the unbroken whole

POSTCARD#402: Bangkok: I see the world by way of a built-in filter process which selects the sensory data that’s compatible with my operating system. Everything I receive from the ‘outside’ world fits with the default state of mind. The problem is the operating system is set to delete anything that doesn’t agree with the world I have come to know, and I lose things of value every day. There is only this ever-present stream of mental chatter that fills up every empty space and vacant place. Every day I say I need to fix these glitches, in the meantime, make do with things as they are.

How I perceive the world is dependent on causes and conditions arriving here in present time as soon as the inclination, intention or volition arises. I can’t be separate from my kamma, according to preferences and likes/dislikes… it’s part of the software. I think I’m an independent being unaffected by anything or not affecting or influencing anything else. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see that all this is being monitored and directed by the ongoing needs and requirements of an entity; a ‘self’ that has no inherent solidity or existence of its own. I’m dismayed, of course, when it all gets swept away in randomness and returns later, subject to the kamma outcome (vipaka) from some other time.

The outer world just rolls along, as it does, in all its diversity, and wholly neutral. Whether there’s a belief in this or that, makes no difference; it’ll only always, ever be, just how it seems. The devastating emptiness of it all means the population is driven to go out, get and do. Attain and protect and defend – it can be a battlefield. To avoid and deny, to have fear and anxiety and be controlled by authority and feel threatened with the flimsy nature of existence, although the absolute timelessness of the world (anicca), is the beauty of it.

I’m aware the population are not able to see it like that; holding on to beliefs, clutching at straws, and quite unaware that they are maintained in this unknowingness of the world like penned animals are by the farmer, well intentioned though he may be, in order to cultivate a special kind of hunger, clinging and craving (upadana tanha) for consumer goods – the economy depends on this. The greater the craving, the faster the turnover of stock and the Western style of God together with governments and the corporations are simply involved in farming the population.

Workers structure their lives around employment and this fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism. They can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

‘There is a path to walk on, walking is being done but there is no traveller. There are deeds but there is no doer. There is no self. The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole]


Photo: A dramatic explosion is caught on camera outside of the Capitol building amid pro-Trump riots / REUTERS

2021 looking forward

POSTCARD#401: Bangkok: Happy New Year to all blogging friends everywhere in the world! The year 2021 has potential for being a much better year than 2020. Hopefully by this time next year Covid infections in the world will have peaked and the vaccines are successful in creating optimum herd immunity… hopefully.

Christmas day was an ordinary day for us, no reason for Santa to fly in on his reindeer sleigh, because Thailand is a Buddhist country. People go to work, schools are open, it’s a day like any other day. Except that our 16 year-old Thai niece we call M, had her hair colour changed to a subtle shade of white-blond and wore a red dress to attend her SAT class in central Bangkok.

Otherwise we had a quiet time contemplating these ‘tidings of comfort and joy,’ without all the ho-ho-ho! Happy to have M, she of the white-blonde hair, who comes from Chiang Mai but now with us in Bangkok since July. Not able to go back to her home for visits because of Covid. She is here to improve on her GED and SAT scores. Also looking carefully at University entrance requirements.

It has been a fairly peaceful year for us, mostly in lockdown, unlike the frequent-flying thing that was going on before Covid. I’d be travelling between Delhi and Chiang Mai to visit M so that she’d not forget me! I remember when she was 12, on a particular day that I recall clearly, M runs out the door to spend the day with her friends, then comes back quickly and over to where I’m sitting: Toong Ting? I am going now. Bye-bye! And she runs out again. I sit there for a while being Toong Ting, her pet name for me, part of her baby talk that remains because it’s thought to be cute when applied in a grandfatherly way.

Then I went away to Delhi and came back again, the same year, and she was definitely taller; longer and elongating like a plant in the darkness searching for the light, sprawled on the back seat of the car in an adolescent bundle of legs and arms, wearing a diver’s watch, colorful T-shirt. Long black hair that forms a curtain revealing a small oriental face sometimes seen when adjusting the thread of earphones cable then disappears again – sorry, she’s not available at the moment, plugged into two phones, watching youtube videos while checking for messages at the same time… our questions addressed to her remain unanswered.

