the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease 2019 has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

Every day counting the dead, an on-going catastrophe, the mind is fundamentally changed after the disaster experience, it has a psychological impact. Or it may be spiritual, or transformational, subject to who the actors and activists are, the realities, the karma of circumstances.

The Thai Government announcement on COVID-19, 22 April 2020:

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

The stay-at-home order is now in its fourth week, and how are we coping with our ‘stay-at-home-ness’? My wife, Jiab, is usually busy with Skype while I am hidden upstairs watching CNN. “This is CNN bringing you Breaking News”, volume fills the room. It is informative and kinda gripping if you’re lying in repose managing a headache. Sometimes I mute the volume and watch the facial gestures.

There’s a bathroom and a bed here, a large air-con room and comfortable armchairs. This is still the hot season, slatted blinds keep out the direct sunlight, makes it easier to see the TV screen. I also watch CSI and CSI Miami with Horatio forever posing with his small sunglasses. FBI Most Wanted, Blue Bloods and others. Stepping into the hypnosis of the general public: dialogue woven around a few good looking actors, studies in portraiture… I swoon with the posturing.

Aside from the enthralled watching, I do a little yoga and meditation, and go down to eat and wash the dishes three times a day. Jiab does the cooking or orders delivery. There’s also time spent writing posts, say 2 days per week – I’m not as dynamic as I used to be.

The headache comes and goes, never completely gone. It’s been five years, we’ve gone through a lot together, the headache and me. Remembering now there was a time when I didn’t have the headache, mourning the loss of the pain-free state I possessed in that other world from whence I came… all of it irretrievably gone from memory. Strong, angry emotions – red light, phone alarm rings, stop thinking. Return to watching the breath… the utter functioning of being alive. Watch TV, just dismayed – how could it be like this?

My headache, or the coronavirus is the imponderable. Our world is good but there’s always something that’s not right. Incompleteness, and the Buddhists say it’s this, the discovery of dissatisfaction, Suffering, Dukkha, the first Noble Truth. Years ago I was so glad to discover this because I was lost in it and at the best of times, wondering what that bad feeling was. There is Suffering, caused by Desire but there is a Way out, found in the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 Noble Truths)

Everything comes crashing in. The inevitability of events and present moment awareness. If I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated as I do to look everywhere for the way out of this suffering, and thus begin to uncover the mystery.

If I’m having difficulty with my headache, and I’m trying to avoid it, the presence of it, the acceptance, it helps to think of it as another self; the headache is a person, a friend – I feel there are two of us.

Interested in the well-being of this other self, I say to my headache self:

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

When it’s time, three capsules of pharmaceutical forget-me-nots swallowed with a gulp of bottled water and in a short while, the intensity of the headache has moved away from consciousness – a long sigh of outbreath.

Last thing is: why am I doing this, writing these posts? There’s a lot to say and I’ve learned so many things from such a lot of good, kind, and wise people that I feel I have to share it with everyone.

May all beings be well.

 

 

containment

POSTCARD#362: Bangkok: The Government on Friday, April 03, 2020, reported 103 new local cases of Covid-19, raising the total to 1,978, and four new deaths which increased the toll to 19. Thailand is a small country about the size of Texas. Efforts at containment of the virus means we are on stay-at-home conditions although some goods and services are still being delivered. I haven’t been out of the house for two weeks… have everything I need. We get most things by a masked man on a motorbike. He always gets a tip from this household.

My sense of being at home is quiet and at ease because we are provincial. Also the busy road network all around is deserted right now – everyone working from home if possible. So there’s time to reflect on what else is going on in our World of people on stay-at-home conditions.

Fortunately there’s also the opportunity to step into an introspective state/ meditation. I go to my most comfortable chair, sit down and close my eyes. Letting go of any anxiety felt right now. How does it feel? We’re here in the familiarity of our own homes, and that’s true for everyone else.

We are all ‘here’, in a metaphorical sense, in our various locations, North, South, East, West. In different parts of the world, in different time zones, we’re all experiencing that special feeling of being ‘here’, at home, right now.

Meditation is not an effort to make oneself peaceful, and there you are, end of story. It is a practiced development of that calm state of mind in order to see clearly how to step out of our fundamental confusion. Breathe in slowly, breathe out long, Watch the inbreath, the outbreath, we place our attention in ‘here’ the center of the body and focus on this state of being ‘here.’ Consider the difference between no-where, and now here.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. We’re all inside, ‘here’, inhabiting the space contained by floor, walls, ceiling and the furniture we live with. Be calm we are all at home. Relaxation and thinking about things while watching the inbreath and outbreath.

