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…

metta, ‘that loving feeling’

POSTCARD#339: Bangkok: The 4 Brahmaviharas, maybe you don’t know about these wonderful states of mind, if so they are a light in the midst of all this political darkness swirling around Valentines Day 2019. It’s hard for me and sometimes I think of it as searching for something that’s lost. So inexplicably lost that I’ve forgotten what it was I was searching for too, and I don’t know what I’m doing any more. No point in trying? No because I’ve found it in the past, and I remember how wonderful it was. Besides, it is well documented in the Buddhist discourses and, beginning with myself before moving on to other persons close to me and outwards to others with whom I may have an ambivalent relationship: “may I be well, may I be free from suffering, may I not be parted from the good fortune I have attained. It’s not easy but through these willful intentions I’m able to liberate the mind from time to time.

  1. metta (Pali), is that loving feeling, the practice of cultivating loving kindness, universal love. All beings have the innate ability to generate metta; loving kindness; an intentional dwelling in heart-felt emotion. Breath meditation with a focus on the breathing organs which are situated in the heart; metta-chit, with a heart of loving kindness, wishing all beings well, using thought to generate goodwill… like falling in love with goodwill, in its highest form, over and over again.

Through the practice of meditation, metta is felt in the centre of one’s being; the middle of the chest and radiating outwards on all sides. But these days, when I try to bring out that feeling of loving kindness, I experience pain – even though it’s been months since the violent ‘punch’ exactly in centre of the ribcage… the aching is still with me. Also the damage to the right occipital nerve (right side of the forehead) echoes and reinvents trauma of some sort or another although these last few years this too seems to be less than before.

Distressing, the thought that I may have lost the ability to generate loving kindness. There is however, the ability to receive metta through the goodwill and generosity of Noble Friends in the form of compassion.

  1. karuna (Pali), compassion is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop. Karuna is the capacity to remain present in the face of pain and suffering, dukkha (Pali). “May all beings be free from suffering.” Karuna essentially is the application of goodwill.

Whereas dukkha generates an urgency, more and more suffering, karuna is right in there, trying to understand the suffering, at the same time generating wholesome intention, and looking for the way out of suffering.

I can feel metta karuna and that’s as far as it goes for me at this point; although I can understand, of course, how metta karuna becomes Sympathetic joy

  1. mudita (Pali), sympathetic joy is the opposite of envy. Mudita is the capacity for boundless, appreciative joy and gratitude to all beings. Mudita is what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness: it wants the happiness to continue.

You are happy for others’ success. Important in this world of arm twisting, back stabbing, elbowing competition in some form or other. It becomes imperative to have the intention to wish others well, rejoicing in the attainments of others.

As Buddhists we depend on metta karuna, wishing others well and mudita rejoicing in their happiness “… may they not be parted from the attainments they have achieved.’ Rejoicing in the goodness of other people, and the fullest extent of this, back to suffering… and maybe when I encounter suffering I can’t stop no matter what. This is when equanimity arises.

  1. Upekkha (Pali), equanimity is the capacity to be with things as they really are. Not to create more suffering or joy than is there in reality. With the intention to avoid creating additional suffering and to channel my energies intelligently to areas where I can be of help. In this way, equanimity isn’t cold hearted or indifferent. It simply makes goodwill more focused and effective.

Upekkha means the heart is balanced, no ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’. I’m able to look on, rather than being actively involved at this stage. May I abide in equanimity (may I just look on without Liking or Disliking) And whatever has the nature to arise, ceases. All things are of the nature to arise and then fall away – allow these things to develop without my engagement. Let go of Liking or Disliking – these things only cloud the mind.


