the blur

POSTCARD#313: Bangkok: My first visit to the eye hospital, unwilling to go, but blurred vision in the both eyes, and still I’m thinking it’s nothing, disregarding the fact that I’m finding it difficult to read, identify coins, and other necessary actions. Making excuses for a long time, and going on like this until I’m stumbling into things too many times; only then am I persuaded I need to go. Even so, still insisting no, I don’t need anyone to come with me. Thank you, I can manage by myself and next thing, I’m squeezing through the crowds at the Skytrain (overhead railway) entrance to get a one-day ticket (because it’s easier than putting the right coins in the slot). Some regret then, that I’d refused the kind offer of someone to come with me, but another part of me insisting I can manage, I’ve done this so many times what could go wrong? Same old situation, I am a foreigner living in someone else’s country, not possible to ask anyone for help, too complicated to explain – therefore there’s that familiar alertness, awake and mindful.

Getting off the train is a challenge, it’s a place I’ve not been to before, and I can read Thai but can’t seem to find the correct exit (the signs are unclear?) So I choose to go with the North/South orientation of the map, knowing that if I face the way the train is travelling as I get off, in this case North, and as I go down the staircases and escalators to street level, I’m always orientated in that same Northerly direction and notice which way the traffic is going so it’ll be easier for the taxi driver. All this because doing a U-turn can be a lengthy process here; somebody said the whole of Bangkok is one large, U-turn…. A pink and white cab is waiting and I tell the driver where I’d like to go – will he take me? He thinks for a bit (doing U-turns in his head), yes, ok. So we’re off.

At the hospital, it’s a long session. I’m lying down and they put some drops in my eyes to enlarge the pupils so their equipment can see inside the eye (this is just so freaky). The doctor asks me if there’s anybody to take me home because the drops in the eyes will make things a bit indistinct for a few hours. I’m in denial, thinking, I’ve been living in an indistinct world for a long time and have managed okay. But when I step outside, it’s raining and the world is a blur, a smear, a sea of colour, yellow, green and pink taxis, red tail lights of vehicles in vivid splashes. No form or definition anywhere, I’ve lost my North/South orientation, having come into the hospital by a different door.

What to do? A motorbike taxi comes along and I tell him where to go and get on – let him to sort it out. We get up to a surprising speed on what I believe to be the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, weaving in and out of the other lane, wherever there’s a space.

A great whoosh of hot wet wind, colossal noise and we get to the Skytrain station, with its dynamic staircase insisting on the direction we need to take. After that it’s just a case of getting the North/South thing sorted out, following the crowds up the escalator, on to the train, and into the coolness of the AC carriage, with this wild wind crashing against the window and the strange dark sky. A wind also blowing through the mind; papañca, proliferations arising from the single thought that I have cataracts in both eyes and have to have the operation on the right eye on August 9th. Mindfulness of breathing…


Reflections on an earlier post, necessity of mindfulness

have metta for the fear

POSTCARD#312: Bangkok: Getting into town from the airport is okay to start with, gliding along the elevated highway in a huge open landscape, and all the good-looking 21st Century buildings pointing up into the evening sky like some futuristic sci-fi heaven realm. Then, as we get near the exit, the traffic slowly starts to fuse together in a mass of end-to-end steel/chrome-plated metal units, creaking along like the glacier I visited a long time ago in Switzerland moving so slowly, the end of its 133 kilometer length is four hundred years older than its beginning.

Struggling with the thought that the reason I’m here is that I have to have eye surgery on both eyes for cataracts. I don’t want it to be like this, causes and conditions, waiting for the traffic is like the changes in nature, the ocean, the weather.

Reminded of the Ajahn Chah image of leaves in the trees blowing in the wind in a rising and falling motion for as long as the winds last. It’s just the mind blowing like the wind that can cause the restless, uneasy feeling. In its original state, the mind is still and calm.

‘To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear — meaning that you don’t build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimize the fear by recognizing that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It’s not my fear, it’s not a person’s, it’s an impersonal fear.’ [“Mindfulness: The Path to Deathlessness: The Meditation Teaching of  Venerable Ajahn Sumedho.”]