Stories come and go, pondering over this and that, and the awareness of being engaged with the thinking thing gets included in the searching – looking here and there as if I were looking for something I lost, but a while ago I forgot what it was. Can you believe it? The search function goes on, no matter what. If I start thinking about how to stop thinking, the mind gets busy searching for the way to do that.

Thinking has its own momentum, takes time to slow down; that’s the nature of it. With that thought, things start to fizzle out… letting it all go, until there’s nothing left and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. The mind is alerted… an empty space opens up, a great mirror showing Consciousness looking at itself – the awareness of being aware. Silence and emptiness; everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, yes the invitation to be involved with thought is there but the novelty of no-thought holds my attention.

The breath is so faint and light it’s almost not there at all. No other sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with; no sense object activates the chain of events and all that remains is the mind’s cognitive function.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. A curiosity stirs: the ‘self’ is a sensory experience; the experiencer is an experience – there is only experiencing. Consciousness is the sensory organ of the universe. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and cognizance – this is how the universe experiences itself.

We are all ‘here’, each and every one of us, aware and observing the circumstances associated with this fundamental truth of consciousness.

Consciousness, perception, and reality interact by way of the six sense doors: eye, ear, nose, tongue, feeling, and mind. The one that is accessible is the mind sense-door, leading to awareness of all the other senses, including the sense that it is self-aware; a cognitive functioning focused on the sense of awareness. Everything falls away, leaving only the arising and ceasing of things. Then that falls away too and there is ‘the end of the world’. Beyond that, awareness continues – not dependent on conditions supporting awareness.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.044.than.html

Excerpts from an earlier post: ‘self is a sensory experience’. Thanks to: ‘truthless truth’ for the discussion in 2012 that led to the publication of this post.

G   R   A   T   I   T  U   D   E


ordinary epiphany

POSTCARD#353: Bangkok: The arrival was in a cramped poky little ambulance – even here, the ignominy of it, everything is always too small for me. This could be my final hours and I’m preoccupied with the claustrophobic environment. Despite these difficulties, I’m aware the nurse is trying to comfort me in my condition; a wild compulsive shuddering, quivering and twitching of an out-of-control body. In fact there was no pain, breathing was unrestricted and it looked worse than it was.

Anyway it was all lights flashing, and the multi-sound-signal siren going full blast when we arrived at the hospital. I got unloaded on a gurney, and next thing I’m in a pool of bright light and they’re searching for a vein, difficult as it is with my tiny little veins but prolonged due to this out-of-control body twitching and shaking. I tell the doc sometimes I can control it in my mind. She asks me to hold it in place for a moment. I can do it… then the full choreography of twitching takes over. Sometime around here, they must have gotten the vein and thus I was zonked out of the picture.

I wake up, and the twitching has gone. I’m in bed wearing green hospital backwards facing night-wear and the world seems very far away – except for the presence of the catheter in the urinary tract and two large bags of fluid dripping into my veins every few seconds. It tells me I’m trapped in this hospital room for the time-being, and I have to come to terms with that.

There’s somebody in the room talking to me but I can’t understand what she’s saying, or see her face clearly – it’s all mumbles in a kind of darkness. I attempt to get out of bed but this elicits mild admonishments, and restraints .

For the next four days I discover a new resolve, unknown to me in any other context. From time to time I’m overwhelmed in a kind of holy light – my born-again Christian cousin in Scotland would be delighted – but for me the Holy Father of the West is not relevant after more than thirty years in the East. It can’t be spoken, ‘it’ is not an ‘it’. Saying ‘it’ is an ineffable presence overstates it even.

It was following this way of thinking that enabled my recovery, bit by bit. The problem had been my low sodium level and the pain-meds for my headache got thrown in the mix. That was Lyrica and now, no longer part of my menu – I’m searching for the way out of my pain, always. Maybe I can manage with a few extra 300s of Neurontin. It’s a case of try it and see and that concept of existential monitoring applies in my case in all kinds of ways.

“Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.

You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.

Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11

 

addendum

POSTCARD#352: Bangkok: This is the addendum. Additional material not included in the previous post will appear here. Some have said that the last post ended inconclusively, leaving more questions than answers,

So let’s rethink that, shall we?

