the karma of getting there

Chiang Mai : 7am: The sound of a text message wakes me; Jiab arrived in Bangkok. Overnight flight from Delhi – and… what’s this? “Have you ordered a taxi yet?” Hmm? Taxi? What day is it? Oh no! I’m leaving today, not tomorrow… a flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag… quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow a headache pill, into taxi and it’s a struggle to stop the rushing and bumping into things in my head, breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport.

Okay for time, as long as nothing untoward takes place, like what happened on the way to the airport once, in a taxi stuck in a long line of cars. A very strong smell of something like an omelet… what’s going on? We get to the obstruction, a collision of some sort involving a pickup truck filled to the maximum with trays of eggs… broken eggs everywhere, egg shells floating in puddles of egg all over the road surface. The egg-man in the middle of the sea of raw eggs sitting on the edge of his truck, head in hands.

Reminds me I have my headache to think about, and how best to manage that having swallowed a pill before breakfast – slightly dizzy, just to make things worse. We are at the airport, and embark on the karma of this route; the directional momentum through escalators, corridors, doorways – catch a glimpse of other people in their karmic paths. I enter and exit enclosed airport spaces that contain me in their capacity for a moment then I’m gone. Passing through other portals, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my small seat area, looking out through the window, under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we are now descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit.

I feel stretched, part of me is 367 miles away, back at the condo in Chiang Mai having breakfast and listening to the birds interrupt the silence. Another part of me is gone with M, to New Zealand. M is my Thai niece now aged 14. She looks like a miniature adult. It was the day before yesterday, I went with her to the airport, we all had lunch, me and M and her mum and after that, I’m in the back seat with M, bags everywhere, a leisurely drive to the airport, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly mummy says something in Thai about a passport, M replies, saying she doesn’t have it! Car swerves across the highway, U-turn at the next opening and we are headed back the way we came. Mummy driving like a mad person, steering with one hand on the wheel, and with the other, calling the teacher who is going with the kids to New Zealand to say sorry M might be a little late.

So we got there, Mummy runs into the house to get the passport and while she’s away, M says to me quietly that they had to leave their house that morning exactly at the auspicious time given them by a ‘holy’ person, and mummy forgot the passport then, because she was too busy with getting the exact time precisely  right.

Enough said about that, another wild race back to the airport. Meeting the others and it all ended well, M waved to me at departures, went to New Zealand and took a part of me with her.

It’s the karma of getting there, I’m just mindfully aware of the direction and being propelled through the portals and gateways: this and then that, and the next thing. Some people, burdened with their superstitions for better, for worse need to be blessed by the holy person – and I suppose some would regard the egg-man as an example of someone who should have gone to receive the blessing but he didn’t and there you are.

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. [Kuan Yin]


what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]

Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

nine lives

POSTCARD#302: Chiang Mai: Long ago in the Swiss mountains, there was a cat who lived in the Buddhist monastery,  Dhammapala. It had no name, just arrived there one day, and stayed. It answered to the name: ‘Cat’, would walk definitively across the carpet; tail pointing in the direction it came from, pad, pad, pad, pad, and sit in the lap of his favourite monk, seated on the cushion there with crossed legs. Not however, during meditation times because the community agreed it was too distracting, other restrictions too but ‘Cat’ accepted all, dozing during the day and prowling in the woods at night.

On this day, I came across him on a small table in the sunshine. ‘Cat’ was often there, looking exactly like he appears in my old illustration of him. The same cat, the identity of Mr. Cat animated in the image – he ‘exists’ even though long gone in the decades since then. It’s as if one of the nine lives is used up being the likeness I see here and others who knew him see too.

It’s not impossible, by the way, that other people who have or used to have a black cat might see the identity of their cat in this image. What they see is ‘Tiddles’ or ‘Cutiepie’ – or as my blogging friend Sunny and her husband tell me, it’s their ‘Daisy’. Sadly, Daisy is elderly now and needs to be looked after, a lesson for all of us that there is an end to it all, and the clear comprehension of those final days are filled with immense peace. This is how it is, everyone, everywhere seems to know of a black cat like Mr. Cat, or the one image of Mr. Cat embodies all the others held in memory.

