spaciousness of being

IMG_0085POSTCARD #17: Nontaburi, Thailand: Here in this large house, surrounded by a garden of tall trees. Monsoon season, heavy rain all day, all night – oceans of frogs all around, hundreds of them, l’amour, croaking throughout the night in rising and falling waves as I sail off into sleep. Still raining next morning, then it stops about 10 o’clock, and the frogs are quiet now – I don’t know where they can be… submerged in mud with a bubble of air to breathe in? Frog heaven. A time for quiet reflection, the actuality of just being here; conscious experience. I’m alone in an empty house, walking around the hallway, bare feet on cool marble tiles; pita, pata, pit, pat, pata, pit, pit… stop and look out the window; everything is totally wet out there.

IMG_0170Conscious of cold feet – an unusual feeling in Thailand, it’s usually hot all the time. The skin sense (touch), contact with the world, consciousness of a physical object. Standing on the cool floor – the sensation. And the mind sense (cognition), ‘I like this coolness’, consciousness of a mind object. A pleasant wanting… hovering in a created sense of ‘self’. A whole lifetime taken up with the body/mind’s responses, reactions to the ‘outside’ world. Preoccupied with the doing of it, actively engaged with it; this is happening to ‘me’. Everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think, received through sense organs mostly situated around the face, means the head is thus spinning around constantly to engage with whatever it is; the object of consciousness.

‘A life guided by desire, a life contracted to the mind’s thirst, seldom has the spaciousness of being. That pure awareness which wants nothing, which yearns for nothing, which simply takes on the shape of whatever form comes within its natural spaciousness.’ [Stephen Levine]

There’s consciousness of thought and consciousness of no-thought; consciousness of the cognitive function triggered by a simple curiosity: what is going on here? Unattached consciousness, released from sensory experience – awareness of the awareness, seeing the seeing, knowing the knowing. One way or another, conscious experience is what I’m writing about; an all-inclusive thing. I try to be minimalist, writing as if it were text messaging. No real ‘story’, no sequence of events; it lacks content, barely enough to hold the reader’s attention. It just evolves, becomes something, gets broken down again and rebuilt. Often it feels like once it’s been taken apart, it’s not worthwhile putting it back together; everything in a state of disarray, prepositions and verbs scattered around, a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, no subject, no object; no actual finished state.

After another couple of days of just ‘me’ and the frogs in the rain, and I realize it must be Sunday because Naa J and Naa M arrive that evening with a take-out dinner. We talk for a while and they spend the night. Early next morning I hear the monks outside. Go to take a look, rain has stopped and it’s dry again, takbat, offering food. Generosity, J and M have this kindness. An hour later I come downstairs, and they’re gone…

‘Awareness could be said to be like water. It takes on the shape of any vessel that contains it. If one mistakes this awareness for its various temporary forms, life becomes a ponderous plodding from one moment of desire, from one object of the mind, to the next. Life becomes filled with urgency and the strategies of fear, instead of lightly experiencing all these forms, recognizing that water is water no matter what its form.’ [Stephen Levine , Ondrea Levine: Who Dies]

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Note: ‘a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, quote from Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo/ Sharpening The Quill. Thank you! (link in text)
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nothing in particular

IMG_0132aPOSTCARD #16: Bangkok: Waiting for my number to be called… the figure 109 printed on a square of paper the receptionist gave me here at Rutnin Eye Hospital, outpatients department on the 2nd floor. People everywhere, very crowded today and only one seat available facing the white door that leads to examination room number 5. Fortunate because it’s where I’m supposed to be – at least I’m in exactly the right place. Yes, but there could be 108 people in front of me… an endless time to wait; nothing to read, nothing to look at, just watching the time go by. The second hand spinning round on a clock on the wall, designed like the hospital logo; it looks like an eye – someone has taken care to create this icon; it’s childlike, friendly, elegant.

3305480I’ve been struggling with poor eyesight for years and, since the surgery, seeing the world through ‘new eyes’ means anything happening in the field of vision immediately calls out for attention; a movement, a colour – it has to be noticed. The world is a great diversity of things. I see a tiny patch of colour at the bottom of the door about half an inch wide, where a piece of the surface of the door panel has chipped off, probably caused by moving some heavy equipment into the room and the door was struck in the process. It’s been repaired with something a slightly different colour and the coloured patch seems luminous, out of context with its surroundings… there’s also the glint of something like mica, something metallic. For a moment I’m immersed in this although it’s not important; it isn’t anything, there’s no attachment to it. It’s just a coloured patch, yet it’s fascinating. These days I’m often in the curious situation of having this intense visual awareness of an object and no subjective sense that it’s worth paying attention to at all; mind is not inclined to engage with it. This is just an ordinary mark on a door, nothing in particular; I have no desire for it, no pressing need to possess it. There is sensory data input by way of the eye and eye-consciousness; receiving the world through the six sense-doors: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and cognitive functions, without the idea of it happening to ‘me’. All that I’m aware of is a quiet presence, seen in peripheral vision and knowing it’s there.

 ‘… habitual desires manifest and condition awareness into a discriminative mode that operates in terms of subject and object held to exist on either side of the six sense-doors. These sense-doors open dependent on contact that can arouse varying degrees of feeling. Feeling stimulates desire and according to the power of desire, attention lingers… personal aims and obsessions develop and give rise to self-consciousness. That self-consciousness, mental or physical, once arisen must follow the cycle of maturing and passing away. When the mind looks into the sense of loss and comprehends (this) truth, the awareness is no longer bound by discrimination, the separation of subject and object is no longer held and one does not feel trapped behind or pulled through the sense-doors. There is freedom from desire… no personal image is created; there is nothing to lose, a sense of gladness, uplift, joy and serenity.’ [Ajahn Sucitto]

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Lower image: Rutnin Eye Hospital logo   Note: Ajahn Sucitto’s poetry link: dhammamoon.org

suspended disbelief

StACaPOSTCARD #04: St Andrews, Scotland: It’s a sharp bright light, different from the sunshine of South East Asia, comes at a lower angle; the sunbeam seems to shine straight into my eyes. Quite blinding in the early morning, I’m dazzled and have to shade my eyes to look up at the ruins of the nave of St. Andrews Cathedral, against the Northern sky. A great emptiness, 12th century mediaeval folk saw it as the ‘Glory of God’, projecting a ‘self’ onto empty space and if there was an intuitive sense – a normal inquiring mind – that something about this is not quite right; the sense of lack, unconvinced, doubting – could it really be God? If it was like this, they were living in fear of their own natural thinking processes and reasoned that it must be because ‘we are all sinners’ and the Church is there to ‘save’ us. Religion was/is power; the Church of Rome, then the Scottish Reformation claimed all the wealth of the Cathedral of St Andrews. Not much in history about the spiritual life of those who lived in that place, studied, prayed, meditated; their compassion, or loving kindness…

I see the door arches and passageways, people walked through here and lived their lives, breathed this air. How was it then; the existential reality of these 12th Century Britains? Conscious experience was the same in mediaeval times as it is today: outer object triggers inner recognition/desire. Example found in the Old Testament: Adam sees the apple: I want that… Dependent origination (paticcisammupadda) in an Old Testament format: there’s an apple out there and I want it but there’s conflict in the mind, associating a fictional self with a normal response; sorry this apple belongs to someone else and you can’t have it. How to resolve this? The response to the apple is normal, the process of human consciousness must be universal – there was never any time when people didn’t react/respond like this. Today we can apply understanding; how does the process work? In those days, no other way to understand it, you have desire for the apple, you are a born sinner, believe in God, and have your sins forgiven… and that was it – no other instruction. Thank goodness I discovered Buddhism.

It’s daylight until very late at night here, a long twilight going through to dawn the next day – really no darkness at all. The morning gathers momentum and we’re flooded with sunshine, day after day, everybody stumbling around in a state of astonishment, suspended disbelief. The sense of being on an island doesn’t seem to be here in Scotland, we are not held, contained, more like we are dispersed, all the way to the Northern region; Orkney, Shetland, Faroe Islands, the Arctic Circle and beyond…

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Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise in their own esteem, these deluded men, proud of their vain learning, go round and round like the blind led by the blind [Mundaka Upanishad 18]