She is still quietly being her own self but surprisingly communicative at times – becoming a person. The whole thing dependent on the time needed to grow, of course. When we are in the Nontaburi house, she sleeps until noon then phones a food delivery from her room and appears downstairs to get it from the motorbike guy, goes back to her room to eat it there… some of us might think this is a bit, well, antisocial? But here in Thailand, nobody gets upset… it’s the Buddhist way, if you’re a kid?

M seems to be happy, at ease and does everything she’s good at, really well; her school work, socializing with new friends and not coming home too late, passing exams with good scores… all of it is done properly, commendable and very suitable for a teenage daughter/niece.

Jiab is noticeably engaged in taking care of M and goes to great lengths to accommodate her needs, cooks the food, does the laundry, drives her to school or, when we are in the apartment downtown, to the BTS station (Bangkok Transport System). It’s an elevated rail track over the streets and rooftops, called the Skytrain and her stop: Phaya Thai Station is only 5 minutes from Ari Station, where we are – get off at the third stop.

That location is linked to the airport route and near the popular shopping center of Bangkok where it’s all young people, and being looked at is the primary concern, while looking at others who look nice, can be a discussion point. M does stand out in the crowd, of course, with her hair colour when almost everyone else has Asian black hair She is extraordinary in that regard, has a pretty face like a child and is slim. Always in good-looking clothes, and so on, also politically aware, asks intelligent questions, remembers things and reminds me about the names of things when I forget.

So we have been very fortunate having M with us, and I’m going to write some more about her soon.

2021 Looking forward.


Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet, smaller even than the kernel of a grain of millet is the Self. This is the Self-dwelling in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than all the worlds. [Chandogya Upanishad 14.3, 8th-10th century BCE]

the foreseeable future

POSTCARD#400: Bangkok: I carry my present time with me, through the shadows of the immediate past and into the near future. Before this and after that. There and then in future time becomes the here-and-now in the present, then in past time it falls away into a kind of death. The word mindfulness as we know it today, wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in my young days, only listening to the words of adults, paying attention to what was wise, thus being careful not to misjudge the dynamics of a situation, losing my footing, and I’m in pain and injury.

Like fumbling the ball, the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and I’m brought to earth  by way of an accompanying collision subsequently in hospital with two broken ribs. I’ve been there, done that, and ready for further attempts by gravity to bring me down… the next could be my grave. In the meantime, as long as there is mindfulness sufficient to see the dangers of a careless and irresponsible way of life – as long as that level of mindfulness is present, it’s enough to be going on with.

25 December 2020, Unavoidably drawn by the crowds going to the Malls in search of something thought to be deservedly earned because we’ve been having such a hard time trying to obtain it. Besides, it’s Christmas. I see lights, hear applause and a band playing, drum-roll ‘rrrrrrrrr boom!’ cymbals ‘crash!’ Welcome all from near and far, situated in a wonderland or trapped in that predicament… regardless, whatever, we are propelled further along the path to where there is no exit. Choices are subject to skillful marketing research options, sales strategies, my innate ability to find the Path obscured in clouds of delusion, for now it’s gone off somewhere. Accordingly drawn like a magnet into the depths of this wonderful place and disinclined to get out of here. The whole thing cannot be anything other than what it is – we have to buy our way out.

The ‘me’ I live with is not an unyielding entity. I can ‘think it’ into this present time, and encourage and cherish its presence by clicking on the ‘unlock’ button to allow marketing options, gently nudging at the elbow. Other times it goes out of control an unsatiated demanding thing, as in Formula One Live Grand Prix Event; voracious hunger driven to catch, clutch, hold, eat. Fearsome, like a death unforeseen, unfinished, lonely… a sadness seeking completeness, searching for closure in this way and finding there is an antidote. It is loving-kindness (metta) for the unloved, a special kind of meditation. Click here for the full text.

It’s not difficult to practice loving kindness for the unloved here in Thailand because there are Temples all around us where Buddhist monks are sitting in quiet meditation very early in the morning, and in the evening. Thailand of course is a Buddhist country. Centuries of meditation, mindfulness and the quiet still mind of the lineage of 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 conditions.