On this particular day, sitting on the garden table, the eyes look at me… ready to engage but ready to vanish back into the realm from whence he came. Hesitates to see what the next moment will bring, pause, click, screenshot… and I decide to back away, to step out of his space. I hadn’t intended to do that, it just started to happen and I followed through – maybe the deference arose with the thought that Mr. Cat was an extension of the monks’ awareness – those who might have extraordinary powers… all kinds of things.

I see his presence regarding me walking backwards and becoming a smaller and smaller object in his vision until the distance between us swallows up the encounter. His remoteness disturbed by an intrusion of everything seeming to happen at the same time. And for me, the nine-lives metaphor thus transits to include this other meaning; cats appear and disappear becoming cats in the lifetimes of all the other black cats I’ve known in say, more than a half century?

North of Scotland, Grandfather’s farm, a different place and time…. I was a boy and it must have been my first meeting with the cat species. Not the cute and cuddly kind, these were the cats whose presence kept the rats out of the old barn. Don’t go near them I was urged, not friendly creatures. There were eleven of them, my aunt said she knew there were, as we were walking along in the cleared snow path on a moonlit night – she would count them every night. Into the barn and my aunt would ask me to point the beam of the torch I was holding so she could see where to carefully place the large heavy dish of steaming food on a level place in the straw where it couldn’t be knocked over; oat meal cooked with sour milk filled to the brim, mixed with potato peelings, bits of all kinds of leftovers and horrific things, to my mind, being only seven.

The wild cats never came to eat the food while we were there (while I was there, I realize now), and my aunt would ask me if I could see them in the fearsome jagged shadows in the torchlight, long hanging cobwebs from roof beams. We’d stay still and look in all the corners – where are they?

There look!
Can ye no see them child… there!

And there they were, just out of reach, behind a volume of straw. I couldn’t actually see them, in fact I don’t remember ever seeing them anywhere on the farm in daylight. No, these were invisible cats; we could only see their eyes, white, reflected almond shapes in the torchlight. No body forms seen, crouched there in the blackness, waiting for that noisy child to leave. Fascination for me, held by my aunt, asking if I’d noticed that one of the cats had only one eye.

I saw it once, the one-eyed black cat, and I’m not sure if it was black – everything in the realm of the scary barnyard cats was darkness and black. But I saw it one night… my tireless aunt guiding my attention from one pair of luminous, broken-mica eyes, to the pair above that and above that, to the left a bit… now there, can ye see it? (Said in a whisper), and I saw it, one eye separated from its partner, alone in the blackness of no form.

How did it come to have only one eye? A volley of questions and speculations from me, for my aunt to consider… and she just said that if I stopped asking over and over, she’d tell me. A long time ago, that cat used to have two eyes like the others, and it went missing for days and weeks and months maybe, so long that she thought it must be dead. Then it came back one winter’s night for the plate of cooked leftovers, completely thin like a skeleton but otherwise looking as if it had always been there. My aunt noticed, as she watched it from a distance, that one eye had been torn out, so it must have been fighting with another cat. These animals have the determination to survive, no matter what.

All of that swallowed up in passage of the years and decades since then. Now after thirty years in Asia, where cats are never allowed inside the house, I sometimes see a cat-shape out there in the yard in the darkness, glimmer of streetlights. It turns its head and two eyes reflect the lights of the house – not the marginalized, one-eyed warrior cat. Must be one of these invisible cats of innumerable lives reborn in this instant, awareness includes that living being, then it’s gone almost as soon as it arrived.

