a somewhere-else place

POSTCARD#391: Bangkok: Awake in the darkness before 6 am, lift the body up into the folded legs position, get seated on two hard pillows sinking into the mattress so I can hold my position comfortably just above the level of the bed, kinda floating there with the knees supported by the mattress and rolled up edges of quilts pushed into the gaps. It takes a moment or two to get it feeling right… then there is only the breath.

Breath entering the body. Impact of incoming air in the nasal passage, “Breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng”. The breath hurries away, then comes back again as if it has forgotten something – searching all through the body, then it withdraws. Breath enters the body again, this time like a gust of wind, blows everything all over the place. Withdraws in a moment and it’s gone.

Vivid sweeps of colour and a curious light illuminating the space perceived behind the eyes. Mind is aware of the pain that’s always here, otherwise mesmerized by the form and function of the body, only slightly held in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid lizard-like slides over surface of smooth eyeball and that strangely seen light entering my darkness; just this…

Twittering birds in the trees outside tell me it’s near daybreak, sensory processes perceive the world, aware that it’s an upside down reflected hologram the brain and optic nerve make sense of – understood but impossible to see it as it is. Or is this how it is… in its as-it-is-ness? Was this world here before I was born? Duality. Everything just going on as it is now, without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating; birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, here in this thin slice of time, revisiting the discussion; all that was said, received, held, seen, nurtured.

Then, a window opens. There’s a visitor arriving from somewhere, thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. He appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, string showing round the neck at the collar; latch-door key kid, scruffy uniform, bleeding at the knee. Teacher in a gentle voice says, ‘You have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says ‘yes Miss, and shuffles out of the room to go and see the nurse about the knee. Teacher was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today. For me, as an adult it remained something unlearned, but bearing a familiarity and intuitively known when it became conscious.

Daylight is here and I’m now lying on the bed, thinking about the small boy as he was in a state of anxious urgency every day and for many years to come. No one at home for support, forgetful and undecided because of the struggle to ‘get it right’ and nobody to reassure him that yes, you can leave book-work and use intelligent guesswork. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough.  

I’m telling myself this of course too late for it to be to be acted upon. I had to take the long way round; wasted years disappeared, searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, shelter, gratification, 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 Story”. It took me a very long time to grow up, and even now at the age of 73 years, I feel like an adolescent. Maybe I stayed young and it’s the world that got old…?

I continue to return to these windows that open in memory. There must be a larger awareness that includes this, here-and-now… an awareness of one thought that includes awareness of another. There’s something that allows me to consider this, I’m seeing it from a somewhere-else place.

delete the ‘my’ in myself

POSTCARD#390: Bangkok: After hours of inert television watching I switch it off just to see what the room I’m in, looks like. The severity of greyness is devastating. All the appealing colour and images, and perfect celebrity dental work, all of it sucked into the silence of a room ‘on hold’. I’m not used to being absolutely with body and mind… by the way, where is Mind? Intrusive thinking nearly shoves me off my seat into an elbow-supporting-head and eyes blinded by the squabbling politician of recent TV watching, downloading a self that I hope knows how best to cope with these bad feelings that are quarreling and heckling in my head! The desire to punish, hurt destroy – the sheer hatred of a person/situation, generating energy both seductive and addictive. So much political ill-will and ambient anger about the place, a spark could ignite a storm.

Uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, shouting out: “Stand back and stand by!” I shudder at the thought, four more years, maybe ongoing, and in a dystopian world, Donald and Covid re-elected (⌘C ⌘V) over and over. All I can see and hear is dark and does not bode well. Bleak TV documentaries showing in the Mind; a clamor of conjured-up characters and the story of their sad lives. “What am I looking for?” but the way is blocked by a dense cloud-like thought that states: “Searching for something creates the certainty that it’s lost.” I attempt to disown everything that belongs to me. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they are just thoughts. None of this is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me.

Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears to be how I choose to see it. I don’t look out at the world, the world looks in at me, sees me, watches me… there, waiting for instructions. It’s another illusion of self because there is no “me” of substance in here. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. Smells, touch, tastes trigger responses I’m pulled towards or repelled by. It’s not what I thought – that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body. The body is there to serve the five senses ever seeking pleasure and delight one way or another.

