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…

the truth prevails

POSTCARD#340: Bangkok: How are we to live our lives and bring up our children knowing POTUS, the most powerful man in the world, is a gangster, dismantling the structure of government as we speak. World attention distracted by the media’s feeding frenzy on money laundering, racketeering, criminality and the whole familiarity of our landscape is just gone… pieces and parts of objects recognizable from faraway events in history when huge towers tumbled to the ground in seconds, the concrete and steel turned to dust instantly. It’s too huge, too much, we just can’t figure it out. Nowhere to turn, consumerism and social behaviour long since taken the place of religion, another generation of young people growing up without a God.

But who am I to say it’s like this? I’ve been away from the West for more than 30 years. Thai Buddhists offer me shelter, and the rest is about living in the world while waking up to the truth – I don’t mean the truth as opposed to POTUS’s lies, I mean the underlying truth all religions in the world refer to…

It’s worthwhile pointing out that today Tuesday 19 February 2019 is Māgha Pūjā day, an important Buddhist festival, celebrated on the full moon day of the third lunar month. Perhaps we can contemplate a full moon at this time of the year that marks an event 2500 years ago when 1250 enlightened monks came from different places in India to pay respect to the Buddha. how did they get it organized? No mobile phones in those days, whatever, if it was telepathic, it was in the context of the cycles of the moon – the same moon we see today as it was then.

I’ve found that I can’t really understand all this without looking at what the Truth means in the Buddhist world. Sila [say: see lah] is the central principle of human behaviour that upholds orderly and peaceful existence. Sila is simply, a wholehearted commitment to what is wholesome.

The Way

‘The first stage of cultivating the way is refraining from following all that is evil. It is about learning to say ‘no’ to ourselves when we need to. As a result, we discover later we can say, ‘yes’ without losing ourselves. If we don’t recognize our unwholesome impulses for what they are, we might think the bad stuff is only in other people. The second stage of cultivating the way is developing that which is good. [Ajahn Munindo]

I’m thinking of words like ethical, virtuous, righteous, integrity. Skipping lightly over that heavy word, “morality”, I discover uprightness, veracity, reliability. So how did “morality” get such a bad name for itself? What went wrong? A misunderstanding in the Church over the Christian Teachings? Resistance to the Ten Commandments (because they are too much like unreasonable orders, ‘thou shall not…’?)

The 5 Buddhist precepts of Sila are similar to the ten commandments in the Bible, 6 to 9. A few differences but noticeable that the Buddhist precepts include abstaining from intoxication – Buddhists don’t drink or consume any other mind-altering substance.

The Precepts are as follows:

Abstain from:

  1. killing living beings,
  2. stealing,
  3. sexual misconduct,
  4. lying
  5. intoxication.

There are many other precepts that monks and nuns are committed to, an exhaustive list for Lay people. But we understand that all the Buddhist precepts are intended to develop mind and character to make progress on the path to enlightenment. Honouring the precepts of sīla is thought to be a great gift to others, because it creates an atmosphere of trust, respect, and security. It means there is no threat to one’s life, property, family, rights, or well-being.

Buddhists are friendly and harmless. Many times in history they’ve been wiped out by military power, or for political ends, but the truth prevails, somehow they survive and reappear like lotus flowers grow up through the mud and blossom on the surface of the pond.


 upper Photo: Seated Buddha, Gandhara, 1st-2nd century CE, at the Tokyo National Museum.
lower Photo:A youth program held in Thailand. The youth are joining in with a Māgha Pūjā celebration.
Linked info about the five precepts, and Magha Puja Day

gate 10

POSTCARD#333 Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport: We are awake very early and into the car before sunrise, through the empty streets, darkness and strange yellow sodium streetlights. Then the elevated highway over the rooftops of the town and out to the airport to meet the Air France flight, ETA: 06.15 hrs. As it turned out, the flight was delayed by two hours, so there was time to sit in the seats at the tour group end of Arrivals, near Gate 10 and I have time to open the laptop to write this.

Gate 10, at Bangkok airport, is where the tour groups gather, bleary-eyed and sleepless, having just got off the plane from some distant part of the world. I hear people around me speaking Russian, and see from the Arrivals board it must be the flight from Novobirisk. They assemble at Gate 10 and have their names ticked off a list by the Thai guides. There’s 30 minutes allowed to have a cup of coffee; children run around, and everyone is ready to get on the coach.

But before that happens, the Russian tourists spend the time intensely absorbing everything around them; speaking with the tour guides and taking pictures of everything; roof structure, walls, illuminated adverts, airport signage, and each other posing in front of vases of purple orchids, dressed up in their best summer frocks and smiling for the camera. It’s as if they’d stepped out of the 1950s, remote from anything I know of and yet there’s a familiarity; starting to see people I knew in my childhood in the North of Scotland.

There are so many photos being taken, it’s like a small press event; digital camera lights flashing too much. I’m dazzled by it, blinded for a moment and have to look at the floor to allow normal vision to recover. Look up again and they’re all leaving, the whole place captured in pixels and taken away back to Novobirsk, at the end of the holiday, where all the views of it are reassembled to form one composite image of the waiting area at Gate 10.