grown-up children

POSTCARD#301: Chiang Mai: I got back to the apartment in the afternoon, slightly deaf and the feeling of being shipwrecked. It was the immediate sense of the journey that brought me here, the tuk-tuk, lady driver’s alertness and skill in what was for me a sudden urgency of speed. And those of us who don’t know the Thai tuk-tuk, it is a three-wheeled vehicle with a low canvas roof and no walls. The sound of its 2-stroke engine enhances the sensation of the whole vehicle entering into the passenger’s body/mind consciousness in a strange embrace, and it’s this, only this, that prevents you from falling out. That’s how it was for me; like gale-force winds, the whole outside, rushing through the inside, and everything on either side shielded from view because of low headroom and overhang of canvas roof. So the only place to look is over the driver’s shoulder, through her small windscreen and thus captivated by the directionality of the journey hurtling through a wormhole in space/time, and plunging towards a vanishing point that looks like it never arrives.

Definitely, it would have been easier without the large cork notice board I was clutching, fingers adhering desperately to this ‘thing’ measuring 47½ inches by 31½ inches, that wanted to be a sail in a sailing ship. Perhaps buying it in that discount place slightly out of town (and taking it back in a tuk-tuk because no car available) was a foolhardy idea, now it was tugging in the wind, and I’m seeing the very real possibility of it escaping my fingers and flying away like a kite without a string. But it didn’t, we reached the place, and tumbled out on to terra firma. The board and its sudden flatness, placed on its narrow end, up in the elevator and into the room.

Why this sail-like notice board, uncomfortably dwarfing nearby objects which shuffle out of the way to make room for it? Well, I could fix it on the wall with a hook, but right now it’s good just standing and leaning against the wall. I can move it around and pin things on it with a small box of pins I got at the discount shop. What things get pinned? Drawings that would be otherwise hidden, animated scribbles, and things developing more and more into what we can say is Art.

Let them see the light of day! Exhumed skeletons from long ago and far away, when and where I was an artist, intending to be an easel painter, studied 4 years in art school, exhibitions and all of that. Then one day my investigations led to a dead end, a place where everything was called into question, Creative Block… one’s own worst enemy. So I gave up, became an anarchist, conceptual tight-rope-walker, then stepping into the light, a teacher and the world of respectability. Anyway, the path led me to where I am now – that was decades ago and I’ve carried this sense of incompleteness all that time. So now, thanks to voices of encouragement from blogging friends, and my Thai niece M aged 14, I’m beginning to see that there is a way out of this conundrum.

Bring them out of hiding, pin them on a board: I had planned it only this morning. I have a printer so, cut, crop, say it’s finished, print and pin it on the board. Rediscovering these old plans for pictorial adventures and voyages long forgotten, pin them on the board as they are. With that, no tugs and pulls, push and shove, everything becomes neutral, non-intrusive random thought mechanisms that function at the edge of a dream pull me into the gentle whirr and flicker of thinking-about-things.

Each page of the world turns over and there’s another, and another. We’re all grown-up children, every song that’s sung, spoken in rhyme, is done in a spontaneous leap of words that, falling to the floor, arrange themselves, themselves.

See the Art page in this blog. Note: photo taken in a quiet moment at the red light


monuments to playfulness

POSTCARD#300: Bangkok: Writing this in the house we’ve had for fifteen years. It’s in the suburbs, a gated community, mature trees, landscaped, and the birds and critturs moved in, settled, as if they had always been here. “Return To Go”, we come on the weekends nowadays, this is the nearest thing to home, our point of origin. Feels like home, looks like home, although most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and D, our nephew, acting caretaker. He got married in 2014 and I wrote a post about that. Now there’s a boy-child in the house too, born 20th December 2017, almost the Christmas story but not quite.

On a Sunday morning there’s only birdsong and beneath that silence, I’m fathoms deep in sleep. Then I hear the child crying downstairs… a reminder I’m not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are. Not easy, even though, but I am deeply glad, grateful too that I don’t have to go and tend to the child – sympathies for his parents, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.

