mindfulness of pain, part 2

POSTCARD#338: Chiang Mai: Now three months since the event in November of last year, and the recovery from that blow to the centre of the chest, delivered like a heavyweight boxer’s punch – devastating. This is what it felt like. What happened was, around 9pm I was going through the crowds on Nimanheman Road with my Thai niece M, in the almost daylight brightness of studio lights suitable for taking selfies out on the street I suppose. Flashing illuminations distracted me and I stumbled on something in the darkness of a shadowy stretch of unsurfaced sidewalk, lost my balance and fell forward like a tree is felled in the forest. Broke a rib somehow, but the main thing was, I did something to the sternum, (the sternum is that vertical bone in the centre of the chest). This bone took the impact of the fall – I fell diagonally on a concrete step, hands held out to break the fall, but as the floor comes rushing up to meet me, it’s the step that takes the weight BANG!

I’m face-down on the step – small Asian hands reach out to help me get up. M leans forward and says in my ear, “Toong Ting, do you want me to call an ambulance?” I tell her I’m okay, (so practical, M is. She is 14 now and dyed her hair canary yellow, but that’s another story). Also thank you and smiling to all these kind people (note: real concern, anxious faces), more hands held out to help me get back to where I once belonged… the realm of all upright, upstanding, decent, and respectable persons.

What does this look like? Old guy with wispy white beard sinks down in the crowd, has a stroke or something? Falls on the rough un-surfaced sidewalk. No, no, I’m okay, just tripped, slipped, tumbled, stumbled, fumbled? I’ll be allright, thanks for your help, it’s okay – I’m getting some of their anxiety. Best stand up, no matter how inviting that unsurfaced sidewalk looks like a nice place to lie down and get comfortable. No, no, and I start moving around, to reassure everyone that this old guy escaped the clutches of gravity once again.

We made it back to the apartment without me feeling any pain, but next day the agony in the chest was something to behold. The breath-taking scale of it… just turning over in bed would throw me into a trauma of panic, difficult to find the way out of. Ordinary things, like getting up from the sitting position were so overwhelming I’d stay seated for most part of the day.

Meditation was/is a necessity, I had to develop skills fast for this 24 hour, no-choice pain situation. Almost always at night, when sleep would find me seeking a position or a place somewhere, somehow, something bearing the characteristics of rest, and following the pathways leading to a comfortable place to be in, to inhabit for a few hours and the easefulness of that, but not to dwindle there or linger too long, lest it becomes something impossible to extricate myself from – all these tugs and pulls that mindfulness uses to remind us where the Path leads.

Then as far as possible, a quiet investigation into the pain, and the reaction to it, again and again. Contemplation over the breath-taking scale of it; what to do? not much more than that, but by the end of January, I came out of it with a greater awareness of this part of the body… in the East it’s the Chit, the heart, the mind. The idea that identity was situated in the Brain didn’t make sense at all

What’s happening to me? Examining the X-ray of the broken rib I could see all the other broken ribs fused together any old way (this is how they mend themselves), bits sticking up where there shouldn’t be, and seen so clearly because they’re all on the same side of the body. Four broken ribs which occurred separately are all on the left side?

What kind of karma could this be; the ribs, the blow to the center of the chest, and the long surgical scar in the abdomen where a Thai surgeon removed two cancer tumors in the colon more than twenty years ago, and lastly, my Post Herpetic Neuralgia in the right occipital nerve, feels like a blow to the head, never gets better, a permanent headache. It’s all just so intrusive, so violent, how can this be? As far as personalities go, I’d say and others would agree, I’m not a violent person! Doesn’t make sense, karma like this is surely irredeemable!

Ajahn Vajiro was passing through town the other day so we met him at the airport and I asked him about these traumatic circumstances, and what to make of this strange karmic outcome? He shook his head saying, never mind about that, get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know.

Examples: poo ying: lady, poo chai: man.

You could say poo roo is the higher self, except that it’s a personification, which brings us back to the subject/object divide. What was meaningful for me was how Ajahn began articulate the blessings the Four Brahma-Viharas, while explaining the quality and meaning of the words:

1) Goodwill / Metta, Loving kindness.

2) Karuna / Compassion, is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop.

3) Mudita / Empathetic joy), what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.