Mind contemplating the experience of the body seated on the chair; aware of the places where legs touch the seat, the touch of arms on armrests, bearing the weight, and everything else is just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below: left, right, left, right. Images of wood-block-patterned flooring enter my vision, floor mats, legs of furniture – objects seem to pass through the body. All I can see is the flooring and bare feet walking, now left, now right. Now on the staircase descending, further and further away from the television room, reaching the downstairs room and (outdoor shoes on) out to the garden.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: [Link] Sibylle Berg with T.Roadz, one of the British grime artists who joined her on a reading tour of Germany

a deep familiarity

POSTCARD#389: Bangkok: Somebody asked me if the headache was physical or mental, and it is difficult sometimes to say which is which, because the physical pain takes place in the same general area where mental or cognitive functions take place. Let’s say, it’s physical pain with associated mental events that are the origin of it sometimes; alarm signals that may bring my attention to some physical problem. Also, mental/cognitive activities in the form of discernment, investigate the best means of easing the discomfort. At the outset, I find it helps me travel through the pain if I can attribute it to the pain itself or to what extent it’s the pain I feel about having pain.

There are other situations, where I identify specific pain locations and relax the tightness. But these are all things I used to do at the beginning, finding my way around in a state of urgency. After five years of it, the actions have become automatic, I suppose. Or I don’t feel the pain as much as I did at the beginning when it was full catastrophe living, not the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was the escapee trying to disengage from the pain, but it would catch me again and again.

Remembering my lost non-pain state of mind, with a yearning for a world of impossible things, leads to nowhere (now here). There were some pain-free intervals created by nerve block treatment and pulsed radiofrequency procedures, lasting a few weeks only. Now there’s no motivation to continue with these neurological techniques because that non-pain state is long since dead and gone. Thinking about pain is pushed out of the way most of the time, there’s a particular focus of mind that just doesn’t go there. The meds sometimes give me a pain-free space – serotonin receptors and dopamine signaling, techno-speak, mumbo-jumbo… applause, and the curtains open on a short performance where the pain is almost not there at all.

Recently I bought a set of DIY tools and during these pain-free times I fixed  a flat-screen TV on the wall and mounted a set of shelves in the kitchen. But it took me a very long time, due to actions carried out in slow motion and short term memory loss; forgetting what I was doing and having to go back and do things again (and again), and sitting down to think about it for long periods.

Despite these blank states and on-going projects I ponder over, what I’m aiming at is simply a heart-felt state of well-being and regular visitors here will know that many years ago, I learned the Buddhist steps that lead to the end of suffering. There was a deep familiarity about this, as if it were a genetic code built into consciousness just waiting to be discovered). [Gratitude to the monks in Thailand, Switzerland and the UK]

The First Noble Truth: Pain is caused by wanting it to not be there (in a manner of speaking). The Second Noble Truth is finding the way out of suffering means I let go of the craving that feeds it – seeing it is really caused by holding on to the longing for impossible things. Then looking more carefully into the Third Noble Truth; the realization I don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way out: the Fourth Noble Truth; the Path and getting to know what all this actually means.

I understood the headache as an entity with detachment, it goes without a self to whom it would otherwise cause suffering. Long before it comes to be a headache, when it’s just neural sparks and a kind of ‘jitterieness’, there’s a transparency about it – a ‘becoming’ but no one who ‘becomes’. There’s no become-ee; a headache but no ‘headache-ee’ – it doesn’t belong to ‘me’. There’s an awareness of the headache, but no awareness of to whom it is happening. This is how it is at the best of times, less satisfactory states are forgotten and lost to memory.


“..when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence your deeper self behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.” [Eckhart Tolle]

Photo: Phrenological diagram of the bumps in the head. Phrenology was a pseudoscience in Victorian times which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits.
Many thanks to Elle who brought me back to Eckhart Tolle

experiencing

POSTCARD#387: Bangkok: The headache is here and dizzy with the meds but a sense of self-congratulatory shaking of hands. This is the third day of the fast, now into15 weeks, the last day of the three day régime. I feel extraordinarily ravenous. A fierce hunger and gnawing in the innards, an outrageous voraciousness like the yellow red flames burning in the fire that’s suddenly gone in a moment (drenched in a rainstorm)… I choose to search for the lightness instead, reach outwards for the weightlessness, I have an affinity with effects that are unassuming and uninhabited.

