sadness of passing things

POSTCARD#288: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.

Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.

This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.

Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.

As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]


Photo, Buddha Rupa Ayutthaya: http://13966960783_a630225cb8_b.jpg

last of the world’s kings

POSTCARD#287: Chiang Mai: Thailand is in mourning today, the funeral ceremony for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Everywhere in the land, Buddhist ceremonies combined with Hindu and Animist beliefs are taking place, and TV coverage in all channels of the ceremony as it’s taking place in Bangkok.

A quote from Sir John Gielgud, narrator of the 1979 BBC documentary, ‘The Royal Family of Thailand’, describes the Thai king as, “the last of the kings of South East Asia” and, “one of the last of the world’s kings” – unknowingly descriptive of our time, 48 years further on, and the mourning day for the late king. There’s a new king of course, King Vajiralongkorn, the only son, but naturally there’s a feeling right now that with the old king, the lineage of historical kings has come to an end.

It’s this sense of ‘the end’, for me, a Western resident in Thailand since 1984; ‘the end’ is present in all our thoughts, bringing everything to a close. A sense of release and the sudden discovery that the death of the king is another teaching for the people who have followed him all their lives; a bridge from life to death for all of us and we knew it already, everyone and everything comes to an end; there is death and the passing on.

Another quote from Sir John Gielgud: “Thailand, one of the last countries in the world, still in touch with its past. Where ancient traditions can be adapted to suit the pressing needs of today’s world. A well-loved king, distinguished successor to ancient ancestors, who made use of his ritual sanctity, and his personal popularity to get things done to improve the people’s welfare.”

There’s no doubt in the minds of the population; the king lives on in the form of all of the projects he initiated. HM began the royal-initiated projects in 1950, and now there are thousands, all over the country, agriculture, water management, training, education. One of these is the artificial rain-making project for farming communities dependent on seasonal rain to grow crops, having to face severe drought conditions in the dry season. HM read research work on meteorology and weather modification and in 1955, HM used his own funds to launch the Royal Rainmaking Project.

Kukrit Pramoj “The monarchy is the soul of the Thai people. The king is more than a ceremonial head, he is the head of the clan; the father of a very big family of Thais. He is the source of Thai culture, everything emanates from him; behaviour, his way of life; the Buddhist religion seems to us, to emanate from the king and the monarchy.”

Ninety-five percent of Thais are practising Buddhists. “Thailand’s devout Buddhism is both a strength and a weakness. The weakness is that Buddhism encourages an acceptance of the status quo, for each person has many lives and the next one may be pleasanter. The strength is that there’s a moral and philosophical unity here that very few countries in the world now possess.” [Sir John Gielgud]


The night before, sleeping in the rain.
Cremation of the king

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