meditation and a dentist’s drill

POSTCARD#368: Bangkok: Practically no traffic in Bangkok on my first day out – clear blue sky because there’s no pollution. I’m going to the dentist, and fortunate that I’m able to share in a car with two other friends and a driver, all of us wearing face masks, venturing out for the day. Wonderful to be back in the outside world and I send best wishes to blogging friends in the UK and US, who are stepping out today, as the car seems to leap across empty Thai highways.

Almost nothing of my UK ‘self’ remains. I have a sister, the other chick in the nest. Also gratitude to our cousin who tries to keep the strands of family together. The others… all gone in the passing years, and all that I’m inclined towards is in my Thai family and the monks I’ve spent time with – Theravada Buddhism Ajahn Chah lineage.

Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away for a meditational moment; just the in-breath, the out-breath, but I can’t continue because thoughts of the dentist come crashing into mind. You may be surprised to know however that she’s a very good-looking lady, dazzlingly perfect teeth to smile by, and this makes the pain easier to bear. Also, I have to say they are generous with the Lidocain needle there, I haven’t experienced any pain after the needle goes in during the many extended restructure sessions I’ve had in the chair. Maybe also the meds I take for headaches combine with the dental painkillers and these contribute to a painless experience.

So I get to the building, up in the elevator and check in with the receptionist. Sit for a while in an empty waiting area, thinking of my old dentist in Switzerland, 18 years ago, who told me about stress and depression among dentists, and he did have a few personality quirks. I googled the subject and found the suicide rate of dentists is more than twice the rate of the general population. September 1, 2007 Randy Lang. DDS, D.Ortho

Then I’m escorted to the dentist’s room. Undo my mask as I enter and “Hello, how are you”, greeting also the dentist’s assistant, who seems less beautiful but happy enough with the way things are.

The Dentist is absolutely stunning, dressed in her PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) she has a mask and a face guard with shower cap covering her hair. Movie-star painted eyes, but it’s the whole body covering that gets my attention; it’s clear smooth plastic, not wrinkled as we see in the busy COVID-19 wards, and… it looks like it’s been made to measure?

Beneath that is a tight fitting white plastic suit with a black belt and she’s wearing white high-heeled shoes – very high, with slender heels. A vision of dental loveliness… she sees me watching and does a little-girl twirl, I think: should I say “cute” or otherwise remark on her costume. But I can only smile and that’s convincing enough because I am genuinely surprised.

Are there any traces of a personality disorder here, I wonder, remembering the google texts about Stress in Dentists:

“When performing dental procedures that evoke patient fear and anxiety, dentists experience patterns of physiological stress responses that parallel the patient’s responses.”

Seems to me it would be hard not to, being so close, head to head with a reluctant and disinclined patient.

Another factor is people just don’t like going to the dentist, evidenced by the frequency of missed appointments. Nobody wants to visit the dentist and it’s the last place they want to come back to.

In my case it’s different, I’m in a mesmerized state. We continue with the opening pleasantries, as I sit down in the fearful chair which sinks to a lower level that raises my feet slightly higher than my head – it seems very comfortable to me and I tell the dentist this, thinking I have to be nice to this lady who may have a personality disorder, and she’s hiding a razor sharp drill somewhere which is going into my mouth – no escape now.

Her assistant covers my upper body with these heavy green hospital linen covers and puts one over my whole head that has a round hole in the centre. I found it disarming and claustrophobic the first time but I’m used to it now. She adjusts the position of the hole and does an examination of my mouth, indicates that it’s all good, and starts numerous injections to block off an entire area on the right side

After that, I’m raised up to the normal sitting position, while we wait for the Lidocain to numb the jaw. I take the conversation further by asking how long she’s had a dentist practice here in this location. She tells me it’s been 11 years and likes the process very much. Then she says: “I was in the US for five years”. I understand her to mean she studied there and prefers the American way of operating a dental practice, therefore the Thai way seems really old fashioned to her. I think she thinks I’m American and therefore I should respond in a welcoming, member-of-the-family, ‘warm hug’, in a manner of speaking but I don’t know how to do that, coming from Scotland as I do, ancient and remote. Even though I feel like I should have been able to respond better than I did.

Sometime later in the sequence of time we were talking about something else I can’t remember exactly and “I was in the US for five years”, she says, unaware that it’s the second time she’s said this. Is she, a Thai person, so deeply acculturated in all things American, she has to tell me about it? It was difficult to see how this could be, having lived in Thailand for 35 years with its ups and downs – 5 years seems like such a short time to me.

I wasn’t able to figure out how best to deal with this. A big smile will suffice – anyway it was time to get down to business and she sends my chair back into that devastating lower position, it seemed to me now, where the drilling begins.

No choice, settle into a space in my being, and try to accept these fierce sounds. The dentist’s drill is a fearsome thing as we all know. it can change from high speed: tee-ee tee-ee to low speed: bhrrr-bhrr bhrr-bhrr and variations on that: bhaaa-bhee, chugga chagga, daaa dit daaa dit daaa!

The dentist’s assistant takes charge of all the sucking devices she holds in place in a way that obstructs the movement of the tongue and drains the blood or liquid or water from another device crammed into place leaving enough space for the Hollywood dentist to do her drilling.

Everything to do with my mouth is seen through the round hole, I’m aware of some movements in the darkness. An overwhelming experience if you’re not used to it, now trying to embrace these intense sounds as my jaw is being carved into a new shape. There’s a natural tendency to escape from the body. Then the attempt at meditation starts.

The sound and vibration is hostile and shocking and pulls my attention back into what is immediately present, I can’t find a balance at first… I feel confident enough about the painkillers, about how effective the headache meds are, but the vibration is traveling through every bone in my body. It’s possible for the first time in my life to ‘see’, to be aware of my skull and skeleton. Maybe I can be confident about the full extent and the limitations of the experience; the drilling sounds, the pushing and tugging. I know this and I know Consciousness is vast. This realization just tumbles out. For a few moments the drilling sound and scale or scope of the issue becomes smaller and smaller, less and less important.

After that I’m able to find a place up and above my head and focus on staying there, as all the unexpected jabs, jerks and vibrations shake my whole body. The dentist’s assistant pulling on one side of my mouth and the dentist shoving and tugging the other side. My awareness has to include having to deal with the gag reflex and involuntary swallowing – all this can be going on because there’s enough awareness to go around. I can stay in this space up and above, and contemplate the experience as if I were in a barrel being tumbled down a rocky hill road, and other images.

The chair is moved up and the drilling is over, now to take an impression. Liquid rubber material is spread inside both upper and lower jaws. I clench my teeth together and have to hold it for 3 minutes. This provides me with a sudden quiet time… up and above in the space where I was meditating, there’s a golden glow. If I focus on it, the glow expands; it’s unintentional and spontaneous. The golden glow is sending out warmth and happiness, an entirely unintended action spreading outwards and everywhere.

Sadly it’s interrupted by the dentist, green covers removed, moving along now. Put the mask on, fix the next appointment, and it’s time to say Bye-Bye.

Down from the 6th floor and the driver is at the car-park level getting a stamp on his entry ticket. We pick up our two other passengers and out over the deserted highways again. I feel liberated and glad the next dental appointment is not for a month and the remains of the golden glow is with me.

The Thai Government reported three new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Sunday, May 10, 2020 with a total of 2,969 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths since the outbreak began in January


createimageprop-aspxPOSTCARD #230: New Delhi: From somewhere deep in Antiquity (2nd-1st century BC) the Indo-Greek created a likeness of the Buddha saying, okay, this is who he was, and this is what he was like. Before that there was nothing; a stupa marked a place where he had been and what he had said there, but no actual identity, no story of how it began, what the cause of it was – always the echo of ‘and what was the cause of that?’ (repeated endlessly) prevented the writer from saying, ‘it was something like this, you know?’ because, even before it begins, the story requires the listener to gently comply with the constraints of a starting point… “Once upon a time” (and this is as good a place to begin as any), so we fall into the story, become the story – we believe in the story because we are ‘the story’, we are ‘personified’, we are assimilated, a simulation, without even thinking about it.

Immersed in the commonly held belief in personification (‘I’ have to believe in it to get it to work), it seems to me that even God is a personification, I believe, I believe in “It”. The model of ‘the creator’ applied in multiple forms (everything is invented), based on a frame of reference inherited from artisans in generations past who built it, shaped it, fashioned it based on an earlier model they’d had then, dating back to well-before-that-time and everything so distant that even the words seem to get smaller and smaller in a perspective vanishing point location, and this, we can say, was the point where it disappeared completely.

Then, from a faraway place beyond the place where it was last ‘seen’, somehow brought back across the centuries into the bright light of modern times, eyes blinking in the dazzled befuddlement of it; historical and ancient – the meaning contained in words cloned from an ancient artifact, cloaked in strangeness, dynamic and eloquent.

134003511_14241612739041nThen examined, agreed-upon, regarded-as, and said-to-be the original, correct, true and embedded thus: the wisdom of the East meets the modern Western world. Immediately becomes ‘history’ and seen to be an accurate rendering, handed down from mother to daughter, father to son, identical to, or as near-to-as-possible the same as it was then and always had been since as long ago as anyone can remember (by word of mouth) the actual archetype.

So immensely detailed and complex that, even today, it is impossible to engage in any kind of discussion about anything, without the correct intermediary being present (or, if not, sent for), the structure of class/caste/social behavior being as it is; an unquestionable system of who does what, where, when, why and with whom, and how it’s all being done is supervised by somebody wearing a suit, or a long-sleeved shirt and shiny shoes, seated on a chair (while everyone else is standing), and he’s carefully copying everything down in a notebook.

No beginning, no end… the skill was, and always had been, to discover the answer formed as a question, and nobody thought it was necessary to create a likeness, besides, what’d he look like? There was nothing to go on…

Upper image: painting by Jill Lewis
Lower image: photo taken on Feb. 17, 2015 shows a Buddha statue on display at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, Afghanistan. The museum, founded in 1919, has survived three decades of war and now opens to the public after refurbishing. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)

no ‘out there’ out there

Best Travel And Vacation In China - Giant Buddha - Statue RenovationOLD NOTEBOOKS: When I came to the East in 1989, it took me a very long time to get used to the idea that the way Eastern people think is indirect, rather than direct. It seemed back-to-front; rather than saying ‘the Truth is this’, it’s expressed in the negative form: the Truth is not that. The Truth and the way leading to it are shown by discussing what they are not, rather than what they are [apophatic theology]. If I hadn’t had that early experience of the indirect way, like most people, I would have found it difficult to think of it in these terms – I don’t really like things that are negative, I prefer a belief based on affirmative statements: the act of creation and heaven. So I’m unwilling to accept the truth that the ‘heaven’ I’ve been taught to believe in is, of course, indescribable – absolutely beyond words, language doesn’t go that far, ineffable, therefore anything written or spoken about ‘my’ heaven is not real, it’s imagined.

Yet, even knowing this, I might still hold on to the way I’ve been taught. We come from a lineage of ‘believers’, if you can’t believe in it, you believe you believe in it and everything’s sort of ok. You believe in ’self’ and the ‘self’ of others. The separation of subject and object; in your own mind, there appears the self (the subject) as an observer and the other (the object) as thoughts and emotions. ‘God’ is out ‘there’ (object) and I am in ‘here’ (subject) – not for a moment thinking God could be in ‘here’ too and, of course that’s all-inclusive, so that there is no ‘out there’ out there. It’s all in here – it’s all ‘me’, the whole story.

I can’t even say it’s a ‘oneness’ because that suggests it’s an object out there somewhere. So I call it non-dualism rather than ‘oneness’ and that seems to place it somehow, but it’s not necessary to call it anything. Recently I’ve had to include the experience of pain in my life. Severe headaches. It’s not the first time, about 20 years ago I had colonic cancer and was rushed to a Bangkok hospital where they opened me up and removed a section of intestine, sewed me back up, having sewn up the exit too and attached a plastic bag to the outside of the abdomen over a hole about 1 inch in diameter, held open by a plastic sphincter. Excreta went in the bag and I had to learn how to change it every day. Three months later I went back to hospital and they undid the stitching of the normal exit, removed the plastic bag and sphincter, stitched that up and I was done.

During that time I had extreme bouts of pain in the centre of my body (the centre of my whole being) and didn’t fully understand that the way I was dealing with the pain was by taking it ‘in’ rather than rejecting it – there really was no choice other than to ‘step into’ the pain completely – everything turning inside out quite easily. And now twenty years later I contracted PHN in the nerves on the right side of the head and neck so there are these times of terrible pain in the head, I’ve had to ‘become’, to ‘allow’, to ‘be’ in the same way, rather than reject or try to push it ‘outside’. The outside is the inside, same as it was then. Of course I’m not in pain all the time because I have medication to deal with it now. I’m just considering the whole situation, going through these old notebooks trying to include and integrate everything, having this new understanding of how the whole thing works, and seeing it bit by bit.

“This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins [wise men or priests in the Vedic tradition] express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.” [Erwin Schrödinger]


Source for the header photo
For the Schrödinger quote see more at: Note about the title of this post: Many thanks again to hipmonkey for his wonderful observation: ‘there’s no ‘out there’ out there.
This post was written after reading an article by David Loy to whom I’m very grateful but seem to have mislaid the reference at the present time.
G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   ❤

a kind of subjectivity

IMG_0671POSTCARD#56: Bangkok: I’m the one that got away, the escapee, the spiritual refugee. I followed the road that led away from the place I was born and never went back. The link with ‘home’ is broken and even if I could get it reset there’s no connection now. Somehow it fits with the history of where I came from; of war and battles lost and won, victory, defeat, the pibroch, the dirge lament, death like a flood sweeps away a sleeping village; the kamma of immense grieving, Celtic calamity, the catastrophe, the ruins, the mourning, s’affliger, generations of the dispossessed, and all the elders are gone.

Is integration the opposite of disintegration? If so, I came from a world in disintegration, I stowed away on a ship, sailed over many horizons and by happenstance got shipwrecked on a strip of land in the South China Sea. I am the Western urban migrant, assimilated, integrated here, got the password, userID and blessed to find the Buddhists in Thailand. A sense of connectedness, although it hasn’t been easy these 30 years, carrying the weight of Western thinking, causes and conditions from early times, likes and dislikes. And, being the only foreigner in the family, I’ve learned to go along with the preferences of others when it comes to food. As it was this morning, for example, faced with Korean kimchi at 10.30 AM because somebody thought it was a good idea to go to the Korean food buffet downtown, and if it were up to me I’d have chosen something less exotic so early in the day, but Jiab thinks our niece, we call M, needs to eat something substantial so maybe she’ll like this. Okay go for it.

M tries the kimchi and tells me: not spicy, Toong-Ting, her name for me (see the M posts). She’s waiting for a response… I taste it, blood red and trailing strands of human skin and tissue –  a vampire thing? But there’s nothing wrong with kimchi really, I’ve had things far more out-of-this-world than that. I nod with approval and give her a smile I think is convincing. But M can see kimchi doesn’t quite hit the spot. She comes over and tells me quietly they have ice-cream here too. Yeh… well, ice-cream at 10.30 AM? If I said I didn’t like that either I’d lose all credibility. So I say, Nice! Do they have caramel/toffee? Thirty years further on in the journey and I’m eating ice-cream with a nine-year-old. I’m amazed that she likes me… maybe she responds to this quality of improvised simplicity I’ve developed, anyway it’s a privilige and quite wonderful how things have gotten very much easier since M came into the world. She corrects my Thai pronunciation (the tones), has a continuous chattering bird-like dialogue with me and discovers useful-to-know things about my phone I never knew were there. M is an empath – no words for it, it’s a kind subjectivity. Maybe because she’s a child in a bilingual situation and has to find the easiest route to understanding others, or maybe all children are like this and because I never had any children of my own, it seems special to me.

Being part of her world means there’s less of the holding on to ‘self’. Anyway, there’s less of an emphasis on individuality here in Thailand, things are shared, a largely Buddhist population. And my ‘self’ is so totally different from everyone else’s self, it’s not appropriate to be imposing my ‘standards’ here, creating supporting statements to prove what I’ve already decided is the correct way of going about things, and convinced about this simply because my continuing engagement with it somehow seems to confirm it has objective reality. In the East, the ‘object’ is not the goal. The starting point and the answer are revealed in the interaction with the context of the question – inductive reasoning, it takes longer, it’s more revelatory, exploratory, open-ended.

M runs off to look at what kind of drinks they have. Comes back and tells me about one she thinks I like but can’t pronounce the name, I ask her how do you spell it? Never mind she says, can she borrow my phone? I give her the phone, she’s always ‘borrowing’ my phone. M runs off to the drinks section again and comes back immediately; she’s taken a photo of the drink, shows me: Chrysanthemum tea, wow! A difficult one to pronounce. Nice, I’ll have that. M is gone for a moment then returns with a glass of iced tea held in both hands, places it on my table without spilling a drop; loving-kindness, she steals my heart away…

‘There is ultimately no individual self or soul (jiva), only the atman (universal soul), in which individuals may be temporarily delineated just as the space in a jar delineates a part of main space: when the jar is broken, the individual space becomes once more part of the main space.’ [Gaudapada] source: Non-Duality America (Link to original)



Lower photo: M‘s Pic of the Chrysanthemum Tea dispenser


IMG_0395bPOSTCARD #40: Chiang Mai: Watching the construction of a new condominium next door that’s been going on for 6 months or more. It’s like a story: Once upon a time there was a construction site. Then there was the first floor. Now they’re up to the fifth floor and the structure is above the tree tops. I can see the workers, including women workers wearing wide brimmed hats, sitting there creating the metal reinforcement of the support pillar. They’re doing it by hand; twisting flexible metal wires around the vertical and horizontal parts, like you tie a plastic bag closed with a plastic cable tie. Not moving around too much, aware of the flimsy platform they’re on. No safety measures, other than the mindfulness of being careful.

There are another two condos being built on the other side. A constant coming and going of cement trucks through the narrow streets, and all around the clangs and bangs of construction site sounds. Noisy but I’m attracted by the creativity of it. These large structure were once an idea in an architect’s office and I can see the plans and diagrams that were drawn on draftsman’s paper coming to life in three dimensions. Throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and go over to stand by one of my windows and maybe watch the huge crane lifting things up from the floor below and placing them on the new floor above. Then to the other window and see what’s happening there. The workers are active the whole time; rural/urban migrants from another strata in society, pluralism. Where they come from you could buy 5 acres of land with the money paid for one small unit in the condo they’re building here. What they get from this is an income, and there’s stablity, their children can go to school here, an opportunity to break out of the mould, social change is generational.

Their stamina humbles me, I’m a foreigner living in their country, my life style is so distant from theirs. I wonder if they have times when they get fed-up with it all? Are they as dissatisfied as I am? Would they understand how I sometimes pause in the writing of a piece, reflect on how much my original idea has changed since the beginning of it, and what I’d really like to do is take the whole thing to pieces and start again? Probably not, and I’m trying not to give up on it because this is already the third revision. In the West we can’t think of constructing without deconstructing. In the process of learning how to build things up, we learned how to knock things down. Click the remote and we’re watching a different movie; basic truths were disassembled overnight. Postmodernism arrived and everything came to pieces – nothing to hold on to. A world that’s always a work in progress, no final ‘finished state’.

New possibilites arise and one of these is the thought that maybe I’m not seeing the real world at all, what I’m seeing is something created in the mind; something ’seen’ in the way I want it to be. I can change the world to get it to fit when it doesn’t seem right according to the image I have of it – so how can I be sure I’m not simply thinking up a theory and creating supporting statements to prove it? My continuing engagement with it somehow confirms its reality… but is it really real? The question is the answer, it’s open-ended, exploratory – inductive reasoning. The solution is revealed in the process of examining the question. No subject/object dualism. Instead of trying to impose a structure on Nature, things take place subjectively. Finding the way that has a starting point inside, not outside; something I recognize in the interaction with the question.

Around noon, all the noise and clatter suddenly goes quiet. Lunchbreak. From my window I see the workers sitting in groups and some lying  in makeshift hammocks strung across the scaffolding supports in the cooler shaded floors: zzzzzzzz… the world is a kind of analogy, a figure of speech – the metaphor and reality. No final conclusion, forever on-going….

IMG_0403‘… houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
 are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
 is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
 Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
 old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
 which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
 bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
 Houses live and die: there is a time for building 
and a time for living and for generation
 and a time for the wind to break the loosened pane…’ [The Four Quartets, East Coker, T. S. Eliot 1943]


deductive inductive

P1040044Chiang Mai: Small figure of M sitting at the breakfast table on a chair too low for her. The plate with her toast too high and elbows sticking out, takes a large scoop of grape jelly from the jar, carefully carries it, at eye-level, on the flat of her knife, wobbling-wobbling over to her toast, decends and lands on toast without spilling a drop. I’m kinda transfixed by this manoeuvre. We were playing a game where you have to say as many words as you can, beginning with a given initial letter. So it’s my turn; I watch her spreading the jelly over the toast and ask her to give me a word beginning with ‘S’ and immediately she says, ‘SpongeBob’, then continues spreading jelly on the toast. SpongeBob? I ask… and she says, yes (like, is there something wrong with that?) Pretty good, considering she’s only 8 and English is a second language.

Also that M is Thai and coming from a cognitive place that’s different from the rigid Western, logical, clearly-stated position, that-which-is-known. You could say the Thai way is remote from this. But M is a child, like any child, learning as she goes along. There’s the impact of SpongeBob to be included, same as it is with Western children but she’s got the advantage of having an inherited understanding that’s more intuitive, Eastern (inductive); feeling the way through and let’s not bother with objectives, goals and all that stuff, okay?

Westerners find it difficult coping without a given structure. It’s not LOGICAL. In the Western (deductive) behaviour, we almost always express things having a plan in mind; the idea of what we’re saying is right there at the beginning, clearly seen, and all the backup related to that follows after. Then there’s a conclusion at the end.

The Thais are sometimes shocked by the bluntness of this kind of thinking. Their way of expressing things is like the inverse of that, no real indication where it begins, plenty of general examples and there’s a conclusion in there somewhere but it’s difficult for us Westerners to find it because we didn’t understand how it started … it seems vague.

Hotel staff, tour guides, any situation where you’re asking for information at random: Excuse me, do you happen to know where I can …? This kind of question is an invitation for the Thai to lay out a tapestry of possibilities, together with additional info you might like to know.

Western visitors are baffled. The idea is that the solution to the problem is already there, an understanding of this is induced; the conclusion is inferred, arrived at: Yes! I see what you mean… the aha moment. There’s a skill in asking the question, of course, mindfulness, and that’s on-going for me, no expectations (that helps) and there’s a skill in the ability to be patient, appear interested while looking around for someone else who might know.

The West, separates God and the world. We are not Him, we are created by Him; a subject/object duality. The Eastern inductive reasoning understands the function of things through recurring patterns, a ‘puzzle made of its parts’. If there’s a God it must be ‘inside’ this, cannot be separate, it’s integrated. Not easy for me, letting go of the seeking for logical patterns of cause and effect that aren’t there. And I’m suddenly interrupted by M, who asks me if she can use the computer; she opens google, and finds a YouTube video of the Chipmunks singing Gangnam Style in cute squeaky voices: Op op op op, oppan Gangnam Style, Gangnam Style. Op op op op, oppan Gangnam Style…


Photo: Carved doorway Wat Phra Kaew, Elaine H collection