downshifting

POSTCARD#286: Chiang Mai: 04.30 hrs: Waves of coolness enter through wide open window, and air that’s almost as warm outside as it is inside, wraps itself around me like a thin light quilt on my shoulders. Soft and comfortable, gently quiet, no sounds disturbing conscious awareness. There’s an easy silence about this place, surrounded by trees near the foothills of the mountain rising up from the town to an elevation of 5,499 feet. This is what it feels like, sitting on the meditation cushion – I’d forgotten how simple it is, in this place, to fall into a contemplative state and the mind becomes still (samādhi).

Maybe it’s because at this time of the day, and all around us here, the monks are also sitting in quiet meditation, and everywhere in Thailand too, of course, as it is in a Buddhist country. Centuries of meditation, mindfulness and the quiet still mind of the monks has had an historical effect on the outer environment. This is still the Old World… or you could say simply that it’s just a gentle place, no extreme life-threatening weather conditions – except it does get hot in the hot season in the middle of the day. But then, sensible people have a nap in the afternoon, not exceptional, just sort of normal here.

I can’t rule out the fact that maybe this is simply me, a foreigner in Thailand, experiencing the easing away from the stress and dukkha of Northern Europe. Over there we don’t have so much of an awareness of metta, loving kindness – more like Greed, Hatred, Delusion (sounds like members of a Heavy Metal band?) means it’s warlike by comparison to Thailand.

People here are rural, humble folk, shoes off at the door, and everything is done quietly, with the family and the community and anybody passing by outside – including me, ‘Where are you going?’ someone asks and smiles pleasantly as I pass their door. A simple friendship we don’t have as a rule, in the West. ‘Going to the shop to buy things.’ I tell her. An understanding arising from mutuality; the shared experience of being alive. It’s this trusting quality that’s everywhere, all around. It says something about social behaviour, the Thai quietness.

That’s all well and good, the sceptics might say, but Chiang Mai is engaged with Western strategies of greed, and if Western consumerist greed can get a footing in Thai society, the evangelical aspect of it follows… worshipping a consumerist God. It will undermine existing systems, powered by right-wing fundamentalism and then you discover you have to buy your way into the halls and palaces of the Kingdom of the Consumerist God.

In these terms, you could say there’s almost no belief in God at all, here in Thailand, but there is a deep understanding of integrity… if it’s ethically good, it’s the right thing to do. If it’s thought to be ethically bad, or mai dii, no redeeming attributes and not good at all, it’ll create bad kamma – think superstition, ghosts – and it’ll be dropped immediately.

Straightforward, uncomplicated and what’s all the fuss about? On a certain level, the Thai expression, ‘don’t worry about it’, (mai pen rai’), and ‘there’s no problem’ (‘mai mi panha’), suggests there’s nothing impossibly difficult about this. But there has to be a profound understanding of ordinariness – the word is: dhammada: the dharma of everything. In everyday usage it just means that; ordinary.

In the West, the word ‘ordinary’ doesn’t have meaning for most of us, holding on, as we are, to a mild anxiety most of the time; the uneasy gnawing away at the innards, and ‘ordinary’ seems like something extraordinarily complex… we have to struggle for an understanding of it.

In Thailand, things are straightforward. You don’t feel ‘obliged’ to accept the consumerist way of life, disguised as a sort of social responsibility. For the Thais, that’s crazy! All your hard-earned income is going into the pockets of the corporations and the government taxation systems, isn’t that obvious? The economy works for the people, not the other way round. Even Thai politicians know that social responsibility is about how the population relate to one another in society, through kindness, generosity and compassion. There is Greed, of course but that’s just uneducated and plain weird.

Who knows, maybe there is something about the Thai reaction to the influence of consumerism – if it grows into a genuine social movement, TV and media dependent on advertising revenue will in some way see the wisdom of ‘downshifting’, a voluntary simplicity, in order to (at least) be seen as aligning with national opinion in this small country. It may be enough to swing the emphasis and change the direction from the way things are presently going in the Western world.

