sad sausage dog story

POSTCARD#285: Bangkok: Taxi to the airport for the flight to the island … did I remember everything? Packed and unpacked so many times, pause for a moment and I can’t remember if this was a pack or an unpack – ah well… I know it’s a continuance of the journey from Delhi because so much of the space inside the bag is taken up with clothes not yet unpacked. We had one night in Bangkok and now we’re headed for Samui, a small island in the Gulf of Siam.

Layers of folded, flat-pack clothing, still chilled from the 4 hour journey over from Delhi, ready to leap out and take human form, when we get to the island. Bag contents include another layer on top of folded clothes; the cables, adapters and sockets we need to recharge our batteries; “Oh no, my battery is running out!” Jiab says, collapses into her seat with a sigh, as if exhausted. No power source until we get to the hotel. And the remains of my bag capacity is filled up with the soft pillow I carry with me everywhere, fluffy and light, full of air, and placed on top of the cables, so that, when the bag is zipped shut, it holds everything in place.

But, is there something I still have to do? Still there’s the lingering doubt… I’ve had to double check on actions ever since the last stay in the Delhi hospital – large bruises all over the back of my left hand and right forearm, where the nurse unsuccessfully probed for a vein – they’re hopelessly small, but she got it in the end. It was just a flu virus, thankfully not dengue fever or anything more nasty. Three days in there, and TV watching – television must be a very good analogy for something I could write about, but do I want to do that? No. Discharged after 2 nights, and next day, into the aircraft. Now we’re in Thailand, on the way to get the one-hour flight to Samui.

I’m so forgetful these days; can’t remember how to do things that used to be automatic. Simple actions like going upstairs, now I have to consciously create the necessary coordination, otherwise I’d trip on the steps. Going down is the same… hesitation; it seems like such a miracle that I get to the bottom safely. The necessity of mindfulness in everything I do from here on.

I’ve experienced a few forgetful and confusing things lately, forgetting ordinary words, and the honesty of those freeze-frame blank moments. Particularly the sad sausage dog story, that inspired this post. We had to give up our rented house and stayed with our Japanese friends for a while, in a small 3-bedroom ground floor apartment. Long corridors extending out from a central living room, and a bedroom at the end of each corridor. Very good for privacy, but confusing for the cute little Dachshund (sausage dog) our friends were looking after while the owner was away.

I’d be lying in bed and hear the click, click, click, of toenails coming along towards where we were. Then the poor creature would arrive at our open bedroom door, look around as if to say, “Is this where I’m supposed to be?” Pause for a moment, then turn around to go back. That was when I witnessed, for the first time, a Dachshund dog perform a 3-point turn to face back the way she came. The front legs seemed to have all the action worked out; the rear legs just sort of stumbled on things lying in the way, and followed the action of the front two. The pink doggie diapers it was wearing at the end of the long body accentuated the action. Then it would go off again, click, click, click, and pink diapers with tail sticking through would disappear in the long straight corridor. After 10 minutes  we’d hear it again approaching our room. Hesitate in the doorway: Hmmm. here again?

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” [Melody Beatty]


Photo: Jiab in the front seat of the taxi

background brought forward

POSTCARD#284: Delhi: Jiab was coughing and coughing, day and night. She went to the doctor, got medicine. After a couple of days, I started coughing too. Appointment for the doctor; we went together, doc looks down my throat, holding my tongue in place, and shining a spot of light to see what the problem could be; say ahh please. “Ahhh”. Okay, it’s a virus (Flu), but we don’t know what kind of virus it is. She asks me for my age and says she’d like me to come into the hospital for a few hours for more tests and observation. Wow! I wasn’t expecting this, a nurse appears and I’m whisked away, abducted by aliens … a few hours turned into two nights and three days trapped in a hospital room with a TV, restricted diet, throat feels like I’d swallowed a mouthful of broken glass. Headache too, but not the same as the PHN headache. Nothing better to do than figure out how the TV remote works.

Things moving so fast it’s all getting to be history too soon. Earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes in the Caribbean, and pending volcanic explosion in Bali. The impact on people’s lives; the tragedy of how the hurricanes entered people’s personal space, and swept away everything. Dismayed, the 100 yard stare, where’s my home? Chunks of the environment gone missing, stuff we just take for granted, pieces of it like parts of a huge jigsaw puzzle, disappeared, lost. Reality can be this too. The mind must be fundamentally changed, after an experience like that.

