transformation

POSTCARD#363: Bangkok: I’m writing this in the house Jiab and I have had since 2003. At that time we were in the Bangkok suburbs but after a few years, the city grew up all around us, the urban highway extended itself into the neighborhood and real estate got snatched up everywhere. New Metro train lines are being constructed and in no time at all, condominiums started to appear over our humble single storey houses.

For most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and our nephew, part time grad student acting caretaker. We were in Bangladesh for two years and India for seven years, returning to the Bangkok office in 2017. Even then, the house stayed empty because of the traffic problem and we had to rent a single room downtown, not too far to get to work in rush hour traffic.

At that time we used to come from the rented room to the house only on the weekends. These days of course, we’re all under the stay-at-home order and working from home, so we moved back into our house and now we get to see what it’s like to be at home every day of the week. People everywhere in the world who are working at home must be experiencing this one way or another.

Key in the search word in internet and find various restaurants are doing delivery of lunches and dinners online, as well as local delivery (from our neighbors) of a small range of home-cooked food items. The doorbell goes ping-pong!, I look over the small balcony to see. Yes it’s the lunch delivery, the motorbike guy there with his helmet and mask on and Jiab is masked too, taking the bag from him.

Shortly after that there’s another ping-pong, I look out and down there, a car is stopped outside our house with driver’s door left open. This must be a neighbor’s delivery. Curiosity gets the better of me and I go downstairs to see what’s going on. Jiab’s laptop and deskwork occupies one end of the long dining table, ceiling fan whizzing around (this is the hot season) and all her papers held down in the breezy winds with salt/pepper shakers and other condiment items from the table.

The remaining part of the table is laid out for two. Jiab has the chicken and Somtam (Green papaya salad). I have the Salmon with black Teriyaki sauce and Pink colored sweet ginger, which I share with Jiab and she shares her Green papaya salad with me. Then we have the Best Dessert in the World, Gelatin colored white and also transparent, with mango in the middle… more of an indulgence than anything else. We have one each and that’s it, lunch is done.

Interesting conversation over lunch, Jiab who was brought up in the Buddhist faith, found it hard to believe when I told her that at Easter we have an example of an immense transformation (Death of Jesus and the Resurrection). She didn’t have the same emotional connection as I do (having been proselytized all the way from childhood to adult life). So when it occurred to me that the Easter experience for Christians fits exactly into the transformation of the world economy after COVID-19, Jiab didn’t immediately see the significance of the transformation. Could be that only Christians see it. Not possible to discuss this at length here, maybe some other time.

The world-wide crisis looms and there’s hope but also uncertainty. We cannot project into a (possibly distant) future when everything has returned to the same stability we had before COVID-19 arrived. It could be a metaphor for the Easter story. We let go of the old way and find a starting point for the new, it’s a learning process. Learning how to learn and learning that this is possible – all the causes and conditions here are right for it… not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are for now, allowing for change.

containment

POSTCARD#362: Bangkok: The Government on Friday, April 03, 2020, reported 103 new local cases of Covid-19, raising the total to 1,978, and four new deaths which increased the toll to 19. Thailand is a small country about the size of Texas. Efforts at containment of the virus means we are on stay-at-home conditions although some goods and services are still being delivered. I haven’t been out of the house for two weeks… have everything I need. We get most things by a masked man on a motorbike. He always gets a tip from this household.

My sense of being at home is quiet and at ease because we are provincial. Also the busy road network all around is deserted right now – everyone working from home if possible. So there’s time to reflect on what else is going on in our World of people on stay-at-home conditions.

Fortunately there’s also the opportunity to step into an introspective state/ meditation. I go to my most comfortable chair, sit down and close my eyes. Letting go of any anxiety felt right now. How does it feel? We’re here in the familiarity of our own homes, and that’s true for everyone else.

We are all ‘here’, in a metaphorical sense, in our various locations, North, South, East, West. In different parts of the world, in different time zones, we’re all experiencing that special feeling of being ‘here’, at home, right now.

