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 train to the north

POSTCARD #267: Newcastle-Inverness journey: Head spinning with ear-popping air pressures and momentum of the great storm that brought me here. The travel industry is the largest network in the world. Miles of corridors, two planes, Delhi/ Amsterdam/ Newcastle and the train to the North. Everything is linked with everything else – absolutely everything… who runs it all? (is there a God?) Inappropriate question; taxis, escalators, the spinning flow of it just moving along by itself. I jump on a train to Scotland and join the others already there. Get my seat, and we’re all swept away by these huge mountain scenes passing through the train, opening up in the windows, then changing to the next picture.

Train arrives at my stop, a small town I visited when I was a kid, long ago and far away. I feel like a stranger now, my whole reason for being here is to visit the boy. I could be one of the three wise men flying in from the East to visit the child (why did they do that?), except I’m the only one… a wise man nobody has ever heard of, bearing gold, myrrh and frankincense (the story goes), and other assorted gifts, including Chawanprash, an Ayurvedic health food for the parents. Ring doorbell, hello everyone, well the boy is asleep now is he then? Okay, never mind, he will wake up soon.

Twenty minutes spent chatting with mom and dad, then sure enough, enter stage right, stumbling into the spotlight… a one-and-a-half year-old, fair-skinned, wide-eyed, blond boy, new to the world. And all I can see when I look at him, are the faces of the elders (recently passed) flickering through identities in his face, the enigma, in recognition of me being here (I never attended their funerals)? The boy is shy about me in his living room, turns this way and that, bright colours of toy objects, he is a shining presence, moving in the actuality of it…the IS-ness of it.

I’m astonished. He is all of it; the elders faces I see in profile who look back at me when the boy moves his head. Short glimpses of aunts and uncles I haven’t seen for so long, now dead and gone, and it’s as if they were really ‘here’, having become the form of this small boy. If I say they are real, then they are. Their eyes looking out of his small face. Identity… where does it begin? The child is father to the man, they’re looking at me as if waiting for something to happen… birth is a turning inside-out and an embodiment in a physical being – we are all so unaware of it, only the Old Souls who have been here and travelled through this gate many times can see how it really is.

Everything happening without language to give it form, so it cannot be remembered, and of course this sweet boy is unaware of any kind of story about me, the only uncle on his mother’s side… and when he’s old enough to understand that, it’ll be too late! I’ll not be able to be here to say hello, my nephew, and this is the story of how the World works… I feel an urgency, I should write this post in such a way that he will find it one day (message in a bottle), and thus understand the World much more clearly than I. He will find words for it, I feel sure, which can immediately express and bring into reality these hesitant forms of mine, shadows of a former time.

So, it was all a wonderful returning to one’s own sense of ‘selfhood’, seen in the boy – a dream-state set in the context of my being awake. We have no children of our own – sad, so sad. There’s something about this that’s so clear and obvious, then I lose it, and it can never be found, because searching for it creates the sense of it being lost, for ever and ever….


Image: Dreamstime.com

bent into shape

POSTCARD #265: Chiang Mai: I’d decided to use this image for the header thinking the way I cope with my headache is an improvised thing, much like the way this traffic sign has been bent back into shape after something has crashed into it – then as I write this I’m distracted by wind chimes from the balcony of the next-door house, which suddenly play a perfect chord in the air. I slip into wakefulness from the dream of that which I’m held by, and become an extension of the wind-chime’s notes. Horizontal on the bed as if shipwrecked on a sandy beach. Waves rushing in to the shore crash-crash, and the whole thing receding back. Comes rushing in again, crash-crash-crash, becoming a form that shapes into the body of the sea rolling over on its side like a great animal trying to sleep in an enormous bed. Then I realize I’m awake and have to give my whole attention to the headache that lives with me… just looking at it, seeing it as it is.