Reflections on an earlier post titled: “necessity of mindfulness”

 

nothing in particular

IMG_0132aPOSTCARD #16: Bangkok: Waiting for my number to be called… the figure 109 printed on a square of paper the receptionist gave me here at Rutnin Eye Hospital, outpatients department on the 2nd floor. People everywhere, very crowded today and only one seat available facing the white door that leads to examination room number 5. Fortunate because it’s where I’m supposed to be – at least I’m in exactly the right place. Yes, but there could be 108 people in front of me… an endless time to wait; nothing to read, nothing to look at, just watching the time go by. The second hand spinning round on a clock on the wall, designed like the hospital logo; it looks like an eye – someone has taken care to create this icon; it’s childlike, friendly, elegant.

3305480I’ve been struggling with poor eyesight for years and, since the surgery, seeing the world through ‘new eyes’ means anything happening in the field of vision immediately calls out for attention; a movement, a colour – it has to be noticed. The world is a great diversity of things. I see a tiny patch of colour at the bottom of the door about half an inch wide, where a piece of the surface of the door panel has chipped off, probably caused by moving some heavy equipment into the room and the door was struck in the process. It’s been repaired with something a slightly different colour and the coloured patch seems luminous, out of context with its surroundings… there’s also the glint of something like mica, something metallic. For a moment I’m immersed in this although it’s not important; it isn’t anything, there’s no attachment to it. It’s just a coloured patch, yet it’s fascinating. These days I’m often in the curious situation of having this intense visual awareness of an object and no subjective sense that it’s worth paying attention to at all; mind is not inclined to engage with it. This is just an ordinary mark on a door, nothing in particular; I have no desire for it, no pressing need to possess it. There is sensory data input by way of the eye and eye-consciousness; receiving the world through the six sense-doors: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and cognitive functions, without the idea of it happening to ‘me’. All that I’m aware of is a quiet presence, seen in peripheral vision and knowing it’s there.

 ‘… habitual desires manifest and condition awareness into a discriminative mode that operates in terms of subject and object held to exist on either side of the six sense-doors. These sense-doors open dependent on contact that can arouse varying degrees of feeling. Feeling stimulates desire and according to the power of desire, attention lingers… personal aims and obsessions develop and give rise to self-consciousness. That self-consciousness, mental or physical, once arisen must follow the cycle of maturing and passing away. When the mind looks into the sense of loss and comprehends (this) truth, the awareness is no longer bound by discrimination, the separation of subject and object is no longer held and one does not feel trapped behind or pulled through the sense-doors. There is freedom from desire… no personal image is created; there is nothing to lose, a sense of gladness, uplift, joy and serenity.’ [Ajahn Sucitto]

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Lower image: Rutnin Eye Hospital logo   Note: Ajahn Sucitto’s poetry link: dhammamoon.org

story within a story

IMG_0095aPOSTCARD #15: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I’m back in the outpatients for a routine eye examination after surgery – the peppermint green and menthol coloured room, etched glass and white ceiling. Receptionist gives me a number, 109, and I look around for a seat. It’s crowded in here today… are all these people in front of me? It’ll be a long wait. What to do to pass the time when I can’t read? I need glasses to read and have to wait 3 weeks for a new lens prescription; the eye has to settle after they take out the stitch – okay, let’s not talk about needles and eyes… the eye of the needle? Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God… they don’t make it easy. For ‘rich’ substitute ‘greedy’ lobha and it makes sense.

Generosity is the antidote for the ‘holding-on’ disease; fixating on a thing we think we need to make us happy. Apply the sense of generosity to the problem of being a compulsive reader and I should be able to let go of this reading habit – see what it’s like to do that. For backup I have the basic Kindle 6” with the font set nearly to maximum; digital words, the physical substance of the book is absent – switch it off and there’s nothing there. I like the emptiness of it, yet a whole library could be on this small device that fits in my pocket. Yes but I forgot to bring it with me today… terrific, so I have to learn how to sit in this waiting area doing nothing for maybe a couple of hours.

Language creates fiction – a story carried over from a former life, kamma, an extension of another story written long ago, once upon a time…. a story within a story, in which one of the characters in the narrative will pause and say, ‘this reminds me of a story…’ and goes on to relate a story inside the current story that the reader gets so immersed in the starting point is forgotten and it becomes just part of the whole; a vast structure of inter-related, nested stories enclosed by the original, frame story. Lost in the samsara of forgetfulness, caused by the holding-on disease, greed, tanhã (craving) passed on from former lives; seeking gratification in whatever sense object presents itself and wherever it finds rebirth.

