mindfulness, bliss, and beyond


POSTCARD#428: Bangkok: Note: Last week’s post was a re-blog of one written in Switzerland in 2012. This allowed me some time to get over a bad reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine and there’s much to be said about that experience. As I was coming out of the sickness I got interested in a book by Ajahn Brahm, “Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, A Meditator’s Handbook”, and the plan is to research and share this with you. The book is available free online as a pdf file which can be downloaded.

I started to read the book about 10 years ago but never finished it. My intention now is to use the book to try to find a way back into meditation after contracting a neurological condition in 2015 which results in headaches – or you could say the ‘Headache’, as one continuous form, sometimes shadowy and indistinct, other times upfront and centre-staged. A monstrous headache with me at the mercy of its monstrous thinking… daydreaming in dark wakefulness and contemplating the various forms of Self suffering in discomfort. Is it possible to find mindfulness, bliss and beyond in these circumstances? This is the question, how can it be done?

The answer is letting go. From the beginning, Ajahn Brahm insists meditation is relinquishment. “You let go of the complex world outside in order to reach a powerful peace within; beautiful silence, stillness, and clarity of mind. The effort is directed to developing a mind that inclines to abandoning.” I can jump ahead by a few chapters and consider letting go of Self – there is no Self to whom this headache is happening, a headache without a self.

But returning to that time, the beginning when it was all a new experience  and now I’m referring to a much earlier time, the end of the nineties, start of the new millennium – way back then, my wife Jiab, who is Thai, and I were living in Switzerland attending weekend retreats at Dhammapala Monastery in the mountains.

The most noticeable characteristic of these early times was the pain of sitting with folded legs for 45 minutes… then the small bell rings “ting!” Relief! and we can change to walking meditation. There’s just no way around the feeling of leg pain, and I don’t remember how it developed from there for me … just that one day it wasn’t a problem any more. I still have some difficulty with sitting compared with Jiab who just gets on with it – all Thais and most Asians have more flexible leg muscles 

We had early morning sessions in the darkness lit with candles. Then another two or three sessions before the meal break and the afternoon sessions and an evening session before bedtime. All of it done in silence – Ajahn insists, “Silence Means No Commentary”, no inner speech. “It is helpful to clarify the difference between experiencing the silent awareness of the present moment and thinking about it…. “An effective way to overcome the inner commentary is to develop a refined present-moment awareness. You watch every moment so closely that you simply don’t have the time to comment about what has just happened.”

“Another useful technique for developing inner silence is recognizing the space between thoughts, or between periods of inner chatter. Attend closely with sharp mindfulness when one thought ends and before another thought begins—there! That is silent awareness! It may be only momentary at first, but as you recognize that fleeting silence you become accustomed to it. And as you become accustomed to it, the silence lasts longer. You begin toenjoy the silence, once you have found it at last, and that is why it grows.

One of the many simple but profound statements of the Buddha is that “a meditator who makes letting go the main object easily achieves samādhi,” that is, attentive stillness, the goal of meditation (SN 48,9).1 “Such a meditator gains these states of inner bliss almost automatically.”

Continued next week 23 July 2012

14 thoughts on “mindfulness, bliss, and beyond

  1. Is it possible to meditate deeply while in pain? So sorry for your headaches… THE headache… really ruined a good thing you had going.. I fight migraines lately daily and I know how debitating the stabbing pain can be. Looking foward to the next post. This was so clearly written.

    • I remember an email where you said something about how time stands still when you are sick and in pain. Do you still have that? I was going to say that if it’s possible to endure that locked-in situation, it could be a meditation although contemplation might be a better word.
      Also similar to meditation, might be the allowing of the pain… the automatic response to consistent pain is tightening up whereas the correct response is to let it go. You can’t unlearn this, in my case it’s a tracing placed over the original drawing.

      • Yes, I am having that for awhile and have it right now. Interesting that you would say to loosen up in response to pain, nausea, etc. I have had moments of doing that. I think I learned it from taking the medical marijuana. Tightening up and becoming anxious just makes all worse. I wish I could feel what you say as there being no Self to feel the pain. But I am no where near that. Thanks so much for this suggestion and for suggesting using it as a contemplation.

      • Maybe I should have said, ‘there are moments when I feel there is no Self to feel the pain’. An instant of recognition rather than a focused investigation.
        About letting go of the tightness (in pain), there have been times when suddenly there’s an opportunity and I can consciously loosen up. The relief is worth finding a way back to that place and doing it again.
        The medical marijuana sounds like it’s a help. Hoping you can find some place in the pain that gives some comfort.

  2. As always, strikingly apt and on point for yurt central. I have just barely gotten to a semblance of this point! Also, I would be interested to hear more about your vaccine reaction. I had a really bad experience with the Moderna as it happens….i think what it is relates to the body’s electrical system which it just blitzes to get the “new” virus rejecting “language” in. This probably did not help the Head? there are things you can do to help your system..reboot, we might say. Please take good care!

    • I like your description of the body’s electrical system which it just blitzes to get the “new” virus rejecting “language” in. Nothing subtle about that, the body/mind complex suddenly forced to submit. I had about ten days of the ‘sickness’, stuck in a nightmare and it was only when I came out of it that I realized how much it had altered my perception of the world. It was particularly bad when the Headache assimilated… trapped in a place where time had come to a standstill. It’s this kind of thing that pushes me on to find a place at the edge of meditation hopefully, where I can stay a while and return later.

      • PHEW. This sounds all too familiar. I did do some energy work to get out of that altered world perception which was, I thought, creepy to the nth degree. It is amazing though how meditation can be that trail of crumbs…even through unbearable pain. I admire your fortitude! xo

  3. as for the reboot…. i’m also a Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner and i found doing some sequences a few times a day really helped get the energetic perimeter, so to speak, back to integrity- since it felt like it was in tatters for the most part. I’d be HAPPY to send you some easy sequences (putting your hands on points that are, essentially, along the organ meridian lines) if you would like? I also found that flower essences were astonishingly helpful and even though it’s a challenge to get them mailed to you, they are easy to make and orchids are especially appropriate right now- and i think not hard for you to get? In the final analysis a LOT of things relate directly to our electrical systems and there are certainly a zillion things out there that throw them out of whack. Anything you can do to rebalance that current will be of assistance overall especially in our current circumstance. xo.

    • I’m new to Jin Shin Jyutsu and spent an hour or so researching it on internet and two or three videos on YouTube – a Japanese American lady who explained quite a lot in a very clear and pleasant way. So it’s something I could get interested in except that I have an involuntary twitch, caused by neural damage to the Right Occipital Nerve group. All this related to the same Herpes Zoster and Post Herpetic Neuralgia that causes the headaches.
      The twitch is quite dominant when I apply pressure to the shoulder and neck and I can’t find a way of getting it to settle down. Same thing with pressure points in the hands, carefully selected according to the YouTube teacher. One other thing, the little finger of the left hand is broken, due to a fall a couple of years ago. It was never set right due to forgetfulness and is stuck in a curved shape rather than straight. It’s not painful I feel it’s fragile.
      Okay so I could miss out exercises to do with the little finger but there’s still the twitch. I wonder if you could give me some advice about how to allow the twitch if possible and please send me some easy sequences – by attached file or pdf to this same blog address?

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