Present time feels like it’s not completely arrived, not quite yet becoming future time – as if held in that one long elongated moment before it all gets to where it should be going, but it doesn’t, and is replaced by a great nothingness that invades everything and it becomes something like a huge freshwater lake – small islands appear on the horizon…

… Restrict the role of advertising on the grounds that today much of it has become as bad for our psychological and spiritual health as tobacco is for our physical health.’ [David Loy, ‘Pave the Planet or Wear Shoes’]


Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Head of Buddha, 5th – 6th century, Afghanistan. http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38228

sad sausage dog story

POSTCARD#285: Bangkok: Taxi to the airport for the flight to the island … did I remember everything? Packed and unpacked so many times, pause for a moment and I can’t remember if this was a pack or an unpack – ah well… I know it’s a continuance of the journey from Delhi because so much of the space inside the bag is taken up with clothes not yet unpacked. We had one night in Bangkok and now we’re headed for Samui, a small island in the Gulf of Siam.

Layers of folded, flat-pack clothing, still chilled from the 4 hour journey over from Delhi, ready to leap out and take human form, when we get to the island. Bag contents include another layer on top of folded clothes; the cables, adapters and sockets we need to recharge our batteries; “Oh no, my battery is running out!” Jiab says, collapses into her seat with a sigh, as if exhausted. No power source until we get to the hotel. And the remains of my bag capacity is filled up with the soft pillow I carry with me everywhere, fluffy and light, full of air, and placed on top of the cables, so that, when the bag is zipped shut, it holds everything in place.

But, is there something I still have to do? Still there’s the lingering doubt… I’ve had to double check on actions ever since the last stay in the Delhi hospital – large bruises all over the back of my left hand and right forearm, where the nurse unsuccessfully probed for a vein – they’re hopelessly small, but she got it in the end. It was just a flu virus, thankfully not dengue fever or anything more nasty. Three days in there, and TV watching – television must be a very good analogy for something I could write about, but do I want to do that? No. Discharged after 2 nights, and next day, into the aircraft. Now we’re in Thailand, on the way to get the one-hour flight to Samui.

I’m so forgetful these days; can’t remember how to do things that used to be automatic. Simple actions like going upstairs, now I have to consciously create the necessary coordination, otherwise I’d trip on the steps. Going down is the same… hesitation; it seems like such a miracle that I get to the bottom safely. The necessity of mindfulness in everything I do from here on.

I’ve experienced a few forgetful and confusing things lately, forgetting ordinary words, and the honesty of those freeze-frame blank moments. Particularly the sad sausage dog story, that inspired this post. We had to give up our rented house and stayed with our Japanese friends for a while, in a small 3-bedroom ground floor apartment. Long corridors extending out from a central living room, and a bedroom at the end of each corridor. Very good for privacy, but confusing for the cute little Dachshund (sausage dog) our friends were looking after while the owner was away.

I’d be lying in bed and hear the click, click, click, of toenails coming along towards where we were. Then the poor creature would arrive at our open bedroom door, look around as if to say, “Is this where I’m supposed to be?” Pause for a moment, then turn around to go back. That was when I witnessed, for the first time, a Dachshund dog perform a 3-point turn to face back the way she came. The front legs seemed to have all the action worked out; the rear legs just sort of stumbled on things lying in the way, and followed the action of the front two. The pink doggie diapers it was wearing at the end of the long body accentuated the action. Then it would go off again, click, click, click, and pink diapers with tail sticking through would disappear in the long straight corridor. After 10 minutes  we’d hear it again approaching our room. Hesitate in the doorway: Hmmm. here again?

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” [Melody Beatty]


Photo: Jiab in the front seat of the taxi

‘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’

prasada (karmic intrusion)

POSTCARD#277: Delhi: The story so far: I went to see a well-known anaesthesiologist lady doctor, professor in a government university hospital, down-town Bangkok, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015. To cut a long story short, she performed the PRF microsurgery on the nerve, 25 July 2017 and when I woke up the next morning, the headache was significantly gone.