Keep it simple.

You could associate the jolt of electric charge with all kinds of things, but the patient (me) had suffered a small stroke. Nobody I know knows what a small stroke means, the scale of it. A sudden bolt of energy in the chest sounds like that could be it.

My wife Jiab calls out as I’m carrying bags to the car… “Hey you can walk so well now, congratulations!”… and I can’t remember the context of what she is talking about. For the first time I begin to see the larger reality of being elderly and disabled; then the reality of my condition before all this came, unlikely to go away or become something else.

Post Herpetic Neuralgia – certain light and sound frequencies that are acceptable for most people but intolerable for me.

So when we decided to take the show on the road, so to speak, there were a few precautions; we had the tint colour of the car windows darkened quite a bit. Now it’s like a car wearing sunglasses, very cool and relaxing. For stepping out of the car, we were less prepared. I expected it to be a bit of a shock with all the arbitrary light frequencies entering through the eye and shrill sounds enter through the ear. But not the scale of the headache and the circumstances of its arrival. We have to accept these realities in our effort to slowly create a practical defense system against the invasion of light and sound, and the internal systems that are activated as best we can.

We broke the journey at Samut Sakarn after 4 hours hard driving. It had not been easy with all these road construction obstacles. Park the car get your things and suddenly, I’m out there, exposed in high resolution Photoshop enhancement. I’m really a nocturnal owl-like creature, sheltering behind a black umbrella, squinting in the daylight; a quiet presence behind sunglasses contemplating vibhava tanha, (Buddhist term for the desire to not exist)… I really don’t want to be here.

I feel Jiab’s small hand take mine and pull me towards the small Inthanin.com coffee shop in a wooden shack with window and overhang roof. Up the step and fold away the umbrella. Then into this dark environment with noisy AC, roaring ice crushing machine and suddenly I have to block out the sound by covering my ears with hand towels. People watching us come in must have been puzzled by what was going on. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Jiab’s hand appears with an iced drink. It’s a smoothie but no ordinary smoothie. This was the first time I’d experienced the mango passion fruit smoothie. To start with, I made the same mistake I’d been making that nearly turned me off of smoothies; I opened the mouth and throat completely to take in a huge volume of the ice-cold liquid. After a moment the liquid begins to move down the gastrointestinal tract and here the headache is constant steady and intense.

No escape, no reversals, there’s just no getting away from it. I’m holding on also because of traces of the mango passion fruit flavor I can release into the pain arena as the drama of the event subsides. For quite a long time I’m hovering through pain and pleasure, long after the source of the ice-cream headache is gone. Then I’m in a smoothie heaven – all this of course with eyes closed, a small towel over the front of my head, gradually coming back into the world people normally inhabit.

This is how it happened, you could say this was episode three on the way to the beach at Hua Hin… or maybe that’s all done now.

the way things appear to be

POSTCARD#349: Bangkok: It’s been three years coping with this pain hovering over me night and day. In the beginning my life was dominated by the headache (referred to here as: H) but I’ve discovered all kinds of things in the process. One thing not to be taken lightly; I learned the steps that lead away from suffering as if it were a code built into consciousness.

Another thing of course the severity of pain is not the same as it was. Maybe the mind gets used to it and there’s not the same urgency. But one aspect of it still strikes the nerve system on the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder. It can be any screeching sound like chairs being dragged across the floor, in a concrete room.

Here in Thailand there are some women whose voices, in laughter, are… utterly shrill. For me it’s a high frequency sound weapon, it penetrates through the auditory sensory organs and becomes something no longer heard. It feels like cold steel. I have to leave the room immediately, jump out the window into the garden and a forward roll gets me to a waiting taxi and away from that place forever.

But before anything else, it was necessary for me to be aware of the thinking mind. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I needed to be aware of, how I think. I have to consciously take a step in that direction in order for things to have the momentum necessary to develop of their own accord.

So much of it is simply how it appears to be. The medicine plays tricks on me but I don’t pay it any mind. The effect begins to take place, H becomes non-hostile and becomes a tension band holding skull and neck muscles, tightly but secure. I can move away because there is nothing holding me. No pain. It’s detached, without a self to whom it would cause suffering. It’s the medicine that does this (necessary here to say). I put in these terms because that’s how it all seems to fit.