No reason for Jiab and I to go beyond the joy of having a baby at home, into the harder reality of it all, because we are only there at the weekends and on Monday morning, we’re back in our very small rented downtown apartment. Only 10 minutes on the Skytrain from there, to the glitzy shopping malls and huge exotic foodhalls, I go there nearly every day, buy one fresh bagel for our breakfast and a few things I can pack in my small back pack, then home again.

So I’m learning how much everything has changed in Bangkok these days, after being away for 7 years and before that, temporary residency since 2003. Astonishingly elaborate Mall architecture, monuments to playfulness, shrines to maya (Sanskrit: illusion). More and more of these in Bangkok, new spending to suit a lightweight upbeat city culture, low labour cost and lavish “investments” … construction projects are ongoing.

It becomes more and more like a world-class city as the years go by, typically Asian, company staff dressed in bright floral uniforms hand out gifts to passers-by at the Skytrain exits. Usually I decline the offer but the other day it looked like they were giving away packets of shampoo, so I accepted. Then, laughter… a second woman took them out of my hand, saying ‘No, not for you,’ and gave me what she was handing out – hmmm, I don’t know what that was about, but this must be men’s shampoo, I thought.

When I got back to the apartment, I was putting away the bagel and things from the mall, then there were the brightly coloured packets – no product name displayed… oh-oh, not shampoo! Packets of contraceptives! I didn’t need to open the packet, could easily feel the contents with my fingers. So they all got flung in the bin.

I don’t understand how the first lady could have mistakenly offered me the product used by the female gender. I’m so obviously male, head and shoulders above the women, and a bristly, untrimmed beard. It’s the kind of mistake Thais make when they are ‘sapsong’ (confused)… maybe she was new to the job?

My mistake really, the sort of thing that happens when I don’t understand the language well enough, and anyway I’ve never had to use the Thai word for contraceptive ‘toong’ – in fact it’s the same word as plastic bag (it does what it says it does). I sometimes hear giggles when I buy something and they ask me, do I need a bag for that?



POSTCARD#299: Bangkok: I’m standing on the escalator, ascending the Skytrain levels, up to what looks to me like 3 floors in height. There’s a small place here above the traffic, selling drinks and snacks. Open door, air-con, find a table. So I tell the waitress what I’d like, she writes it down, and just as she’s reading back my order, someone opens the door and a huge noise of traffic deafens everyone. So I have to lip-read in Thai, thinking is this just a wild guess? The ubiquitous misunderstanding, we’ll see what happens. Quick glance around these calm and easy surroundings, I reach for my phone, but it’s not there!

Wow, devastated, no phone, nothing to fiddle with, to tap, swipe, to scroll down, up – nothing to feed my short little span-of-attention. Someone else opens the door and enter again the huge roar, screaming horns of traffic. Shocks me out of my ‘there-and-then’ location in that space and time instance, there’s no ‘me’, let that go and events just generate their own time. Senses alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? Don’t ask me, I am the escapee… the one who disappeared (story of my life), and now I’m left with it, disasters I think I have to run away from, but on closer inspection, there’s only the learned mechanisms of escape, and I lose track of what it was I came in here to get away from.

So who are these nice people here in this place? Elegant males and females sit in twos and threes at small tables, rarely speak, each one looking at a screen, held fondly in the palm and fingers, the glow of colors reflected on their inclined faces, and the rest of the world is one vast blind spot. They’re not office-lunch-hour people, it’s too late, who are they, then? Conclusion, wow, they’re people like me, a mirror reflection of how I’d like it to be; stretching out the hours with a lunch plate, one cup of coffee, and the only difference between them and me now is they have their phones and I don’t.

Door opens again and high amplitude of decibel vastness slices through part of my head like a chain saw. Involuntary existential moment, looking out at the world and wondering if I can mount another escape attempt at such short notice? Even though it can be said that it is the searching for the way out that maintains the fear of being trapped. I need to make a note of that, in these circumstances, but no device to key it in on and tap save. I’ll have to write the old fashioned way, there’s a pen in my bag but no spiral notebook to write on – forgot that too. So I rummage around in my wallet for receipts that I can write on the back of, all kinds of blank bus tickets and paper I’ve had in my wallet for years.