Unbelievable… only a tingling sensation in the place where the pain used to be. No time to ponder on that, I had a flight to Delhi in the afternoon. So I sent an email to the Doc saying, the pain has gone, treatment successful. Thank you so much. Bye, packed my bags, taxi to the airport, checked my phone and the Doc had replied; possibly three pain-free months like this, no headache, and after that, when it returns (because this is not a cure), the pain will be noticeably less than it was before. Feels like a gift, I’m amazed, monks and other holy people have induced karmic intrusion, prasada.

On the plane over to Delhi there was this special consciousness of having been blessed, I felt like dancing in the aisle. “These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call. The way the camera follows us in slo-mo. The way we look to us all, oh yeah”.

Sit back in my seat and review the experience of it through notes made just after: Here I am, back in the white room with the doc, my fairy godmother, dressed in white. Residents and other persons in white too… getting kinda crowded in this small room. More of her assistants squeeze in… there’s not enough space for me, the patient… claustrophobic, and a moment of panic. It passes. I stay calm. They get me to sit on a chair, lean over, face-down with head on the edge of a pillow placed on a gurney. It takes a bit of organizing, small hands in green cotton cuffs gently shifting the pillow until it’s comfortable, and I’m looking down at the floor, darkness, people’s feet in black, overshoe, rubber boots.

I’m in the operating room, OMG I’m not anaesthetized, hey! somebody! you forgot to give me a shot! After a while, as if they’d forgotten then been reminded, a surgical assistant, miniature lady in green cloth gown squats down close into my space . A chair is pushed in where she puts her stainless steel tray. Wearing rubber gloves, shower cap and face mask, she heaves my arm, like the branch of a tree, around and on to the chair, ties tourniquet, smack, smack, smack on the back of my hand, finds a vein and sticks a needle in. I’m taped up with a hard plastic valve set in place, ready to go. She plugs me into a relaxing woozy cotton-woolly sedative, and nothing matters anymore.

Cloths and plastic sheeting placed over my back and neck, and I can’t see anything but floor tiles. Darkness and the sounds of quiet voices chatting, somebody makes a joke, they laugh, another joke, more laughing. I’m thinking, hey what’s so funny? Sounds of shifting chairs scrape clunk! And I can see sideways they’re carefully wheeling in a large machine on a trolley with rubber wheels. A small hand comes down, seeks out the electric socket, plugs it in, switch on the switch… is it going? Yes. This must be the unit that generates the radio frequency pulse to stun the nerve.

More people coming in and out, I feel them brush against me… someone says ‘sorree.’ Trying to picture what’s happening out there and above my head. Thais are small in stature and used to this kind of closeness with each other. I’m the big foreigner one step removed, but with head leaning over and surgical cloths spread over my upper back, it’s as if I’ve disappeared.

It was over in 45 minutes, the central event was, after the deep probing needle to find the nerve, the PRF itself. Doc says, now I’m going to send the pulse, okay, are you ready? And it started; an awareness of the huge intrusive spike. An electric shock obviously, sustained, intense, deep hard pressure. As if it were penetrating the bone itself. More like a deafening sound than an agonized experience almost unbearable, it felt like I was being permanently bonded to the metal and concrete of the floor.

Then it stopped and that was it. I’m allowed to sit up, look around, people everywhere. Surprised to see the doc wearing a green gown and shower cap to cover her hair. Facemask removed from smiling face; how are you feeling? And I was just fine.


Prasada: a gracious gift that is first offered to a deity, saint, or an avatar, and then distributed in His or Her name to their followers

mindfulness of circumstances

POSTCARD#276: Bangkok: I’m in a taxi stuck in traffic on the way back from the supermarket with four bags of groceries and can’t understand why everything seems so difficult today. Okay, take a deep breath… then I notice the different deities fixed on the driver’s dashboard, unusual to see them placed together. There’s Ganesh the elephant-headed god, the Buddha and familiar wandering saints. How to read this? Seems to me it’s a cautionary statement, blessings for everyone entering this space and mindfulness of our circumstances, whatever they might be. The blessing for me is the headache is gone, lessened to almost nothing. The mindfulness part of it, I don’t see until now, is that things are difficult because I’m trying to get too much done, too fast and this level of energy is not easy to work with.