What is leftover is that part of the medicine that is the antidepressant. This is the place where I can gather up the mind, get it all in there, close the door, and melt into the darkness. From this comfortable place I can focus on the rest of the body/mind in a meditative way – an insightful contemplative state of mind.

As the years go by I see I’ve missed so much about the quantum world and how there seem to be groups of Buddhists who realise that we are consciousness itself. ‘When we rely on others to tell us their truth, we lose our power to actually realise pure spontaneous consciousness of independence.’

In the beginning I had to stay still for the medicine to have its effect. Nowadays I’m able to go around and just live with how it’s coming down. The large amount of medicine means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things – otherwise I’m okay.

‘see beyond the way things appear to be.’ Ajahn Munindo “Acceptance and Relinquishment” Volume 18

the calm meditator’s endeavor

POSTCARD#348: Bangkok: It’s been many months since I was an active meditator. The headache 24/7 pushed that out of reach. But I’m looking into ways of finding a direction into meditation from my memory of it. Thoughts return of course but I still have the calm meditator’s endeavor to escape from this prison realm to the extended spaces of meditation, and maybe I’ve found the way out.

No need to get rid of the thinking mind, just be aware of it; all the garbage about Donald Trump in YouTube videos, copies of segments from CNN and MSNBC. This has been a habitual thing for me – I’m sorry to say – but something tells me I’m not the only one. The news is, I’ve more or less found a way to say goodbye to this. Begin by stopping the videos in arbitrary places for long enough to forget the sequence of events, the story of it and the mind slips away into the silence.

This is Insight meditation, not necessarily Buddhist meditation you don’t have to be a Buddhist to do it. The intention is to gain insight. Follow the breathing and observe these long stretches of silence, thoughts return of course but I’m not going to prevent that from happening. The thinking mind goes on tumbling and falling, like dice showing the numbers that result. Then it changes to something totally different… let it! All I need to do is be aware that it’s there.

So I’ll continue with the ‘voice’ of the uninstructed meditator looking into the experience of self-hood running parallel to the ongoing description of events,

Who am I? Am I my thoughts, contained in here, in this body? Everything is happening ‘here’ – this ‘here-ness’ surrounds me everywhere I go. Out there is the rest of the world – but where does the ‘out there’ begin? Where does my here-ness end? Where’s the edge of it? An innate knowledge tells me I am more than the here-ness that surrounds me, I am all of it!

Too much to take on board right now…. a tornado of orderly chaos beyond my comprehension. I can’t get far enough back to see how the pattern is structured. I prefer to separate things, bit by bit and the familiarity of the thinking thing helps me to do that.

All that is required is I need to be aware of the content of thoughts and beware of the wayward thinking mind; the joys and sorrows. It’s been said so many times, watch out for the pitfalls, and the ground beneath my feet giving way to that whole nother thing.

And that could easily be the trump phenomenon, donalding around doing his thing in our collective consciousness, a toxic environment. It’s the things we love to hate. Tugged here and there, a captive audience. Living in constant anticipation of his next move; how he seems emboldened by some small event we thought would be the end of him but somehow it seems it has given him a little bit of political wiggle room.

Everything about the thinking mind rejects the image. I don’t want it to be like this! the only reason it has remained like this is a kind of habitual adherence to that unruly group of harmful thoughts. Use the thinking mind to be the gatekeeper. Clear out the thoughts, let them go – it’s been said so many times, switch off the TV, the devices, get unplugged. Disconnect… lose the signal, who cares?

So where are the edges that separate me from everything else out there? Is it the surface of my skin… does it end here? Is this the extent of myself? But on that nano-scale, the pores of the skin, a fluidity of stuff hurtling right through us, in and out, all the time. There’s electrons and neutrinos that are constantly zinging through us and everything else… how can it be?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72YbK9quS_c

Inspired by a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sucitto

entities

POSTCARD#347: Bangkok: I’m sitting in an armchair in front of the television; CNN & the Mueller Report. But the volume is mute; I’m not watching it. I don’t want all these Trumpian entities invading my quiet space. Sidestep that thought in the monkey-mind before we get hijacked by how bad it seems. Not my problem, you could say, I’m not a US citizen. I’m a Scotsman living in Thailand for more than thirty years, with almost nothing to hold on to. But I can feel the pain of America tearing itself apart; my heart is with you all my friends! Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away, for a moment; there’s just the in-breath, and the out-breath.