At all hours of the day and night, thus held by TV, fixed high up on the wall. This is CNN bringing you Breaking News, volume fills the room: the President threatening us with his inept diplomacy, possibly bringing on a nuclear war. Hoping for the best, we are hovering on the edge of imminent disaster. He returns to his home base frequently to appear with his fans, in a created reality, televised in networks and shown all around the world; that jolt of paid-for breathless waves of applause. And does it matter if it’s not genuine spontaneous applause? Seems not, the appearance of things is good enough.

Am I going mad? It could easily be a scene from a Marvel Comix, or Manga comics’ series. Or gaming – something to do with the performance, the act – too much for me, in the end I shall just disappear in Thailand somewhere. Not here yet, but it’s getting there. Halfway through the second day of lying on a bed too small for me, sniffling and sneezing and I really want to get away from this TV. The cough is throaty, like the bark of a dog, and it feels like I’ve gone through a lifetime of watching TV, trapped in the illusion; seek, find – instant gratification, claim your prize, reward, congratulations. Have your cake and eat it too. But there’s no real satisfaction, TV stimulates a hunger that only leads to a sharper edge to appetite.

When I was discharged and away from that TV room, it felt like every bone in my body was bruised and painful. Vision blurry in the totality of natural light. Quite emotional, so much happening at the same time, things jumping in to get my attention. This is normality I guess. It’s hard to keep track of which is what, who said that, and how things came to be like this. The minimalism of events occurring in a few seconds, as fleeting as a moment in time, the arising and falling away of it, the unfolding of circumstances divided and subdivided in a multitude of miniature events…

“Don’t clap too loudly—it’s a very old world.”
[Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead]


attachment becomes generosity

POSTCARD#284: Delhi: Packing household objects for the move is simple enough, there are two categories: a) things to Give Away, b) things to Keep. There is, also, c) things I have to give away, but want to keep. Still some reluctance there, gazing fondly at these possessions, do I really need this? In the end it all gets caught up in the momentum of leaving. I begin to see how it belongs in the ‘Give Away’ group, except there’s this tenacity of attachment; fingertips adhere to surfaces of the object – it would have to be pulled from my grasp.

The urgency of having to pack up and leave, sweeps the attachment into another place where it becomes generosity. Much-loved objects become gifts, rather than possessions. Generosity is letting-go, and the Buddha’s teaching on self/no self reveals the suffering inherent in the human condition caused by holding on, when we should be letting go. Compassion for those of us caught in the suffering of possession and ownership; the system creates the predicament – across the board consumerism stimulates a hunger that doesn’t lead to satisfaction but to a sharper edge to appetite.

A change in acoustics, the rooms are emptying fast, the sound of a single handclap creates an echo: “clap!” Household objects are disappearing at the same rate as large sealed boxes are appearing – rooms starting to vanish, space enters through the windows, floor gives way, and for a moment, everything turns inside out. Then seeing it the way it was before this, is impossible… memory gives way and it’s gone.

Parts of the interior are deleted; a blank space appears where something large used to be – the place where a thought used to be but it got forgotten; what was I thinking about there? Can’t remember. More of these blank spaces, objects wrapped in bubble wrap lose their identity. Everything packed away in boxes, cubed, diced up on the chopping board. I can’t remember what it was before this… there’s a world of things, and then there’s not.

This is a difficult time, earthquakes, hurricanes, and natural disasters of the Trump kind. The world is watching, not sure, uncertain. The urgency of thought seeks the safest place to be, the midway point and holding the balance; a place of equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, find a calm abiding there and cultivate the disposition to be free of bonds of ownership – attachment becomes generosity, relinquishment, letting go, metta and loving kindness.

In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention. [Jon Kabat-Zinn]


Contains excerpts from an earlier post

incredible lightness of being

POSTCARD#274: New Delhi: about the permanent headache, the anaesthesiologist lady in the white room says there’s another kind of treatment available: Pulsed RadioFrequency (PRF), so I could consider this rather than coping with the pain by self-medication. The new procedure stuns the nerve that’s causing the pain. Agreed, let’s fix it for 25th July, and all of a sudden with some degree of excitement I’m looking forward to a major change in my life.

That was then, this is now. I got the flight back to New Delhi from Bangkok, all the usual rumble tumble and really, what’s all the fuss about, I don’t feel the pain as much now as I did at the beginning, nearly two years ago. The meds give me a space where there is almost no pain at all. The lingering ‘mind’ aspect of the pain (that re-minds me about other things to do with the pain) is pushed out of the way due to a particular attitude/ focus of mind that doesn’t find it interesting to be with these associated shadows of mind.

Forgetting, of course, the deep stabs of pain, which penetrate, like long steel blades, and there are no meds to make that go away, ringing the urgency bell in the dark morning of an environment that seems bleak, unforgiving, and just BAD. Anxiety and despondency, the evolving stages of pain and confusion in between, and retracing my steps that seem to have once brought me to a place of peace, like entering a room within a room, and there’s a door leading to another room and so on, until I’d forgotten which room was which, with no plan or diagram showing how it came back to the present time. Why? I think that somewhere along the line I must have said to myself, enough is enough, this’ll do! And a large chunk of it (The ‘rooms inside rooms’) was erased from memory completely. So now there’s no finding my way back to there and then, how it was before all this happened.

The meds seemed to be as much a problem as the headaches; the nightmarish Alice in Wonderland bottle with the label saying: DRINK ME appears and long after that experience I’d wake up in the morning, roll over on the pillow and it felt like I drank too much wine the night before, but I don’t drink any alcohol at all (unrelated: that’s another story) whatever, like a light that shines in the darkness, I’m a meditator; early Buddhism/ the lineage of Ajahn Chah.

The headaches have ricocheted through these quiet spaces so much I’ve had to expand the boundaries to include mind states that are more like contemplation than focused meditation. Every time I gratefully fall into the meditative state of mind, it feels like I’ve been away from here for such a long time… returning to the knower, the fundamental mind, addressing the objects of the mind, thoughts, and phenomena arising in the mind. Staying there with this incredible lightness of being, and happy enough to not reach out much more than that.

Right View and Suffering, okay once I’d gotten rid of the adversity attachment (note to self: this will change too). Now there’s an opportunity to know the pain is likely to ease with this new ‘procedure’, I’m into this new stage of what’s happening with this headache and the degrees of focus, (no-one seems to know) leading to the confusion again, the kind that had to go away, away and get out of here – not thinking at all that the desire to get-rid-of-it is the same as the desire to-have-it. Polarizations, there’s no difference between ‘out’ and ‘in’, good or bad’, and so much more. So I have to let it in through the barrier I built. Let it go and let it in, try that and see… close the door that wasn’t open to it.


PIcture at top: A wall painting in Bangkok’s Suwannabume airport

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!

fighting a war with myself

POSTCARD #260: New Delhi: I’m now upstairs for most of the day, the art room is a catastrophe of pieces of masking tape, cut tracing paper flying around and skittering across the floor in gusts of air from ceiling fan. Stuff everywhere, hardened acrylic paint mixings on my palettes and smeared on the table. The cleaning lady gives me bad looks, can’t understand why I’m doing this – it’s got to do with the social hierarchy here; dirty work done by people whose job it is to do that. The logic is if I do it, those workers don’t have a job, no work, no money, starvation. But anyway, foreigners break all the rules, clean up their dirty floors themselves, say sorry, please and thank you very much, so often it loses all meaning.

I find her disapproval on cleaning day intimidating. Art has no meaning, defeated by the perfumed smell of cleaning agents which amplify my headache and I can’t do anything till the next day. After that, all effort with the canvas self-destructs over and over… I don’t know where I am these days, thought dwelling in the darkness; the impact of 59 cruise missiles, shot to pieces, fighting a war with myself, heat and concrete dust from demolished buildings.

‘How to escape from the horror of Trump?’ A question without an answer. Repeated on loop cycle until it becomes an enslavement. A passive allowing locked into place. Escapees become the fringe, hunted down, arrest on sight. But no, it’s not over yet. I have Russian TV (RT) and Arabic, Al Jazeera TV in English, also the French and Chinese TV channels in English. RT says specifically that it wasn’t Assad who dropped the first bomb, it was the ‘rebels’ who planted the chemicals to draw fire from Trump – or maybe it was all staged by the unseen roots the West have everywhere… everything is fiction.

And although Putin is what he is, I have to respect him for holding back from the obvious reaction when US and UK ambassadors came with their untruths to the UN Security Council. Weapons of Mass Distraction, their baited untruths – two of them, one placed on top of the other so it appears to justify itself. A simple trick, we fell for it before – their long term goal is a kind of colonization of the world, but not this time around. We see through the facade…

There are birds in the early mornings here. As the day begins, heat rises and it gets quiet… chirrups in the trees from time to time. Sometimes the artwork I’m staring at suddenly is seen. Is what it is, and I wake up to that… is that what I thought it was? I get so totally lost in it sometimes, pondering possibilities, forget to wake up. Large areas of it have to be painted over to allow for the new direction it’s taking. Constantly refining and refining. I’m inside the Mystery, working the canvas with mixed-up acrylic on palettes, hardened and lumpy, like landscapes and mountains seen from the air. Small pieces of cut tracing paper race across the floor in gusts of air from the ceiling fan…

“It’s all dry land to the shipwrecked…” [Jac Forsyth]



 

a story to be told

POSTCARD #257: New Delhi temp: 38° Centigrade (100.4° Fahrenheit): Too hot to be out in the middle of the day, stay indoors, everything is internalized, giving way to the illusion. Lucky to have this comfortably cool room – two ceiling fans spinning in the half darkness of noon-day filtered light. This old house was nicely designed; corridor goes around three sides of the room with large window at the front, looking through the corridor space, out through a second window to the garden – and same at the back.

Enclosed in a room inside a room, lost to the ‘real’ world, we choose the window of Netflix – a story to be told about me and the Netflix illusion getting to know each other here in Asia, where I’ve been resident for 30 years, a Scot married to Jiab who is Thai. I’m distanced from the Western cultural model, a part of my past surgically removed, and all immigrants will know how that feels. Nowadays, the best audio, video devices have made it here to this part of the world and raised to a level equal to, or higher (some would say), than the Western model. So I bought myself a large, flat-screen TV, and stepped into sound and color.

Getting emotional, just listening to the sound of Western voices conversing in the mother tongue – the familiarity of it quite strange. Sudden recall of whole pieces of my life, forgotten until that moment. I’d get quite tearful about just seeing the streets, the traffic, and the easy pleasantness of it. The pace and the way things move along, created for TV by the director and advisors from the political realm, those unseen, propping up the Western model of the world as they see it.

How wonderful to have all these generous close-ups of immaculate faces, portraits, talking heads, good-looking news anchors in Breaking News. Ordinary faces are extraordinary on TV shows, super-ordinary, the face is an act in itself, head swings, facial gestures, lovable laughter and dentistry, cosmetics, lighting – more than enough, and all these nice interiors, a gallery of created spaces with artwork on the walls. Everything looks better when it’s framed, presented with image enhancement, studio lighting… my room as a selfie! Smile please! Take another one, smile click.

I’m falling in love with it more and more each day but I’m also somewhere in a story of the past in a black-and-white world, sad shades of grey. The irretrievably lost, a la recherché du temps perdu. A part of me died while I was away, I’m back there now just in time for the funeral, and relatives I’d forgotten about, greying and smaller than I remembered, look at me as if I were a ghost. I am a ghost, an actor in a movie, playing a part so well the audience believe it’s real. About this, unknowingly we accept, and to an extent engage with. The skill of the illusionists, the politicians, or anyone with the gift of the gab, convincingly dressed for the part, standing against a nice backdrop and there you are.

The story I’m in is different from but similar to those of migrant populations from Europe who came to the US with their belongings and heritage of things past. I went in the opposite direction, back to the places all those young and able-bodied left behind. Similar in the sense that now they’re hidden in the background, like me, off-stage or behind the scene. But theirs was a story of hardship and endowed with the sharp intelligence of living on the edge. The great great grandmothers and great great grandfathers of today’s success stories in the West, you could say. In two generations the memory of the old world is completely gone, death is a vanishing trick.

Today’s refugees and migrant workers are waiting in the wings, with their own stumbling through a colonial and demolished past, singing their songs about forgotten things out of time and place. Ready for the next re-build… another story to be told.


Photo: Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok the day it opened, December 9, 2005. I walked into a glass wall, split an eyebrow and there was a lot of blood. Not serious but it looked bad and, uncharacteristic of the Thais, no one came forward to help. I had to find my own way out of the place, clean up in a washroom and get a taxi home.

finding the way out

POSTCARD #254: Bangkok: The story of it is I went downtown to a government hospital to see a well-known anesthesiologist, about the 24/7 headache I’ve had since September 2015, in the hope that, aside from more needles and what-have-you, ablation? I’d discover the right way to switch it off. And to cut a long story short – getting through all the underground labyrinths and corridors, crowds and noise and waiting 5 hours with my headache being as it is, although for the most part, staying with mindful attention – I was finally in a white room with her, dressed in white, and three residents in white too.

Blinking in this dazzling clarity, I was asked all kinds of questions I’d never been asked before. Really it was just one question she was asking me and that was, how far do you want to go with this? Like a fairy godmother, she gave me new, stronger meds, saying try this before getting into these other procedures and treatments. So yes, I went home, took the meds and suddenly the headache got switched off. Hooray!

Wake up next morning and the headache is back. Oh no! Take the new meds and it gets switched off again. Hooray! There have been other times when it has switched off like this, but now there’s definitely a feeling that something else has changed too. I’m feeling more optimistic than I have done for a long time, why?

And I begin to focus and see it’s because of a new kind of acceptance I learned about (indirectly?) from the lady in the white room. She was saying, in so many words, okay I admire you for the effort you’ve gone to in coming to this place, but realize that we’re getting down to worst case scenario levels here; this where we DESTROY THE NERVE and it’s done in two procedures…

But I wasn’t listening, I’d just bounced right out of there thinking maybe I can live without this ‘procedure’. No needles or RFAs (radiofrequency ablation), ‘a minimally invasive procedure.’ There’s this electric needle and it goes in and precisely zaps the nerve. If that doesn’t work then we can put in another needle… but no-no-no, I was running away in my mind, ok, ok, what other options are there?

So I was back where I started and it was giving me a headache just thinking about it! Acceptance, looking more carefully into the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. Finding the way out of Suffering begins when we let go of the craving that feeds it. An easing of the suffering of mind that takes place by seeing it is caused by holding on to… whatever, the longing for impossible things. Yep, what is causing this? To see what it is I need to accept that it’s there, the giving way to it the frank actuality of it. That was an eye-opener. Finding the way out of the Suffering in the mind means seeing the cause for what it is, a complex attachment/ resistance tied up with the suffering itself. Unravel the knot let go of the whole dang thing, and that’s the way out.

What to do? Train the mind to live with the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, and I’m better equipped to accept the headache being there. Or go and see the lady in the white room and her worst case scenario ‘procedures’.

“… suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to become alive in a special sense—to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided. It has been said, and truly I think, that suffering is the first grace. In a special sense, suffering is almost a time of rejoicing, for it marks the birth of creative insight. [Ken Wilbur]


 

all that is born

img_3877POSTCARD #244: New Delhi: Early morning light, people wrapped in shawls, long scarves bound around the head and tied under the chin. Dark faces, eyes looking out and they see me for an instant in a diamond eye-lock as I struggle to look away. They look with curiosity; I think they see me as one of those lost in maya, not in the real world for them, I’m living in a dream. They might laugh to themselves, but not in a hurtful way – I’m pretty sure they see me as a naïve person, like a grown up child, dependent on support mechanisms I pay for with an impossible wealth, as far as they’re concerned, removed from everyday values. They’re right, from where they stand. It’s true, and I’m in awe of them, their existence is unreachable. The actuality of their lives, I know nothing about. My ongoing practice of ‘self’/’no-self’ investigation, and awareness of awareness reflecting upon itself, is maybe something they know about so completely and utterly that if I were to ask the right question, I’d be swept away in the tidal wave of their wisdom. A received knowledge from generations past, centuries and thousands of years for them is the same as today, an ordinary reality.

Inside the dark interior of their houses, I see shadows moving in the dim light of an old-style incandescent 25-watt bulb, flickering in unsteady current, candles, oil lamps and small cooking fires. Pots and plates, carefully placed on the stones outside to dry in the open air, and I feel these things should be inside the house, in a plate rack in a drawer inside a cupboard, which closes with a magnetic door-fastener click.

A pregnant woman gazes at me for a moment as I go by; deep eyes, there’s something supernatural about this woman. I look away. Everything in this neighborhood is alien to me. The houses all look like they’re only partly built. Bare brick walls and there’s one incomplete upper floor, or some part of the house seemingly under construction. I heard it’s because they don’t have to pay tax if the house is still ‘being built.’ These half-built houses are everywhere; a family living on the ground floor and upstairs there are bare brick walls reaching up like pillars with just the sky where the roof should be. There’s an underlying uneasiness about it all, it seems to me, inadequate shelter, no protection, and a fierce tenacity of holding on to life.

There are others in more hazardous circumstances, street people and those with no dwellings at all, the dispossessed. Beyond that the sadhus, bearded men with matted hair in yellow robes, colored pigment smeared across the forehead, incense and candle-wax – hovering in a kind of other dimension – a living statement that all that is born, ceases. We die because we were born, there’s birth and death in every moment. So obvious, but almost all of the time I can’t see it.

Death is drawn to sound
like a slipper without a foot,
a suit without its wearer,
comes to knock with a ring,
stoneless and fingerless,
comes to shout without a mouth,
a tongue, without a throat.
Nevertheless its footsteps sound
and its clothes echo,
hushed like a tree.
[Death Alone by Pablo Neruda]


Photo by Melinda Ruck
~ G R A T I T U D E ~

thoughts like clouds

img_4536POSTCARD #243: New Delhi: A photo in the photo library of the mind got lost. I had it in a special place because I wanted to use it for this post, but now it’s gone and I didn’t make a note of the file name, I’ve forgotten where I kept it and worse still, I’ve forgotten what it looks like. This is the problem. All I know is that it was a photo of sky that sent me off in the direction of thoughts like clouds drifting through the empty space of mind… blue sky, high altitude clarity – that’s all. So, how will I recognise it if I don’t know what it is? Hmmm I’ll know it when I see it, I suppose, hoping there’ll be some kind of familiarity about it, a pause before moving on to the next, thinking… that reminds me of something, what is it? And suddenly there’s recognition, like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for half a century. But as I start to go through something like 4000 images, it seems unlikely.

I shall sit quietly for a moment in the space of no thought and, instead of trying to remember the photo, I can contemplate the empty space where it used to be. But that’s not working because the empty space where it used to be suggests an identity for the lost image. Fragments of remembered lost-photo imagery remain, I need to have the mind clear of remembered images, no identity, even the word itself – no ‘it’ and no ‘self’, the Buddhist anatta, ‘no self’, nobody at home.

It’s not working because the effort to create ‘no self’ results in a mind running around everywhere, taking ‘selfies’, you could say, in different places and with various friends. Smile please, pose… click and take another one, okay? Click! And it’s happy doing this, but deep down it’s not satisfied, seeking always for a way to become whatever it is that is permanent happiness. But it’ll never happen, everywhere I look there’s another ‘self’ seeking an identity and becoming that form… but again, it is never satisfactory. Seeking the next opportunity to ‘become’ is the default aspiration; it’s this that holds beings in the cycle of rebirth. Caught in the predicament of becoming.

So I give way to it… and curiously, there’s an immediate awareness of the restless mind held in endless searching. Another kind of awareness enters the picture, seeing the ‘self’ that sees itself seeking. The seeking ‘self’ turns its awareness on the seeing ‘self’ and is, at once, seen. There is seeking but no seeker, and no object is sought. Seeking non-objects is seeking the motionless space in which the answer is, before the question is asked. The place where everything is and is not. No-self is another way of saying nothing exists anywhere, anywhen, ever. Deathlessness, the death of death… this too shall pass, and the fragility of newly born beings, all finely tuned things which appear briefly; vulnerability, perishability, limited lifespan, and all that remains is the breathtaking tracery of what this was, a moment before it passed.

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


Note 1) some parts of this post taken from earlier posts, and edited pages for the next volume of Postcards From the Present Moment.
Note 2) the photo, Ladakh, Himalayan North India, taken by Jiab. I opted for this in the end, and maybe it was the one that got lost, or maybe it became the image formed in the mind which recognised the ‘no self’ quality in the expanse of sky, and distance on a scale that overwhelms the small self…