4) Upekkha / Equanimity)

The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s words still remain in present time, everything about who I am, disappears for an instant and there’s only awareness. I experience this awareness physically, in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. Felt exactly in the same place where the huge punch in the chest happened… curious and strange, best left alone, unsaid, unexamined, and questions unanswered do not create the subject/object divide. Thought and language are the apps, while awareness is the operating system. It comes before anything else, here in the centre of my being.

Awareness precedes thought. As soon as I think about it, the whole thing becomes duality, subject/object. This time, I’m inclined to take it further, and that awareness (object) is ‘me’ (subject), ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am the subject of awareness. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be ‘me’, starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

There are many ways that this metaphor can be constructed. Please let me know how it looks in the comment box.

T

the karma of getting there

POSTCARD#304: Chiang Mai : 7am: The sound of a text message wakes me; Jiab arrived in Bangkok. Overnight flight from Delhi – and… what’s this? “Have you ordered a taxi yet?” Hmm? Taxi? What day is it? Oh no! I’m leaving today, not tomorrow… a flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag… quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow a headache pill, into taxi and it’s a struggle to stop the rushing and bumping into things in my head, breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport.

Okay for time, as long as nothing untoward takes place, like what happened on the way to the airport once, in a taxi stuck in a long line of cars. A very strong smell of something like an omelet… what’s going on? We get to the obstruction, a collision of some sort involving a pickup truck filled to the maximum with trays of eggs… broken eggs everywhere, egg shells floating in puddles of egg all over the road surface. The egg-man in the middle of the sea of raw eggs sitting on the edge of his truck, head in hands.

Reminds me I have my headache to think about, and how best to manage that having swallowed a pill before breakfast – slightly dizzy, just to make things worse. We are at the airport, and embark on the karma of this route; the directional momentum through escalators, corridors, doorways – catch a glimpse of other people in their karmic paths. I enter and exit enclosed airport spaces that contain me in their capacity for a moment then I’m gone. Passing through other portals, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my small seat area, looking out through the window, under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we are now descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit.

I feel stretched, part of me is 367 miles away, back at the condo in Chiang Mai having breakfast and listening to the birds interrupt the silence. Another part of me is gone with M, to New Zealand. M is my Thai niece now aged 14. She looks like a miniature adult. It was the day before yesterday, I went with her to the airport, we all had lunch, me and M and her mum and after that, I’m in the back seat with M, bags everywhere, a leisurely drive to the airport, laughing and chatting.

Suddenly mummy says something in Thai about a passport, M replies, saying she doesn’t have it! Car swerves across the highway, U-turn at the next opening and we are headed back the way we came. Mummy driving like a mad person, steering with one hand on the wheel, and with the other, calling the teacher who is going with the kids to New Zealand to say sorry M might be a little late.

So we got there, Mummy runs into the house to get the passport and while she’s away, M says to me quietly that they had to leave their house that morning exactly at the auspicious time given them by a ‘holy’ person, and mummy forgot the passport then, because she was too busy with getting the exact time precisely  right.

Enough said about that, another wild race back to the airport. Meeting the others and it all ended well, M waved to me at departures, went to New Zealand and took a part of me with her.

It’s the karma of getting there, I’m just mindfully aware of the direction and being propelled through the portals and gateways: this and then that, and the next thing. Some people, burdened with their superstitions for better, for worse need to be blessed by the holy person – and I suppose some would regard the egg-man as an example of someone who should have gone to receive the blessing but he didn’t and there you are.

There are the waves and there is the wind, seen and unseen forces. Everyone has these same elements in their lives, the seen and unseen, karma and free will. [Kuan Yin]


 

what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]


Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

thank you for five years

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

the look of flowers

POSTCARD #261: New Delhi: looking at Facebook pics of my niece M aged 13, in New Zealand, reminds me of how it was when I was her age; studied many things in school but never learned (or escaped from learning) what lay beneath the overlay of becoming some ‘body’ – a person with a job, an identity and this is ‘me’ how are you?

Intuition told me it wasn’t the whole story. Living a lie, I must have thought. Nobody taught us about the art of living (or maybe I wasn’t listening), somehow missed the bit about being at peace with the sense of I-am-ness, only that jittery feeling of physicality, and living on the edge. Mind searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, gratification in pleasure, gratification in displeasure too, justified raging and things out of control, everything thrown to the wind.

Stumbling and crashing through the successes and failures of many lives, and coming to India more than thirty years ago – there to be suddenly awakened to The Whole Thing. So much can be said about that, but now here in New Delhi on a Sunday morning, no traffic noise, just blue sky and birdsong. Flowers seen in a passing eyebeam with that look of being looked at.