There’s an immediate familiarity with holding the pen, pressed point seems to etch the characters in new ink into the surface of old wallet pressed paper. Encouraged to write only the gist of it because of limited space on these small scraps of paper, and I have to number them in order. Try that and see… everything seems possible now I have a system. Encouraging to see that, even though we suffer the ugly Trump regime, we can still have the Buddhist sense of what’s right, and wholesome action, Right View, Right Intention.

Shortly after that, the waitress comes with my lunch and it’s not what I ordered, kwiteao moo sen yai naam. Eat with chopsticks in right hand and spoon in left hand. No complaints, it’ll do, notwithstanding splatters of it on my shirtfront and not recommended if you’re fiddling with a phone screen at the time. But I’m not and soon I start to get down to it.








not anything

POSTCARD#298: Bangkok: 3:30 am: Almost awake in the darkness of a warm insect-click, whispering night; dreamscape/ language interface and a question arises… floats in air motionless, then ascends, as light as a feather. Which way will these air currents take it? Something about the usual way I perceive my surroundings is different. The pronoun ‘I’ becomes ‘him’ over there, engaging in active thinking… looking for words to make sense of it all. Curiosity shifts, rolls over and retrieves the word ‘pain’.

By this time, the session with the Pain Clinic yesterday has returned to memory and now I’m nearly awake – so the big question is… has the headache gone or not? Focus attention again on the location of that pain, as a particular point on the headache ‘map’… is it there? Push myself up in bed, swing legs over the side, soles of feet on cool flooring. No, the pain I feel is where the needle went in, and all around that, is a totally pain-free zone. It worked!

I want to fling open the bedroom door and go running up and down the stairs, but I can’t do that because we have a 5 weeks old baby in the house… it’s a long story. Compassion for those having no understanding of the Buddha’s teaching on the Noble Truth of Suffering – Suffering? Not for me, no thanks, it sounds awful. I want to be happy. There they go hungering after that happiness, and trying to keep it all in balance, the tipping point, verging on total disaster.

Systems developed from the recognition of the kind of suffering that’s caused by resistance. Seeing myself fighting against it, as it’s appearing in present time, sometimes hating it, and holding on in some way to a temporary pain-free state, short-lived because unknowingly I’m pulled away by a yearning for something else and the round-and-round of wanting things to be different than the way they are.

I’ve learned that the best way to keep your balance in these investigations into the way things are, is to not want anything, and not seek anything, because there’s ‘not anything’ there – not ‘nothing’, not ‘anything. If I can see it like that, the holding-on thing is not getting in the way. What I’m left with is a contemplation of the question rather than looking for the nearest-match answer. We can’t know what it is in the conditioned realm; beyond the point of no return, and there are no words for it. In the end maybe, all that remains is the word ‘it’ – there’s a metallic click-sound to it as that too is cut off, extinguished, the cessation of the conditioned world. This is as far as it goes in Theravada Buddhism – other Eastern teachings may have more to say about ‘it’.

‘The real is not something, it’s not anything. It’s not a phenomenon. You can’t think about it, you can’t create an image of it. So we say unconditioned, unborn, uncreated, unformed. Anatta (not-self), nirodha (cessation), nibbana (liberation). If you try to think about these words you don’t get anywhere. Your mind stops, it’s like nothing. … if we’re expecting something from the meditation practice, some kind of Enlightenment, bright lights and world-trembling experiences, then we’re disappointed because expecting is another kind of desire, isn’t it?’ [The End of the World is Here, Ajahn Sumedho]


a window opening

POSTCARD#297: Bangkok: 6pm: A coffee shop near to Banglampoo, plugged into an iTunes track, when another sound breaks through; someone calling my name – there’s a man coming towards my table. I stand up too quickly and the headache stabs me, one earbud yanked out, and the phone spins away on the other one still attached, falls off the surface and hits the table leg; crash, bash.

