the eye of a needle

POSTCARD#497: Bangkok: There was a time when I was travelling long distances every few weeks, then there was Covid. No unnecessary travelling and the stay-at-home order got us all locked in. Since then, there have been few ventures out into the world, only to the neurologist, and the dentist. A few days ago, I had to go for an appointment at the out-patients department of the eye hospital which is downtown, about an hour’s journey by car from here to there. So, it was a novelty for me to be out on the road again sitting in the back seat with other passengers in this shared taxi. Looking out the window at the world whizzing by. Long journeys like this are quite liberating in an existential sense, ‘I’ am being ‘taken;’ I am in a passive state. Usually, I am in the active state. I am the ’doer,’ figuring things out. Here, I have to ‘be’ rather than ‘do.’

The car sets off on the Tollway, gets up to speed. I’m like a child, watching as these huge chunks of landscape fill the window and pass through the car, ‘seen’ in an instant, then another chunk of landscape takes the place of the one before it, passes through, and is itself layered over by the next and successive landscapes. There is no constant ‘seeing’ as the landscape(s) go by, there are intervals; consciousness is a series of discrete, isolated events some of which happen to be integrated into chunks and in a moment, they come apart again because there is nothing in between holding them together. There is no ‘thing’ continuing in one smooth flowing moment to the next, and onwards that we might take to be an abiding ‘self.’ Chunks of concrete imagery like massive Lego constructs fit together as in a 3D jigsaw and when the engine gathers speed, the whole thing builds up a velocity like a long, straight highway cuts through the city blocks, large masses of it seen rising up and falling away on either side.

Then we start to slow down and come to a stop; traffic congestion, this is the downside… and I have to reign in the wild horses of accelerated thinking. Remembering the breath in ānāpānasati and in a moment, the agitated thinking is gone. Here we are, somewhere in a tarmac space with metal and concrete wall on the left side, all the way up above head-height, and on the right, five lanes of stationary traffic. Nothing to look at except the neglected, unwashed surface of the metal part of the wall, on my left; ugly, unpleasant… and again I have to halt the momentum of thinking – mental proliferation papañca. the tendency of the mind to elaborate on any sense object, out of control. Focus on mindfulness of breathing, and the unhappy state of mind is neutralised.

I start to notice there’s a headache building up. Immediately there’s the anticipation of pain, seen by ‘self’… “this is happening to me, me, me!” It’s my headache so I’m going to suffer.” But after seven years of coping with headaches like this, I can get rid of ‘self,’ not endeared to it anymore. There is a headache but no ‘self’ to which it can get attached – so there is no one there to feel the pain! In fact, there is pain, but much reduced and the mind is not bringing more anxiety into awareness, making a bad situation worse, as is its wont. I’m reminded that Feeling, vedanā is not mine, not me, not a ‘self.’ Understanding vedanā as just vedanā and beyond anyone’s control, gives rise to dispassion toward pleasure and pain. “A perfect heavenly world is seen as a sensory impossibility, merely wishful thinking, and an eternal hell is similarly implausible.’

The traffic opens up and bit by bit we are up to speed again, then down to street level and tremendous acceleration through the narrow sois, green lights all the way, ‘and this is my stop folks, see you later.’ Out of the car and into the eye hospital. The first thing you notice is all the signs are unusually large, I go to RECEPTION and give them my details. Then there is the waiting but I can skip over that and enter the room of the ophthalmologist doctor, lights everywhere and an image on the screen of the macular part of my retina, before-and-after treatment; “a great improvement” he says – and I think it’s supposed to make me see that all this is worthwhile, but I don’t get drawn into the conversation, let’s just get this ordeal over with.

I’m seated and pushed gently into an upper body contraption that holds my chin firmly and the nurse behind me presses on the back of my head so the forehead fits comfortably in a curved heavy metal strip anchored in the front of the frame. The doc is sitting on the other side of the frame, in the centre of my vision with needle in his left hand and the ampule of chemical that does the magic, in his right. There are some preliminaries but the gist of it is this: A voice says, “Don’t move!” and the left-handed ophthalmologist doc brings the needle up to my right eye. There is some pressure getting the needle in, pushing on the balloon surface… pushing again but it still doesn’t go in. Then it does, I can see what’s happening projected on the screen in front of me. There is the needle in the interior of my eye, but it’s not in the lower right, it’s in the upper left… one of those back-to-front, upside-down optical illusions. Then he says, “Now this may hurt a little,” and presses the plunger… I see the fluid streaming out of the end of the needle. It is intensely painful for a few seconds, then it’s over, Somehow, it all turns into black bubbles when the needle is out for a moment but the sinister blackness is gone in a moment. Next thing I’m out of there, paying the bill and get the meds. The car comes quite quickly: I’m surprised. Everybody has been shopping; the sound of crinkly paper bags make an immense noise, getting louder and louder, and activates a headache but when they are finished with their ‘crinkling,’ it goes away. I want the car to speed up get us out of here, put some miles between me and the needle man… then we’re gone.

4 thoughts on “the eye of a needle

  1. Oh, Tiramit, I am sorry you had to go through all this. What an ordeal!! I felt all the panic in my body with each painful stimulus… the response. You are more versed in getting the breathing to work. I tend to not be able to and instead hyperventilate which, of course, makes everything worse. The shot in the eye sounds just bloody awful. My brother had it, too. How often do you have to have these things? May you be spared the suffering! Good on you that you have such control. 🙏🏽

    • Hi El
      Thanks for these words of support. The awful thing is these injections go on for the foreseeable future. One every 6 weeks reducing to one every 2 months. J realised I have to tackle ‘self.’ With a focus on the breathing, as in any kind of breath meditation and proceed, knowing clearly that the act of breathing is autonomous, is miraculous. There is no ‘self’ in charge. All the agitated, out-of-control feeling is created by a misguided ‘self.’ Ask the ‘self’ to leave, thank you, bye-bye. I find this can be applied to situations of panic etc., in my world.

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