Wind chimes strike groupings of notes like the random sound of birds in the trees. I’ve been reading about knowledge which is so completely at one with the thing it knows, there is complete understanding, complete absorption into that knowledge. I can understand how that could be – it is of course a description of events, rather than the thing itself. Seems amazing to me, being as far away as I am, living in the world of attachment, the automatic bonding, even with things I dislike; seeing that and learning, by necessity, the strategy of no-avoidance….

I’ve had this headache for long enough to know that how it is right now, is the kind of suffering I can accept and live with for the time being. I can open up to the presence of it, as a form of recognition, accepting it as it is. Just the ‘me,’ being like this, still slightly on-edge, alert for the spikes which appear sometimes – but no, not this time. It becomes an energy accumulating with the in-breath, disintegrating with the long out-breath like the waves at sea breaking on the shore. I can open up to and experience the fact that it’s here, then it’s collapsing again as the out-breath distances it, like a long golf course, or a road winding into a landscape.

Curious, interested, and seeing the headache I experience as the First Noble Truth… just this openness to it. The contemplation is about calm, steadiness and everything else is swept away in a storm of liking, disliking, wanting, not wanting. Remain firmly in that same place as the wave returns and there it is again but I don’t need to hold on to it by hating it, or seeing it as something somehow construed and thought to be ‘bad’. See all of that happening, see it disassembling, falling to pieces; form, feeling, perception, fabrications, consciousness… and the ‘I’ can vanish into the totality of it.

Time to get the headache into the shower and get on with things. Then I’m at my desk, and at some point in the mid-morning, see how it feels, take the meds, then I’m falling back into a world of no pain, stumbling at the wonder of it. The day gets through in a dull fogginess. Sleep, and next morning I wake up with the opportunity to be back in this place of mindfulness again…

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.” [Eckhart Tolle]


The sign says: turn left, caution, traffic coming from the right

the forever turning

POSTCARD #263: New Delhi: House agent came to the door, saying they are going to demolish the building, and when would be a good time for the architect to come to see the house – it was said like how we decide to delete a message on the phone. We knew about the plan and are prepared, but the emphatic bluntness of it…  what’s gone is gone, the forever turning wheel. “Don’t let the sun go down on me.” My world is tipping over, mind driven by some kind of energy, a curiosity and desire to get involved with it. Words come out grouped in chunks, searching for a connection as if they had a volition of their own.

The characteristic mind reaction when confronted with an immutable truth; when I understood that my PHN headache is a permanent condition. As Jude says, the mind is creative no matter what the stimuli. Imagination let loose like a racehorse, goes careering off then is yanked back unwillingly and all kinds of fearful things arise, created by the struggle. How to have mindfulness so I can catch that creative awareness before I get hijacked by how bad it seems.

World-wide monitoring of events, immediate media coverage, on the spot reporting in a here-and-now performance starring ‘he’ who is about to be demolished: boom, crash, bang! It’s finished before it began, the whole scene gets folded into itself and packed away, gone – like it never happened, no evidence remains. Grab the bags and let’s get out of here. ‘I’ become ‘him’ over there, third person singular, object pronoun, making an escape out the window before the walls cave in. Away in the car through a swirling cloud of masonry brick dust, and onto the long straight road to the airport.

Check-in for the overnight flight to Bangkok and the day after tomorrow I go to see the lady doc down-town in the white room (link to: Finding The Way Out), to discuss, again, the possibility of an electrical zap to the nerve and that’ll be the end of my constant headaches. Comparison with the stand-off in the Korean peninsula… I’d like it if the whole thing could be put on fast-forward so I can get it over and done with, but it hasn’t even started yet. I’m here on the plane and in my mind, are pictures of a house falling down around my ears.

The flight is a directionless experience. Look out the window, total darkness, no sense of moving forward, we could be flying sideways. When I try to think of it, there’s the image of a journey that leads from here to there, the route we take is an elevated highway in the sky, we’re in a long silver night coach with the moon and stars and stewardesses with the drinks trolley. Occasional air turbulence suggests small bumps on an otherwise very smooth road surface – sufficient to tip me over and fall asleep, with not even the sense that we’re going anywhere… just the noise of the engines and hiss of the air.