I am not a substantial thing… sometimes not here at all, curiously adrift in some future time. A place of speculative conjecture and hypothetical likelihoods. The constant sweeping along of things brings me back to a recognition of the place of alertness, the emptiness of the moment; the sound of the ceiling fan, the movement of the air. There’s skin, hair; there are arms, legs, a head and eyes, ears, nose and tongue. I am a sensory-receptive organism. Just the warm air in my face and time rushing by.

It’s birth in the Buddhist sense jati: the I-am-here thing. It’s sometimes an uncomfortable, driven, locked-in state that arises through examining an event, and returning to it again and again, simply because I’m so used to seeing the situation from this perspective of holding on to it, I expect it to be the same starting point of my meanderings every time.

Mindfulness of this unaware habituality. Knowing it’s like this means ignorance (not knowing) is gone. I enter the space knowingly, intervention in the probability sequence. Instead of the intensity of mind, there’s just the intensity… a tightness of posture – maybe that’s how it started – relax the neck, the forehead. No thought associated with it. No goals to which I’m compelled to strive for; what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve for. Undoing all the knots tied in memory, letting the mind untangle itself from the problem: good, bad, whatever. Letting it all go, giving it room.

“All we know of a thought is the experience of thinking, all we know of a sensation is the experience of sensing, all we know of a sight is the experiencing of seeing, all we know of a sound is the experience of hearing…. And all that is known of thinking, sensing, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is the knowing of them. And what is it that knows this knowing? Only something that itself has the capacity to know could know anything. So it is knowing that knows knowing.” [Rupert Spira]


This post contains excerpts of other posts I’m gathering together like stringing coloured beads on a necklace.

 

a hollowness

POSTCARD#385: Bangkok: 4.30 am: Alarm clock goes off, blinding light and deafening sound, touch-screen-tap and it’s silent again – getting up early today because Jiab has business down town. Car comes to collect her at 6.00 am,

5.30 am: So we’re getting ready, finishing off breakfast, and conversation comes around to how I’m going to manage the day. A slice of toast with peanut butter and coffee is not much if after that, you have to wait 7 hours until lunchtime at 12.30 pm (no snacks between meals). I’ll not be able to do that… have to bring lunch forward, say 11.00 am.

06.00 am: Jiab leaves and I close the gate. This is the first day of my 3-day-diet cycle, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day – a bit more generous with snacks between meals. Then back to the three days again. This is the 14th week, give or take, I’ve managed with eating smaller amounts, eventually got round to seeing meals as a 3 minute non-event.

It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest. I have to cope with the headaches of course and there have been times when the diet gets abandoned in favor of a handful of meds and lying in bed in a darkened room. I’ve lost 12 kg (26.5 pounds) and it seems to have settled there, in fact it’s not the weight loss that motivates me now, it’s the mystical experience of fasting and “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind).

10.00 am: I go upstairs to the bedroom to lie down, conscious of the in-breath and out-breath. Consciousness of the hunger pangs, a yawning cavern of hunger. Just allowing it to happen without resistance so that what might be a huge agony is a sense of weightlessness because of that meditational state “bhavaṅga”. There’s a headache nearby that’ll need to be treated soon, in the meantime bhavaṅga has altered what could have been a desperate state of suffering and I’m feeling ok; the world has become gentle and dreamlike.

11.00 am: lunch brought forward by one hour… toast, two spoons hummus and half an avocado – consumed, and the plate washed in 3 minutes. Now there’s the long wait till dinner which may be a seven-hour wait, at 6pm, when Jiab gets back. For the time being the body is at peace, I take the headache meds and that goes down without nausea because of the food in the system.

I’ve been looking at some old YouTube videos of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Papaji and other Nonduality teachers and just ordinary people like David Bingham and Sailor Bob who woke up to this kind of Self-enquiry. These guys are outside of the meditation and contemplation of Theravada Buddhists who focus on and abide in ‘No Self’ – things are done and there is no ‘do-er’. Anywhere, everywhere and nowhere (now here), things in nature happen without a ‘happen-er’. It’s not about me, not about you, or him, or her, or them. It is anatta and the Buddha did not speculate on anything further than that.

These days we are more and more aware of Non Duality. Life is just happening, life is/was always just happening… but to whom? Happening to ‘me’, therefore in this state of plurality and separateness. Eventually we see there is a step beyond No Self, different from the state of being conscious of sensory responses to the world ‘out there’, in the body/mind organism. “Who is the meditator?” No subject and no object.

I remember Ajahn V saying, “Outside the thinking mind there is the uncreated”. I look for the extended, stretched-out moment where there’s no thought at all. The ‘uncreated’ cannot be found. I can only experience something if I’m separate from it… and this is how I see it now, Nonduality, seen from Duality. The ‘seeing’ happens and after that you can’t ‘unsee’, inexorable change. Tat Tvam Asi “That thou art,” Chāndogya Upaniṣad, circa 800 BCE to 600 BCE

4.00 pm: a headache and the hollowness of body is calling for my attention and “bhavaṅga” takes charge of the situation. I’m in my chair, mind focused on just being here, the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the headache pain and discomfort, therefore allowing the time to pass in a gentle reflective mind state. Any other difficult feelings arising from separateness is not helpful at all. I’m able to find that space before it happens, wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then back to watching the in-breath, the out-breath. There is something about making do with less…

6.00 pm: Jiab is back, lays out two small tinfoil food containers and eats the contents with a white plastic spoon. I come downstairs and realize this food is not for me. “I didn’t have any lunch! Too busy”, she says and swallows audibly – but that’s just my consciousness of the act of eating. I could go through to the kitchen and steam the tofu and green beans that’s on the menu, but decide not to, because right now, the smell of exotic food is too much to bear. I go upstairs and return to the bhavanga state and wait until I’m called for dinner.


 

the allowing of it

POSTCARD#384: Bangkok: Nothing is what it seems to be, indeed there are times when everything is so much not what we think it is, there can’t be any assumptions, we need to step back and just let it get on with it, whatever. Language has a naming function, creating nouns everywhere, tending towards a ‘Self’, endowed with an apparent identity. Mostly they are enhanced adjectives exploring the quality of ‘things’, and others are becoming verbs where the ‘doing’ needs to take place.

There’s just so much I could write today, things unfolding before my eyes. I make a mental note of these words, and they’re replaced by more recent words and what I was trying to remember before the new words arrived is forgotten. It’s a bit hectic at times but there seems to be energy coming from somewhere that helps me find the forgotten words and see if they fit in this context as well as the upgraded set.

The ‘world’ passes through me, data processed by way of the sensory entry points; eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind. I am a manifestation of awareness. It’s all registered, processed; memory updated, and happens so fast that trying to find words to say something about the system itself results in slo-mo action replays interrupting what’s going on in present time, and I have to catch up afterwards, because everything has meanwhile moved on.

Pause button; a small bell rings, ‘ting!’ Awareness aware of itself, the cognitive mind as a sensory organ, the Buddhist sixth sense. The process itself chooses the sound – or the sound chooses the framework provided by the process. There is only ‘ting!’ and no ‘me’ doing the choosing. Elsewhere, the words, the thought, the concept, all arise because it’s in their nature to do that – they’re systems. I don’t breathe the air, the air breathes me. I am not looking out through my eyes at the world, the world is looking in through my eyes at me (except there’s no ‘me’ in here). No subject, just the system, processes, and how things are done. The world is seen, sounds are heard, food is tasted, words are spoken, things are done but there is no do-er.

Note: I use personal pronouns because it’s convenient. Let’s see… I’m getting ahead of myself. The headache I live with and the pain meds to cope with it seem altogether more manageable than in the early days. Looking back on notes made 4-5 years ago, the thing that has changed is I haven’t been focusing on not having the pain. The mind seems to have given up the battle, and the pain of denial has vanished. It’s this part about the mind having ‘given up the battle’, and the allowing of it, rather than fighting against it… there’s some easing, some lessening around this contemplation.

I’m aware that there is a headache beginning but it doesn’t bother me now because I know that most of it is insulated thanks to the pain meds. The pain that gets through the insulation is bearable, acceptable at the moment. There’s something about this kind of pain management that I didn’t notice before, not until I started the 3 day diet and the discomfort of hunger pangs came along.

I wrote about this in an earlier post titled: bhavaṅga. It was easy for me to tolerate the aches and pains of being hungry because I’d been tolerating a level of pain from the headaches for years. Also managing the headache with pain meds helped insulate the hunger pangs. I found I was motivated to go on with it due to the novelty of tolerating the hunger pangs at the same time as tolerating the headaches… it was interesting, inspiring and more needs to be said about this.

Not right now however… that headache, earlier, I said I was insulated against thanks to the pain meds? Well I have to give it my full attention now; feed it with more pain meds and hopefully it’ll pass. These serious headaches sometimes can’t be held back, and it’s a whole day in a darkened room, no phone because it’s to bright. I have to stop writing now.


 

mind is the sixth sense

POSTCARD#382: Bangkok: In Buddhism, there are 6 senses. The mind is a sense organ along with the other five senses. Mind is devoid of self, to become ‘self’, I just have to think ‘me’, and get it going in the head. I’ve known how to do this since we were all children in the reading class. We learned how to project a ‘self’ into the story when reading those brightly coloured picture-books, where we were invited to become a character in the story.

Then there were all the hundreds of books we studied in the schooling years, same extrapolative approach to finding an answer to the question, ‘who?’ with associated context, perspective, circumstance. Thus we know how to enter a situation as a person playing a part in a story. When it comes to an end we can become another player usually, or bring the session to a close.

If I’m watching a video – and nowadays I watch more videos than I read books – I recognize ‘self’ in the various actors and the parts that they play – some of which have been created deliberately to induce very strong emotional responses. I suspect I could become addicted, as others are, driven to seek more and more situations that’ll satisfy the ego cravings of ‘selfhood’.

“When the mind contains unknowing (avijja), it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self’, the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities.”

I used to think that ‘self’ was the state of mind that attaches to ‘me’ and that’s how it goes for all of us. I didn’t realize there was more to it than that until I read the above B. Buddhadasa quote, and: the ‘vast myriad of things seen as independent entities’. Now I see how everything is subject to the naming function in language, also the Buddhist usage in ancient Indian Sanskrit: nāmarūpa (name and form)

“The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.”

Politics has entered the television studio in a larger-than-life, dynamic form. A simple manipulation of events, insisting it’s the truth, but it’s a lie of course, and immediately I notice an uneasiness in the ‘self’ and distressing narratives in the mind. I don’t know how to get my ‘self’ out of here. Not so easy because the fact that it cannot be extricated from its context becomes what it is. My struggle simply enhances an already complex situation.

This is how it becomes like a bad dream – there’s no escape, it seems, and I struggle to create a way out by way of a kind of split ‘self’. One part listens to the dialogue, absorbing images and all kinds of stuff that support what’s being said, meanwhile the other part sees it as totally false. The urgency of it all causes me to split into two or more selves again and again.

I can’t bear this conflict of ‘selves’ and I feel I could give way to it all. Let them have what they ask for. I just want to hide somewhere and sleep for a long time. This is where we can return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings – in some quiet place, away from the television room. The focus of contemplation is on the empty mind.

“The word ’empty’ refers to the characteristic of mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact.”

Note that these talks were recorded in 1961 and Ajahn doesn’t talk about ‘self’ in the context of television, movies, or radio because these kinds of media were not as developed as they are today. My own feeling regarding the mind as a sense organ is that ‘self’ arises as a result of sense contact (phassa) in the same way as the other sense organs. Speech, language are a trigger, of course, also conceptual thought, images arising in the mind as past memories or speculations about the future.

“[We] … prevent the arising of ‘self’ completely so that it has no way of arising at any moment in the here and now, nor at any time in the future.”

“… ego – consciousness has no way of arising in the future, in other words, not allowing it to arise at any moment.”

“Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.”


Photo: statue of the Buddha’s disciple Śāriputra. SadahamYathra – https://pixabay.com/photos/buddha-meditation-religion-3153417/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85420637

 

noticing

POSTCARD#381: Bangkok: Since my last post I had to miss the three day diet for one week, but starting again Wednesday August 19. The headache pattern has changed, headache all day and all night for 2 days last week. I haven’t had that kind of intensity for a long time. Today is ok (so far, so good). I’m trying a more directed meditation after reading again Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s Heartwood from the Bo Tree, the last section – the part where he talks about a neutral object neither pleasant nor unpleasant, agreeable or disagreeable:

“It is sufficient to observe one’s reactions at the times that we glance in the direction of some neutral form or other. Try casting your eyes on the door or a window and you’ll notice that there is merely contact (phassa), there are no feelings. of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. When visible forms, sounds, odors, flavors and tangible objects enter as contact let them stop there in the same way.”

Sitting quietly and the mind clears for a bit, noticing the sensation of the breath gently touching the inner nasal passages… noticing a non-object is noticing the noticing. There is the feeling I experience and this must be the same for everyone. Look out through the eyes and see the sky, the same blue sky everyone else is seeing because the physiological process of seeing the sky is the same for everyone. The consciousness that recognizes this sense of subjectivity is the same for me as it is for you and everyone, everywhere. Photo: UV fluorescence photography shows us how insects are looking at flowers with different criteria.

By noticing aspects of my own sensory process of noticing in the here-and-now, I can know how the people felt in ancient times, how they noticed and understood their world; the sky they looked at, and sounds they heard, fragrances they smelled, food tasted, surfaces touched and their mind responses. All of that is more or less the same for me now as it was for the ancient people then in their time.

“Buddhists refuse to accept perception as a self, though the average person does choose to accept it as such, clinging to it as “myself.” Close examination along Buddhist lines reveals that quite the opposite is the case. Perception is nobody’s self at all; it is simply a result of natural processes and nothing more.” [Ajahn Buddhadasa, ‘The Things We Cling To’]

The ‘me’ and ‘mine’ I experience is not different from the ‘me’ and ‘mine’ anyone else experienced in the past, or at this moment, or any time in the future. The body/mind organism that receives the experience of this ever-present sensory data through the Five Khandas, is the same for me as it is for everyone on the planet. Outer and inner are both parts of the One, the Same, Inseparable.

To notice a non-object (a neutral object) is to notice the noticing itself. To notice a non-object is to notice the motionless space in which everything exists. Context and content are an inseparable balance. Obsession with objects is the inevitable result of not noticing the non-object realm of spacious being. Noticing is different from acquiring. Noticing refers to what is already here. Acquiring refers to what is lacking and therefore sought. Noticing is an openness to what had previously been unseen. The wealth of space in this moment can be noticed and made conscious. In the flood of present wealth, the old compulsion to acquire loosens its grip. [The Endless Further]


 

 

bhavaṅga

POSTCARD#380: Bangkok: I’m in the 8th week of my diet – three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day. Then back to the three days again. I’ve managed the change in eating patterns without too much difficulty. It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest.

Looking at my state of mind during these times, one thing that helps in the mornings in coping with the contractions of the empty stomach, is the remains of my Nortriptyline night medicine for the (PHN) headache condition I live with, and those chemicals may be still active in the dopamine receptors… neurological technospeak. Later in the morning when that medicine wears off I start the Neurontin and that goes for the rest of the day.

So today, I’m noticing there haven’t been any serious headaches and it’s been like this these last few days which is unusual. Does it have something to do with the way I’m managing the headache with pain meds and the same meds help with the hunger pangs? What I’m saying is, the reciprocal nature of the thing means I’m learning how to tolerate the hunger pangs at the same time as tolerating the headaches. Just allowing it to happen and there’s no conscious memory of it being painful.

It requires a certain kind of meditational attitude and I do have that, spending typically many hours seated in my chair with laptop on my knees, arms on each arm rest, and feet flat on the floor. and what might be a yawning cavern of hunger is simply a light, floating sensation because I’m in that meditational state “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind). “Bhavaṅga” occurs when there is no active cognitive processes going on. I’m in my chair, mind focused on nothing, or the space between things and this is the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the discomfort, therefore allowing the hours to pass in a gentle introspective mood.

Looking back on this whole thing, although I’d read about bhavaṅga a long time ago, I simply stumbled upon the way to do it in these circumstances; noticing how the body reacts, responds, and the mind reveals there’s a slightly deeper awareness in here, dormant until something like the correct password is entered then it’s activated… and I don’t need to know the password of course. It’s enough to know that this is how it works.

All kinds of other difficulties however and this morning is particularly awkward because I have to go and see the Neurologist about the headaches, and I need to have a blood test done before the appointment. So they tell me I have to fast (take no food) before the blood test. It means I can’t have breakfast until after 11.30 am – four hours later than the usual breakfast time, and I cannot take my headache medicine on an empty stomach, so if a serious headache comes along, no medicinal relief… I have to put up with it.

A ‘self’ arises, comes into being full of anxiety and scenarios of distress, anger and outrage… so it’s not hard to understand that this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not helpful at all. No, thank you. I will not get into this, and drawing confidence from the reserve of underlying calm, I’m able to find that space before it happens, and wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then watching the in-breath, the out-breath…

When I got to the Out Patients, the blood test was done then into the sandwich shop and the feeding frenzy (I must have eaten more than the approx. 450 calorie limit per meal). After that there was the medicine, three capsules of forget-me-nots in their crinkly acetate enclosures with a couple of gulps of water from a bottle I carry with me. I noticed again, to be honest, there hadn’t been any strong headaches that whole morning.

In to see the neurologist and she asked me how I was, I said yes ok, told her about the diet, now 2 months and about the meds, just last week I noticed I was forgetting to take the Neurontin doses. So I thought I’d try to intentionally reduce the Neurontin and it was easy, no problem. Now I’m taking less than 3000 grams per day, reduced by nearly half, and there are headaches but I’m able to put up with it until it eases off and lessens intensity.

That’s how it feels, but I don’t yet have the words to describe it adequately. Pain Management of headaches aligned with hunger pangs due to dieting for nearly 2 months (weight loss: 12 kg = 26.4 pounds). Also something learned is that the bhavaṅga practice can alter perception which enables me to endure the all-round discomfort better than before.

 

a hugeness of ordinary things

POSTCARD#379: Bangkok: Breath-taking expanse of forgotten afternoons and time just slipping away. For me the lock-down became television watching all through the day and night – an immense collage of overlapping images, and things of little consequence.

Working from home, or just sitting around, texting food deliveries, we always had enough. Now I see, all of that can be put aside, because “nothing is worth having or being”. Someday I’d like to return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s words on Emptiness, Suññatā.

It was an opportunity to experience how it must be for those who live in a world of attachment and feel they can’t let go. But not the Thais… they don’t have that kind of problem. It was the Thais, in fact, and their small, slim stature who led to my awakening. One day in a shopping mall, I noticed my expanded waistline in a large mirror showing me and a section of the Thai public. I was a monster by comparison!

So I went on a diet. It is called “The Military Diet” (although it’s got nothing to do with the military as far as I can see), three days low-calorie diet followed by four days of light food, high protein, low fat, low carbs and low calories. Then back to the three days again. I’m now in my seventh week. I’ve lost the kilos I gained in the lock-down, and it continues to go down.

I’ll always be a giant compared to the Thais but I like my new lightness and more gentle impact on our surroundings. I’ve learned so much from this South East Asian Buddhist nation. Living here is like looking through a window on to the ‘old world’. Nearly everything happens in public, practically everything is known, is seen, is understood, and brought to a close in some form, in the eyes of who may be observing.

Fragments of people’s lives; a hugeness of ordinary things, a sense of well-being in the millions of every-day events taking place inside homes. It’s like the whole world is one large room; domestic life without walls, centuries of open-air living. There’s this quality about Asia, particularly India, where we lived for 7 years. It’s not about visiting ancient sites or jaw-dropping experiences that fill you with awe, it can be a single moment felt with the fragrance of something that’s suddenly gone; what was it? Incense, candlewax, ironed cotton clothes and the familiarity of the detergent they use there. I feel immediately at home in this place where multiple generations of other human beings have lived.

But the local people would be shocked to know I’m alone – Jiab my wife is Thai and we are together in this life, but there are no members of my own family here. Why? well… the aloneness is pleasing if you’re like me, an introspective person, practicing the ways and means of Right View, set in a wasteland of Wrong Views, populated by people with their handheld devices, mesmerized by the colorful window and three dimensional sound jamming in the ears.

Whenever there’s an opportunity, I’m letting it all go, and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking. The mind is alerted, an empty space opens up; if you are a contemplative and without wandering thoughts, then at times, there’s just this silence. It’s the space between things, easy to have it simply be here for a while. Silence and emptiness and everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, the invitation to be involved with thought is there but it’s the novelty of no-thinking that holds my attention…

“Whatever method of practice you adopt, it should lead to equanimity with regards to the sense – objects which you contact, or to their cessation. Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly without deceit, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of “I” and “mine”. Then it’s not difficult to destroy defilements since, when you practise like this, they are destroyed as a matter of course.” [Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Heartwood from the Bo Tree]


photo: Monsoon in Bangkok