Besides, part of me is holding back, unwilling to say the pain is entirely gone because the child in me thinks it might come back if I say it’s gone… but yes, it’s gone – for now at least, it’s gone. I remember this hesitation from the last time; free from the headache for a month. That was the ‘nerve block’, an injection to numb the nerve that’s causing the pain, and a relatively superficial treatment compared with the Pulsed Radio Frequency Procedure I’m now recovering from.

The area in the head where the headache used to be is no longer the catastrophe that it was. It’s now reduced to a flickering light in the darkness like a failed neon tube that needs to be replaced. This is how it is right now; the treatment I’ve just had is not a cure, it’s temporary, the headache will come back when the numbed nerve recovers, in 3 months maybe sooner. For now I’m free of it, and there’s a great urgency suddenly to cover lost ground. At the same time a steadying hand to hold the horses, let’s see it in the longer term.

I woke very early this morning from a strange dream that I was blind. Then totally awake and I realized I wasn’t blind it was just the darkness of the room at 4.30 in the morning. I’d broken through the heaviness of pain meds to help me sleep, I’ve been using for months… maybe they’re not needed now. So I pulled myself up in the folded leg position on the bed, with a pile of pillows to sit on and the wide-eyed alertness became the meditational state of awakenedness immediately.

A curious light illuminating the space behind the eyes, slightly to the right where the flickering light of headache remains. The focus shifts to the breath entering the body, impact of incoming air in the nasal passage… for that moment revisiting the birth experience, initial sensory awareness sweeps through the body/mind organism; earth, water, fire and air; the turned-inside-out experience of being born into the world. Inner world, outer world connected by the sensory mechanisms. Mind linked with form and function of the body, seemingly trapped in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid slides over surface of smooth eyeball and moist lips lying one on top of the other.

Just this… glad the ordeal is over, conscious of sensation and to what extent the pain is absent, here and now. Not able to see it as wellness, choosing instead to think of it as well-being.

“… your real nature is not-knowing. It is a total absence of all that you think you are, which is all that you are not. In this total absence of what you are not, there is presence. But this presence is not yours. It is the presence of all living beings. You must not try to be open. You are open.” [Jean Klein]


photo: traffic jam on the way back from the supermarket

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

thank you for five years

POSTCARD#273: Chiang Mai: Woke up this morning and it was my birthday, go gently into that septuagenarian world and remember there’s gravity, mindfulness is a necessity. I’ve been here since Tuesday, wandering around these rooms looking for words… unfamiliar with the aloneness, and all this enclosed empty space. Just ‘me’, mirror reflection of the world out there, in some form or other. Consciously aware of it sometimes, other times not. There’s seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and cognitive functioning – the all-of-the-above option, an all-inclusive experiencing of awareness receiving itself. What I don’t know is assimilated (we are Borg). Walk to the window; look out (no ‘out-there’ out there separate from what’s in ‘here’). Go back, sit at the desk for a while, look at the laptop monitor, the keyboard… write something, get up and walk around again.

Then I’m off downtown in a tuk-tuk, engine noise and wind in the face blows away all thought. What is the story so far? My niece M reached the age of 13 and now she is an elongated stalk, turns sideways and disappears. Taller than her mom by one inch – but, looks to me like M remains the same height and her mom is shrinking away, squeaky voice nobody pays much attention to. M still calls me Toong-Ting, the foolishness of it insists on dignity. I feel like I should have something wise to say… there’s no self, or there’s only the ‘self’ appearing in the awareness that’s here and has always been here “Pretending you’re not “it” is exactly the same as “it”‘ [Alan Watts]

You could probably say the illusion of self is part of what the whole thing is about… an all-inclusiveness, buy-one-get-one-free acceptance and given over to the care of a Higher Power, Brahman, God. Or whatever it is that carries meaning; the optimum reality, selecting the data that fits the theory; looking for the story that makes it all make sense. Hard to say, for me, it’s not there, unless I focus on it being there… maybe that’s just what it does.