Then, ‘regret’ arrives from somewhere thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. It appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, scruffy uniform, string showing at the collar, latch-door key kid. Headmaster in a huge voice says, ‘you have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says some words of respect, and shuffles out of the room. Headmaster was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today – for me, it was something intuitively know but still unlearned.

In a split second I see that moment there and then encapsulated in the here and now of present time. The boy in a state of anxious urgency every day, no real home, slightly unstable and the struggle to get it right without anyone to reassure him that yes, you can use intuitive guesswork even if you have nothing to go on. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough. So I’m the adult here, now playing the part of headmaster, saying, ‘yes kiddo, you’re right, and it’s allright, you can do that, no problem!’

Even now when I see the English word ‘ignorance’ translated from the Pali word ‘avidya’, it brings a slight twinge of anxiety of school days, built-in conditioning and authoritarian adults. Then, reaching out to that kid with the burden of failure, standing before the Headmaster, I can correct the thought enslavement of ignorance, because it’s not that. You need to have the context of stability, look at this state of not knowing, and being as open as you can to it, see that it’s not not-knowing, it’s ‘knowing’. Then it becomes the Pali word ‘vidya’ The seed of knowing planted deep in the ground of what is not known… the metaphor of the lotus rising from the mud.

Looking through M’s photos of her in New Zealand, being who she is, and for me it’s surprising to see it’s as easy as that. Thus stepping into my own timeline to make these corrections so that everything unfolding from there and then to here and now is free of obstructions – gone is the dark fear experienced by the schoolboy and in its place is the light of knowing.

“And the bird called, in response to the unheard music hidden in the shrubbery, and the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses had the look of flowers that are looked at.” T. S. Elliot, The Four Quartets


Photo: sunflowers in our garden. I took the photo not expecting to see the bee in the flower head!

there and back again

img_0371POSTCARD #241: Chiang Mai: Went down to Bangkok with Jiab and our niece M, aged 12, for the New Year get-together with family, which was happening in the house where we used to live. Strange familiarity of furniture and objects seeming to jump out and call to me… M’s old toys abandoned here and there – a childhood almost gone. The next day, she went back to Chiang Mai with her mum, Jiab set off for Wat Poo Jom Gom, a remote Buddhist monastery near the border with Laos, and the others who were there all left for their homes in the South.

I stayed on in the Bangkok house for another day, a quiet time reflecting on how it used to be, living there, but mostly revisiting the things we talked about the night before – as we do, thinking about what was said, received, held, seen, nurtured… and noticing then, how the memory is displaced by the next moment of remembering – a kind of a death – and all of it, soon enough, fading away into forgetfulness.

Too much to be retained in conscious thought, and a gentle amnesia takes the place of that which groups all conversations in the mind so they form into one. A fleetingness takes away a thought, complete in itself, a picture seen in an instant just as it’s passing away. I seem to understand what was said better than I did when saying it at the time, busy as we are, putting the thought-forms into words… with a return at the end of each response and remark for the others to link with the place where I’d entered the dialogue.

Without trying to make it into anything, just playing my part in the discussion, waiting to see how it was going and where, while all sorts of things came tumbling out in unrehearsed, articulated speech… slotting into the right places. And something is said which fits in place of the piece that’s missing but we only see how it belongs there, after it’s placed. And the whole thing works so well after that, there’s no memory of it ever having been other than what it was/is, perfectly balanced.

Jiab returned from the Wat and the next day we went to the airport together. She was going South and me, back up North. Her flight to Hat Yai was leaving just before mine to Chiang Mai. Bye-bye at the turning of the ways in the long corridor at Don Mueang Departures. Waiting for boarding, she sent me a text saying to look out the window because her aircraft at gate 46 was opposite mine at 55. Her plane took off and mine must have followed on the single runway. Up and away… taking our separate directions above the clouds. How strange and funny to be up ‘there’ together in the air, she in her plane and me in mine, as if we’d been in two ships sailing in an ocean that reaches all other oceans and seas everywhere in the world.

img_5405

“Because the mind has no beginning or end, you can’t use the mind to put an end to the mind. Because there’s no inside, outside, or in between, if you look for the mind, there’s no place to find it. If there’s no place to find it, then you can’t find it. Therefore, you should realize there is no mind at all. And because there is no mind at all, demon realms can’t affect you. And because you can’t be affected, you subdue all demons.”
Hui-chung (578-650)