Sitting in a darkened room, and the story so far is that I’m having one of those substantial headaches I get from time to time, and I’ve taken all the meds I can take but to no avail. The tendency is to take more and more meds but that gets me in a worse place. The headache remains, fills my head with what feels like a huge metal spike. There’s only one thing I can do now, make my way to that little space in the body/mind where I know there’s some comfort to be found. I remember it from last time, get into that place, and hunker down… wait for the hours to pass.

[But where is that little place or space? It is an actual place near the groin, a Latin name I’ve forgotten – I just remember what it it feels like. Serious meditators know this; please send me some links in the comments below, thanks.]

I can search for it in the body/mind, by adjusting the way I sit slightly – leaning away from the seat of the chair until I’m balanced more on the edge. Somewhere during this time and space, the little place appears in the body/mind. Familiarity with how it feels, discovered in this new seated position; feet on floor, elbows on the arm rests, head inclined, as if asleep.

There are one or two instants when I think I must have gone to sleep, but did that happen ‘before’ or ‘after’? Where do I insert the ‘self’ that’s observing this? The body/mind remains in a loosely conscious state with large chunks of time missing and that’s good. This is not meditation, this is how to cope with a headache until it’s time for the next dose of meds… somewhere in future time. It’s the idea of continuity, I reach the end of a piece of time and take a huge leap towards what I believe is ‘next’. There’s nothing to confirm, verify, that there’ll be a ‘next’.

The thought that all this doesn’t exist, unless I think it into being… takes my breath away. ‘When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.’ Samyutta Nikaya 12.6

Sometime after this I reached the time for the meds and the headache was almost gone right away! Next day it was gone completely, and I wrote the above story of it all in a sequence of time.


Photo: Roy Cohn with DT

painlessness & the twitch

POSTCARD#345: Bangkok: The continuing story of relief from the pain-in-the-head (H = headache) that’s been with me these last 3 years. Yes a time for celebration, but considering my threshold being as low as it is, therefore affected in a big way when even the smallest easing of pain arises, it’s more like being thankful for small mercies. I’m in a world of tiny calibrations these days, the vast Roller Coaster Ride of self medication is over.

Sunday 24th : I didn’t need to take the magic pill until afternoon because there was no serious H – another example of the state of painlessness is that I forgot to take the usual Neurontin dose in the afternoon because there really was no headache. So I’m still walking-on-air, in this pain-free zone I’ve been travelling through for a while.

25 March : This morning, 8 am, there was the usual dose of Neurontin, the H was still there so I waited to see how bad it was and at 10am, take the magic pill. By 11 am I had forgotten all about it – the headache was gone. 12.30pm: no sign of H. I take the usual dose of Neurontin and wait to see if the H will appear. No, nothing ‘till late afternoon, I take the magic pill and H is gone.

Tuesday 26th, I feel so good and empowered, I walk to the Skytrain station, approximately 1 kilometre and got the train downtown to Central Chidlom Food Hall, got all kinds of food items and back in a taxi with all the shopping.

27 March, 10 am: Felt liberated and free, same as the other days except in the late morning when the H started to arise and I had to take the old meds instead of the magic pill (at the Neurologist’s request). The H disappeared, but then came back again pretty quick in the afternoon. This does not bode well, I thought… waited to see how bad it was then took another dose of the old meds. Reasonably effective pain killer but not the same.

27 March, 7pm : A very bad pain started inside the left eye, a huge kind of rolling pain, occupying the whole interior of my head. Four or five rolls, the whole thing lasting around 1 minute from start to finish, tapering off at the end but feeling it was not really gone. I was glad it happened at home because I fell on to the bed and covered my head with pillows and moaning like an animal. Wow! I hadn’t had it that bad before. So I take the magic pill and after a few hours a second dose. The H is gone and, sorry Dr. Ms. Neurologist, that’s the end of your experiment.

28 March, 10 am : Walking to the Skytrain aware there’s pain in the head, stepping out carefully, gliding along as smooth as can be, trying to stay calm and see how it feels. I don’t want to stop and take a pill with swig of bottled water I keep in my bag because of the broad daylight, big wide pavement and so many well-dressed office staff coming and going. What to do? There’s a coffee shop up in the Skytrain station I can get something there and take the magic pill.