‘… if I were born again as a fruit fly I would think that being a fruit fly was the normal ordinary course of events, and naturally I would think that I was a highly cultured being, because probably they have all sorts of symphonies and music, and artistic performances in the way light is reflected on their wings in different ways, the way they dance in the air, and they say, “Oh, look at her, she has real style, look how the sunlight comes off her wings.” They in their world think they are as important and civilized as we do in our world.’ [The Essence of Alan Watts, Vol. 4: “Death”]

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unforeseen

IMG_0126aPOSTCARD #14: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I just had eye surgery for cataracts and there’s a protective eye shield with cotton wadding taped over my right eye, but I don’t remember anything about it. I remember lying on a gurney in the operating room, and recall chatting with the anesthetist as he’s putting the needle in my arm – then suddenly I’m back in my hospital room with the eye shield taped over the eye and no memory of it at all. I feel normal, the only difference is I know that a newer version of part of the eye mechanism has just been installed; I’ve had an upgrade. But the eye has to stay covered today, so I can’t see anything, except when the nurses take off the shield every hour and I get a brief glimpse; they give me eye-drops then it’s covered again. A great flood of liquid in the eye, slight taste in the mouth as it drains through the tear duct into the back of the throat; swallowing my tears, gulp, gulp…

They take the eye shield off next morning. I get dressed, go downstairs to the outpatients department and through to the exit. The décor in the waiting area is in shades of lime green and ice blue, colours are amazing. Unexpected. There’s a completely clear perception of distance for the first time in many years. Fascinating. I’m distracted by colour and movement at the edge of vision, face turns in that direction, curiosity – an involuntary response. Head spinning like a child or a small animal, noticing all kinds of things. Sense organs filter incoming information. In my case, visual data enters through implanted intraocular lenses (IOLs). I see the world and assume it exists exactly as I perceive it, but I know the lens implant has, to some extent, created my version of the world; perception is subjective, reality is a construct in the mind. I can see a wide range of colours where insects see ultraviolet, reptiles see infrared, and cats and dogs see the world in only two colours. Viewed in this way, the world is suddenly endowed with great mystery; ask the question: ‘what is reality?’ and it takes you to a different place entirely.

Out of the exit, wait for a taxi, on to the highway system and step into a world that looks like it’s been Photo-shopped, high resolution, multi-pixel display. If there comes a time in the future when I’m no longer able to see it in this way because the novelty of it has gone and consciousness doesn’t regard it as special anymore, then I can return here, read this post and remember how wonderful it was…

‘Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]

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Note: Claude Monet had treatment for cataracts that left him with poor vision. He agreed at age 82 to have the lens of his left eye completely removed. Light could now stream through the opening unimpeded and he began to see – and to paint – in ultraviolet (Water Lilies series). [Link]

a kind of analogy

IMG_0114POSTCARD09: Delhi: The flight from Bangkok arrives at Delhi mid-morning. I’m identified, processed and out in the crowd. Shym is waiting with the car, bags inside and we’re in the huddle of traffic. Not so much give-and-take, more like push-and-shove. They’re opportunists; mindfulness is a necessity. Same old thing. Looking around, what’s different? An unusual brightness, it’s the lens implant, the operation on the left eye in Bangkok. I have to put up with this one-eyed vision only for a little longer. Next week I go back for the second op. All these flights are possible, fortunately, due to some free airmiles we have to use before the end of the year. And coming back to Delhi means I’m noticing the difference in vision here. So nice, much clearer now through the left eye, it looks… clean? What I thought was urban pollution, may have been obscured vision – or what I’m seeing now is an enhancement, a brightened-up version of everything. Close the left eye and look through the right; that’s how Delhi used to be, a dull, indistinct, old, yellowed photograph. Close the right eye and look through the left again and it’s like the Nat Geo channel, as clear as the iPhone5 retina display, 326 pixels per inch; using the techno-device metaphor to describe reality.

The world is a kind of analogy, a figure of speech, the conceptual metaphor. In my case the lens in one eye is plastic, not God-given – the same as having an artifical leg or a dental crown. Nothing special about it except that you walk around with an artificial leg, you chew with a dental crown but I’m seeing the world through this artificial lens. There’s a difference. The world is coming in, ‘seen’ through the plastic. The lens is a functioning part of the cognitive process.

