the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

Every day counting the dead, an on-going catastrophe, the mind is fundamentally changed after the disaster experience, it has a psychological impact. Or it may be spiritual, or transformational, subject to who the actors and activists are, the realities, the karma of circumstances.

The Thai Government announcement on COVID-19, 22 April 2020:

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

The stay-at-home order is now in its fourth week, and how are we coping with our ‘stay-at-home-ness’? My wife, Jiab, is usually busy with Skype while I am hidden upstairs watching CNN. “This is CNN bringing you Breaking News”, volume fills the room. It is informative and kinda gripping if you’re lying in repose managing a headache. Sometimes I mute the volume and watch the facial gestures.

There’s a bathroom and a bed here, a large air-con room and comfortable armchairs. This is still the hot season, slatted blinds keep out the direct sunlight, makes it easier to see the TV screen. I also watch CSI and CSI Miami with Horatio forever posing with his small sunglasses. FBI Most Wanted, Blue Bloods and others. Stepping into the hypnosis of the general public: dialogue woven around a few good looking actors, studies in portraiture… I swoon with the posturing.

Aside from the enthralled watching, I do a little yoga and meditation, and go down to eat and wash the dishes three times a day. Jiab does the cooking or orders delivery. There’s also time spent writing posts, say 2 days per week – I’m not as dynamic as I used to be.

The headache comes and goes, never completely gone. It’s been five years, we’ve gone through a lot together, the headache and me. Remembering now there was a time when I didn’t have the headache, mourning the loss of the pain-free state I possessed in that other world from whence I came… all of it irretrievably gone from memory. Strong, angry emotions – red light, phone alarm rings, stop thinking. Return to watching the breath… the utter functioning of being alive. Watch TV, just dismayed – how could it be like this?

My headache, or the coronavirus is the imponderable. Our world is good but there’s always something that’s not right. Incompleteness, and the Buddhists say it’s this, the discovery of dissatisfaction, Suffering, Dukkha, the first Noble Truth. Years ago I was so glad to discover this because I was lost in it and at the best of times, wondering what that bad feeling was. There is Suffering, caused by Desire but there is a Way out, found in the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 Noble Truths)

Everything comes crashing in. The inevitability of events and present moment awareness. If I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated as I do to look everywhere for the way out of this suffering, and thus begin to uncover the mystery.

If I’m having difficulty with my headache, and I’m trying to avoid it, the presence of it, the acceptance, it helps to think of it as another self; the headache is a person, a friend – I feel there are two of us.

Interested in the well-being of this other self, I say to my headache self:

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

When it’s time, three capsules of pharmaceutical forget-me-nots swallowed with a gulp of bottled water and in a short while, the intensity of the headache has moved away from consciousness – a long sigh of outbreath.

Last thing is: why am I doing this, writing these posts? There’s a lot to say and I’ve learned so many things from such a lot of good, kind, and wise people that I feel I have to share it with everyone.

May all beings be well.




260620131912New Delhi: Moving through the streets to get on the highway to the airport; rough and bumpy, chunks of road surface missing. Demolition and construction, the urban environment is getting knocked down and rebuilt. We stop at an obstruction in the road caused by a large lorry unloading bricks, sand, cement and all I can see is the rear end of all these small vehicles standing together, jostling to get through… transportation of goods and services; bits of pipes and fittings, cables and plumbing items. Packages wrapped in plastic, held with bungee cords on the back of motorbikes; components, textiles, items boxed in packaging. A cycle rickshaw with a refrigerator on the back, and another one blocking the space with a large plywood panel tied on with rope at an awkward angle.

Drivers getting upset, the sound of horns, people walking around this blockage and through the traffic, carrying things on their heads, dragging children. Pavements are not for pedestrians, there are obstacles, tree roots, missing paving stones, sometimes no pavement at all; heaps of rubble, deep holes below where the drainage system is seen. The earth is beneath the streets, beneath the tarmac and the concrete and the clay, a substance created by erosion, geological conditions. The ‘developing world’ – no such thing as the ‘developed’ world. All of it is subject to change.

Up above, there’s a mass of overhead cables slung between high concrete posts, and a barefoot technician is up there on a bamboo ladder resting on the cables themselves, pushed out in a big stretch to accommodate the weight of him on the ladder. He’s threading another set of cables through, his partner below holding the ladder and traffic gets past them like the river flows around the stones in its path.

The infrastructure of the city is in the centre of my vision, not hidden. Everything that the environment is made of; all this is seen, the inside of it as well as the outside. Systems, processes, how things are done – evidence that the world itself is a constructed thing, put together, assembled, built. It has an unfinished look, bits of it are missing, removed, or not installed yet, or just left exposed; somebody took away the screws that hold the cover plate in place.

Things are unexpected, uncertain, everything is so much not what we think it is, there are no assumptions. The Western point of view that it ‘shouldn’t be’ like that – it ‘should be’ like this, is a concept imposed on a living organism, alive and moving. If I allow the organism to be as it is, I can disengage from the mind state where I think it’s something it’s not, and everything that’s currently bothering me about that disappears. I choose to be with the uncertainty of it, more and more; look at the dilemma of suffering without attaching to it; and challenge my tendency to see it in terms of a constructed self: anicca, dukkha, anatta – impermanence, suffering and no ‘self’.

Dl_departuresArrive at the airport, check in, and through to Departures, happy to be in these ‘normal’ surroundings …the flight for Bangkok is now ready for boarding… I’m just a visitor, on my way to somewhere else. It’s difficult for me to have the infrastructure poking through into the way I choose to see things, because usually I have negativity and unpleasantness hidden away. Since childhood, my belief has been based on affirmative statements: the act of creation and the idea of a heaven… only pretty words. The truth is that ‘heaven’ is a reality beyond description – language doesn’t go that far. This kind of childlike ‘heaven’ is a fiction, not real in the sense that I am in the real world; the nuts-and-bolts of conscious experience, the present state of affairs. This here-and-now reality is fundamentally the same as it was 2,600 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, here in India.

What I’m trying to do now is to resolve the issue of fearful uncertainty by accepting the fact that there is an underlying sense of suffering (1. dukkha) in life and I need to contemplate this feeling with forbearance, rather than run away from it all the time. The direction this contemplation takes is simply to find out what it is I’m doing that’s causing the suffering (2. tanha), and stop doing that. It’s about letting go of whatever it is that’s causing it and I notice when that happens, the suffering stops (3. nirodha). This insight suggests there is a possibility I can stop the suffering completely and I follow the guidelines (4. magga) that show me how to do this consciously, in daily life. [The Four Noble Truths]

Time to go now, hand over the boarding pass to the Thai staff, she separates it along the perforation and hands me back the tab with my seat number. Goodbye India! I’ll be back in two months. Laptop bag on shoulder, and off down the passageway to the aircraft…


–  G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E  –
The subject matter and title of this post indirectly inspired by: Forbearance by Norman Fischer Also mentioned in that site, a comment by Dominic724: ‘Without forbearance it’s just a pile of pretty words’. The ‘pretty words’ comment triggered a memory of the Joni Mitchell song titled: ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ (1970) and ‘pretty lies’ (When you gonna realize they’re only pretty lies …). Lower picture image: Delhi Airport Departures