Reaching for phone suspended on-cord-pulled-tight, thus thrust into real time, all-around sound… a face without a name appears. Mind-rush-through-memory-files, searching for nearest match. A hand extends into my space: ‘I saw you in the window!” he says, by way of explanation. It’s Jim! Remember me? How’re ya doin’ pal? – How long has it been? I shake his hand held out for handshake, warm firm grip.

Yes, it’s Jim, same face, older, threads of hair combed carefully over a bronzed skull with brown age spots on smooth old skin held at the corners like curtain folds beneath which, enquiring eyes look out… an unfinished sentence. Recognition starts to kick in, laughter – good-looking teeth, I see a row of white back molars, and for an instant, the smile seems to go all the way round 360 degrees, so that the upper half of his head becomes separated from the lower.

This is too weird; I manage to swallow a headache pill with a swig of water. How is it possible, running into each other like this after a decade or more in old Bangkok? He tears a piece off my paper coaster and writes his phone number on the back in large emphatic numerals. Sorry but he is on his way to somewhere else right now but I have to remember and give him a call. We shake hands again and he’s gone in the crowd.

Running into someone I know from decades ago; small world, I suppose – now I’m resident here until who knows when. My coffee cup balanced unevenly on a torn coaster, and in the centre of my vision, the other part with his phone number written on it. Should I call him tomorrow? It’s been so long, so much water gone under the bridge. What to say? Tell him about my headaches? Nope, that’s a whole discussion in itself. I pay the bill; get up and out into the huge sound of evening traffic.

All kinds of changes since I’ve been away, a proper place for pedestrians to walk, these streets seem to have moved into gentrification. Either that or I’m becoming part of recent history. My old buddy Jim would remember how it used to be, streetlights with bare wires twisted together in junction boxes, broken paving stones and the infrastructure of the city poking through into ordinary reality.

There’s always been a particular care in Thai behaviour, but these days there’s a civic responsibility that wasn’t there before. Streetlights show the patina of small slippered-feet-shuffle over smooth sidewalks. The handrails on pedestrian over-bridge, polished and worn smooth with Thai palms, fingertips, sliding along – I feel I’m part of them, holding on.

Should I call old Jim? Would it be relevant to him, me saying that I just moved back to Bangkok after a great number of journeys between here and Delhi, North India? Nope, that’d only confuse things; he would assume I’d been here all this time. Why go anywhere else, he’d ask. We are refugees from the West embedded in Thai society, gratitude to the population who just move over and make space for us.

What is it then? Under what circumstances do our paths cross here in this part of town after nearly 3 decades? Maybe it’s nothing, no reason… a window opening onto karmic flows, and for a moment we can see the functions of our relationships with each other – always a ‘birth’ of some sort in the creative unfolding, and then it moves on.

I should tell him, a child was born downstairs from us, 22nd December 2017, like something biblical. The baby son of Jiab’s nephew, I held the tiny being in my arms, a haze of soft black hair. We never had a child of our own; maybe we can borrow this one for a while. Recognition of body heat, breathing, moisture of mouth, the small weight. Eyes slide open at the sound of my voice, a blue glaze of filminess. Could be an ancient artifact – the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself: anicca dukkha anatta.


a trumped up story

POSTCARD#296: Bangkok: Passivity is killing the endgame (thanks Kismet) this is it exactly. Watching CNN reporting on POTUS’s latest scandalous remarks ignites a fire within and I can’t seem to break free of how ‘bad’ that is; thinking for a moment there’s safety in apathy: Ah well, here we go again. Sticking with it, falling for the overwhelm, rolling thunderous clouds of imponderable thinking. Thus the history of my own rumble and tumble… starting up all that again? A flash of  justified outrage illuminates the room – fans the flames. This is a bizarre form of entertainment, we’ve seen the Punch & Judy show before of course, we know how to sidestep the action/reaction.

And suddenly we’re among the crowds in a market place, 17th Century England. Hungry for performance, anything’ll do, follow the noise: it’s over there, over there! Outrageous, disgraceful behaviour gets everyone’s attention… the trick is to have them all hate you, and in the push-and-shove, jeer, boo, a sleight-of-hand in that unseen instant, and suddenly things appear to be other than what they are. Derisive laughter at disbelievers, Mr. Punch in the spotlight, brazenly facing the uproar and law and order doesn’t seem to have the wherewithal. Then, as all this is taking place, the same kind of concealed actions change the scenery, Kuroko on stage, switch it all around and bit by bit, we start to get hooked on the drama, as we do in a Netflix series binge-out.

The world becomes a big hungry, greedy, grabber of things – a devourer, a multi-mouthed feeder of objects presented by way of the five (six) senses – isn’t that what they’re there for? But seeing the need to tread carefully here, I let go of all things hateful, burning hot thoughts scald the tongue, lip, and fingertip. For everyone else, let go and run for your life. I’m looking for the way to stay alert, camouflaged from fearful imagery, allowing only sleep to find me.

The glow of the city at night turns the sky orange, up here on the 7th floor of my hotel, looking out the window and down there at the trucks reversing back up the hill, round the corner at the top. It takes a moment to see it’s because they missed the sign that says the road’s closed… here comes another one. There’s something about this noise of high accelerated reverse gear… a nightmarish absurdity. Yet fascinating how the drivers are able to do this at speed. Well, everything is as it should be, the seemingly obvious really has no other meaning. It’s all a trumped up story… yes, but beware, thievery abounds – mindfulness is a necessity.

“Having lived through the transition from totalitarianism, I am acutely mindful of the need to never take for granted the basic freedoms of thought, expression and belief that democracy brings.” [Daisaku Ikeda]

Image above linked to the story of the Buddha,  reinterpreted by 12th Century Christianity, having arrived there by way of Hebrew, Persian and Arabic legends.

auld acquaintance

POSTCARD#295: Bangkok: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” The first line of Burns’ song, sung at midnight at the end of the year, could be seen in a Buddhist way – shouldn’t we simply let go of things? Relinquish whatever is held, be it for good reason or otherwise. The Second Noble Truth: suffering is caused by attachment, therefore detach from the object.

The old year is going, the new year waiting behind the curtain. I am another manifestation of awareness, a world of sensory data passes through me at entry points: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and mind. There’s no tangible self here, life looking in through the eyes, as well as out, input/output, and the experience of this room, outside-in space that contains the embodied sensory apparatus I identify as ‘my’ self… and a self slips into view, as if beckoned; flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being, a temporary presence appearing in an agreed-upon reality.

In another sense, the question: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot? “ helps me to understand there’s nothing to be gained further by fighting with this headache that sometimes stabs me unexpectedly and grumbles in a discontented way the rest of the time. So I live with it, and take the medicine. It means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things not clearly stated in their own place and time – otherwise I’m okay.

Yes, it’s been so long now, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not have a headache all the time. The medicine does seem to work, or maybe the headache is not as bad as it was. I don’t feel it as much as I did, it’s just always there – I’m aware that my life is not quite the ‘it’ that it was… but thankful for small mercies, as one of my aunties would say.

And surely they would be aware of the need simply to be mindful (although the word mindfulness wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in their day, when paying attention to what was wise), thus being careful not to misjudge the dimensions of a step in going upstairs and thus fall in a heap. It’s like ‘fumbling the ball’ the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and you’re in hospital with two broken ribs.

I’ve been there, recovered from it, and have a wary eye open for the next attempt by gravity to bring me down. As long as that level of mindfulness is present, all is well. So I’ll take this opportunity to wish fellow members of the blogosphere, one and all, a Happy New Year 2018.

Photo by Berti Buffy, Shwedagon Burma