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.

unfathomable and vast

POSTCARD #256: New Delhi: No memory now of the journey, the three-legged hop from Chiang Mai, Bangkok to Delhi. Nor the specific sense of that wormhole spiraling through space-time, large enough but no bigger than my body size, songs of the mind, and belongings – things we cling to/ clings we thing to. The urgency of speed, an immense engine sound deafened, hidden, obscured and bubble-like enclosure built over it, designed with the dynamics of flight … the same plane flying to and from the same route all of its working life, and the ‘to’ becomes the ‘from’… no end, no beginning. Maintenance crews service the parts whenever it lands – both ends of the journey. From the engines’ point of view, everything is stationary. It’s the world that moves.

Arriving at the Delhi house then, with ears sucked out and everything familiar yet creepy, the coldness of known objects that’ve been unheld for all this time. And dropping stuff here and there, releasing context plug-ins from the journey. Freed from having to have everything to show officials, and always in the background searching: where’s my passport ‘now’? Biro pen to fill in Landing Form, boarding pass with some words written on the back. Crumpled up tissues, a wrapper, and bits and pieces from the journey. Checked-in bag dropped, remains where it is, wide open like the mouth of an opera singer reaching the high note: laaaaa. Contents of pockets’ fly out, liberated, what it’s got in its pocketses, wallet opens, low value currency bills and little old folded notes from a former life, which always seem to be there.

Body expanding, filling out to normal size, and so I go up the three flights, to the top where the steps become narrow and steep, and the stiff old door is reached. Teetering on the topmost step, just enough space to negotiate this particular door lock from some time in history, which opens by means of a remembered turn-key and shoulder-shove. Thus propelled on to the roof, I jailbreak the house and everything out here is pink. Birds quietly watching the sun go down.

I remember now, it’s the crows that perch on the highest branches, and as far as the eye can see all around this massive landmass, broad enough for every imaginable thing, encompasses all kinds of ways of being. I’m expanding and stretching out from the cramped confines of small states of mind, in countries like Thailand, Japan, UK, Switzerland where they believe things come to an end. Pink sky at the end of daylight… unfathomable and vast.

“Beyond the mind there is no such thing as experience. Experience is a dual state. You cannot talk of reality as an experience. Once this is understood, you will no longer look for being and becoming as separate and opposite. In reality they are one and inseparable like roots and branches of the same tree. Both can exist only in the light of consciousness, which again, arises in the wake of the sense ‘I am’. This is the primary fact. If you miss it, you miss all.” [Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj]


 

terrestrial ocean

POSTCARD #255: Bangkok: Elevated passageways and corridors in the mind creaking like we’re on an old sailing ship, swaying with wind and air currents, the swell of the sea and the flip of waves at their peak. These lightweight structures hold the sails, huge areas of stretched canvas sailcloth – I can only see a part of the whole. The creak and strain of long hemp ropes, tarry old wood decking and a wide-open sky. Then the pain comes, ringing the urgency bell… see how it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way… make way! Allow the alarm to ring and let there be absolutely no resistance, no tightening up, just letting it be there… the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off. In the Buddhist sense I’m drawing attention to an awareness of Suffering and the cause of suffering, but not just labeling it; ‘the cause’ of Suffering is the 2nd Noble Truth, no, I’m asking, what is this ‘cause’? No labeling from here on.

What is the cause of Suffering and what is the cause of the cause? The desire for it to not be there, the confrontation, the avoidance, resistance… obstructing it, subverting it by any means. Running away from it, wanting things to be different than the way they are in a totally impossible way.

Childlike, I can see my (child) self as a baby, attending to whatever object appears, comes into range, immediately focused, the totality of each thing, as it arises – conscious experience without language.

Flickers of memory like this… food is a wonderful experience, it’s not Food, it’s Wonderful, it’s not ‘wonderful’ – no words for it, it’s a feeling(?). Then, just as easily, the bad, the awful – then the aftermath of the disaster, early childhood systems of understanding the world – but for my (child) self there’s no ‘understanding’, because there are no words in infancy to describe anything. Catastrophic! I am the cause of this hurtful chain of events. How it was then, and how it is now are no different. I am the same ‘me’ as I was then, language acquisition is here now, I’m expanded, filled out, developed and extended into the world but still the same ‘me’ (time can disappear in this kind of investigation), so how can I help protect the ‘me’ that was then, with the ‘myself’ that is now, equipped with adult skills?