Light passes through the lens, images appear, mind figures it out based on received experience of similar images, and says, there you go, what you see is like this. It resembles something I know, so I accept it, and that’s what it becomes. The metaphor pushes the whole thing over the edge; one thing becomes another. There’s that thing out there and ‘me’ in here, looking at it; so ‘I’ must be on the receiving end, somehow…. the link creates the metaphorical self; conscious experience ‘is’ individual identity: ‘I think, therefore I am.’

The assumption is that everything coming through the senses is real; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, cognition – and it’s all coming to (((me))). That’s reality, that’s the point of the exercise. I like it, I want it, I want more of it, and so closing the door on other ways of seeing things. Saying this is how it is, means I get all the joy and pain, the good with the bad, love and hate, heaven and hell – thus I have to spend a major part of my life (maybe many lifetimes) trying to control this craving and desire [tanha] that I accidentally created, thinking I was doing the right thing.

“… craving the ensnarer that has flowed along, spread out, and caught hold, with which this world is smothered & enveloped like a tangled skein, a knotted ball of string, like matted rushes and reeds, and does not go beyond transmigration, beyond the planes of deprivation, woe, & bad destinations.” [Tanha Sutta]

What to do? How to not be a slave to it? Just the intention to be mindful is enough, the tipping point, sufficient to disengage from the automatic reaction. Not caught up in the experience of it, far enough back, one step removed, just knowing it’s there; that’s all. Knowing it takes the place of not knowing it. Step by step, learning how to do it….

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‘… look upon the events occurring in your mind-and-body with the very same impartiality that you would look upon clouds floating through the sky, water rushing in a stream, rain cascading on a roof, or any other objects in your field of awareness.’ [Ken Wilbur, No Boundaries’]

Gratitude to Roger at One Garden for The Ken Wilbur quote above

context & content

AsokBTSBangkok: Near Asoke, downtown, on my way to the eye hospital for an appointment at 3.20pm. I have a lens implant in the left eye and the surgeon is going to take out the stitch that’s been in the eye for 2 weeks. Today’s the day… dum-dee-dum, sing a song and forget about that (resistance to the thought of needles and eyes). A space in the mind opens up for a moment, and I take refuge in there, calm abiding; if a feeling is not present, I am not aware of it. Thoughts return, the fragility of things; eyeballs and eardrums, taste buds and nerve endings, vulnerability, perishability, finely tuned, limited lifespan. Get involved with my surroundings; crowds of browsers in the Asoke shopping area, a wealth of attractive objects. There was something I was supposed to get but I’ve forgotten what it was; new input replaces existing memory. How much time before the eye appointment? The memory comes back again… somewhere else, the needle-and-eye situation is happening to some other person, not me. Abide in the space of no-thought, remembering about the thing I’m looking for that I’d forgotten (I’ll remember what it was later), and just contemplating the empty space where it used to be.

It’s not just forgotten, it’s not there at all; replaced with a kind of consciousness I can’t identify, an awareness of the seeking? Seeking leads to the sense that something is missing, the suffering caused by wandering in a created world of being lost. The mind that seeks is restless, searching for things endlessly but never finds what it’s looking for. Always, always reaching out for something beyond the here-and-now: the sense there’s got to be something that’s better than this. There’s a place somewhere else where I’ll find the thing I’m looking for… but how will I recognize it if I don’t know what it is… ho hum, depending on the belief there’ll just be some kind of extraordinary familiarity and recognition? Somebody wise said: ‘What we are looking for is that which is looking…’ The mind that sees this relentless searching sees that other mind that seeks this; two minds. What am I seeing? Mindfulness and the curious situation of just seeing the seeking – and there’s no object. Seeking non-objects means seeking the seeking itself; seeing ‘the seeing’, the situation before the question arose, the motionless space in which everything exists; context and content.