Note: I’ve used many sources to write this post and I may have lost some but below are the best links. Also, the upper image I found on the internet some years ago but since then I seem to have lost the origin. If you happen to know it please let me know, thanks. The field of flowers is a pic by Pok near the submerged caves where the boys were rescued in Chiang Rai in the North of Thailand

 

https://www.thoughtco.com/loving-kindness-metta-449703

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8H6KivldfU

http://www.buddhanet.net/mettab5.htm

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel006.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOnYY9Mw2Fg

mindfulness of pain, part 2

POSTCARD#338: Chiang Mai: Now three months since the event in November of last year, and the recovery from that blow to the centre of the chest, delivered like a heavyweight boxer’s punch – devastating. This is what it felt like. What happened was, around 9pm I was going through the crowds on Nimanheman Road with my Thai niece M, in the almost daylight brightness of studio lights suitable for taking selfies out on the street I suppose. Flashing illuminations distracted me and I stumbled on something in the darkness of a shadowy stretch of unsurfaced sidewalk, lost my balance and fell forward like a tree is felled in the forest. Broke a rib somehow, but the main thing was, I did something to the sternum, (the sternum is that vertical bone in the centre of the chest). This bone took the impact of the fall – I fell diagonally on a concrete step, hands held out to break the fall, but as the floor comes rushing up to meet me, it’s the step that takes the weight BANG!

I’m face-down on the step – small Asian hands reach out to help me get up. M leans forward and says in my ear, “Toong Ting, do you want me to call an ambulance?” I tell her I’m okay, (so practical, M is. She is 14 now and dyed her hair canary yellow, but that’s another story). Also thank you and smiling to all these kind people (note: real concern, anxious faces), more hands held out to help me get back to where I once belonged… the realm of all upright, upstanding, decent, and respectable persons.

What does this look like? Old guy with wispy white beard sinks down in the crowd, has a stroke or something? Falls on the rough un-surfaced sidewalk. No, no, I’m okay, just tripped, slipped, tumbled, stumbled, fumbled? I’ll be allright, thanks for your help, it’s okay – I’m getting some of their anxiety. Best stand up, no matter how inviting that unsurfaced sidewalk looks like a nice place to lie down and get comfortable. No, no, and I start moving around, to reassure everyone that this old guy escaped the clutches of gravity once again.

We made it back to the apartment without me feeling any pain, but next day the agony in the chest was something to behold. The breath-taking scale of it… just turning over in bed would throw me into a trauma of panic, difficult to find the way out of. Ordinary things, like getting up from the sitting position were so overwhelming I’d stay seated for most part of the day.

Meditation was/is a necessity, I had to develop skills fast for this 24 hour, no-choice pain situation. Almost always at night, when sleep would find me seeking a position or a place somewhere, somehow, something bearing the characteristics of rest, and following the pathways leading to a comfortable place to be in, to inhabit for a few hours and the easefulness of that, but not to dwindle there or linger too long, lest it becomes something impossible to extricate myself from – all these tugs and pulls that mindfulness uses to remind us where the Path leads.

Then as far as possible, a quiet investigation into the pain, and the reaction to it, again and again. Contemplation over the breath-taking scale of it; what to do? not much more than that, but by the end of January, I came out of it with a greater awareness of this part of the body… in the East it’s the Chit, the heart, the mind. The idea that identity was situated in the Brain didn’t make sense at all

What’s happening to me? Examining the X-ray of the broken rib I could see all the other broken ribs fused together any old way (this is how they mend themselves), bits sticking up where there shouldn’t be, and seen so clearly because they’re all on the same side of the body. Four broken ribs which occurred separately are all on the left side?

What kind of karma could this be; the ribs, the blow to the center of the chest, and the long surgical scar in the abdomen where a Thai surgeon removed two cancer tumors in the colon more than twenty years ago, and lastly, my Post Herpetic Neuralgia in the right occipital nerve, feels like a blow to the head, never gets better, a permanent headache. It’s all just so intrusive, so violent, how can this be? As far as personalities go, I’d say and others would agree, I’m not a violent person! Doesn’t make sense, karma like this is surely irredeemable!

Ajahn Vajiro was passing through town the other day so we met him at the airport and I asked him about these traumatic circumstances, and what to make of this strange karmic outcome? He shook his head saying, never mind about that, get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know.

Examples: poo ying: lady, poo chai: man.

You could say poo roo is the higher self, except that it’s a personification, which brings us back to the subject/object divide. What was meaningful for me was how Ajahn began articulate the blessings the Four Brahma-Viharas, while explaining the quality and meaning of the words:

1) Goodwill / Metta, Loving kindness.

2) Karuna / Compassion, is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop.

3) Mudita / Empathetic joy), what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.