I go up the escalators until I’m 3 floors above street level, and the traffic noise, amplified by concrete and steel is incredible, hard to believe. Push open a green glass door with a small whoosh of cool air. Step inside, the door gently closes behind me… traffic noise is suddenly gone. Nearly all the seats are taken, Thai students studying for exams, grouped together at small tables. I feel I shouldn’t be there, the only foreigner in the place… ah well, maybe that’s cool.

I find a seat and order cinnamon tea. Open my bag, get the meds – fast hand-to-mouth movement followed by a quick gulp of water. That’s it done, Relief Coming Soon. Now, one last thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is ‘the twitch’, and I don’t mean the rock band named Nervous Twitch or the Gamers’ Twitch at twitch dot com, I mean ‘twitch’ as a neurological issue, caused by either the neuralgia I suffer from or the meds to treat the neuralgia.

Not a big deal, just a short, small, unexpected jerk in the arms usually or in the upper body, not the face thankfully. Maybe it’s becoming more noticeable, not sure. I’ve just gotten used to it now – but not used to having to cope with it in public. And I think you can guess what happens next; cinnamon tea arrives, elegant cup I lift carefully to the mouth, head inclines towards it, lips protrude slightly to receive the hot liquid… and just at that moment, there’s a really bad twitch. The cup is jerked out of its graceful passage, and cinnamon tea is splashed over the front of my shirt.

Wow, okay so I have deal with that now, hot wetness, dab-dab dabbing with folded tissue paper, here and there and all over the place, acting like it never happened. But after a while the shirt starts to dry out and you could hardly see the stain. So that’s what happened. I got up from that chair, no evidence of cinnamon tea stain, out into the traffic noise, and back into the state of painlessness.


 

wise discernment

If you find a good companion,

of integrity and wisdom,

you will overcome all dangers

in joyous and caring company

v.328

The mind, like water, takes on the shape of the vessel in which it is contained. The Teacher is encouraging us to be mindful of the company we keep. The Discourse on Great Blessings says, “Avoid the company of the foolish and associate yourself with the wise.” As we apply skilful discrimination, we need to exercise care that we don’t confuse prejudice with wise discernment. Wise discernment is compassionate and kind and is interested in protecting all beings from harm. [Dhammapada Reflections, Ajahn Munindo, p12]

This verse and commentary are meaningful to me because of having to place the word ‘discernment’ in the unusual setting of friends and friendship. In fact, discernment is a very Buddhist word. I think for a minute about the meaning of discernment and use that meaning of the word to investigate ‘discernment’ further; discerning on and on, deeper through the layers.

Wise discernment can also be applied to ongoing qualities of pain – my 24/7 headache caused by Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN) situated in the right occipital nerve. There are times when I know how to cope with it, and times when I don’t; and it’s here these words from the Buddhist realm reach me one way or another.

I’ve had it for 3 years and only recently able to shake off the depression;  I am the ‘headachee’ – the bell that is struck, the drum that beats. The neurologist got me round to seeing the sudden ‘spike’ headaches in terms of Severity, Frequency and Duration, units of measurement, instead of feeling sorry for myself; victimhood, a passive sufferer of constant headache. Now I keep notes, monitor the meds and put into words qualities of pain in my head… or is it discernment beyond words? Pursuing this to the end seems to make sense, besides there’s not much else that I can focus on these days.

At the end of last year, I was working with low doses of meds (Gabapentin,  Pregabalin and Norytriptaline ), in order to see the effects in a minimalist kind of self-research. Also to get stable after two years on a reckless maximum consumption drive, existing in a vague, pain-free haze every day. The following are some diary entries at the time [H: the headache]

  1. I learned so much from the pain now, anyone who’s gone through long term recovery from an injury will know what I’m saying about balancing the meds. My injury is very long term, a lifetime, plenty time to understand the process of recovery.
  2. The day I came to Outpatients for the appointment with ENT removing wax from the ears. After tolerating the pain and sound of the suction over and over and again, the self fragmented and got sucked away. What was left was empty space, no one to whom this was happening.
  3. However the terrible shrill noise had activated H; a massive steel grip tightening on the back of the skull bones. I couldn’t interrupt the doc as she had said I have to sit still. I was somehow transfixed. Suddenly there was this growling sound like an animal, and I was wondering where it was coming from. Then I realized it was me! The ENT Doc stopped the machine.
  4. I apologized for the animal noises and explained to the lady I have this massive headache every time she starts the machine. So she listened to me and we took a break then did another session that didn’t last long because of the involuntary growling again. The doc said it was enough, okay now, the eardrum was clear and that was that, end of the ENT sessions. I think she was glad to see me off.