Walking through the doors of the eye hospital as if in a dream, wait in the waiting area for my number to be called, then into a cubicle. Lie down on the bed, stare at the ceiling and the nurse bathes the eye with antiseptic eye-drops every 5 mins for 30 mins, then into the surgeon’s room. Lean back and more eye drops, anesthetic this time. I sit facing the opthamologist, a lady, place your chin here, she says and there’s a kind of binocular device for seeing into my eyes in an adjustable stainless steel structure with chin-rest and my head is held in the steel frame. I tell her I’m nervous, Painless, she says, it’s painless… and smiles at me reassuringly. I hear a sound like plucking violin strings, pizzicato, in the upper registers, ‘ting, ting’. Am I really hearing this small musical sound? I catch a glimpse of the surgeon’s tiny cutting tool as it releases the cords of the held stitch. She says it’s over… can’t believe it.

Sometime later that day, I remember what it was I’d forgotten in the Asoke shopping area*. I’ll have to leave that until I come back for the next operation on September 20th.

‘… eternity is realized at the cessation of striving for any event, looking for nothing’ – not looking for anything? …. Not looking for anything reduces the constant searching for it, so you can discover it was there all the time…’ [David Loy]

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*I wanted to buy a jar of Chyawanprash at the Indian market near Asoke
This post contains references to the Betty Edwards text: ‘The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain‘ and the text ‘The Path of No-path: Śaṅkara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice’ by David Loy.

passive voice

IMG_0083aBangkok: No taxis available at the airport, and all trains into town are seriously crowded. I am one of a very large number of individuals caught in the rush on a Friday evening. Somebody said later it’s because all the international schools start again on Monday. No other way, it’s decided for me, okay, I accept, I am subject to the system, the public transport system and I have no control over it. I am being ‘taken’, it’s about the process, rather than any particular person controlling the process. I could create a Controller in my imagination like the bosses, the management and blame it all on them/him/her/it, but it’s better to not do that…. There’s not a ‘self’ in the equation – the deed is done but there is no doer, using the Passive Voice language function to express the Buddhist Truth of no-self (anatta), and I came across an interesting post about this the other day [Link to: Just A Little Dust].

The ‘self’ is absent. Sounds are heard, food is tasted, the chill wind of September is felt upon the skin. And there’s nobody there that feels it, unless I consciously put together an identity composite, in which case I feel the chill (Active Voice). Language tells a story, creates a fiction that I can get lost in; only partially aware that it’s a constructed thing and most of the time I’m clinging to a concept of selfhood, an assumed identity. Thankfully, in the Passive Voice, there is no doer, things are done; the cognitive process is about ‘how it works’ rather than ‘what it is’.

The world is seen – I had an eye operation recently and what I didn’t expect was that it turned out to be an opportunity to contemplate this phenomenon of the experiencer. There’s the experience of visual stimuli entering the eye through a lens created by means of an industrial process and somehow the ‘me’ part of it is not there like it used to be. The lens inside my left eye is made of plastic, there’s a particular clarity in the colours, the quality of light and a fascination with the way plastic surfaces refract the light; plastic food wrapping, mineral water bottles, car windscreens. It’s all very new and quite interesting – maybe because I still have the ‘old vision’ in the untreated eye, something to compare it with.

I can see the world through the old eye as well as the new eye. It’s like the linguistic ‘voice’ can be both passive and active and I’ve understood it mostly in the active form; the process of selfing is grasped at as an entity and identified with – a controlling thing. In the West it’s a ‘belief’. My difficulty with anatta has been extricating myself from the Judeo-Christian conditioning that assumes the existence of an eternal soul. I notice Thais don’t have this problem. Even after 30 years in the East, I still struggle with my Western conditioning; an everlasting identity, the idea of it still lingers; a shadow of reality. A couple of hours and I’m at Morchit BTS near Chatuchak standing in the rain and D comes to get me in the car. The thought arises, the car is driven but there is no driver….

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 ‘Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing; there the stars don’t shine, the sun isn’t visible. There the moon doesn’t appear. There darkness is not found. And when a sage, a brahman through sagacity, has realized [this] for himself, then from form & formless, from bliss & pain, he is freed.’ [Bāhiya Sutta]

 

plasticity

190320131769Chiang Mai: Holding the inverted eye-dropper bottle close to the eye, head back and squeeze a drop… it goes in, blink, and overflows, trickles out of the corner of the eye down the cheek like a tear drop and falls into the ear. I wipe it away with a tissue – the action triggers a memory, something emotional. I have new vision now, eye surgery for cataracts. The left eye is done, the right eye will be operated on next month. I’m seeing everything with such clarity; hard to believe the natural process of seeing that I’ve taken for granted all these years now involves a plastic lens. I see the world refracted through a man-made device and it doesn’t make any difference – well it does make a difference, of course, it’s very much better. My glasses don’t do anything any more; in the good eye the lens distorts vision, in the bad eye it enhances some things but it’s dull, blurred and yellowish in colour. I’ve had an overhaul – like taking the car to the garage to have new parts fitted. Or it’s how the system gets updated, the latest version is now installed. I feel renewed.