When they’re all counted and answering names shouted from a list, the tour leader gathers them together in a long column. The mass exodus of the group is dynamic, following the leader in front who’s holding a coloured flag high in the air so they can see it. Off they go, through the wide passageways and shuffling along with their luggage and running children and moving as one great lake of beings in the direction of the coaches somewhere in another part of the airport.

In a short time all the seats at Gate 10 are suddenly empty, strangely quiet, light slowly coming up and then it’s completely daylight, people again start to assemble in the seating area at gate 10. It’s another group from Beijing, same thing as last time but the conversations I hear this time are in Chinese.

“God experiences Life through each of us, and we experience Life thanks to God.” [Peter Shepherd]


Reflections on an earlier post

reality construct

POSTCARD#328: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I’ve had eye surgery for cataracts and there’s a protective eye shield with cotton wadding taped over my right eye, a newer version of part of the eye mechanism has just been installed; I’ve had an upgrade. But the eye has to stay covered today, so I can’t see anything, except when the nurses take off the shield and I get a brief glimpse; they give me eye-drops then it’s covered again. A great flood of liquid in the eye, slight taste in the mouth as it drains through the tear duct into the back of the throat; swallowing my tears, gulp, gulp…

They take the eye shield off the next day. I go downstairs, through the outpatients department to the exit. The décor in the waiting area is in shades of lime green and ice blue – the colours are amazing. Unexpected. Outside, there’s a completely clear perception of distance for the first time in many years. Fascinating. I’m distracted by colour and movement at the edge of vision, face turns in that direction, curiosity – an involuntary response. Head spinning like a child or a small animal, noticing all kinds of things. Sense organs filter incoming information. In my case, visual data enters through implanted intraocular lenses (IOLs). I see the world and assume it exists exactly as I perceive it, but I know the lens implant has, to some extent, created my version of the world; perception is subjective, reality is a construct in the mind. I can see a wide range of colours around me, where insects see ultraviolet, reptiles see infrared, and cats and dogs see the world in only two colours. Viewed in this way, the world is suddenly endowed with great mystery; ask any question about this reality, and it takes you to a different place entirely.

Out of the exit, into the taxi, on to the highway system and step into a world that looks like it’s been Photo-shopped, high resolution, multi-pixel display. Astonishment! If there comes a time in the future when I’m no longer able to see it in this way because the novelty of it has gone and consciousness doesn’t regard it as special anymore, then I can return here, read this post and remember how wonderful it was…

‘Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]


Reflections on an earlier post

how it is

POSTCARD#324: Bangkok airport: Arriving from Chiang Mai, all trains into town are seriously crowded and no taxis available anywhere at the airport. Therefore I become the Crowd, one of a very large number of individuals caught in the rush on a Friday evening. Somebody later said it’s because all the international schools start again on Monday. Whatever, go with the crowd, it’s decided for me, I accept. I am subject to the public transport System, I am being ‘taken’, it’s about the process, rather than any particular person controlling the process. For different reasons, I could create a Controller in my imagination, like the bosses, the management and blame it all on them/him/her/it, but it’s about the way it works, and there’s no ‘self’ in the equation – the deed is done but there is no doer, using the Passive Voice language function to express the Buddhist Truth of no-self (anatta).

Sounds are heard, food is tasted, and the chill wind of September is felt upon the skin. And the ‘self’ is absent; there’s nobody there that feels it, unless I consciously put together an identity composite, in which case I feel the chill wind of September (Active Voice). Language tells a story, creates a fiction that I can get lost in; only partially aware that it’s a constructed thing and most of the time I’m clinging to a concept of selfhood, an assumed identity. Thankfully, in the Passive Voice, there is no doer, things are done; the cognitive process is about ‘how it is’ rather than ‘what it is’.

The world is seen – I had an eye operation recently and what I didn’t expect was that it turned out to be an opportunity to contemplate this phenomenon of the experiencer. There’s the experience of visual stimuli entering the eye through a lens created by an industrial process and somehow the ‘me’ part of it is not in the place where it used to be. It’s all very new and quite interesting – maybe because I still have the ‘old vision’ in the untreated eye, something to compare it with.

I can see the world through the old eye as well as the new eye. It’s like the linguistic ‘voice’ can be both passive and active and I’ve understood it mostly in the active form; the process of ‘selfing’ is grasped at as an entity and identified with – a controlling thing. In the West it’s a ‘belief’. My difficulty with anatta has been extricating myself from the Judeo-Christian conditioning that assumes the existence of an eternal soul. I notice that Thais, happily, don’t have this problem. Even after 30 years in the East, I still struggle with my Western conditioning; an everlasting identity, the idea of it still lingers; a shadow of ‘self’.

Train moves along and Thai passengers behave with courtesy. I’m suddenly aware how it is in a crowded train in the West and the confusion of ‘self’ that’s going on there. Here it’s about being quietly patient, soon it’s my stop. Night, car headlights reflected in puddles, I’m standing in the rain, feet are soaked and D comes to get me in the car. The thought arises, the car is driven but there is no driver….

‘Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing; there the stars don’t shine, the sun isn’t visible. There the moon doesn’t appear. There darkness is not found. And when a sage, a Brahman through sagacity, has realized [this] for himself, then from form & formless, from bliss & pain, he is freed.’ [Bāhiya Sutta]


Reflections on an earlier post, ‘passive voice’