 

 

beyond victory and defeat

Victory leads to hatred,

for the defeated suffer.

The peaceful live happily,

Beyond victory and defeat.

  1. v. 201

 

Those who live beyond victory and defeat are called ‘the peaceful’, but not because they are devoid of feelings. They are not ‘beyond’ because they have escaped the confidence trick of self. Self is like a rainbow. From a distance it appears real and substantial; as you get closer it appears less solid. If we hold too tightly to our sense of self, we get lost in views about what makes us happy. We believe that winning is all that matters, not seeing that in the process we cause suffering to others. If we hold too loosely to our sense of self we get lost, this time from a lack of boundaries, becoming overly sensitive and lacking in confidence. Self-respect and self-confidence are the natural consequences of a life lived with integrity and understanding. [Ajahn Munindo, Verse 201, A Dhammapada For Contemplation (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006]

There’s something about this one that takes me to a place where everything becomes clear. It’s like making space for it all so I can see what’s helpful and what’s not. I’m busy with treating my pain – a 24/7 headache situated in the right occipital nerve. There’s not much else that gets my attention these days.

The following are diary entries at the end of last year when I was working with low doses of meds (Gabapentin and Pregabalin), in order to see the differences and the qualities of each, if possible. Also to try to adjust from two years on a reckless maximum consumption drive, existing in a vague, pain-free haze every day. [H: the headache]

Self in itself is not anything of substance, but it activates all kinds of mind stuff, triggers all kinds of feelings of possessions; ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Basic instincts; catch, hold, kill, eat.

So, for me, it’s necessary to retract the claws that cling to things because it only makes the pain worse. It’s not ‘my’ pain, it’s just pain. Pain is pain no difference between your pain or mine. Pain is a non-countable noun; there is only one pain in the world, in the same way as there is water; there is only one body of water in the world.

Another thing, the negativity surrounding pain; I have pain, therefore I am a bad person. I must have done something bad to deserve this pain. That’s a ‘self’ concocted thing, let go of self and allow that to fall away

  1. One thing I’ve noticed about these pain meds is that they reduce the pain of course, but they also work on how the patient feels about the pain. There’s a distance between me and the pain. This is quite extraordinary sometimes when the pain feels like it’s here, but I can’t feel it because it’s behind a wall, or something. Or it’s in the next apartment, where a noisy party is going on… so I don’t have to pay attention to any of that any more.
  2. Sometimes it feels like a self takes shape and considers the situation… the pain is here but there’s no ‘me’ to whom it is directed. Self dissolves again. Another self comes into being with the question: To whom is this pain directed? “It is happening to me, myself!” Now I have full exposure to the pain! And I learn how to quickly let go of self when it’s not being helpful.
  3. Another self arises and says, “I’m going to suffer this Headache for the rest of my life!” So many times I’ve pondered this – how do I feel about this truth today? (compared with how I felt about it yesterday). Give it the attention it’s due then sidestep the awful self that wants to make a big thing out of it: “This is happening to me!” What are we going to do about it? And other unhelpful things.
  4. Next morning, wake up and no headache! At 9 am I take 900 mg Neurontin although there is still no headache, only small indications. It was like this all day.
  5. 1 pm, second dose of 900 mg Neurontin only small stabs of pain but not the huge deep stabs I’ve had in the past.
  6. 5pm: 900 mg Neurontin, so what’s going on here? I’m taking this medicine as a preventative measure? Let me think for a bit about this… how could it be? Anyway still no noticeable H and the day is over!
  7. Next day, H is back again but the pain not so bad, I’m able to get involved in small activities. Note: If I’m not able to forget the H, things become quickly unbearable, and I’m subject to the needs and requirements of the H. Things quickly get out of hand. This careless self-medicating takes up the whole afternoon, all in a dizzying spin. I’m grateful when 8pm comes around and the night meds send me off to sleep almost immediately.
  8. With these new meds, pain is masked off, forgotten about, for long periods of time… it’s like I forget about it. I forget also, other things I’d normally remember – is it this ‘forgetting’ that seals off pain from the mind? Is it the sense of ‘self’ that gets forgotten? There’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening?
  9. And for quite a long time, things in the room I’m in are so fluid there’s only the forms I meet from time to time, forming, transforming… quite extraordinary…