practice meditation&Sati.

    I wish all power of every good things in the universe and the goodness of yourself make you get better soon krub.

    PS. Good trip for Khun Jiab krub, saa thuu : )

    • Sawadee krub Khun Khonyouwat. Thanks for your comment and I’m pleased to meet someone who has the intention to see everything as it is, the kamma of how it all came to be as it is, is of course, moving and changing constantly. And to bring it all to a standstill by means of the pain, holding the desire to get rid of it, and the desire to remove ‘the desire to get rid of it’ and bla bla bla. Then it all starts moving again, impossible to find the cause, the cause of the cause and so on all the way back to The Big Bang. Then somebody says well what was the cause of that?
      Good to hear from you
      please come again

      • It’s my pleasure krub. It’s okay that everything is “moving and changing constantly/it all starts moving again (and again…)” because it is one of the nature of everything. (The Tri-Laksana, 1.changing 2.non-standing 3.non-self)

        Every activities of mind happened by its nature. Everything happened, hold and gone endlessly. The mind writhes so much because our mind may not wise enough to accept the truth, the truth that everything happened by the cause. When the cause gone, the result gone. (When the cause completely did its duty, its result will disappear) If we can accept this truth, I think we will be more calm when facing any pain. Actually, the Buddha teach the Patidjasamubbaht, it’s about the cause and effect of the round of existences, and the cause of everything is A-Wicha อวิชชา (ignorance, folly, unawareness).

        We don’t have to find the answer ‘why do I face this suffering? or what did I do wrong in my past life? Because it’s impossible to find that by our little wisdom. Just train our mind to accept anything as it is. Accept our result. Breath comfortably krub : )

        PS. I’m not a real expert, so I may not say everything right, I apologize for any mistake. Hopefully, you will pick some good point to adapt to your situation krub.

      • Yes it is in the nature of things to be in constant flux, I know the Tri-Laksanna as Aniccan, Dukkha, Anatta. More and more I’m seeing the truth of this because of the lifestyle Jiab and I have chosen with no fixed abode. Interesting remarks about pain, I hadn’t seen it in this way, that the mind may not be wise enough to accept the truth that when the cause is gone, the the result is gone. I hadn’t examined the Paticcasamuppada (your spelling: Patidjasamubbaht) in this context, thank you for pointing this out.

    • Rachel, thanks for these kind words, I’ll have to go and see the anesthesiologist soon for the next treatment. It’s a cycle that turns around every three months – at the moment that’s how it seems to be.

  2. I read a few of your posts and I felt such peace. I don’t know how pieces about life with Buddhist philosophy can do that, but they did. I’m going through a lot of angst and tribulation now. So, thank you.

    • Thanks for writing Nitin, I think Buddhist practitioners make a point of consciously bringing body and mind into a place of peace many times in the course of the day. Once you have learned how to simply relax for a moment by watching the inhale and the outhale, it’s possible to do that at will. I hope all your tribulation and angst even out sufficiently to see how to make the right changes in your approach in dealing with this.

  3. During my trip to Thailand, I made offerings at several temples, but the greatest blessing of all was the opportunity to offer food to monks making their morning alms rounds. There is no ritual like this in my culture, only the church collection plate or just as depersonalized donations of food to civic organizations. The face-to-face and hand-to-hand nature of the daily offering of food directly to monks takes the act of generosity out of the symbolic realm and into real time. This immediacy of this interaction was very powerful and moving. Thank you for reminding me of this. Jeff

    • Yes I know what you mean, it’s a wonderful feeling. Generosity, letting go, it all fits together and can be applied in daily life in Thailand. I’ve noticed in Thai Buddhist temples in the West, you can find examples of this direct application of generosity. I’m fortunate because I’m living here these days, if there’s a place near you, you should try and get there once in a while simply for that great experience of giving and receiving.

  4. May the headache be a brief visitor and move on to offer stories elsewhere. While it stays, may it become a gentle breath with no more judgement than the inhale or the exhale that makes all of us alive.

  5. Good morning, T, from Southwest Florida. The bliss of samadhi from the blessings bestowed by the grateful monks sounds wonderful. I’m sorry your headache has returned. I’m guessing it’s about time for another injection. We have a busy week that threatens to overwhelm me, as it does my husband. On top of his cognitive issues, he has had obsessive and compulsive symptoms all his life, and the obsessions now are mostly “why me?” and “this is too much, this thing, and that thing, and this other thing, and what will happen to me, and me me me me me.” There is no room right now for me and my own stress and health concerns. But I am thankful that mostly I am up for the challenges before me, even when my eyes roll and there is a scream threatening to break out of me and that I mostly I can transform into something better so as not to make it all worse. Peace and loving kindness to you, my friend. 🙏🌺🌞

    • Hi Shielagh, and I hope sunny Florida will soon be completely free of the chill in the air. Over here we have been having some rainy spells but reaching the maximum heat blast any time now, then on April 13 the Thai New Year takes place and the Water Festival celebrated by everyone throwing water at everyone else. Yes the next treatment is around the end of April but I might ask for an earlier appointment. Sorry to hear of your husband’s predicament, I don’t suppose it does you any good to see the whole thing about him holding on to ‘me’ and defending ‘me’ as the ‘self’ construct and it can never be a satisfactory thing when it is identified like that. The Buddhist practice of letting go of self a little might help. The best way for you to cope is deep breaths and stay light.

  6. You may be plagued by headaches and I am so sorry. You have my migraineurs sympathy. But you are also blessed with moments of Samadhi. So it is not all karmic sin. Feel better and rejoice in your blessings.

    • Thanks Ellen, for the ‘migraineurs sympathy’, it helps. Sorry for the late reply, internet has vanished from our building without any reasonable excuse. This could be a headache in itself… but I’ve learned not to get caught up with these little demons, I have enough to cope with as it is. I’m so glad to be able to see the truth of blessings and don’t have to bear the burden of karmic sin. There is the medicine and it works, so I’ll stay with that for the time being although it does make me doped by the end of the day.

  7. As always, simple, evocative, true. Pain is an interesting teacher, for sure! The expanse you reach after you stop gripping it to you is quite something though. Take good care of yourself!!! (foot rubs???)

    • Yes pain is an interesting teacher, for me it’s like wearing a metal helmet that’s too tight, even though, there are these episodes of clarity when the head pain is gone and it must be how I’m gripping it to myself, as you say and learning the best way how to stop doing that. Thanks, and also the foot rubs, thanks too

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