incredible lightness of being

POSTCARD#274: New Delhi: about the permanent headache, the anaesthesiologist lady in the white room says there’s another kind of treatment available: Pulsed RadioFrequency (PRF), so I could consider this rather than coping with the pain by self-medication. The new procedure stuns the nerve that’s causing the pain. Agreed, let’s fix it for 25th July, and all of a sudden with some degree of excitement I’m looking forward to a major change in my life.

That was then, this is now. I got the flight back to New Delhi from Bangkok, all the usual rumble tumble and really, what’s all the fuss about, I don’t feel the pain as much now as I did at the beginning, nearly two years ago. The meds give me a space where there is almost no pain at all. The lingering ‘mind’ aspect of the pain (that re-minds me about other things to do with the pain) is pushed out of the way due to a particular attitude/ focus of mind that doesn’t find it interesting to be with these associated shadows of mind.

Forgetting, of course, the deep stabs of pain, which penetrate, like long steel blades, and there are no meds to make that go away, ringing the urgency bell in the dark morning of an environment that seems bleak, unforgiving, and just BAD. Anxiety and despondency, the evolving stages of pain and confusion in between, and retracing my steps that seem to have once brought me to a place of peace, like entering a room within a room, and there’s a door leading to another room and so on, until I’d forgotten which room was which, with no plan or diagram showing how it came back to the present time. Why? I think that somewhere along the line I must have said to myself, enough is enough, this’ll do! And a large chunk of it (The ‘rooms inside rooms’) was erased from memory completely. So now there’s no finding my way back to there and then, how it was before all this happened.

The meds seemed to be as much a problem as the headaches; the nightmarish Alice in Wonderland bottle with the label saying: DRINK ME appears and long after that experience I’d wake up in the morning, roll over on the pillow and it felt like I drank too much wine the night before, but I don’t drink any alcohol at all (unrelated: that’s another story) whatever, like a light that shines in the darkness, I’m a meditator; early Buddhism/ the lineage of Ajahn Chah.

The headaches have ricocheted through these quiet spaces so much I’ve had to expand the boundaries to include mind states that are more like contemplation than focused meditation. Every time I gratefully fall into the meditative state of mind, it feels like I’ve been away from here for such a long time… returning to the knower, the fundamental mind, addressing the objects of the mind, thoughts, and phenomena arising in the mind. Staying there with this incredible lightness of being, and happy enough to not reach out much more than that.

Right View and Suffering, okay once I’d gotten rid of the adversity attachment (note to self: this will change too). Now there’s an opportunity to know the pain is likely to ease with this new ‘procedure’, I’m into this new stage of what’s happening with this headache and the degrees of focus, (no-one seems to know) leading to the confusion again, the kind that had to go away, away and get out of here – not thinking at all that the desire to get-rid-of-it is the same as the desire to-have-it. Polarizations, there’s no difference between ‘out’ and ‘in’, good or bad’, and so much more. So I have to let it in through the barrier I built. Let it go and let it in, try that and see… close the door that wasn’t open to it.


PIcture at top: A wall painting in Bangkok’s Suwannabume airport

ends and beginnings

POSTCARD#272: Delhi – Bangkok journey: TV drama going on as I’m packing, I see it, stop and watch: intense dialogue, close up on faces, directors’ exercise in portraiture. Carry on with my packing, gathering things from here and there – then the TV catches my eye again, sit to watch, and the credits come up… is that the end already? But it’s not the end it’s the beginning. An extremely long intro to an old series of The Walking Dead… oh no, morbid curiosity, and too much for me. The scenes of zombies being stabbed in the head are too similar to the stabbing pain of the PHN headache I live with.

But anyway, it’s okay today, taken my meds, and time I wasn’t here. Dress up in the clothes of who I think I am. Passports, ticket, fiddle with the key, open, close the door. I am the person who lives here – note to mind. Bye-bye to house, into the taxi and away.

Wheeled luggage through airport hallways and corridors… check-in desk for Bangkok, and check it all through to Chiang Mai; transit time in Bangkok is one hour – note to mind, beware of misleading signage in Bangkok, arrows don’t seem to point in the right direction to the Transfer Desk.

For a moment, future time invades the present, and I feel I’m already gone, but it’s just that mild urgency of airports, and ‘the journey’ which is forever ‘here’ and never ‘there’.