Meditation. I’m sitting on the meditation cushion like a chick in the nest, cheep-cheep… waiting for the return of the Parent Bird (mother, father, both or neither) and, beak totally wide open, like a suitcase lying open on a bed waiting to be packed with things, my (child) self perceiving the Parent Bird visiting the nest (or not visiting), and for me now seated on the cushion too, there’s the acceptance, the wide-open giving-way-to it.

Maybe also in adversity, how much I’d prefer to not do this any more, because the recognition of the familiar forms of interaction between my (child) self and authority figures in the family group are too scary – for a moment I ‘see’ the blocking… but there aren’t any words, it’s something felt.

Simply how it came to be the way it is, but no words. A wetness at the eye, a glimpse of my (child) self receiving conscious experience, and the perception of it has shaped, formed the person I am today – it is the person I am today.

Then the pain comes back, deep stabs of it like bolts of lightning passing through, but the intention to allow space for the pain is still there. As the immensity of it become less and less, acceptance opens more and resistance begins to fall away. I see now the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

It’s this that tells me, when all other options are gone, there’s no running away from it now, I have to turn around and go back into the pain… for a split second the pain eases, an extraordinary and out-of-this-world feeling.

Absolutely no escape from the pain… then finding this window I know that’s always here, and everything is swept away like a flood of water finding its way through a landscape, rapidly filling up all the spaces and getting into all the corners… I am a sailing ship on a terrestrial ocean.


 

finding the way out

POSTCARD #254: Bangkok: The story of it is I went downtown to a government hospital to see a well-known anesthesiologist, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015, in the hope that, aside from more needles and what-have-you, ablation? I’d discover the right way to switch it off. And to cut a long story short – getting through all the underground labyrinths and corridors, crowds and noise and waiting 5 hours with my headache being as it is, although for the most part, staying with mindful attention – I was finally in a white room with her, dressed in white, and three residents in white too.

Blinking in this dazzling clarity, I was asked all kinds of questions I’d never been asked before. Really it was just one question she was asking me and that was, how far do you want to go with this? Like a fairy godmother, she gave me new, stronger meds, saying try this before getting into these other procedures and treatments. So yes, I went home, took the meds and suddenly the headache got switched off. Hooray!

Wake up next morning and the headache is back. Oh no! Take the new meds and it gets switched off again. Hooray! There have been other times when it has switched off like this, but now there’s definitely a feeling that something else has changed too. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have done for a long time, why?

And I begin to focus and see it’s because of a new kind of acceptance I learned about (indirectly?) from the lady in the white room. She was saying, in so many words, okay I admire you for the effort you’ve gone to in coming to this place, but realize that we’re getting down to worst case scenario levels here; this where we DESTROY THE NERVE and it’s done in two procedures…

But I wasn’t listening, I’d just bounced right out of there thinking maybe I can live without this ‘procedure’. No needles or RFAs (radiofrequency ablation), ‘a minimally invasive procedure.’ There’s this electric needle and it goes in and precisely zaps the nerve. If that doesn’t work then we can put in another needle… but no-no-no, I was running away in my mind, ok, ok, what other options are there?

So I was back where I started and it was giving me a headache just thinking about it! Acceptance, looking more carefully into the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. Finding the way out of Suffering begins when we let go of the craving that feeds it. An easing of the suffering of mind that takes place by seeing it is caused by holding on to… whatever, the longing for impossible things. Yep, what is causing this? To see what it is I need to accept that it’s there, the giving way to it the frank actuality of it. That was an eye-opener. Finding the way out of the Suffering in the mind means seeing the cause for what it is, a complex attachment/ resistance tied up with the suffering itself. Unravel the knot let go of the whole dang thing, and that’s the way out.

What to do? Train the mind to live with the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, and I’m better equipped to accept the headache being there. Or go and see the lady in the white room and her worst case scenario ‘procedures’.

“… suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense—to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight. [Ken Wilbur]


 

out of context

airbridgesPOSTCARD #253: Chiang Mai: A short flight to Bangkok to see the needle man for the last attempt to anesthetize the head pain I’ve had for more than a year. Back to Chiang Mai the same day and it feels like it never happened, except for the pain where the needle went in – the scritch-scritch sound when needle point scratched the skull. I’m thinking maybe the pain is gone, walking through a small shopping area the next day, then I’m hit with three distinct stabs in the head. Knees bend, I want to lie down on the ground as if it were a soft bed… it would be so comfortable. No, no I need to find a place to sit. Suddenly a coffee shop appears with tables out in the street, waitress coming over as I sit. I ask for a bottle of water (waitress seems distracted, am I looking weird?), try to look normal while pushing out the capsules from their crackly celluloid enclosures, but what’s normal? It’s at times like these you notice the construct out of context.

Here I am, stabbed in the head and trying to act normal to everyone else in the street. I want to shout out ‘help me!’ but I go with the act. I can knowingly disappear in what is assumed to be the correct reality – an imaginary character in a fictional landscape. Everywhere we look the construct is staring back at us, as clear as clear can be… product marketing intrudes easily, interwoven and embedded for better or worse. And, like something direct from the mother ship itself, “the news” is inside our heads, a filter through which we see our world. The push-and-pull, towards or away from the things I love and hate, or love to hate.

I drink water, the trauma of head pain easing. People here don’t speak, hang out in postures of contemplation with devices, phones, the reflected glow of screens illuminate faces of the user. Maya is a beguiling concealment, agreeable enslavement. Heads tucked in, body crouched over in fetal position… absorption. Then, when it’s time to go, removing oneself from the enchantment, thinking how am I seen? How do I look to my ‘friends’, to all of us; I, you, he, she or it – we, you they? “Me’ as an individual… the world as my duality.

Next thing for me is an appointment to see the nerve-ablation lady 7th March. I expect the witchy neurologists will give me a hard time if I turn this down: radiofrequency ablation procedure (they stick an electric needle in and zap the nerve). Well, putting up with their negative attitude is better than getting zapped. Also, I’ve heard, the nerve grows back after the ablation, or the pain moves somewhere else. What then? Another one of these zap! ablations? zap! And does this zap! go on at intervals zap! for the remaining 10 good years of my life? I’m pretty sure I’ll say thanks but I’ll just see how it goes, go play with your procedures somewhere else, they say neuropathic pain gets more manageable as the years go by….

“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move…” [Pema Chödrön]


 

the time is not here yet

1POSTCARD #252: Chiang Mai: 05.00: When I open my eyes in the morning I don’t remember where I am. The great white neon light of the hotel sign across the way fills my room and takes away memory. I’m here so infrequently, there’s only a sense of the last time I came, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with some pieces left over but no place where they fit. Or a thought appears in the empty mind like a beautiful small fish, and then it’s gone… where’d it go? Taking everything apart to see where that thought went, but can’t find it.

Ah well, pull the pillows together in a cushion and settle on top of that in a folded-leg sit. Aware of the breath, focus on nothing in particular. Early morning kitchen noises across in the hotel, clatter of plates, rolling-around-clunking sound of objects as they collide with their surroundings: bump, scrape; a cupboard door squeaks, water sloshing-in-sink noises, cutlery in metal mesh baskets becoming high frequency white noise received over here in the neon glow, seated in a third floor apartment on the other side of the street.

All and everything that occurs here, there and everywhere in the scenarios through life from start to finish pass through me now and the world becomes neutral. Non-intrusive, random thought mechanisms that function at the edge of attention pull me into the gentle whirr and flicker of thinking-about-things.

A far cry indeed from the western automatic-reflex-attached, “thou-shalt-not” society of the late 1940s when I was born, unaware and unschooled in Good Orderly Direction and seemingly by chance (?) narrowly escaped the fierce lock-down of a mortgaged future by means of sacrificed present time, with the simple thought that the thinker has no other form than thoughts… and with that, everything just drifted away from its moorings.

All that resolved itself somehow really very well. Now here in a street in a tourist town in the North of Thailand with a passport and inconsequential luggage… items of thought can pass through freely, fish uncaught – no reason to be holding on to anything at all. The emptiness of the moment is no-self. Nothing here except the operating system; form, feeling, perception, mental processes and consciousness [Link].

In a clamor of sounds, auditory events jump out in perceived grabs of recognition, registered, processed; memory updated. It happens so fast that trying to find words for it are like action-replays in slow motion, and I have to catch up after, as everything has moved on. Pause button; awareness aware of itself, the eye turns inwards, consciousness as a sensory organ, the ghost in the machine, no self. The process itself selects the sound – or the sound selects the process, and there’s no ‘it’.

Sensory mechanisms waiting for things to happen because it’s in their nature to do that, inseparable parts of the world out there/in here. Nothing happens, the time is not here yet. The alertness is all there is, receiving the world and, since we are also the world, so to speak, it’s an all-inclusive enfolding, unfolding, and remaining in the present continuous form, ‘listening’. Suddenly the great neon light is switched off. Blinded for a moment in the absence of it, traces of blue sky out there, birdsong. Without any sound, go quietly (whisper); the time is not here yet…


Photo of a young man named Namo (as in Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma sambuddhassa), French-speaking Thai/Swiss, who became a monk then left for a career in fashion modeling.

place

dsc_1977_00049POSTCARD #251: Bangkok: Sodium-orange street light illuminates tarmac and concrete in colourless shades of grey. Nothing to see at this time of day, on the road to get the 3am flight to Bangkok, awake as if in a daze, car headlights pierce the smoggy darkness in low visibility. Everything creeps in on itself, reduces in size… I am a cell in an organism, tumbling out of the car and into the crowd. Bags on trolley, head spinning around for signs in the usual urgency of searching for where I’m supposed to be, everyone else doing exactly the same thing; check in, boarding pass, queue for security, then immigration. Stamp passport, thump, duty-free, then boarding and take off… catapulted 5 miles up into the night sky, look out and see a few stars shining. No one interested in food or drinks on this raggedy old, middle of the night, flying bus to Bangkok. Large, long-legged Indian men, block up the aisles with limbs like tree branches, trying to get comfortable in the small Thai economy class seats.

In my place, eyes closed and there’s that wonderful light coming in at the edge of vision that I haven’t seen for a long time – a kind of unreal ‘heavenly’ warm creamy white moonlight light. Open my eyes again… where’s it coming from… any light on in here? Nope, totally dark. Close my eyes again, lying back, watch the breath, focus on the emptiness… in a moment it returns. Not seen, indirect, it illuminates the space as if it were a moon behind clouds, just about to appear.

I sleep as long as it takes for a neon tube light to be switched off, and switched on again, flicker, wake up, it’s blue sky morning time. Such a short distance from here to there, some people go home for the weekend. Glad I don’t have to do that, I stay where I am for as long as possible these days – some inconveniences, maybe I’m looking for a book and it’s just not there. I can see it in the mind’s eye, but it’s not ‘there’ in this house, it’s ‘there’ in the other house, nearly two thousand miles away. So I reach out my arm stretching like an elastic band, stretching and stre-etching… get the book, and pyang-ng-ng, back to where I am. Well, nowadays everything is on the ‘cloud’ so it doesn’t matter where you are – although I’m aware, there is ‘place’, the sense of the body grounded.

Out of the plane, expanding into normal shape, inflating back into size in the long walk to immigration , passport stamp, thump! Bags arrive, car into town and the day just morphs into shape, heat, dazzling brightness, and time difference is 1½ hours later. The feeling you arrived before you left… a quirky strangeness in the corridors of time. I’m not able to see the actuality of my situation in the midst of experiencing it, unless it’s something that gets my attention, usually I’ll reflect on it later – ‘later’ arrives and the hindsight of that recent past is forgotten. Flying time does this, I notice, not a scrap of it remains, except for a few words to my future self, scribbled on the back of the boarding pass: When time and space and change converge, we find place. We arrive in Place when we resolve things. Place is peace of mind and understanding. Place is knowledge of self. Place is resolution. [Abdullah Ibrahim]


Photo: Win Sein Taw Ya Reclining Buddha, Mawlamyine, Burma [dinksintransit.com]

vulnerability

img_0391-1POSTCARD #246: New Delhi: Touch-screen tap, and there’s another photo in our Thai network of the floods in the South near the Malaysian border. A rail track, after the floodwaters have receded, showing how the foundations of the track are swept away. I’m shocked to see something I have always known to be totally flat, become structurally altered – nature as terrorist amidst nature as vulnerability? The way we see the world has to include the fact that it may all be utterly different in a moment. The very small window of experience we have of unity is become widened to include unexpected political change; everything is irredeemably lost… then rebuilt, and the memory of how it used to be after a year, is gone – after a generation there’s no memory of it at all, other than how history has it recorded.

img_0483Even though I’ve been studying Buddhism for 20 years, I’m overcome sometimes with fear, unwilling to let go of things I’m travelling with, fearful that some low-hanging part of the assemblage might drop off, be gone forever. It happens anyway, the hours and days disappear, become lost and appearances arise then fall away. Who I am at any given time, may change according to the context I am in. There is only a semblance of self, choosing to remain as the embedded and reclusive ‘me’, gazing through the windows of eyes and out at the world going past. By default, hidden away in inner landscapes, peopled with characters I choose, and planted with trees, and flowers, and built with homes, and mansions with hundreds of rooms.

“Maybe death’s hour too will send us out new-born
towards undreamed-lands, maybe life’s call to us will never find an end. Courage my heart, take leave and fare thee well.”

[Herman Hesse, Steps (Stufen)]