POSTCARD # 492: Bangkok: Some years ago, before the Headache1 arrived, I wrote a post, titled: ‘The in-between thing,’ dated: August 12, 2012. I had just started to meditate and became aware that the focus of attention can be in two places at the same time, located in this in-between space. I can be focused on one item of thought and at the same time there is sufficient focus on another item of thought to be able to see it’s possible to be focused on both at the same time. It moves and changes and at times there’s a bit more focus on one than the other but I am able to see it’s an awareness of one item of thought that includes awareness of another (note: and a third place of awareness that knows the other two places).
Although you could call this is the neutral state of mind, the Headache has now been with me since 2015, and I feel the ‘in between space’, is a specific place where I can go to find refuge from the pain, rather than a neutral state of mind, which doesn’t seem to be anything. Particularly when there is a sudden stab of head pain, ringing in urgency like an alarm bell that triggers an automatic reaction from Self to get out of there immediately! Nowadays, when that alarm bell rings, there’s an immediate leap away from the pain and into the refuge of the in-between space.
There’s an awareness of the painful area (around the right side of the head), and there’s another awareness that knows this – awareness of awareness. It means I can stay with the headache and just step back from the proximity to the pain because I realize I’m seeing it from somewhere else. In the Buddhist sense I’m drawing attention to an awareness of Suffering and the cause of suffering, but not just labeling it; ‘the cause’ of Suffering is ‘desire,’ the 2nd Noble Truth, no, I’m asking, what is this cause? It’s not ‘What is the cause of Suffering,’ it’s what is the cause of the cause?
I discovered that wanting-it-not-to-be-there is causing more of a problem than anything else. It pulls me into a confrontation with the pain (vibhava tanha2: the desire for it not to exist), and I can get caught up in this awkward attachment to the pain, and I have to get away from that mind state in addition to getting away from everything else! Instead of all that, find the space between thoughts, and the emergency mode is switched off. I can ease back from it, thinking, if there’s this awareness of the pain, there’s another awareness that knows it’s there – what is this ‘other’ awareness?
I can be engaged in some kind of difficult attachment and at the same time be aware that it is happening. There is another location from which I can be focused and the thinking process surrounding that pain scenario can be observed from that other location. If it’s seen, the attachment to Self is less intense (or not intense at all) and without anything to which it can adhere, gradually it’s not there anymore.
I learned how to do this by trial and error, and now it’s possible to contemplate the state of the body and to contemplate the mind contemplating this. I’m seeing it from somewhere else. The reaction to the pain caused me to stumble upon this space that’s in-between. I just didn’t know how to get to it before.
1headache caused by Post-Herpetic Neuralgia
2 three kinds of desire: 1. kama tanha (the desire to have) 2. bhava tanha (the desire to become) and 3. vibhava tanha (the desire to get rid of)
Image by Loris Lambert: Ibiraçu, state of espírito santo, Brazil
Han Shan’s “Looking at the Mind”
Look at what your body is – it is not you
But an image in the mirror of awareness,
Just like the reflection of the moon on the water.
Look at what your mind is – it is not
The thoughts and feelings that appear within it
But the bright knowing space that holds them.
When not a single thought arises, your mind is
Open, perceptive, serene and luminous;
It is complete as great all-embracing space
And holds all kinds of wondrous aspects.
Your mind does not come or go away,
Has no particular shape, nor a special way of being.
But a great many beneficial qualities
Come all forth from this one knowing being.
It does not depend on material existence,
Material existence covers it up!
Do (therefore) not take vain hopes seriously,
Vain hopes lead to illusory phenomena.
Closely investigate this mind, which is
A knowing emptiness, not containing a thing.
When you are suddenly flooded with emotions
Your vision gets unclear, your experience confused.
Then at once bring back your presence of mind
And gather all your strengths to reflect.
The clouds will disperse and the sky will clear:
The sun of awareness spreads brightly its light.
If no feelings or thoughts arise within
No (worrying) circumstance is found without.
So where lies the original reality,
Of all that has characteristics?
If you can be aware of a thought as it arises
This awareness dissolves the thought at once.
Sweep away whatever state of mind may come,
Be present and aware – and you will be free.
Good and evil, internal or external,
Transform when you turn towards the heart of it.
Worldly and spiritual forms
Come into being through what you think.
Using a mantra and looking at your mind
Are means to polish the mirror of awareness;
Once the obscurations have been removed
They have no more use and can be dropped.
All great and deep spiritual abilities
Are already complete within your mind
And you can roam as you wish
To the Pure Land or Heavenly Palace.
There is no need to seek the Truth
As your mind is from the start already enlightened.
When ripe, all things are fresh and new
When fresh and new, they are inherently already ripe.
Day and night all things are wondrous
And you will have faith in whatever you meet.
The above is what you need to know
Regarding the mind.
Hānshān Déqīng (1546–1623)