Lower photo: Curious rock formations at Poo Jom Gong, the sea that went away…

hypothesis

IMG_2366bPOSTCARD #181: Chiang Mai/Bangkok flight: Here today and gone tomorrow or here today, next week tomorrow, time warp in an itinerary that is only continuous interchanges. Shrill announcements in Chinese, nine tones, so much air needed to get it all to sound clear, they’re almost shouting. Pain in the head, swallow medicine with a glass of water. Small tables seem to leap up and strike me with food, stabbed by cutlery and glass in the mouth, at night soft pillows try to smother me. Now sitting in an airport coffee shop with M my niece and she says, Look Toong-Ting there’s a mosquito on my chocolate brownie! And I need a moment to figure out what she just said, M looking into my disbelieving face, almond shaped eyes, black pupil almost fills the space. So I lean over to her small plate and M points cautiously with her little finger and there is a mosquito sitting there, or standing there (do they have knees?) on the edge of her brownie. I look at it closely. Do you see it Toong-ting? It’s a boy mosquito. This intrigues me… so small, the genetalia would be hypothetical – how can she tell? Where is this conversation going? Girl mosquitos drink the blood, she says. I shoo away this rude boy mosquito, and ask M if she would like me to go buy her a new chocolate brownie instead of that one that’s been walked upon by a boy mosquito? No she’ll just not eat the bit where the boy mosquito was standing. And she’s eating with a spoon so that looks possible; yes she carves away that chocolate brownie so what’s left is the tiniest cliff teetering on its own in a sea of white porcelain plate with crumbs of its relatives scattered around.

The whole world is a hypothesis – that’s the hypothesis. I’m reminded of something I think I heard somebody tell me about already, it’s only the females who go for the blood, hmmmm, typical, the males hang out in coffee shops and eat chocolate brownies. Then it’s boarding and we’re passing through apertures in walls, holes in the fuselage and sitting in 43H&J. I stow away the hand-carry bags in the locker above, a volume inside a volume, and M selects the aisle seat, sits quietly and perfectly straight, long-necked and graceful, looks around to the back with a fleeting glance that scans for detail all around the inside of the plane, right down to the front, her small eye beams flash through the interior between seats and all through the crowd unnoticed, absorb all data, processed to the brain to see if anybody looks interesting.

Meanwhile I’m sitting with my knees squashed up against the seat in front trying to find the optimum position of comfort – Thai planes are made for little people – ask M if I can put my leg in the space on her side and she agrees and seems pleased to have it there, a fallen tree trunk occupies part of her space. Asks me if I want to put the other one in as well, so I do that, one leg folded on the other and she’s fascinated by the size anomaly, but it’s too much. People will think I’m taking advantage so I take one out and fold it up against the seat in front like the mattress on a bed settee when it’s closed… it’s only a 50 minute flight

She continues looking around, stands up to look at where her seat belt is at, with head spinning nearly 360 degrees, long black hair sweeps around like curtains, then settles into her seat with the thump of her small weight and ‘click’ goes the fastener of her seat belt. These days, M is being an individual, self-contained ‘self’. She’s nearly twelve – and at that age you’ve got to know what you’re doing … I’m thinking it’s a bit sad that the crazy playfulness is gone. There’s just this beauty and sweetness and I don’t know where it comes from. M tells me to fasten my seat belt. I feel that soon it’ll be M taking care of me on these flights.

“A king heard the sound of a lute and it delighted him, so he ordered them to bring that sound. The servants brought him the lute, not the sound, and they had to explain to the king that the sound has no independent existence, but is created by the separate strings, box and arch, all elements acting simultaneously. Just as the king cannot find the sound of the lute, we can not find our self. “ [Buddha, Samyutta Nikaya]

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With thanks to to inaendelea @ the closed room for the end-quote
~   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   ~
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all in the blogosphere

pasta in the past

IMG_2234bPOSTCARD #152: Delhi: Video call from M, my Thai niece, she’s showing me her new glasses… they make her look so grown-up, hard to believe she’s only 11 years old. I remember when she was little, using English words and that creative playfulness: ‘pasta in the past’, something she learned about the word ‘pasta’ having its origins in China and brought to Italy by Marco Polo in the 13th century. So it became pasta (in the past) – as in pasta/ presenta/ futura – but it was also from the movie ‘Frozen’ where the main character (Elsa) sings the song, ‘Let It Go’ and there’s the line ‘the past is in the past…’ (click here for 9 second link) and M was singing along with a video of it as, ‘pasta in the past’, either because that’s how she heard it in some other animation, or she thought it was funny, or both… I can’t remember.

