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