Meditation is not an effort to make oneself peaceful, and there you are, end of story. It is a practiced development of that calm state of mind in order to see clearly how to step out of our fundamental confusion. Breathe in slowly, breathe out long, Watch the inbreath, the outbreath, we place our attention in ‘here’ the center of the body and focus on this state of being ‘here.’ Consider the difference between no-where, and now here.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. We’re all inside, ‘here’, inhabiting the space contained by floor, walls, ceiling and the furniture we live with. Be calm we are all at home. Relaxation and thinking about things while watching the inbreath and outbreath.

Stories come and go, pondering over this and that, and the awareness of being engaged with the thinking thing gets included in the searching – looking here and there as if I were looking for something I lost, but a while ago I forgot what it was. Can you believe it? The search function goes on, no matter what. If I start thinking about how to stop thinking, the mind gets busy searching for the way to do that.

Thinking has its own momentum, takes time to slow down; that’s the nature of it. With that thought, things start to fizzle out… letting it all go, until there’s nothing left and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. The mind is alerted… an empty space opens up, a great mirror showing Consciousness looking at itself – the awareness of being aware. Silence and emptiness; everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, yes the invitation to be involved with thought is there but the novelty of no-thought holds my attention.

The breath is so faint and light it’s almost not there at all. No other sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with; no sense object activates the chain of events and all that remains is the mind’s cognitive function.

Breathe in slowly, breathe out long. A curiosity stirs: the ‘self’ is a sensory experience; the experiencer is an experience – there is only experiencing. Consciousness is the sensory organ of the universe. Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and cognizance – this is how the universe experiences itself.

We are all ‘here’, each and every one of us, aware and observing the circumstances associated with this fundamental truth of consciousness.

Consciousness, perception, and reality interact by way of the six sense doors: eye, ear, nose, tongue, feeling, and mind. The one that is accessible is the mind sense-door, leading to awareness of all the other senses, including the sense that it is self-aware; a cognitive functioning focused on the sense of awareness. Everything falls away, leaving only the arising and ceasing of things. Then that falls away too and there is ‘the end of the world’. Beyond that, awareness continues – not dependent on conditions supporting awareness.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.044.than.html

Excerpts from an earlier post: ‘self is a sensory experience’. Thanks to: ‘truthless truth’ for the discussion in 2012 that led to the publication of this post.

G   R   A   T   I   T  U   D   E


to let there be no resistance at all

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#359: Bangkok: I’ve had the pain in the right side of my head for five years, and swallowing these expensive forget-me-not capsules every wakeful moment since the whole thing was diagnosed. So every now and then I get round to reducing the habitual intake of pharmaceuticals and see how that works out. This time it was different in a significant way. Instead of having the meds everywhere in my bag, my pockets, my purse, gather them all together and keep them in one place, slightly out of reach. Up on the top shelf of the bookcase – not impossible to get to, but not easy to access… went to sleep that night and forgot all about it.

Then, somewhere in the darkness of early morning, the pain comes… ringing the urgency bell, louder and louder, nearer and nearer. Still in the dream state, ‘I don’t want it to be here!’ Panic and the fear of unknown things. Wide awake now and the fear is dispersed, but the reality of it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way – the avoidance, resistance. Obstructing it, subverting it by any means, running away from it.

‘What can I do?’ There’s nothing I can DO about it, except to reach out for whatever comfort there is nearby and see how that goes. But there’s just no getting-away from it. This is a no-choice situation and, strangely enough, things start to improve as soon as I stop trying to do something about it.

The immensity of the pain is occupying all the space and I’m backed into a corner. No escape, the only thing I can do is turn around to face the pain and step into it. Fearlessness, but really no other way to go, no choice – then the discovery; dropping the resistance to the pain causes a moment of ease to arise.

It was this action (or non-action) that led to a glimpse of consciousness without an object, quite an extraordinary, out-of-this-world feeling. There was desperation all around but just enough of an easing in the pain to tell me that whatever it was I’d done was the right way to go. Just letting it be there, without backing away. It was somewhere here I noticed the easing. Allowing the alarm to ring and finding the conviction to let there be no resistance at all, no tightening up. For this one insightful moment, the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off.

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

An old friend sent me a link Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) It’s a mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. So I’m going to look into that.


 

this and then that

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#358: Chiang Mai/Bangkok Flight: Phone alarm goes off… there’s something I’ve forgotten! It takes a moment to realize I’m leaving today, not tomorrow. Oh no… I’m not ready! Sit up, legs over the bed… cool floor tiles on naked feet. A flash of movement, brush teeth, shower, fling clothes in bag. Quick tidy-up of rooms, swallow 3 headache capsules, bag on wheels, into taxi and we’re off.

Even after sitting quietly in the taxi watching the streets go by, I’m still rushing and bumping into things in my head. Breathe slow and deep and just let the driver take me to the airport. We get there, bag on wheels, mask attached over the face. I think of the aloneness of Muslim women.

Struggling to be mindfully aware of immediate realities; the layers of security, and being shuffled through the portals and gateways: this, and then that – this, and then that. A sea of white masks and black hair… black irises and pupils show the whites of the eyes.

The parts these thoughts come together in the space of a moment. Did it happen before I was aware of it, or was it my becoming aware of it that required the parts to come together, and making sense of it in that moment. Are all moments the same? Whatever, each thought appears in its own window and I’m tugged away, involved, engaged in the story of it. Identikit assembled in each case for it is always a story about me as subject or object, features selected to match all the characteristics of who I think I am in each instance. And always the same, variations on a theme of Me and Mine.

It seems I have my headache to get adjusted to, now there’s now less need to rush through the crowds. So, how best to get along with things, having swallowed the meds before breakfast. Head spinning slightly, slow down and shuffle in the directional momentum through remaining corridors, doorways. Eye contact with people here and there over the tops of their masks… (a masked foreigner in their midst). Passing through the last portal, and down the narrow tube that brings me to my tiny seat.

A small space of window and looking out under the blue dome of sky, pink-white heavenly clouds: Here we are cruising at 35,000 feet and this is your captain speaking, we will soon be descending to Bangkok where the weather is sunny and bright with a temperature of 34° Centigrade and 94° Fahrenheit

Dialogue summarized like text messaging minimalism, words tell me what things are, fill a perceived empty space, create distance – it’s ‘out there’. Language gives everything a label, gives ‘me’ an identity; name and form (namarupa), creates a separateness, subject/object duality.

Emptiness and a lack of self, the deep knowing there’s nothing there triggers the reaction to fill the empty space with a self-construct, an image, a movie celebrity, a child’s doll, the sphinx, the totem pole, dependency on a perceived creator. I can rest in this fictional state and know it’s just the way the software works, it’s like this. Knowingness is at the base of it all, in every way.

‘… impossible to be aware of an experiencer because it is always the experience itself that momentarily occupies that space.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’]

off the top of my head

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#357: Bangkok/Chiang Mai Flight: Rushing through the airport, late for my flight, with an urgent headache seeking attention like an inconsolable child. At the first opportunity I take off my mask and swallow another three capsules of forget-me-nots together with a small bottle of water I carry with me for this purpose. Losing track of the number of capsules I’ve taken already in all the discomfort of the journey. Another problem is wearing a mask intended for smaller heads than mine. There must be XL size but us big-headed folk are in the minority.

The flight takes about one hour and I’m in a half-sleep state, wakened by stabs of headache. Try supporting the head with one hand and an elbow on the chair frame. There, it’s seen as if separated from the neck and body. Feeling its weight, 5 kg (Wikipedia tells me), it becomes an object, the brain, the skull, eyes, teeth, facial muscles and skin. Vivid images conjured up by enhanced imagination, and the journey goes on.

Then landing… the aircraft swaying like a ship on the bumpy runway, all the rock-and-roll, accelerated, braked, jerked, and we’re here. Airport taxi to the apartment. I feel dizzy and my face is hot. Anyway I get there safe and sound, remove face mask.

So, how was the flight?

Yes, okay, not too crowded.

We found some large face masks for you.

Great, thanks

For a moment it’s strange to be speaking, looking for something to say. Thought associates words, pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

How’s the headache?

Not too bad.

The head is an acoustic device resonating like a wind-instrument. Breathlessness of ‘voice’, tone quality created in volume of throat, in void of mouth and intricate cranial cavities. Small sounds like the reed of a wind instrument. Rolling articulated back throat cavities’ deep volumes of sound. Gasps and split bits of wet air that whistle and chirp for an instant.

I go to my room and sleep quite early.

Completely awake again at 4 am, and no headache. I roll over and pull the bedclothes around the shoulders and over the head, keep out the chill mountain air. Get myself up in the sitting position and with pillows stuffed under me, make the preparations for a half-hour sit, maybe 45 min.

Meditation for me, means relearning the practice of Vipassana, insight, seeing things clearly. I was quite active 10 years ago, when I got the headache 5 years ago it fell away to almost nothing.

But once learned, the practice remains, perhaps here and there, remembering it as we go along. Watching the in-breath and out-breath, only that. Stop the mind flitting around like a shape-shifter. On the way, I may briefly arrive at the place of no-thought, no ‘thingness’, nothingness but in a moment it becomes ‘somethingness’, its opposite – and again no thingness. Treading carefully through the landscapes of tranquility. Return to the actuality of the breathing and be aware of these kinds of things entering and leaving the mind.

The head, positioned at the top of this column of body wrapped in bedclothes, is seeing, observing what is coming into internal consciousness. I am not looking out at the World, the World (consciousness) is looking into me, into my eyes, takes the form of a visual object, now this, now that. And feeling through the other senses into this experience of sitting upright on my bed, this space of the room, this place. It’s like I am (we are) a sense apparatus for sensitive life, complex consciousness, which feels through us as sensory instruments. The reality of this, for some of us… is Brahman.

Come back to the breathing. Hard to do this, mind is not familiar with the ‘unthinking’ state… learning that it’s just this physical awareness and everything is as it is for a moment of consciousness, and another – then it changes again. I’ve got nothing to think about and that’s okay; thought, itself, is a downloadable software. Thinking is the whole story; random episodes, snippets, individual words. Then nothing, without thought, there isn’t any story. Training the mind to keep a note of the meds taken, rather than an off the top of my head figure, based on the remaining capsules, always at hand, for pain or for the small comfort that’s in it.

Ease the mental activity caused by things not being as I’d want them to be, them to be, need them to be, expect them to be (Dukkha: Buddhist suffering, dissatisfaction). First Noble Truth. Necessary to investigate this because doing nothing about it and just tolerating the suffering permits a willful attachment to it and that’s not the way we want to go.

Defeating all the mechanisms of mind with their crinkly acetate enclosures for these three capsules of forget-me-nots. Let go of the internal struggle, reach out for the universal truth. Birdsong and daylight slowly fills the room.

“Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending.” [Rupert Spira]

There is nothing external to Brahman… a non-dual, self-luminous consciousness, [expanding] to encompass the entire universe, which is but the appearance of Brahman; everything is the Self.

[David Loy, Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta:
Are Nirvana and Moksha the Same?]

 

the dreamer

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#356: Bangkok: I’m writing about the headache that lives with me, sometimes gone and “gone is gone” I used to think. Then it comes back again, wearing a different suit of clothes, together with the crinkly acetate that contains the three capsules of forget-me-nots, and that’s how we get along. Similar to that flickering old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed. So I get the stepladder in place, go up three steps and unplug one end of the tube, pull out the other end and plug in the new one. Get down and switch on, and the new light is… quite heavenly.

So, it’s under this quite heavenly light, clear and bright, I revisit the flicker of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, review conversations and receive all that was said there, held, seen, nurtured and on and on until, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder. Of course that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. And next week (I don’t want to think about it) I go to the Pain Clinic to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the scalp and the right occipital nerve – the intrusive ‘grab’ of electricity… GRAB and HOLD!

The present moment seems as if it is forever waiting in the transit lounge on the brink of becoming future time while engaged in contemplative pondering over the past. The present moment is always underway, and even if it feels like I have to hold it, tether it to the ground, and adhere myself to it in single-minded possessiveness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too.

At the time, I was unaware of the implications of this however, falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway train, disaster movie showing the world as we know it, crashing through the restraints of how it should be, shown in slow motion; too heavy for the flimsy structure built to keep it in place… and I’m suddenly back in the present moment again.

We’re always only part the way through anything, anyhow and anyway at any time; here, there, or anywhere. Fresh new thoughts always somehow returning, stay for a while then displaced by the next moment of remembering… and the present moment is inclusive of that too.

And inclusive of that too, is death… who knows what happens after that, well, how could we reach that final ending and know what happens after that? Nobody ever came back from What Happens After That to say what it was like. All we can say is that this world will come to an end eventually.

The great ship, ‘Final Ending’ and all who sail in her begins to fall in on itself, as do great empires that have spanned the centuries, like castles made of sand, tumble to the sea eventually… then, in another kind of temporality, we see the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and everyone can go on where we left off. Consciousness shines like a new tube light, quite heavenly. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, aniccan and in the end there is no ending.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. 
This is true for the entire universe.” [Aitareya Upanishad]


Note: This post is a rewrite of my other post, “In the end, there is no ending”.

2020 in Thailand

Merry Christmas everyone! I started this Christmas card but didn’t get it finished in time – motivation fizzled out. Then regenerated and here it is now:

Metta (Loving Kindness) to blogging friends everywhere in the world on Christmas Day, 2019, from Tiramit and Jiab over here in Thailand where it’s an ordinary day. Kids go to school, people go to work. Thailand is a Bhuddhist country, Christmas is not a big event. God, as in Judeo-Christian cultures, is neither accepted nor denied; we can’t speculate about supernatural forces or beings. The Buddha therefore didn’t teach us about God. Rather, he encouraged finding the Truth one’s self through meditation practice and the Teachings, The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

Thai children learn in school and through their upbringing about generosity, kindness, gratitude, and a sense of well-being for one’s self and all other beings. It always begins with one’s self, because how can you help others with well-being if you don’t know what it means to be well.

“May I be well (again, starting with yourself), may all beings be well.”

Each of us has the capacity to do this, it’s not a special gift from God

Of course life is not only about creating a sense of well-being. There is adversity and others may not be able to cope. Generally speaking in Thai society, there is a sense of harmony, toleration and non-confrontation. Accommodating the differences; each of us has the capacity to do that. It comes through the practice of the Thai ot-thon (khanti) patient endurance, a Buddhist control of extreme feelings through the cultivation of mind, based on compassion for all living beings.

An example of patient endurance is in these immense traffic jams in the city, it is noticeable how Thai drivers are able to maintain an outward calm, no sounds of car horns at all. I know from experience in Delhi or Dhaka, if we were in a traffic jam there, the noise level from horns would be like a wall of sound.

Returning again to metta (Pali), the practice of cultivating loving kindness, universal love. All beings have the innate ability to generate metta; an experienced meditator may bring forth that loving kindness; an intentional dwelling in heart-felt emotion. Also breath meditation with a focus on the breathing organs which are situated in the heart; metta-chit, with a heart of loving kindness, wishing all beings well, using thought to generate goodwill… like falling in love with goodwill, in its highest form, over and over again – and generate that metta to the world.

…………………..

The Metta Sutta

This is what should be done

By one who is skilled in goodness,

And who knows the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright,

Straightforward and gentle in speech,

Humble and not conceited,

Contented and easily satisfied,

Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,

Not proud or demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing

That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,

May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be;

Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,

The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,

The seen and the unseen,

Those living near and far away,

Those born and to-be-born —

May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,

Or despise any being in any state.

Let none through anger or ill-will

Wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life

Her child, her only child,

So with a boundless heart

Should one cherish all living beings;

Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies,

And downwards to the depths;

Outwards and unbounded,

Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down

Free from drowsiness,

One should sustain this recollection.

This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,

The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,

Being freed from all sense desires,

Is not born again into this world.

 

 

consciousness

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#355: Bangkok: Struggling to read my own handwriting as if it were written by someone else. Here and there, references to consciousness, the original sources not included – not thinking that one day I’d return here and want to know these sources. No time maybe, everything was in a rush. The energy in these old pages is noteworthy; scribbled thoughts, often not in any understandable word order, refer to a past I don’t remember. Years spent contemplating impossible things, and barking up the wrong tree completely. And all of that led up to this. It never occurred to me that I was finding parts of the framework of a greater Truth.

…not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean!

Compassion for those who are caught in suffering; those who think life is only greed, hatred and delusion – or maybe so immersed in delusion they don’t think anything!

“In our reluctance to open to the possibility of another way of life; how to be completely alive, we prevent ourselves from dis-identifying with anything other than our conditioned states of mind. We will forever remain hypnotized by what our minds have absorbed from the outside world. We will remain a puppet of the society that has reared us.”

Caught in continued habituality, in cyclical existence; paired bully and victim etc. [see patisandhi]

This is where the Buddha’s Teachings enter. In meditation, the thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… no remainder – so, I can see now I had understood most of that but ‘no remainder’ I’d not investigated? The ‘remainder’ is consciousness, but what is consciousness? It’s a good question. Consciousness is without limitation so it can take whatever form. I’m thinking of words like universal, all-pervading, ever-present, omnipresent. Consciousness is the mystery all through the centuries – there’s so much more to be said about this.

Consciousness is everywhere and everything, to the extent that ‘everywhere’ and ‘everything’ are included in consciousness. It’s like a wave in an ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see, has suddenly swept up these small words, and they’re gone.

The self has no form, you cannot see it, you cannot grasp it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “ Ah there it is! “ Because who is saying that? You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object external to yourself, it’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing. You are the consciousness behind the seeing.

The paragraph above [no source] is the one that does it for me. I think I didn’t read the words properly the first time through. In my mind, I’d assumed consciousness had the same meaning as awareness, so when I read “You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’”, I was proven wrong and thus the ground beneath my feet gave way.


“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.” — SN 56.11

 

the teaching of the Headache

POSTCARD#354: Chiang Mai: Arrived here on a morning flight, Business class upgrade on Jiab’s air miles, and wheelchair at both ends because I’m not steady on my feet after the stroke last year. Physiotherapy sessions help me understand (body & mind) the impact of it and how exactly, the stroke knocked me off my balance and now, how to get back on my feet again.

A learning process and also I need to remind the physiotherapy staff of these headaches I suffer from, triggered by the smallest thing. So, to cut a long story short, I foolishly pushed myself too hard in physiotherapy exercises and strained something which affected whatever nerve group it is that led to this current gigantic headache (Post Herpetic Neuralgia, right occipital nerve).

So that was it, the last physiotherapy session had left me with a headache, that night, the next morning too. No time for Jiab to change the date of the Chiang Mai tickets so that I could stay at home and go to bed. Instead, I had to pack the Headache in my luggage and into the airport taxi.

A soft journey to Chiang Mai, thanks to the upgrade. In the apartment we had all the windows open, only the screens between our interior and the clear mountain air. It helped me to sleep for the rest of that afternoon and night, through till the morning and the Headache was now into its second day.

One thing that helps is that I’m familiar with being a prisoner of the Headache, at the mercy of monstrous thinking. Even though I daydreamed in awful dark wakefulness, I meditated and contemplated this discomfort all the way through until the Headache was nearly over. Next morning it was gone… “gone is gone,” words cannot express.

We got everything done that had to be done. Impossible to do much more, too long spent in that nether-world of sleep crowded with images I wanted to get rid of. I found a book I studied years ago: ‘Abhidhamma in Daily Life’ by Nina van Gorkom’, quite readable even though the exploration of the Buddhist network of cittas (realities) is vast. Interconnected mental factors that are useful to study in order to understand how the mind functions. It’s referred to as Buddhist psychology.

In this volume I was fortunate to find a few aspects of the Buddha’s teaching, that related very much to the experience (the teaching) of the Headache. For example the word ‘wholesome’ (kusala citta): conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being. In the Buddhist dictionary, ‘kusala’ is explained as ‘kammically wholesome’, ‘salutary’, ‘morally good’, ‘skillful’ and ‘blamelessness’. Its opposite, ‘unwholesome’ (akusala citta) hence refers to the opposite – the ‘unwholesome’, ‘unskillful’, etc.

“Akusala citta is bound to arise more often than kusala citta because there have been countless akusala cittas in the past and thus the conditions for akusala have been accumulated. If there is no development of right understanding, akusala cannot be eradicated and we will continue to accumulate more akusala.”

There is that condition of mind where actions and thoughts take place as a result of automatic sensory responses. These states proliferate of their own accord, papanca. An opportunity arises here where I can escape from Akusala by seeing it for what it is, or I can be quite unaware of it…

Being unaware of it means unwholesome states arising from the Headache stimulate negative narratives (Akusala) and it becomes a story about ‘me’, attempting to assert myself; how am I to be seen in the eyes of my peers and others? Now it is so obviously Akusala imagery it’s easy to see there’s an opportunity here to leave it alone and let it all go.

Harder to see is the image of behaviour and speech seemingly agreeable and pleasant but what I really want to do is endear myself to others in the expectation of some gain or favour… multiple variations on this kind of thing; hard to see their realities – things are not always what they appear to be.

These are the kinds of images seen in the mind’s eye when extreme Akusala Citta is present, but I don’t have to have a three-day headache of course, to experience this, I can be quite conscious and wakeful whilst maintaining states of quiet anger or blaming.

So, how to escape from entanglements with Akusala? Mindfulness of the cittas as they arise, and through the development of insight the “escape” can be realized. Right understanding of realities eventually leads to freedom from all akusala, to the end of all sorrow.

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisattva, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, par101, Before):

“Before my enlightenment, monks, this occurred to me: What, I wonder, is the satisfaction in the world, what is the misery in the world, what is the escape therefrom?

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,—that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,—that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,—that is the escape therefrom…

  • Excerpts from: ‘Abhidhamma in Daily Life’ by Nina van Gorkom

ordinary epiphany

POSTCARD#353: Bangkok: The arrival was in a cramped poky little ambulance – even here, the ignominy of it, everything is always too small for me. This could be my final hours and I’m preoccupied with the claustrophobic environment. Despite these difficulties, I’m aware the nurse is trying to comfort me in my condition; a wild compulsive shuddering, quivering and twitching of an out-of-control body. In fact there was no pain, breathing was unrestricted and it looked worse than it was.

Anyway it was all lights flashing, and the multi-sound-signal siren going full blast when we arrived at the hospital. I got unloaded on a gurney, and next thing I’m in a pool of bright light and they’re searching for a vein, difficult as it is with my tiny little veins but prolonged due to this out-of-control body twitching and shaking. I tell the doc sometimes I can control it in my mind. She asks me to hold it in place for a moment. I can do it… then the full choreography of twitching takes over. Sometime around here, they must have gotten the vein and thus I was zonked out of the picture.

I wake up, and the twitching has gone. I’m in bed wearing green hospital backwards facing night-wear and the world seems very far away – except for the presence of the catheter in the urinary tract and two large bags of fluid dripping into my veins every few seconds. It tells me I’m trapped in this hospital room for the time-being, and I have to come to terms with that.

There’s somebody in the room talking to me but I can’t understand what she’s saying, or see her face clearly – it’s all mumbles in a kind of darkness. I attempt to get out of bed but this elicits mild admonishments, and restraints .

For the next four days I discover a new resolve, unknown to me in any other context. From time to time I’m overwhelmed in a kind of holy light – my born-again Christian cousin in Scotland would be delighted – but for me the Holy Father of the West is not relevant after more than thirty years in the East. It can’t be spoken, ‘it’ is not an ‘it’. Saying ‘it’ is an ineffable presence overstates it even.

It was following this way of thinking that enabled my recovery, bit by bit. The problem had been my low sodium level and the pain-meds for my headache got thrown in the mix. That was Lyrica and now, no longer part of my menu – I’m searching for the way out of my pain, always. Maybe I can manage with a few extra 300s of Neurontin. It’s a case of try it and see and that concept of existential monitoring applies in my case in all kinds of ways.

“Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.

You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.

Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.”

Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11