4) Upekkha / Equanimity)

The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s words still remain in present time, everything about who I am, disappears for an instant and there’s only awareness. I experience this awareness physically, in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. Felt exactly in the same place where the huge punch in the chest happened… curious and strange, best left alone, unsaid, unexamined, and questions unanswered do not create the subject/object divide. Thought and language are the apps, while awareness is the operating system. It comes before anything else, here in the centre of my being.

Awareness precedes thought. As soon as I think about it, the whole thing becomes duality, subject/object. This time, I’m inclined to take it further, and that awareness (object) is ‘me’ (subject), ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am the subject of awareness. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be ‘me’, starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

There are many ways that this metaphor can be constructed. Please let me know how it looks in the comment box.

T

mindfulness of pain

POSTCARD#331: Bangkok: I’m a Western migrant, living in the East for these last 30 years, and looking at my conditioning in the light of being inescapably part of the Eastern culture; all the ups and downs of life in Asia, and finding the way through in situations where language/behaviour are unfamiliar to the Western mind. Also the headache, from three years ago, learning how to live with that, requires an alertness, a sharp focus on how the pain gets stuck from time to time. There’s a built-in wake-up alarm that rings when this happens and every other time mindfulness is absent.

Being mindful of pain and the experience of suffering (dukkha) is necessary because there is the negativity surrounding pain, “Pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this!”… The locked-in reaction to criticize oneself for having the pain. Knowing there’s a difference between the pain itself and the act of resisting it.

I’m aware also of the attachment to wanting the pain to go away, “I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there!” Giving way to the energy generated by the craving, profoundly desiring it to ‘not-exist’. And knowing I’ll not find any peace in attempting to gratify that need, although I may persist in trying. Returning again to that confusion of thoughts and feelings; what to do? There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to notice how the pain arises when I try to get away from it. Better to be as calm as I can with the present moment and see how that goes.

There are many routes that take me to the awareness that it’s only in that no-choice situation… there, that a tiny moment of ease is felt, and I discover how it turns around; things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it. I need to be reminded the problem is not the pain; the problem is the concept of ‘me’ coping with the pain.

One of the first things I understood about the Buddha’s teaching is that the mind is not self. Mind is a sensory organ like the other five – mind is the sixth sense – everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think. The mind sense leads to a consciousness of how everything is coming in from the outer world through sensory experience and that default to the sense of self: hey, this must be happening to ‘me’. But the basic truth is that there’s no substantial ‘me’.

These wonderful smallest of smallest instants of mindfulness… the pain disappears for a moment and immediately the question arises, “How did it do that?” The answer comes in a different voice, “The mind sense can bypass the pain, so that the pain is not happening to anyone – there’s no ‘me’ engaging with the pain.” Instead there’s an awareness of the vast space of no thought and no attachment, abiding there, in a state of mindfulness and careful receptivity, a ‘looking’ to see what it could be, and what it couldn’t possibly be. There’s a kind of alertness about the sensory function, and the simple curiosity, “What is it doing now? Just being open to what this could be, is enough to understand how it works…

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” [Mother Teresa]


limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

its as-it-is-ness

POSTCARD#309: A village near Hat Yai: Exotic red Hibiscus flowers and butterflies as big as birds. A zizzle of insects in the night and numerous coconut palm trees just standing around contemplating the situation – if a tree falls in the forest… does the world continue to exist when I close my eyes? Was this world here before I was born? Hard to believe it was, everything just going on as it is now, probably, farmyard animals, birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, experienced from here on the top floor of the house where the treetops are level with the roof terrace and higher.

There was a time when I wasn’t here – not born yet. I can understand that, so it means I can understand what the world is without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating, and undeniably, the present moment is all around the place, taking the form of objects, I see (as soon as they are ‘seen’), becoming the surfaces of things I touch (as soon as they are ‘held’). I keep bumping into it, the present moment is all there is, and it is as it is, whether I am aware of it in its as-it-is-ness or not.

Sometimes it gets stuck, like a failed Internet connection. The internet room at Hat Yai Airport was closed when I was there, all the computers covered with their old covers and a sign written in English: “could not make a connection” – okay, everybody can go home now. Is this what Death is like? It could happen any time – it does that sometimes, the ‘fatal error’ – quit all programs and try restart. If that doesn’t work, ah well, it’s just the ‘as-it-is-ness’, probably, yes, whatever.