Flight number, gate number, passport number, visa details, watched by hidden cameras, facial recognition software, security procedures: Passengers are reminded not to leave baggage unattended at anytime.’

I am part of a network of beginnings, middles and endings, always leading on to the next journey. Jettison clutter of the mind, travel lightweight, be minimalist – ‘it’s better to journey than to arrive’. It’s always about the journey to get there. Arriving is the departure point for the next journey, and another opens up after that.

Watching the signs above and mindful of body movements, there’s only the walking. Watching the duality of steps below me, left, right, left, right… flooring surface beneath spins underfoot. The way, directionality, as if held in one long continuous moment leading to the imaginary place of arrival, like the vanishing point in a perspective drawing doesn’t actually exist.

And there’s something about the flow of faces I see, pulling their luggage, holding their children. I can see the unique identity of each person as I pass, as they must recognize the same individuality when they look at me. But somehow we’ve all become blank, there’s nobody here

We are all in transit; on the way to (or coming back from) somewhere else… a glimpse of the nothingness situated at the centre of everything the Bardo of the in-between. The ‘me’ I live with is not a substantial thing – sometimes not there at all. Present time is more connected with the past, where we arrived from, than with the future where we are going to, a place of speculative conjecture and hypothetical likelihoods, stumbled-upon in following the here-and-now.


Photo: Barges travelling from Holland to England, taken from the window of the aircraft from Aberdeen to Amsterdam.
Note: This post written as the news arrived that we are leaving India in September 2017 after 6 years working here, and returning to Thailand. It’ll be sad to leave, that’s life…

bent into shape

POSTCARD #265: Chiang Mai: I’d decided to use this image for the header thinking the way I cope with my headache is an improvised thing, much like the way this traffic sign has been bent back into shape after something has crashed into it – then as I write this I’m distracted by wind chimes from the balcony of the next-door house, which suddenly play a perfect chord in the air. I slip into wakefulness from the dream of that which I’m held by, and become an extension of the wind-chime’s notes. Horizontal on the bed as if shipwrecked on a sandy beach. Waves rushing in to the shore crash-crash, and the whole thing receding back. Comes rushing in again, crash-crash-crash, becoming a form that shapes into the body of the sea rolling over on its side like a great animal trying to sleep in an enormous bed. Then I realize I’m awake and have to give my whole attention to the headache that lives with me… just looking at it, seeing it as it is.

Wind chimes strike groupings of notes like the random sound of birds in the trees. I’ve been reading about knowledge which is so completely at one with the thing it knows, there is complete understanding, complete absorption into that knowledge. I can understand how that could be – it is of course a description of events, rather than the thing itself. Seems amazing to me, being as far away as I am, living in the world of attachment, the automatic bonding, even with things I dislike; seeing that and learning, by necessity, the strategy of no-avoidance….

I’ve had this headache for long enough to know that how it is right now, is the kind of suffering I can accept and live with for the time being. I can open up to the presence of it, as a form of recognition, accepting it as it is. Just the ‘me,’ being like this, still slightly on-edge, alert for the spikes which appear sometimes – but no, not this time. It becomes an energy accumulating with the in-breath, disintegrating with the long out-breath like the waves at sea breaking on the shore. I can open up to and experience the fact that it’s here, then it’s collapsing again as the out-breath distances it, like a long golf course, or a road winding into a landscape.

Curious, interested, and seeing the headache I experience as the First Noble Truth… just this openness to it. The contemplation is about calm, steadiness and everything else is swept away in a storm of liking, disliking, wanting, not wanting. Remain firmly in that same place as the wave returns and there it is again but I don’t need to hold on to it by hating it, or seeing it as something somehow construed and thought to be ‘bad’. See all of that happening, see it disassembling, falling to pieces; form, feeling, perception, fabrications, consciousness… and the ‘I’ can vanish into the totality of it.

Time to get the headache into the shower and get on with things. Then I’m at my desk, and at some point in the mid-morning, see how it feels, take the meds, then I’m falling back into a world of no pain, stumbling at the wonder of it. The day gets through in a dull fogginess. Sleep, and next morning I wake up with the opportunity to be back in this place of mindfulness again…

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.” [Eckhart Tolle]


The sign says: turn left, caution, traffic coming from the right