171020121486OLD NOTEBOOKS: Chiang Mai: I get woken up in the middle of the night… there’s a sound outside: ‘kop’. What is it? There it goes again: ‘kop!’ It’s a man’s voice, ‘kop?’ It takes me a moment to figure out he’s calling someone whose name is Kop. In the Thai language ‘kop’ means ‘frog’, it’s the sound made by these cute little green frogs they have: ‘kop-kop-kop…’ This is felt to be child-like and sweet, and it’s used as a girl’s name. So he is calling her name, standing outside her door, and she is inside the house, not responding to her name being called. Maybe she’s asleep, it’s very late. Or maybe she’s just not letting him in; she threw him out? It’s a story I just arrived in… missed the beginning.

The man doesn’t lose his patience or get angry; he’s not reacting in any kind of emotional way, or saying anything else other than her name – repeated over and over: ‘kop?’ It’s a voiceless, insistent, urgent, loud whisper: ‘kop?’ There’s something very Thai about this, the anxiety about “losing face” he’s compromised with having to call Kop just loud enough so she’ll hear him but not too loud or the neighbours will hear him. What time is it? 3.30 AM. Oh wow! Come on Kop, wake up, or whatever, let the guy in.

There’s a long silence, she must have opened the door, and now he’s inside. I drift off to sleep but the sound comes again: ‘kop?’ and I’m jerked back into wakefulness. She didn’t let him in. It’s frustrating, frantic loud whispering is not enough, he needs to shout. If this was happening in the West, he’d be making a huge noise probably. But he doesn’t do that – non-confrontational behaviour… there’s an interesting balance in this situation. There’s stress of course but also mindfulness. I’m awake enough to see how it works; the sound comes at random, it’s almost painful. I feel I’m beginning to lose it; stress – okay, I’ll not be averse to it, welcome Stress! Come on in, sit down, make yourself at home.

Then it changes. The next sound I hear is: bhrrrr and then: bhrrrrrrrrrrrrr it’s the sound of a doorbell with a flat battery, or it’s nearly flat – not a sharp piercing ring like: rrrrrrrrrrring! More of a dull rattle: bhrrrrr…. There’s barely enough battery power, I can hear it getting slower and slower. After a while there are just odd buzzing noises and the battery runs out. He persists for a couple of minutes, pressing the button on a dead battery and the click sound of the bell-push striking metallic plate; enough to remind Kop he is still outside.

Desperate but able to remain balanced, not engaging with the emotional side of it, upekkha (equanimity) – not being ruled by passions, desires, likes and dislikes. It’s a bit like that for me too, struggling with the disturbance. There is compassion for his predicament and after a short while the ‘kop’ sound has the quality of birdsong. The Buddha described it as: ‘abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.’

He continues with his enhanced stage-whisper… ‘kop?’, persists with the faulty doorbell until eventually Kop opens the door. I hear it close again, there’s an indistinct mumbling after that. Then there’s no more sound for the rest of the night.


reblogged earlier post. My computer is in the repair shop again and this post created on the iPad, limitations…


P1000542r3Switzerland: The number nine bus arrives but the destination shown on the front is saying the bus is going in the opposite direction to where it should be going. It takes me a while to figure it out. The driver forgot to change the destination sign for the return journey when he got to the terminus and he’s just carrying on with it as it is. How could that happen? I’m tired. I just want to get home, it’s the end of the day, I step up on to the bus and ask the bus driver where it’s going: où ce bus va, monsieur? Simple question really, it’s not a personal remark: hey, what’s happening? Indirect, where’s this bus going, sir? But he doesn’t reply, the francophone shrug – eyebrows raised, pout of lips, shrug of shoulders and held like that; a freeze in video downloading: buffering … no further response. I get off and look at the front again to make sure and, there it is, according to the sign, this bus is going backwards? I see other people asking the driver the same question and he’s still locked into his downloading ‘freeze’ – the same question being asked over and over can lead to induced hypnosis? I don’t know and neither does anybody else, so I get on, find a seat and wait to see what happens next. Not at ease, turbulent thoughts spinning around: it shouldn’t be like this. Accelerating into different scenarios that end with the same old ‘UNABLE TO FIND THE SERVER’ window. At some point I manage to get it together enough to know it’s necessary to take note of this.

Not getting hijacked by how horrible it is. Everything is okay, the bus is not going backwards; the driver is not involved in a subversive act, he just forgot to change the sign – or maybe it’s broken. Yeh, but there are these waves of unease; passengers are talking about it, grumbling discontent, nursing a negativity about the driver. Deep breathing. I try to allow it to be what it is and not get injured with the thought of it. Meanwhile, tightrope-walking high above the raging inferno of things not being right. Mindfulness keeps the balance. Not easy… it’s not possible to be completely sure that this driver isn’t actually having a nervous breakdown.

What to do? There’s a place coming up where the 9 bus intersects with the 10. The 10 can take me to the station where I can change to a 3 and then I’m on the way home. So jump off the bus, run across the street – fortunately traffic lights change just at the right time – the 10 bus is arriving. I get on and the bus moves off, all in one movement. This in itself is quite a satisfying achievement. Now I’m on the 10, speeding along, looking out the window. The 10 drops me at the station, and it so happens a number 3 is waiting at the stop. Jump on that and I’m on my way home – a fortunate sequence of connections and I’ve already forgotten about the 9 bus going backwards (unless I consciously bring it to mind). Wonderful! And I’m glad it happened as it did, I had an opportunity to practise uppekha. I hope the driver is okay and found out what his problem was.

Later that night I’m up in the apartment, sitting on the cushion and just being with the pleasant quietness up here on the 7th floor. Away in the distance, I can hear the bus just leaving the stop at the end of the road. The sound of it is present here in the room. So familiar; I recognise everything about it. The engine noise increases with the accelerator as it moves away from the stop, I can see it in my mind. It’s coming to the corner. The sound becomes less as it slows down for the corner. Then increases but I can’t hear it as it passes behind the buildings (I know this so well). Then in a short while there’s a break in the buildings and I hear it quite clearly for a moment. After that it becomes faint again and fades away, becomes less and less. It’s really quite far away now. I follow the sound until it becomes just a distinctness in the bzzz of the hearing mechanism… then it’s gone. Some time, soon after that, I bring the meditation to a close, crash out on the bed and fall asleep.

‘When we feel assailed by the fluctuations of experience, where do we turn for refuge? When we can’t see our way through complexity and confusion, how can we make sense of things? Dhamma directs us to an awareness informed by understanding’ [Ajahn Munindo’s Comment in Hilltop Newsletter on the Eight Worldly Winds]

Photo Image: Ajahn Vajiro’s Portugal Collection