Happy enough with the present mind state that’s free of all the tugs and pulls. Maybe it’s the meds, the all-inclusiveness of my condition; continued awareness applied to everything in the environment and engaged in the various happenings of the day. It’s really interesting to be in this pleasant rural remoteness, and So What if I’ve been trying to get a connection all day? I’m just hoping for the best, without clinging to the idea there’s a problem about that. Meanwhile, the world and everything is going along, death arrives one day…  that letting-go thing again. Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, the forgetfulness of holding on to things; an easing away somewhere…

“… How much more harmoniously the days are passing compared with those when we gave in to the slightest stimulus for interfering in the world by deed, word, emotion or thought. As if protected by invisible armour against the banalities and importunities of the outer world, one will walk through (the) days serenely and content, with an exhilarating feeling of ease and freedom. It is as if, from the unpleasant closeness of a hustling and noisy crowd, one has escaped to the silence and seclusion of a hilltop, and with a sigh of relief, is looking down on the noise and bustle below. It is the peace and happiness of detachment which will be thus experienced.” [“The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” Nyanaponika Thera]


Adapted from an older post, July 21 2012, If A Tree Falls

not anything

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

auld acquaintance

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by Berti Buffy, Shwedagon Burma

‘extrinsic’

POSTCARD#278: Chiang Mai: I’m in this 3rd floor apartment, lying on the sofa and the balcony door is open. The sound of a plane coming in to land (this building is near the airport and on the flight path), I’ll resist the impulse this time to try to take a photo of it – lean over a low balcony rail… scary. So I lay down flat on the sofa, ready for the immense noise, and the aircraft flies over. The sound is absolutely devastating. The glass of windows, masonry walls, ceiling and floor vibrate at a deafening frequency… and just at that moment I see the upside-down reflection of the plane in the highly polished floor tiles. It’s there for an instant, flying away across the floor, out to the balcony, and leaves my vision at the same time as the huge sound ends.

An upside down passenger jet flying across my room; such an extraordinary event, I think I need to write that down – where’s my pen? Something to write on? Look in my wallet, and a piece of paper falls out. It’s an old, creased, folded, coffee-shop receipt and on the back of it is written the word ‘extrinsic’. Hmm? I made a note of that word for a reason and I can’t remember what it was. Now here it is again: extrinsic: adjective: not essential or inherent; not a basic part or quality; extraneous’ (extrinsic at Dictionary.com).

There’s no context, it doesn’t seem to belong anywhere – an existential anomaly. It’s here, yet it’s not here; the integral substance of something that doesn’t exist. Something external that would perhaps answer the question: What is its ‘whatness’? How is its ‘howness’? Somewhere in the realm of seemingly incidental meanings that arise of their own accord as if they’d been consciously created, contained in words, and language itself is the metaphor – I could think of it as the unstated ‘I-am-ness’ of things, the grounded, certainty of being.

I’m feeling more at ease since the passing of the big headache and, without the meds, ordinary life is creeping back. I’m much more in contact with the mind/body quality of ‘I-am-ness’ than I used to be. Not necessarily the identity, this is me (((self))), I can choose to be separate from thinking it’s like this … the sense of there being a thought process that ‘somebody’ is separate from. The extrinsic sense of ‘I-am-ness’ is an aspect of conscious experience. It comes and goes, changes, disappears and returns.

The word ‘extrinsic’ appears to be outside of the moment I’m in, and as soon as I think that, everything shifts to include it. It’s as if ‘extrinsic’ is a location in the ‘world’, the object is seen from the outside looking in. And ‘intrinsic’ is another location; the subjective sense of the object in the ‘all-aroundness’ and the ‘all-it-isness’ totality of the ‘world’.

All this is interesting, maybe because I’m now outside the aircraft and usually I’m inside the aircraft, going between India and Thailand… but what’s this? The sound of another passenger jet approaching. Drop everything and lie back on the sofa to get the full impact of the sound. Incredible! Upside down plane reflection flies across the floor.

“All life is a single event: one moment flowing into the next, naturally. Nothing causing everything. Everything causing everything.” [Wu Hsin]


this is a re-blogged and re-written earlier post named ‘no-thingness’