The present moment is not an absolute. It’s something that we’re [unconsciously] fabricating, and the goal of the practice is to learn how to fabricate it in a new [nirvanic] direction…. The present is here to be used, and the teachings are here to teach us how to use it wisely” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “The Use of the Present,” 2016-11-28]


photo by Jiab in the South of Thailand

the way out is the way in

POSTCARD #262: New Delhi: A papaya tree just seeded itself in our small flower bed. It grew and grew and became a giant among the flowers, created shade in the noon day sun. Glory be to the bird that flew by here one day and the fortuitous dropping of a whole papaya seed which landed in exactly the right place. When the small plant appeared above ground we cleared the weeds away and it grew to a height of 2 meters in a few months. This is the karma of the tree thus far, like one of those random, stumbled-upon truths which appear in awareness when the introspective state of mind is present.

Whatever form it takes, there’s always the return to the human condition and finding a way out of attachment, the Buddha’s Third Noble Truth nirodha, (There Is A Way Out). I was reminded recently the way out is not an escape from the world, it’s a reappraisal of the situation without the attachment factor, the clinging adherence to objects of mind or body. This is what it comes down to, the way out is the way ‘in’, obstructed by the various forms of hunger and thirst in the human organism. The task is to get rid of desire, getting it unpeeled, unstuck and we could spend a lifetime searching for these and knocking them out, one by one – or maybe the whole thing just falls away by itself in an afternoon, and suddenly it’s done.

All that remains then, is equanimity like a vast still ocean mirroring the sky above. Some small event may arise, a puzzle, and one may choose to examine the circumstances of it, resolve the issue and allow it to disappear. For me it was a world of unsolvable tricks, riddles and switcheroos, created by an uncle only five years older than me. A nerd, long before his time. He’d show me a puzzle and conceal the answer so I’d never find it… sometimes dangled a clue like a carrot baits the donkey.

This was in a lonely farmhouse on top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma*, it was before the days of mobile phones, before even the days of black and white TV. This was so long ago nobody could remember what existed in that place before it. We would have to go there for the school holidays, and I’d then be confronted by this strange cloned uncle, who looked like me, was near enough to be a brother but wasn’t – no, no… definitely not.

Sometimes I would escape from his forever hold on the secret I needed to find, and go for help from my other uncles and aunties there, but they were all his older brothers and sisters, had a fondness for his snarky wit. Yep, enough said.

The years went by and I’d come back from long journeys in the world to visit him sometimes, but he never changed from his middle-of-nowhere mind state. I’d see him age and think that’s what I‘ll look like when I’m his age… expecting to see him change in some way, but he didn’t, right up until the day he passed away… holding the secret to himself.

There was this release when it happened… there is no answer to the puzzle – no answer, no puzzle. It’s got to do with letting go, and everything is seen. It can’t be hidden, nothing can, concealment is not possible in the middle of nowhere because in the middle of nowhere there’s no concealment. No subject, no object… nothing there at all.

“Feel nothing, know nothing, do nothing, have nothing, give up all to God, and say utterly, ‘Thy will be done.’ We only dream this bondage. Wake up and let it go.” [Swami Vivekananda]


Gratitude to Val for her comment: ‘the way out is the way in’
“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Winston Churchill

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]



 

terrestrial ocean

POSTCARD #255: Bangkok: Elevated passageways and corridors in the mind creaking like we’re on an old sailing ship, swaying with wind and air currents, the swell of the sea and the flip of waves at their peak. These lightweight structures hold the sails, huge areas of stretched canvas sailcloth – I can only see a part of the whole. The creak and strain of long hemp ropes, tarry old wood decking and a wide-open sky. Then the pain comes, ringing the urgency bell… see how it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way… make way! Allow the alarm to ring and let there be absolutely no resistance, no tightening up, just letting it be there… the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off. In the Buddhist sense I’m drawing attention to an awareness of Suffering and the cause of suffering, but not just labeling it; ‘the cause’ of Suffering is the 2nd Noble Truth, no, I’m asking, what is this ‘cause’? No labeling from here on.