There’s this plasticity about the human body (and mind) that allows all kinds of changes to take place. I’m a Buddhist and I’m inspired by the thought that things can adapt, evolve, move on. It feels like there’s no such thing as getting stuck with anything or any state of mind, because we can learn to ‘unstick’ from it. In the same way, we can study a new subject; we put our minds to it, get interested in it and learn how it works. If I’m stuck with something, I’m attached to that thing in a strange kind of way; a locked-in response to adversity – more of a driven, unaware action than something done knowingly, mindfully. It’s a deluded attachment to habituality and I’m inspired by the very real possibility of working towards being free of this; acting always in awareness, seeing clearly.

Metaphors like ‘clouded vision’ describe tanha, habitual craving for something thought to be deservedly earned because of the endured hardship seemingly required to get there, unaware that one gets lost in the getting-there and there’s no end to it. Because I don’t normally understand things as they truly are, usually it’s how they’re seen habitually, I choose to see everything according to what’s already known; apperception, understanding newly observed data in terms of past experience. Before I get stuck in the delusion that it’s unavoidably like this, an opportunity arises to escape the cycle at Step 7 vedana in the paticcasamuppada (Cycle of Dependent Origination). Interrupt the causality sequence, go to the door leading to the emergency exit, aware that in the Buddhist sense of ‘no-self’, the habituality of mind’s perception of itself as the central actor in its own world, personality-view (sakkaya-ditthi), is the root of the problem. Step out of the cycle and I’m free…

Then later that night, walking to 7-eleven to get a few grocery items and I leave my glasses at home because they don’t help – I’ve worn glasses for most of my adult life and this is the first time I’m going out without them and at night time too. It’s been raining, there’s the glare of car headlights, and street lights reflected in large puddles. Only a short walk and arriving there, I notice some of the tiles on the floor of the lobby forecourt at the supermarket are shiny, glossy, and these must be new ones, replacements for the ones that were damaged? Why am I seeing this? I cover the good eye and look at the tiles with the old eye, no it can’t be seen, but I can see them with the good eye. It’s a repair I’d not have noticed before. People must think I’m acting strangely, better move along. So many discoveries about the world, and I’m stumbling around like this, seeing everything for the first time…

800px-ChiangMaiNightMarket————————-

‘Instead of starting with a perception or a conception of anything, the Buddha established a way based on awareness, or awakened attention. This is an immanent act in the present. It is sati-sampajañña, an intuitive awareness that allows the consciousness to be with the present moment. With this attention, you begin to explore personality-view (sakkaya-ditthi) in terms of the perceptions you attach to as yourself.’ [Ajahn Sumedho, The Problem of Personality]

Upper photo: Interior of Chiang Mai songteaw (public transport vehicle). Lower photo: Night Market, Chiang Mai

 

the beholder

ploenchitBKK3

Bangkok: The world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colours and a strange familiarity, objects in the environment become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only, vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct. The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anaesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism namarupa. One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking at the world, I find an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colours, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. It has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display, high density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

Faces of friends and family are seen as if for the first time. I notice small expressions now I didn’t know were there, maybe because everybody is looking at my new eye, intense Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, a curious reality.

So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this. Can it really be so? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford). The expression always seemed a bit mean and divisive to me, ‘I’ think it’s beautiful but ‘you’ might think it’s not; beauty becomes a matter of opinion… In Buddhism, the ‘beholder’ sees the world and identifies the self, ‘me’. If ‘I’ am inside the body, in ‘here’, I must be separate from everything else out ‘there’, isolated, alone, anxious – wrong view a fundamental error. The attachment to a perceived self and craving for it to become real, creates suffering. Language has a naming function, creating an apparent identity. Anything that is stated is always missing the point because of these characteristics of language. Better to think of it in terms of what it is not, rather than what it is: ‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]

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Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok.