the foreseeable future

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

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

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

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

It’s not difficult to practice loving kindness for the unloved here in Thailand because there are Temples all around us where Buddhist monks are sitting in quiet meditation very early in the morning, and in the evening. Thailand of course is a Buddhist country. Centuries of meditation, mindfulness and the quiet still mind of the lineage of monks has had an historical effect on the outer environment. This is still the Old World… or you could say simply that it’s just a gentle place, no extreme life-threatening conditions.

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

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

coronavirus: a living organism

POSTCARD#369: Bangkok: Before I came to live in Thailand, I was in Pondicherry, South India for one year, then Bangalore for another year. Things were quite basic in those days and in the first few months I caught Amebiasis from drinking unboiled water. Sickness, intestinal pain and bouts of dysentery so I went to the doc and he prescribed Flagellin, saying Amebiasis was a microbial infection in the gut. He also said he believed that in some communities at the lower end of the social scale in Pondicherry, the disease lives in their intestines for extended periods, maybe permanently. The people with the disease, get seriously ill once a year and otherwise go on with their lives.

Flagellin, the medicine, was dramatic, a purge; vomiting and dysentery… the cure was worse than the disease. It really was worse… I couldn’t go on with it, knowing full well it was a bad decision. Eventually I got back to the UK and it was winter. That fixed it. Then a month later I returned to South India and the disease came alive again.

The next year I moved to Bangalore and the sickness left me. That was in 1983 and there has been no sign of it after that, although if I went back to live in Pondicherry now, it would be a different story. So I was reminded of it all in the light of COVD-19 from the point of view that both Amebiasis and Coronavirus are a living organism, (and thanks Paz for reminding me of that) like a plant or a tree. We can only mitigate the risk of Covid infection, understanding that the disease may find an entry point if there’s a way through the preventative measures and there’s nothing we can do about that.

In the ancient world there would have been all sorts of diseases and viruses active and living among the population. The only cure would have been herbal mixtures and derivatives of opium and other plants unknown. If there was a killer virus as we have now, local wisdom would have advised social distancing and masks of thin cloths covering nose and mouth. If they contracted the disease they died eventually and the parasite died with the host.

Looking at COVID-19 in the US, if the loose attitude regarding social distancing in some states continues, if there is no vaccine at hand we can assume the virus will evolve, in the long term, remembering a parasite seeks to live in the host organs without causing death. The danger is if we take no decisive action at the beginning, we just have to learn to live with it in the long term.

What to do? First, is to discontinue the handshake to prevent the contagion spreading from person to person. We need another way of the public meet-and-greet, perhaps based on the Indian Namaste. Or the Thai Wai which is like a small Indian “Namaste”, and easier to do. The second thing we have to do is wear a mask, as they did in ancient times, to prevent the virus from entering the body, and to protect everyone from being infected person-to-person.

Today, we all need to wear a mask every day in public – and there isn’t anything difficult to understand about that, unless you are Donald Trump who doesn’t want to admit he can’t wear a mask because it would ruin his make-up. Hard to believe. It worries me that even if everyone in the US took to wearing masks on a widespread level, there would still be those who follow the President’s example and refuse to comply with mask-wearing for some contrary reason.


Top photo: Burmese kids doing the Thai Wai
Lower photo: Prince Charles adopts the Indian Namaste as an alternative to shaking hands

COVID-19 connectedness

POSTCARD#366: Bangkok: Thailand reported 6 new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Friday, May 01 taking its tally to 2,960 infections while fatalities remained at 54 since the outbreak began in January. On a global scale, the presence of covid-19 in our lives shows that when humanity is united in a common cause, social transformation is possible. Looking at changes in social behaviour, economy, and the role of government, an opportunity arises again to see the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important.

Here in Thailand, Jiab tells me she attended the death ceremony (the pouring of water) of her Great Grandfather when she was five years old. Death is no ending, death is going home… it’s how it is understood in most Asian societies. I imagine the same for III World societies everywhere. In the West however, it is usually hidden away and thus COVID-19 has revealed the reality, death is part of life.

We are the survivors after the War – as it is/was after any war, those who remain, understand that life is sacred. Each person, young or old, sick or well, is a sacred, precious, beloved being. What does it really mean, all the hugs, kisses-on-both-cheeks, handshakes and high-fives we are removed from right now (and may be adapted in some way in a more permanent basis)? It means let’s be connected by whatever means as an expression of love and spirit.

What makes it difficult is the Western belief in the separate self in a world of Other, me separate from you… driven by power and the fear of losing it. The obsession with money and property, extensions of the self – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. Some would say the exact opposite of the Buddha’s Teaching.

What’s coming is a wave of revelation; situations just taken for granted in the past are being reappraised, seen with compassion. How can we find out about those who cannot work from home? The hotel staff, the taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the janitors and cashiers. What can we do about those who have lost their jobs due to the covid-19 shut-down? What is the best way to help vulnerable people? The homeless? How can we be connected with people in the slum districts in inner cities?

The covid-19 shut-down activates compassion, leaders and activists start to emerge, campaigning for the situation of the helpless, in so many words… something is stirred. If we have it in us, we can see quite clearly, the ‘normal’ that once was, is gone. We just can’t fall back into the same rut; monotony and a sense of lack. What can we do abut this? How to be part of this new connectedness in the covid-19 separation?

What’s coming is a new vision of what society could become – one that is less authoritarian and fearful, and more collaborative and local. Unseen altruism, resourcefulness and generosity that arise in situations of grief and disruption.

Necessary to be careful all the way through to an agreement: “… with the decimation of small businesses, a dependency on the state for a stipend that comes with strict conditions. The crisis could usher in totalitarianism or solidarity; medical martial law or a holistic renaissance; greater fear of the microbial world, or greater resiliency in participation in it; permanent norms of social distancing, or a renewed desire to come together.”

Excerpts from Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” included in this post.