What is the cause of Suffering and what is the cause of the cause? The desire for it to not be there, the confrontation, the avoidance, resistance… obstructing it, subverting it by any means. Running away from it, wanting things to be different than the way they are in a totally impossible way.

Childlike, I can see my (child) self as a baby, attending to whatever object appears, comes into range, immediately focused, the totality of each thing, as it arises – conscious experience without language.

Flickers of memory like this… food is a wonderful experience, it’s not Food, it’s Wonderful, it’s not ‘wonderful’ – no words for it, it’s a feeling(?). Then, just as easily, the bad, the awful – then the aftermath of the disaster, early childhood systems of understanding the world – but for my (child) self there’s no ‘understanding’, because there are no words in infancy to describe anything. Catastrophic! I am the cause of this hurtful chain of events. How it was then, and how it is now are no different. I am the same ‘me’ as I was then, language acquisition is here now, I’m expanded, filled out, developed and extended into the world but still the same ‘me’ (time can disappear in this kind of investigation), so how can I help protect the ‘me’ that was then, with the ‘myself’ that is now, equipped with adult skills?

Meditation. I’m sitting on the meditation cushion like a chick in the nest, cheep-cheep… waiting for the return of the Parent Bird (mother, father, both or neither) and, beak totally wide open, like a suitcase lying open on a bed waiting to be packed with things, my (child) self perceiving the Parent Bird visiting the nest (or not visiting), and for me now seated on the cushion too, there’s the acceptance, the wide-open giving-way-to it.

Maybe also in adversity, how much I’d prefer to not do this any more, because the recognition of the familiar forms of interaction between my (child) self and authority figures in the family group are too scary – for a moment I ‘see’ the blocking… but there aren’t any words, it’s something felt.

Simply how it came to be the way it is, but no words. A wetness at the eye, a glimpse of my (child) self receiving conscious experience, and the perception of it has shaped, formed the person I am today – it is the person I am today.

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 the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

It’s this that tells me, when all other options are gone, there’s no running away from it now, I have to turn around and go back into the pain… for a split second the pain eases, an extraordinary and out-of-this-world feeling.

Absolutely no escape from the pain… then finding this window I know that’s always here, and everything is swept away like a flood of water finding its way through a landscape, rapidly filling up all the spaces and getting into all the corners… I am a sailing ship on a terrestrial ocean.


 

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]


 

out of context

airbridgesPOSTCARD #253: Chiang Mai: A short flight to Bangkok to see the needle man for the last attempt to anesthetize the head pain I’ve had for more than a year. Back to Chiang Mai the same day and it feels like it never happened, except for the pain where the needle went in – the scritch-scritch sound when needle point scratched the skull. I’m thinking maybe the pain is gone, walking through a small shopping area the next day, then I’m hit with three distinct stabs in the head. Knees bend, I want to lie down on the ground as if it were a soft bed… it would be so comfortable. No, no I need to find a place to sit. Suddenly a coffee shop appears with tables out in the street, waitress coming over as I sit. I ask for a bottle of water (waitress seems distracted, am I looking weird?), try to look normal while pushing out the capsules from their crackly celluloid enclosures, but what’s normal? It’s at times like these you notice the construct out of context.

Here I am, stabbed in the head and trying to act normal to everyone else in the street. I want to shout out ‘help me!’ but I go with the act. I can knowingly disappear in what is assumed to be the correct reality – an imaginary character in a fictional landscape. Everywhere we look the construct is staring back at us, as clear as clear can be… product marketing intrudes easily, interwoven and embedded for better or worse. And, like something direct from the mother ship itself, “the news” is inside our heads, a filter through which we see our world. The push-and-pull, towards or away from the things I love and hate, or love to hate.

I drink water, the trauma of head pain easing. People here don’t speak, hang out in postures of contemplation with devices, phones, the reflected glow of screens illuminate faces of the user. Maya is a beguiling concealment, agreeable enslavement. Heads tucked in, body crouched over in fetal position… absorption. Then, when it’s time to go, removing oneself from the enchantment, thinking how am I seen? How do I look to my ‘friends’, to all of us; I, you, he, she or it – we, you they? “Me’ as an individual… the world as my duality.

Next thing for me is an appointment to see the nerve-ablation lady 7th March. I expect the witchy neurologists will give me a hard time if I turn this down: radiofrequency ablation procedure (they stick an electric needle in and zap the nerve). Well, putting up with their negative attitude is better than getting zapped. Also, I’ve heard, the nerve grows back after the ablation, or the pain moves somewhere else. What then? Another one of these zap! ablations? zap! And does this zap! go on at intervals zap! for the remaining 10 good years of my life? I’m pretty sure I’ll say thanks but I’ll just see how it goes, go play with your procedures somewhere else, they say neuropathic pain gets more manageable as the years go by….

“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally somebody told the truth. Suffering is part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move…” [Pema Chödrön]


 

finding suññatā in Lucknow

16maya3POSTCARD #249: Lucknow, North India: A short flight from Delhi brought us here, hired car to the Ambedkar Memorial Park. A vast space of nothing but polished marble flooring – no trees, no earth left uncovered. Two and a half acres of marble paving rising in a gentle slope, with some monuments and an avenue with hundreds of life size elephants carved in stone.

The panorama of it, an oasis-mirror-like flatness as far as the eye can see; a heaven realm… hold that thought, from two thousand five hundred years back in the distant past, comes rushing towards us now, into present time, 2017, the Buddha’s First Noble Truth – as valid as it was all these centuries ago.

‘The Noble Truth of Suffering’, yes, I’ve been wondering what that bad feeling was, gnawing away at the innards… the urgency of the human condition applies to everything I can possibly experience or do, or think concerning the past, the present or the future. The relief is in knowing the Buddha has a name for it.

That’s what it is, situated at the heart of everything, caused by the constant craving for something, anything that’ll satisfy a created hunger; the yearning for it not to be like this, please, no, I want it to be better than this. Thus, relentlessly on the run from what we don’t want it to be, towards what we want it to be; that just-out-of-reach object, or state of mind, or any way of seeing it, by any means possible.

This great marble-floored landscape of Ambedkar Park is exhausting; it needs to have something immense in it. The sense is of something huge that’s missing perhaps. Or is that what it’s intended to be? Can’t think, there’s nowhere to sit, then we see a marble bench over there, so we head towards that and stop for a rest. Thinking still of those who are caught in the conundrum of chasing foreverness, conditioned by society into this way of thinking.

dr-bhim-rao-ambedkar-samajik-parivartan-sthal-in-lucknow-images-8-1Now I’m in fear of this floor dissolving under our feet into a lake of water, grasping at anything and everything, but I’m sinking anyway. Then I see something I can hold on to coming towards me as if it were a boat… but it’s not a boat, it’s dry land, so it must be me who’s on the boat. Step on to this small island… a space opens in the mind: this must be the neither-here-no-there place… this gentle detachment from things, neutrality, “the middle way”… and I find there’s room enough to see how I can think about what a thought feels like without getting involved in the content of it. Flames of desire flash all around but do no harm. Allowing it all to ‘become’ without becoming it. Recognizing the sense of self without that solitary aloneness of the enclosed ‘me’.

There’s just this huge space, maybe one day filled to capacity with the ‘many crores’ (millions) of people gathered here, to be part of this vision of Shakyamuni Buddha as a political and social reformer. According to Ambedkar, a person’s unfortunate conditions are not only the result of karma or ignorance and craving, but do also result from “social exploitation and material poverty – the cruelty of others.”

Until that happens, there’s only the empty space, a sense of the vast no-thingness, suññatā.


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Top photo source, with Gratitude. Centre photo source, with Gratitude. Lower photo, the author with two Theravadin Monks at Ambedkar Park. In the centre Thai, on the right India.
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