Culture is a link that needs to be updated all the time and if I’m not in that culture, the software isn’t updated. More than thirty years living with other people’s preferences, and only returning to how I choose to live my life when there’s an opportunity. As the years go by, one forgets what some of the original choices were, and those are replaced by some of the more recent familiarities.

And there’s this blog and all my blogging friends and their friends, and I’m really so glad to know you. Thank you for five years of dhammafootsteps.com

‘Wandering through realms of consciousness like a refugee, thought looks for a home. Thought thinks that perhaps by clinging to this or to that, it can find a home. In this way, thought forms attachments with names and forms, with concepts such as “is” and “is not,” “self” and “other,” “me” and “mine,” and with emotions like envy, pride, and desire. It is the mission of thought to form these attachments in hopes of finding a home. Thought wants to own its own home.’ [Thought Is Homeless/The Endless Further/ 2012 July 16]


 

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

evening, the even-ing

POSTCARD #264: Bangkok – Chiang Mai flight: I could begin with the way the inflight experience is sliced up in manageable chunks and swallowed with drinks and gulps of air, which helps the ears adjust to cabin pressure, but the story of all that remains untold, replaced by the ‘impact’ of landing – in a manner of speaking. Time-and-space folds in on itself and suddenly we’re descending towards Chiang Mai… such a short flight. The plane is clearly pointed downwards, I become a little deaf, it feels like being underwater, and no amount of swallowing or holding the nose between thumb and forefinger and blowing of air into sinus cavities seems to clear it. Plane tilts over and makes a left-hand turn. Low sunlight comes in through the cabin windows on the right side and sweeps around the interior of our small space as the aircraft changes direction, circles around and goes further into descent. It’s as if it were in a flying house, spinning around on its axis and ‘we must be somewhere over the rainbow.’

Yawn and ears go ‘pop’. A whole new 3D sound enters…. didn’t realize how cotton-wooly it was before. Near to landing there’s the sound of the hydraulics, out go the flaps, down go the wheels and the earth rises up to meet us; 300 people all facing forwards in the direction of travel, looking out the windows of a structure the size of a building travelling at 200 mph on what could be a collision course with the surface of the planet. For a moment there’s a glimpse of samsara and the great yawning abyss of existential fear; I need something to hold on to, but there isn’t anything that’ll prepare me for such a colossal event. This is the ultimate roller-coaster experience – and… the aircraft’s wheels take the weight, first the one on the left then the other one on the right, and the deep lurch, sink-down/bounce-back – for a moment it feels like we’re going to tip out of balance and disaster looms, but we’re on level ground.

There’s something about this being in a public context, a shared experience, we’re all in this together folks, spectators watching an actual event in our own lives, the collective sense of a letting-go of something tightly held: woooooo! The perception of Self is relinquished; nobody at home… no identity, just this unattached feeling that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance. A riderless horse, the empty seat… footprints left behind in the place where he was. Symbols of the Buddha before the Greeks created the Buddha likeness we know today.

Awareness of breathing, deeply in and all the way out, like a huge sigh. Watch the breath enter the body again and go through the whole awakened experience. Knowing, consciousness, clarity and the mind settles into the quiet space of no thinking.

Out of the plane and following the exit signs. We’re all just seeing ‘the seeing of it’ as TV monitors here and there tell us stories built upon stories, swirling around events that otherwise take place wordlessly. Colorful banners pasted on every available space with words and images that’ll get our attention and Mind takes over, creates the story of ‘me’ stepping forward, and me as someone at the receiving end. Who’s that mirrored in the glass wall? There, again, stepping out with luggage on wheels, rolling along happily? Subject/object duality locks into place.

The story is everywhere, all around the departure gates and small cafeteria, episodes of it heard in the corridor with the sound of somebody else’s cabin luggage wheels going ‘click-click’ and the clatter of feet. Excerpts of the story overheard in the bar, acoustics muffled by a floor carpet. We’re always only part the way through whatever story it is before another starts up.