The wisdom of this childlike intelligence that seeks/finds creative solutions to problems – I must have had in my own childhood, over many horizons, long ago and far away. All the ups-and-downs; all the dramas embedded in our history that make us who we are now and form the characteristics of our future time. Births, deaths, marriages; I have a fragile, old, yellowed newspaper clipping of an obituary column that describes my grandfather who came from the Orkney Islands in the North of Scotland and was drowned in a fishing boat in the Moray Firth before I was born. The unseen cause/effect of emotional catastrophes enduring for decades; we’re unknowingly driven to take responsibility for things over which we have no control, thinking (or believing) that by chance we might stumble upon the key to unlock it all; the karma that’ll undo the karma that led to this.

M asks me: Toong Ting, you feel better now? How about your Chingo? (Shingles)… I tell her, yes, I’m okay now, thanks. She looks at me, Did you go to the hospital? (we go to the outpatients section of the local hospital rather than a private doctor) Yes, I went to the hospital, showed the doc my skin rash, looked really yukky, told him about the bad headache all the time. Did you eat the medicine Toong Ting? Yes… we take medicine, we don’t eat medicine, and she knows this but can’t be bothered to make the change from the Thai translation: kin ya

I took homeopathic medicine towards the end of the three-week frenzy of stabbing pain, then the recovery and falling into a huge landscape of pain-free, ease and gentleness. Altered state, revisiting old memories with such vivid clarity it all seemed quite different – I thought the past was irredeemable but it’s not. The past changes according to how it is perceived in present time. And I’d been so firmly attached to the endless thinking-about-thinking, watching the same old rendition of the story I’d assembled over the years.

My world was transformed, ideas and perceptions started to change; a fierce face appears in a kindly way, the scary familiarity of events unfolding but portrayed differently… a completely new production of an old movie. Kindnesses and sorrows, things I’d not noticed at the time become redefined in the process of mindfully remembering the situation. It’s as if I’m seeing my missing grandfather coming back to life; a rebirth happening here and now – in the same way this video call from M is happening now, although she is 2000 miles away. Toong Ting?, M asks, when you come to Thailand? I tell her it’ll be 29 September, that’s next Tuesday… Okay, bye! Everything comes full circle again.

A monk asked Yueh-shan, “What does one think of while sitting?”
“One thinks of not thinking,” the Master replied.
“How does one think of not thinking?” the monk asked.
“Without thinking,” the Master said.
[Zen mondo]

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gentle ways

IMG_2243POSTCARD 144: Bangkok: Impossible to write about Thailand without reference to the car bomb last night in downtown Bangkok, the Thai word for it is ‘baa’ (insanity), was it a madman or was it a politically motivated act intended to provoke retaliation? There’ll be a long investigation and what it means is ordinary people will endure the traffic jams as roads are blocked off; life will go on as usual. Extremists give Thailand a bad reputation; it’s a story we know all too well these days – a created enemy.

I wasn’t able to discuss it with M my Thai niece in Chiang Mai, who’s thinking of things much more important than crazy people with bombs and anyway I’d left for Bangkok the day before, and had no idea there was a bomb because my place there is nowhere near the disaster area and I don’t watch TV. M told me when I called her about the pictures of the chocolate tart she sent me that we made when I was in Chiang Mai. She got the recipe from a YouTube video; created from a packet of Oreo cookies and 2 bars of good quality dark chocolate and one bar of milk chocolate. Open up the cookies and discard the pasty yucky bit in the middle. Smash the Oreo itself to a fine powder and mix with butter to make the base. Then break up the chocolate and melt in milk in a bowl inside a larger bowl of hot water. Pour on top of the Oreo base and put in the freezer overnight.

It’s a kinda reconstituted thing, I thought, yeh nice! Fun thing to do with M and she liked the idea that we are engaged in this activity together, impressed that I was able to scrunch up the Oreo with a spoon really well because of large strong fingers. I was rushing to get it finished though and M was holding things up with her attention to detail, The sequence is important, you have to do properly Toong-Ting, its work like that, she says. I correct her because, well, it’s natural to do that: ‘it works like that,’ I say. She looks at me, then goes back to her scrunching of Oreo: Why he, she and it have ‘s’, and the others don’t? And I say it’s because it’s Third Person Singular, you know? (knowing I’ll have to think up an explanation fast).  But… Why? So I decide to try this: it’s just the way words relate to each other, the way things fit together, and the he-she-it one is different from the others. Just different, that’s all. M accepts this explanation and I’m relieved. We go on scrunching…

The Thai culture values peaceful, gentle ways. The Buddhist teachings guide people through the delusion arising from hot emotions like confusion, anger; the mindfulness of knowing that whatever arises, falls away. Thais have this deeply felt jai-yen (keep a cool heart) attitude that’ll hopefully allow things to remain calm in the years to come. Everyone is quite well aware of the danger. It’ll take more than a single bomb at Erawan Shrine to cause a reaction.
(Note: At the time of writing a second bomb has exploded in the river at Sathorn Bridge)

“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” [Helen Keller]

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Note about Helen Keller: Helen was frustrated, at first, because she did not understand that every object had a word uniquely identifying it. [The] big breakthrough in communication came when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of “water”.
Photo: Flower seller Phuket

looking out and looking in

IMG_0627POSTCARD 143: Delhi-Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight: The flight from Delhi arrives at Bangkok a bit behind schedule so we have to move along quickly to the transit desk and transfer to the domestic terminal for the next flight to Chiang Mai. In-flight bags on a small trolley, and we’re zooming along on the moving walkways in this celestial structure of steel and glass. As yet, passports are unstamped, les frontaliers, the no-man’s land between country borders. We’re unregistered, no identity, invisible data.

It’s always the journey to get there… after I get to where I think is ‘there’, there’s another ‘there’ to get to, and all of it leads back to ‘here’, an ‘everywhere’ place made up of everywhere else… then it’s extending away again. It can only be the journey itself, not the destination – the Path is the goal, this is where we live. Isolated scenes from parts of the surroundings seen flashing by as we’re soaring along the high speed walkways; smooth as swans gliding on the surface of a lake. Two thousand miles of transportation corridors from Delhi to here, flight corridors connected end-to-end, through which we travel in the sensory cloud of transient ‘now’ consciousness looking out and looking in. There is nowhere that consciousness isn’t present. Consciousness is everywhere, so vast – indeed everywhere is included in consciousness, “And the deep lane insists on the direction”, an extended corridor projected out towards the designated destination where everything in the perspective it creates seems to disappear in a vanishing point.

An incidental episode of familiarity comes along… the déjà vu of cups of coffee taken at these restaurants, bars where they have wifi. Have I been here before? Must be the last time I came through, or was it the time before that? Was I going – or was I coming back, transit to New Delhi? I spoke with some people there, if I happened to meet them now, I wouldn’t remember. No time this time, we’re at immigration, passport stamp thump! through to security, take off my belt, shoes, my watch. Laptops out of bags and put them into the tray together with my phone to go through the X-ray machine.

Just then, the phone rings… reflex movement to reach for it, but it’s too far and the security officer shakes her head… let it go through. Phone ringing happily as it rumbles on its rollers into the machine. I pass through the X-ray, muffled ringtone continues then lovely ascending increased volume as it comes out the other side. I want to pick it up but people are waiting, a bit harrassed; there’s the putting-on-of-the-belt and shoes. Security officials seem unmoved by the tremendous ascending 4D heavenly ringtone, probably happens all the time… eventually I get the phone. Hello?’ It’s M, my Thai niece: Where are you now Toong Ting? I tell her we are boarding the plane in a minute and will be in Chiang Mai in about one hour. Silence for a moment, then she says: I make choc-o-late-cake. Clearly punctuated percussive articulation, she speaks English as a second language. I tell her, oh nice! and try to explain how the phone got X-rayed as she was calling me, but she can’t find anything to say to that… attempting to find a link with something else it could be related to, mind travels away with this information. No time to discuss, we have to go now, bye. Speedwalking through to the Departure gate and they’re boarding just as we get there; processed, find seats, strapped in and ready for take-off… engines roar, climbing again up into higher altitudes.

You hide me in your cloak of Nothingness
Reflect my ghost in your glass of Being
I am nothing, yet appear: transparent dream
Where your eternity briefly trembles [Rumi]

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