But there is another side to this – 25 December 2020: an unexpected outbreak of Covid 19, more than 1,000 people possibly infected in Samut Sakhon, a province adjacent to Bangkok on the Southwest side (Quite near to where we are). There is a large Myanmarese (Burmese) community in the fishing industry here. Undocumented migrant workers enter and leave Thailand, undetected by border-control-testing for Covid 19. They cross the border at night, going to Samut Sakhon for work, or returning to their families in Myanmar. Among them are those infected with Covid 19 who have come to Thailand to be treated in Thai hospitals because they cannot get access to treatment in their own country. There are also cases of Thai women in the entertainment business working in Myanmar and based in Thailand and going between the two countries on a regular basis.

It is a complex problem, likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. We are immediately concerned about the sudden proximity of the disease to where we are living. Another lock-down likely any day now.

world without end

POSTCARD#399: Phuket-Bangkok flight: The wing seems to extend into the clouds, like the perspective of a highway leading off into the sky. A curious illusion, although no more curious than the illusion that’s all around: seeing the seeing; awareness of the awareness; knowing the knowing. The plane tips over and on the other side, inside the cabin there’s the view of the islands with Andaman Ocean filling the cabin windows all along the aisle of this partially empty plane, due to covid restrictions.

Masked passengers spaced out in the aircraft interior with an empty seat between each person. After a while Jiab and M fall asleep, and I’m left without a book and no phone – it’s a short flight. Looking out through the windows on all sides, at the clouds in the sky. The illusion of being motionless while travelling at 600 mph. How strange… everything is so quiet and still, clouds seem to enter into the interior. A masked stewardess appears through the wispiness and mists of high altitude spaces and asks me if I need anything from the drinks cart? Thanks, no, everything is heightened as it is.

Conspicuous eye makeup above the face mask, gestures with her head to say okay if you need anything… and pushes the drinks cart down the aisle, glasses tinkling a strangely familiar chord or tune I used to sing to.

Look out the window again and reassuring to see this wonderful broad wing surface out there, holding us stable in this strange void, moving at 600 mph, in a great whoosh above the surface of the planet. The whine of engines and this immense energy that catapulted all of us up here, an amazing technological feat in the right context becomes just the mechanical nature of things. Assembled pieces form the aerodynamic flying machine, wing structure anchored under the seating aisles so that passengers are sitting on top of a sort of swept-back flying crucifix.

The descent is quite bumpy, luggage compartments overhead rattle and creak in the vibration. For a moment there’s an awareness of tremendous velocity, vulnerability, and the mind seeks to conjure up all kinds of explanations for it. I hold it there in the empty space of nothing-has-happened yet. The sound of hydraulics, down go the wheels and the earth rises up to meet us. Then there’s the felt ‘bump’ and we are down. Wheels take the weight, and the engines roar.

Exit the plane and out into the high ceilinged airport halls. Pick up the bags and head for the Taxi desk. Arriving is the departure point for the next journey, and another opens up after that. There’s something about the flow of faces passing me, pulling their luggage, holding their children. Maybe I see their faces more clearly because there are fewer of them than there was, due to covid.

The ‘world’ as a projection of the senses, everything tailored to fit and unbelievably believable… I can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, and taste it. It looks real but what is ‘real’? ‘Real’ is only my perception of it. I need to remind myself it’s like this, the illusion is so compelling… I become the ‘self’ that inhabits this body, appearing in the being-ness, appearing as ‘me’ and part of the whole thing; world without end.

another kind of tsunami

POSTCARD#398: Phuket [say: pooket]: Shades of grey give way to shafts of light. The long dark night is relieved by daylight of day. A black crow flies through the remaining darkness: crawcraw, announcing its presence, a being, yet not a being, a location in time and space. It flies between the buildings with louder and louder calls echoing from the walls, until it passes over the top of the block where we are situated, CRAWCRAW! The sound gets fainter as it disappears behind the next building, then into the distance … crawcraw.  I’m listening to that sound until nothing can be heard at all and there’s only me, deaf with listening.

A sleepless night… isolate the headache, I’m exhausted with the perception, the interpretation, ideas. Remove anything that encourages the tendency to fall into the dream, the concept, the delusion. It simply is-as-it-is. Now it’s morning and time for everything to move on; what’s left over falls back into last night. Looking forward, I feel the headache could be less up-front in awareness quite soon and it’s time for breakfast – see where that gets me. Leave Jiab sleeping, and along the marble-tiled corridor, the sweeping staircase, note the Sino-Portuguese mansion architecture. Now into the breakfast room and looking around, out the window, round the corner… nobody here.

Take the table by the window… me and my headache. Silence, it feels like that Sunday morning, sleep-late feeling – but it’s 7 am Thursday, and maybe I’m the only one awake… is there anybody else here? Awareness poised, wait and see… the world seen as an empty hotel/ Sino-Portuguese mansion/ breakfast room, coastal winds blow through, continuous streams of sensory data from the ‘outside world’ pass into this body/mind, processed at eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind constructs thought patterns, preliminary drafts, concepts that evolve in clarifications, all the reasons why – the ‘how’ of things rather than the ‘what’.

A pigeon flutters in, comes to rest on my window ledge, folds away it’s wings, and there’s this small bird-sized sigh, filling its lungs with air, releasing it and a little ‘bob’ of the fat round body. It sees my image through the glass, looks at me curiously, extended neck turns, then gets involved with preening its feathers in strangely revealing postures.

I hear a toilet cistern being flushed – soon after there’s the sound of someone moving plates and things around. I go and see; only one person to lay out these tables and serve food? Sawadi-khrap, I give her my order for an omelette and toast, get a cup of coffee, the newspaper and back to my table. Swallow headache medicine in advance of the food arriving. Read the headlines – aha! It’s a holiday [Constitution Day, 10 December, 2020] that’s why there’s no staff. No tourists either (aha! again), of course, because of the Covid 19 restrictions.

We took a taxi yesterday to Pa tong beach, very little traffic on the way, closed down shops everywhere and very few foreigners on the beach. Sympathy for the Phuket people, who managed to survive the tsunami in 2004, the loss of life and economic ruin. Followed by the coronavirus in 2019, another kind of tsunami in a place that is dependent on tourism.

Newspaper articles: The only way for foreign tourists to enter Thailand is with the Special Tourist Visa (STV), and a 14-day quarantine. The STV is allowing 40 tourists a day to enter; in 2019 daily arrivals averaged nearly 110,000. Only a quarantine-free welcome can deliver the numbers needed to resuscitate the tourist industry.

According to the president of the Phuket Tourist Association, tourism businesses in Phuket suffered a loss of 180 billion baht (€4.84 billion/$5.72 billion) in the first half of 2020.

How to open the country safely? Thailand cannot wait for vaccines. They stand no chance of eliminating the disease globally. A more realistic solution comes from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Director: “The end of the pandemic is the moment that we as a community are going to learn how to live with this pandemic.”

Historical note: Phuket island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China, frequently mentioned in 16th Century foreign ships’ logs of Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English traders. Phuket was never colonised by a European power.


 

wordless and indefinable

POSTCARD#397: Phuket (say: pooket): The first time for us (Jiab and me), in many months, to be ‘away’. Short attention span due to being in one place in time then in another place another time. In this other place we’re in, lies the memory of what happened in that place, up-to-date but all-too-soon it is replaced by the experience of the next place in time, thus pushing things along and along… time connected with place.

The car came for us early that morning headlights ablaze, at the house in Nontaburi, and daylight was only just coming up when we arrived downtown at the condo, forty-five minutes later. This is the thing about having two places of residence, arrivals and departures don’t mean the same as they did because there’s no point of origin. The travelling between two separate halves gets to be structured into chunks of attention that last for the duration of their passing and are replaced by the next chunk of attention.

M was still sleeping when we got there – teenagers sleep and grow long limbs like tree branches. So eventually we got her to wake up, she started a small breakfast there and finished it in a plastic bag when we were in the car headed for the airport.

Smooth, sweeping highway between tall buildings. Awareness of ‘the whole thing’ is not yet engaged and there’s only just enough time to decide what this is before it changes into something else. Everything is as it is for a moment of consciousness, and another – then it changes again. Thought is a downloadable app – install/uninstall, thinking is the whole story; random episodes, snippets, individual words. In the interval that the mind is engaged in ‘thinking it’, everything moves on and I can never seem to catch up – can never find the right words to express it… wordless and indefinable.

Fragments of a thought arise again, pieced together from associated thoughts, memories of a past time brought into present time, together with things thought about in future time. Pause for a moment and everything stops… just the circumstance itself. It takes some effort to get it started again. Maybe there is only one moment – only one, all the time.

Language is like an overlay placed on reality, gives everything an identity, tells the story, creates a fiction I get lost in. Nothing is what I think it is. The present moment feels like it’s an immediate event occurring ‘now’, but there’s also a feeling maybe, that it’s not that at all.

Time is a measurement I apply – applied time. Maybe this is something that’s not happened yet… it happens later, gets reflected upon and what I think is ‘now’ is actually a fraction of a moment of hindsight situated in future time? How can I be sure things are what I think they are when I’m only always just feeling my way through something not experienced yet? Looking at what it’s not and everything on the other side of that, must be what it is.

The huge airport looms up and engulfs us three small people, getting smaller and smaller, with rolling-along-luggage at our feet and swept into the mass of human beings coming from somewhere and going to another somewhere.

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


 

lonesome highway 2

POSTCARD#396: Bangkok: [Reblog from September 3, 2013]: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the toll way to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope down at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, we might just end up stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine is gone. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world.

“Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]


 

ridding the mind of Trump

POSTCARD#394: Bangkok: This is a Buddhist (common sense) approach but that doesn’t mean getting rid of him is any easier – Trump has burrowed into our thoughts over the last four years, lurking in the dark recesses of the mind where it’s difficult to get him out. For those of us who don’t know the mind through meditation or who maybe never thought about it before, there may be a perceived fear to be dealt with quickly at first. This has nothing to do with Trump (although he’d like you to think that it has). Practice long easy deep breathing and there’s that awareness of being unsure of it… it’s a familiarity with uncertainty; therefore I know something about that dark place in the mind, I didn’t know before, and I’m not as fearful as I was! 

Fear is created by the heedless accumulation of thoughts joined together any old way, and spiralling up into the mind for no good reason (papanca). Be mindful about fear, ignoring it will only create fear of fear.

One thing I know about uncertainty for sure, is that it isn’t always associated with fear, it’s also associated with joy – uncertainty is what I experience in the moments before receiving a gift, or an award, a discovery, a revelation, enlightenment; any of these kinds of events.

Ridding the mind of Trump is like this, knowing that it is possible and knowing what he is; a comic book character in a TV series; he’s a bit pathetic, the ‘Joker’ in Batman fits the stereotype. He’s not just an entertainer, on some level he poisons everything, he is a force to be reckoned with. He likes to play the part of a thug but we see through it – ‘he’s not a convincing gangster, he is a national disaster.’ (CNN Anchor)

Maybe I think Trump is punishing me because I don’t like him, but that’s not it. He just knows how to play the bad guy, and make me feel like that. The whole thing is an act a piece of high drama, theatre, showmanship … ‘click’ on the remote, and he’s gone. Open the door and chase him out – letting go also of all the causes and conditions that allowed him to come into my mind in the first place. Do it again and again. If I can clean him out of my mind like this, the feeling is one of grateful relinquishment – replaying the story over and over, and taking enough time to experience the immense release that comes from learning how simple it is to get rid of him.

For some of us, it’s difficult to get rid of him completely, be mindful of Trumpian stunts left behind; mindful of the critical mind, conflict, resentment and laying traps for people. Mindful of holding a grudge; mindful of engaging with hate – I need to practice non-hate, thus not caught up in the automatic experience of it.

It’s worthwhile to consider here, an important part of the Buddha’s teaching, Anatta, ‘there is no Self’ (although there is no record of the Buddha ever putting it into these words), rather it’s the sense of ‘I’ that is understated, indirect, and there’s a gentle release of the ‘grip’ on how I (personally) think things should be done, no matter how strong the tenacity of the habit is to hold on.

In this way, there’s no chance of ‘me’ being swept off again today in that Trumpian wave of anger and hurt, because there’s no ‘self’ to whom it’s likely to happen. Therefore, I don’t have to have this edginess of discomfort in the heart today (gratitude for that). The dark cloud of oppression is not hanging over me.

I can see there is suffering (dukkha) in the world, because of the holding on to things we love and hate (or love to hate). If I can focus on my own breathing and let go of whatever it is in my mind that’s causing the suffering then it will all pass away of its own accord.

Compassion for those of us who are holding on unknowingly to the pain and suffering caused by outrageous Trumpist deeds. Let it all go at the first opportunity. All physical and mental events, come into being and dissolve.”

One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it… maybe that’s enough. The focus is on acceptance rather than rejection, loving-kindness for the unloved. Focus on doing the right thing, small acts of kindness.

 “The vastness created these human circuitries in order to have an experience of itself out of itself that it couldn’t have without them.” [Suzanne Segal, Collision with the Infinite]


 

the mind state of contentment and wonder

POSTCARD#393: Bangkok: Last week I wrote about Contentment and Restlessness – there’s a lot to be said about contentment, in view of these last few days counting votes and sometimes the atmosphere heavy with suffering. This is how things are, it begins with impatience, and we start to get fired up in a negative, critical mind state. At any time, Trump slices into the moment with outrageous accusations, the latest in a litany of attacks. No rest for the mind, active thinking, the thinking ‘thing’ itself, sees the world in a bleak unforgiving way, and the word ’contentment’ doesn’t fit in the vocabulary of a restlessness mind, falling over itself in the search of something else to feel negative about, somewhere else to go.

Why is contentment so hard to find? It’s not about being in a state of contentment all the time, it’s about being content enough with the state of things as they are at this moment. A few deep in-breath/out-breaths will get me there and I start to create order in the small objects all around. I examine each part of my movements and slowly joyful awareness takes the place of the harsh interchange of the restless mind. Piece by piece I can start to step into the context of mindfulness in the world of contentment.

I’ve been watching the vote-counting on CNN from here in Bangkok and not familiar with the way they do things in this kind of news program. But it seems to me, if you want to have a restless mind, right now CNN is the place to be… suffering endures. (all the more reason to switch off the noise and find some ease from time to time). The counting of votes has been going on through the nights and into the days, while ongoing CNN discussions center on hypothetical projections that predict the winners before they finish counting the votes, and what the variables are that could change the state of play. It gives me a headache just to think about it! At any time the percentages of votes for each candidate could go spiraling up or spinning down. And that was the ‘roller-coaster’ ride we were on.

At the start, it was a huge disappointment for Democrats that the anticipated “big blue wave” never happened – hope went right out the window… with it went the prospects of black people, the unresolved pain of Black Lives Matter – they were hurting. All of us were, except the Republicans who were seeing a surge of popular vote, or so it seemed. Their numbers started to flood in, higher than ever before, and quite early into the counting, Trump announced he was the winner and the counting had to stop… even though there were hundreds of thousand of votes yet to be counted.

Typical Trump, I search in my mind for what the Buddha might say about this, with a focus on Doubt [Vicikicchā]. I can overcome doubt by ‘gathering clear instructions, and having a good map, in order to find the subtle landmarks’ in these hostile surroundings. There are so many detailed ancient writings on the mind in whatever state, I have to find something awesome that is easily understood on a vast scale:

“In his exposition of the contemplation of the state of mind, the Buddha mentions sixteen kinds of mental states to be noted: the mind with lust, the mind without lust, the mind with aversion, the mind without aversion, the mind with delusion, the mind without delusion, the cramped mind, the scattered mind, the developed mind, the undeveloped mind, the surpassable mind, the unsurpassable mind, the concentrated mind, the unconcentrated mind, the freed mind, the un-freed mind.

It is not identified with as “I” or “mine,” not taken as a self or as something belonging to a self. Whether it is a pure state of mind or a defiled state, a lofty state or a low one, there should be no elation or dejection, only a clear recognition of the state. The state is simply noted, then allowed to pass without clinging to the desired ones or resenting the undesired ones.” [Right Mindfulness, Satipatthana Sutta]

It helps of course if we can release the hold we have on Self for a moment. There’s no abiding self that does it all. The mind is not a lasting subject of thought, feeling, and volition, rather it is a sequence of momentary mental acts, each distinct and discrete, their connections with one another causal rather than substantial.

As the CNN broadcast was going on day after day, I was thrown into doubt many times, the sickness of being ensnared in the Trump trap with Trumpists calling out ‘voter fraud’. A scary time, we were propelled into a possible Biden Presidential success. Down the narrow end of the telescope, in sudden rush to the final countdown but we hadn’t arrived yet! Held in the inevitability of circumstances… surrounded by accusing Trumpists voices and their conspiracy theories.

Despite the hostility, I remained relatively unscathed. So good to have access to the mind state of contentment and wonder. I can breathe deeply and long. All these millions and hundreds of thousands of individual persons cast their votes, they’re counted and placed together in identifiable groups, and the vastness of it all without a Self.

Language is the metaphor, just in itself. Mysteriously incidental meanings arise of their own accord as if they’d been consciously created, contained by this form… it’s just like that. Everything made-to-measure, more or less exactly. We live in a bespoke world. Everything seemingly custom-built, social behaviour, language, there isn’t anything that’s not constructed.

Donald Trump is a noisy litigious being, capable of criminal acts. His threatening voice slices into my mind; Trumpist voices accuse us of hidden manipulating of the final countdown. At one point everything was hanging in the balance; it’s 2020 a double-double Georgia 49.4 and 49.4 waiting for the vote-counting lady to say which way it would go. Oh-no! I’m feeling sick again, an ache in the gut. Where is my contentment, the antidote to a restless mind? It’s within me, deep breathing ‘breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng. I left the broadcast with four states remaining, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona.  I see from this morning it looks good for Biden. The counting goes on and I am just so relieved we are in this world!


 

vaccine for the restless mind

POSTCARD#392: Bangkok: Trump’s election typhoon makes landfall in my mind. Hurricane category one or two. Get down in the basement with all our supplies. All the doors and windows are closed but somehow these intrusive thoughts still get in. Does everybody suffer like this? I’m sure they do, although for the Trumpist obstructionists it’s their rallying call and this is what we have today.

It’s people like us, everywhere in the world, separate from political affiliation, who can feel the suffering of the American people and fear for the Western world. How about our spiritual friends, mentors, do they have disturbing thoughts like this? I’m sure they do, but the difference is they know how to apply the cure – and this is the important thing, there is a cure for this dis-ease. The Buddha was here, understood it and found a solution.

Encouraging to know the Buddha went through all kinds of mind states and found a solution to each problem. In the Pali language, this is uddhacca-kukkucca, Restlessness and Worry, number 4 of the 5 Hindrances, characterized by a mind that is agitated and unable to settle down.

“Restlessness [uddhacca] refers to a mind that’s never able to stay long with anything. It is powered by the energy of a negative assertiveness and cannot be satisfied with things as they are, so it has to move on always to the promise of something better than ‘this’.” (Ajahn Brahm) The discomfort of restlessness creates an outward looking tendency – what can I do to fix this? And there is an answer to that question.

There is a ‘vaccine’ that will bring the dis-ease of a restless mind to an end, and it is found in activities centered around developing contentment. If I take any simple activity, like tidying the papers on my desk and examine each part of my actions in each moment with joyful awareness, and persist in this for the rest of the day as long as I remember to do it and pick it up again if I’ve forgotten, then I learn the simplicity of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more.

In the engagement with domestic tasks, I am joyfully content with small successes, I investigate the smallest details of the body’s movements, and don’t miss out on any part of the joyful awareness. I am grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its faults.

In meditation, restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the joyful deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage.

Worry [kukkucca]; simply put, I worry about the outcome of the presidential election. Will Trump try to undermine the whole thing by whatever means? Yes, he will probably try and I need to be aware of the proliferating thought pattern that immediately arises from this perceived situation. Instead of going with that, I can channel my energy back into joyful awareness, knowing that ‘worry’ is what it is and I need to go into a deeper analysis of the word ‘worry’.

There is worry /anxiety/ remorse /regret, and some aspects of these words are specific types of restlessness which may be the karmic outcome [vipāka] of former unwise actions. The only way to overcome the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one’s virtue and become kind, wise and gentle.

The word ‘karma’ as it’s used today is an oversimplification that makes it seem like something not to be taken seriously. Focus on what it really is – the mechanics of why we suffer and how we can make the suffering end in the here-and-now.

Karma (literally, “action”) is nothing other than the Buddha’s compassionate explanation of the way things are: our thoughts and actions determine our future, and therefore we ourselves are largely responsible for the way our lives unfold. The understanding of karma provides a foundation for a virtuous life, and how it can have a transformative effect on the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings and to those around us. I investigate the concept of karma with joyful awareness knowing the Buddha is present in all mind states and he has the right vaccine for any kind of psycho-virus.


Sources: Ajahn Brahmavamso, Traleg Kyabgon, Gil Fronsdal
Image: Sunset Community Counseling