delete the ‘my’ in myself

POSTCARD#390: Bangkok: After hours of inert television watching I switch it off just to see what the room I’m in, looks like. The severity of greyness is devastating. All the appealing colour and images, and perfect celebrity dental work, all of it sucked into the silence of a room ‘on hold’. I’m not used to being absolutely with body and mind… by the way, where is Mind? Intrusive thinking nearly shoves me off my seat into an elbow-supporting-head and eyes blinded by the squabbling politician of recent TV watching, downloading a self that I hope knows how best to cope with these bad feelings that are quarreling and heckling in my head! The desire to punish, hurt destroy – the sheer hatred of a person/situation, generating energy both seductive and addictive. So much political ill-will and ambient anger about the place, a spark could ignite a storm.

Uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, shouting out: “Stand back and stand by!” I shudder at the thought, four more years, maybe ongoing, and in a dystopian world, Donald and Covid re-elected (⌘C ⌘V) over and over. All I can see and hear is dark and does not bode well. Bleak TV documentaries showing in the Mind; a clamor of conjured-up characters and the story of their sad lives. “What am I looking for?” but the way is blocked by a dense cloud-like thought that states: “Searching for something creates the certainty that it’s lost.” I attempt to disown everything that belongs to me. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they are just thoughts. None of this is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me.

Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears to be how I choose to see it. I don’t look out at the world, the world looks in at me, sees me, watches me… there, waiting for instructions. It’s another illusion of self because there is no “me” of substance in here. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. Smells, touch, tastes trigger responses I’m pulled towards or repelled by. It’s not what I thought – that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body. The body is there to serve the five senses ever seeking pleasure and delight one way or another.

Mind contemplating the experience of the body seated on the chair; aware of the places where legs touch the seat, the touch of arms on armrests, bearing the weight, and everything else is just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below: left, right, left, right. Images of wood-block-patterned flooring enter my vision, floor mats, legs of furniture – objects seem to pass through the body. All I can see is the flooring and bare feet walking, now left, now right. Now on the staircase descending, further and further away from the television room, reaching the downstairs room and (outdoor shoes on) out to the garden.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: [Link] Sibylle Berg with T.Roadz, one of the British grime artists who joined her on a reading tour of Germany

letting it go

POSTCARD#388: Bangkok: The photo of the boy and his mum, and the old monk with hands that have done a lifetime of physical work reminds me of the automatic generosity of the Thais and how nothing is ‘held on to’ more than is necessary at the time. As far as I can see, the Thai culture is free of most of the typical psychological problems we have in the West.

There’s so much we could learn from sharing, giving things away, good-heartedness. Generosity, is letting it go; releasing the persistence of holding on to things; all that baggage we burden ourselves with can be removed in one single act of generosity.

I’m the same as most of us Western folks, internalizing all kinds of stuff without realizing. Holding on like that for a month or so and I’m talking here about a physical problem I had, uptight and worried about it. My health condition being as it is with my large consumption of water, a side effect of whatever it is in the meds for the headaches that makes me feel dry all the time. What happened was the sodium level dropped well below the norm, but more serious than that, was the throat now painfully raw due to what I thought was the excessive swallowing of liquid.

Whether it was that or not, I became aware by observing this sore throat, it did not feel like a benign thing. When the pain arose, it was like something that reached to the centre of my being. What could this be! A malign tumor hidden away somewhere in the digestive tract?

I wrestled with the thought for ages and eventually went to see the ENT doctor and in a few minutes, we were looking at a video screen showing the inside of the mouth cavity seen from the nasal passages, by way of an endoscope camera tube, passed through a nostril.

I was surprised and interested to learn the tube could not enter through the right nostril at the time because it was almost completely blocked, but the other nostril was clear. This is the nasal cycle where the actions of the blood flow according to the inflow/outflow of air, switch from one nostril to the other every 2 hours or so, and that’s just the way it works.

I was quite comfortable sitting there with this nice doctor and her assistant. Having the camera tube inside the throat cavity was painless and the video screen where I could see the funny-looking vocal cords and I felt even more relaxed when the ENT doc said there was no evidence of a tumor! The ghoulish presence hanging over everything was swept away and forgotten.

The doc said the deep pain was probably an aspect of the same neuralgia condition that causes the headaches. The Right Occipital Nerve Root is near to the back of the throat, and when a nerve is activated it sends off the same erroneous alarm signal that is characteristic of Post Herpetic Neuralgia. Ah well, same old thing, no worries I have learned how to cope with that ‘scary monster’.

It was learning about the nasal cycle, switching from one nostril to the other that was remarkable. I looked it up in Google and this is the gist of it: blood vessels in the sides of the nostrils warm and humidify the air coming in through the nose before it reaches the lungs. The process uses one nostril at a time rather than both at the same time. Blood flow is sent first to one nostril so that it warms the air coming in. The interior of the nostril receiving the blood flow starts to swell and blocks the space slightly. As a result, there’s less room for air to get in, that’s when it switches to the other nostril.

This little gem of info is important to meditators who spend time in meditation every day, focused on the in-breath and out-breath. It’s also a great example of the allowing, the giving of space, the widespread generosity found in nature; systems in place to allow more than enough of whatever it is.

“Species as diverse as bees, birds, bats, rats, and chimpanzees all exhibit forms of generosity, or what can be broadly described as ‘prosocial behavior’—acts that benefit others. The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own.” [Summer Allen, Ph.D.]

Generosity is a glad willingness to share what we have with others. Give it away, we have more than enough. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, to ‘possess’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Brainstorm the word ‘generosity’ and you come up with compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honour, motivation, encouragement. Generosity is everything. It’s nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given and never taken.


 

the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease 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.