Beginnings, middles, and endings of short stories noted while waiting in the cash desk queue at Boots chemist. Stories using words I don’t understand in Chinese, Korean, Russian and a whole world of other languages speaking in stories.

Then I’m waiting in a seat by the exit, with my receipt to give to my taxi driver, just watching the breath and seeing the darkness of afternoon become evening; the even-ing, the smoothening out of wrinkles on a silk sheet stretched over the ironing table. Flat horizon line over an endless sea, the laying-out, as darkness sweeps over us.


Complied with excerpts of a previous post. Photo by Jiab in the south of Thailand

a story to be told

POSTCARD #257: New Delhi temp: 38° Centigrade (100.4° Fahrenheit): Too hot to be out in the middle of the day, stay indoors, everything is internalized, giving way to the illusion. Lucky to have this comfortably cool room – two ceiling fans spinning in the half darkness of noon-day filtered light. This old house was nicely designed; corridor goes around three sides of the room with large window at the front, looking through the corridor space, out through a second window to the garden – and same at the back.

Enclosed in a room inside a room, lost to the ‘real’ world, we choose the window of Netflix – a story to be told about me and the Netflix illusion getting to know each other here in Asia, where I’ve been resident for 30 years, a Scot married to Jiab who is Thai. I’m distanced from the Western cultural model, a part of my past surgically removed, and all immigrants will know how that feels. Nowadays, the best audio, video devices have made it here to this part of the world and raised to a level equal to, or higher (some would say), than the Western model. So I bought myself a large, flat-screen TV, and stepped into sound and color.

Getting emotional, just listening to the sound of Western voices conversing in the mother tongue – the familiarity of it quite strange. Sudden recall of whole pieces of my life, forgotten until that moment. I’d get quite tearful about just seeing the streets, the traffic, and the easy pleasantness of it. The pace and the way things move along, created for TV by the director and advisors from the political realm, those unseen, propping up the Western model of the world as they see it.

How wonderful to have all these generous close-ups of immaculate faces, portraits, talking heads, good-looking news anchors in Breaking News. Ordinary faces are extraordinary on TV shows, super-ordinary, the face is an act in itself, head swings, facial gestures, lovable laughter and dentistry, cosmetics, lighting – more than enough, and all these nice interiors, a gallery of created spaces with artwork on the walls. Everything looks better when it’s framed, presented with image enhancement, studio lighting… my room as a selfie! Smile please! Take another one, smile click.

I’m falling in love with it more and more each day but I’m also somewhere in a story of the past in a black-and-white world, sad shades of grey. The irretrievably lost, a la recherché du temps perdu. A part of me died while I was away, I’m back there now just in time for the funeral, and relatives I’d forgotten about, greying and smaller than I remembered, look at me as if I were a ghost. I am a ghost, an actor in a movie, playing a part so well the audience believe it’s real. About this, unknowingly we accept, and to an extent engage with. The skill of the illusionists, the politicians, or anyone with the gift of the gab, convincingly dressed for the part, standing against a nice backdrop and there you are.

The story I’m in is different from but similar to those of migrant populations from Europe who came to the US with their belongings and heritage of things past. I went in the opposite direction, back to the places all those young and able-bodied left behind. Similar in the sense that now they’re hidden in the background, like me, off-stage or behind the scene. But theirs was a story of hardship and endowed with the sharp intelligence of living on the edge. The great great grandmothers and great great grandfathers of today’s success stories in the West, you could say. In two generations the memory of the old world is completely gone, death is a vanishing trick.

Today’s refugees and migrant workers are waiting in the wings, with their own stumbling through a colonial and demolished past, singing their songs about forgotten things out of time and place. Ready for the next re-build… another story to be told.


Photo: Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok the day it opened, December 9, 2005. I walked into a glass wall, split an eyebrow and there was a lot of blood. Not serious but it looked bad and, uncharacteristic of the Thais, no one came forward to help. I had to find my own way out of the place, clean up in a washroom and get a taxi home.